Friday, October 14, 2011

Last day

Today is our final day of visiting Spain; we’re flying out tomorrow.  We started our adventure with a visit to a visit to Fundar, which is a NGO in Valencia.  NGOs are nongovernment organizations, which from what I could gather is nearly the same thing as a nonprofit organization in America.  Fundar is the largest volunteering company in Valencia and provides many opportunities for the local community.  Nacho, our speaker with Fundar, explained several aspects about being a NGO is Spain.  I thought it was interesting that the level at which the NGOs can be taxed at is determined by the level of benefit offered (10-25%).  For example if a NGO provides service to restore buildings the government would have otherwise had to spend money to restore.  I am not sure if that is how it is done in America but I had thought in America that nonprofits weren’t taxed at all.  Also Nacho explained that a NGO is a non-lucrative not non-profit, in other words any profits that are generated is reinvested in projects that they are performing.

After lunch we were taxied to the arts and science center of Valencia.  This place is beautiful and had some amazing architecture.  I think I could have spent my time just walking around and looking at the buildings.

The arts and science center is an extremely large place and we couldn’t have explored it in it’s entirety.  Everyone was given the opportunity to explore any of the numerous buildings but we all decided to explore the oceanographic center.  Of course there were lots of fish to see.  The oceanographic center was similar to the Georgia aquarium with the separate fish exhibits linked via an outdoor walkway featuring pools with ducks and even penguins.  I found myself adopting to Spanish way, as I have grown to call it, and cutting people off more or less.  At the end of my visit Kevin, Tim, and I were fortunate enough to catch a dolphin show.  The show was very entertaining and similar to what I have seen in America at Sea World, the obvious exception was the announcements were in Spanish.

The end of our adventure in Valencia consisted of a dinner with Stan and three of his students.  We were taken to a local restaurant of Nacho’s choosing.  The meal consisted of 6 courses of pasta, jamon (ham), quesadilla, potatoes with a sour cream with garlic topping, potatoes with ham and egg topping, and finally chicken on a stick.  It has been my experience at the restaurants that have a local “flair” to them feature many small courses rather than the one central meal as I am used to.  To end the evening we, the students, went out with the Spanish students to a bar they choose.  We were driven and I had the most “exciting” ride yet; I was glad that we arrived safely!  After hanging out with the students for an hour or so I left for my room to ready myself for the journey back to America.  Adios Espana, I had a good time!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Today has been interesting, breakfast turned into another language barrier struggle.  Almost all the shops are closed, as today is some Spanish holiday that couldn’t really be explained to me; National day is the best response that I get.  I ended up getting some sort of spaghetti with white sauce and ham.  I have noticed that most food in this area is either ham or fish based.  And quite literally I somehow ordered an entire plate of jamon the other night thinking that I was going to get cheese.

After we all returned from our breakfast adventure we readied ourselves for a beach journey.  There were seven of us so we had two taxis called and the language barrier struck us again.  “La playa por favor” Simone kept trying to explain.  Eventually we finally got the message through and we were off.  Chad commented on how the meter kept ticking even when we were stopped.  None of us were certain if this is the way that taxis work around here or not.  Upon finally arriving to the beach we asked were the other taxi with our friends was “otro taxi con mis amigos?”  Only to hear “no se” and the taxi driver drove away.  Amazingly everyone was able to find each other but it just seemed interesting to me that, having left together, the taxi drivers had little concern about having us arrive together.

Additionally I have noticed that Spain has numerous things in place towards the “green effort”.  Although these things that are in place are largely due to the high cost of energy and not much an environmental concern.  For example our hostel has a card slot as you enter the room that is supposed to have the room key in order for the lights and outlets to have power; I have figured out that it can be any card, even a business card will work.  Also our hostel has toilets that have two buttons for flushing, one releases more water the other less, an effort to conserve water.   The last feature of our hostel I have noticed is that the lights in the hall are motion activated; the lights only stay on for a few seconds.  I have actually stopped walking and had the lights turn off on me. Even out in the town I was at a bar that had all the lights off when I went to the bathroom; this would be rather uncommon from my experience in the states.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday's adventure

Tuesday, Martes, started much smoother for me.  I found it much easier to wake up at 8:00 am here (2:00 am back home).  After a brief shower and a pleasant breakfast Dr. Vannoy rounded up the students to prepare us for our lecture by one of the Spanish professors.  She discussed entrepreneurship and what it takes to start a business.  She focused less on the international differences and more on the topic.  One of her teaching points that really stood out to me is that in order to be successful in something it has to interest you, you have to value it, and it has to be challenging.  According to her most people leave their job because it either holds no challenge, interest, or potential; only the minority (20%) leave a job due to financial reasons.  An interesting analogy she raised was between investing in a job and in a relationship.  Both should hold your interest, be challenging, and you should want something out of it; for example you might want to get married and have kids in a relationship and you might be after a promotion in a job.  An interesting exercise she tried to get my group and I involved in was stating 10 of our strengths and 10 of our weaknesses.  This can help to establish if people are a good fit together in acting as a team; for example if people have complimentary strengths and weaknesses this would be far better than if everyone shared the same strengths and weaknesses.

After our lecture we ventured out for a trip to the vineyard Pago de Tharsys.  The vineyard was located about 30 minutes out side the city and is a stark contrast to the bustling city of Valencia.  Starting our tour we were shown the bottling line of their Cava, which is a sparking wine (carbonated) variety that they make.  This was quite impressive to see starting with the bottles capped, with bottle caps, and ending with the bottle labeled and corked.  Next we were shown the vineyard itself, followed by the distillation room, where they turn wine into liquor and then several different products.  I found it very interesting they had developed a method to turn what would other be wasted wine into a product that is now a moneymaker.  Our tour guide informed us that they ship to 22 countries, United States included, and the 90% of their product was exported; knowing how much Spaniards enjoy their wine they must produce a lot of wine!  We journeyed to the cellar and viewed many barrels of wine, which remain in these barrels for 1 year, then in the bottle for 2.  We then journeyed through the ancient cellar, which resembled a jail of sorts, and it was on to most peoples’ favorite the tasting.  After making my selection and purchase we ventured back to the hostel.  Another enjoyable day in Spain, I look forward to tomorrows adventure!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Valencia - 3rd day

Benios Diaz!  Today we had a class from our faculty host Stan.  He taught us a few things about the Spanish culture and the differences that he thought were important to know.  For example men and women greet each other with a kiss on each cheek and a handshake is considered cold and distant.  "Hola" is a safe greeting to give but if you plan to ask the person a question "beunos dias" or "beunas trades" were more appropriate.  Spaniards have a much different sense of time than we do as Americans.  In general Americans expect everyone to be there on time; however, in Spain it is very common for people to be late and it is not looked upon as rude.  I feel that this is a very important consideration when trying to do business with someone from this culture.  There were numerous examples of differences but I think the most important lesson that Stan was teaching was that things are different here and to learn those differences and not be offended.  For example a Spanish girl pushed me be aside yesterday and I was offended; after asking Stan about that he said “That’s very common around here.  The Spanish don’t have the space to be polite.”  Well at least not polite by our standards!

We were taken on a tour of the campus, “urban campus” Stan kept stressing.  The campus consisted of three buildings and was only the first few floors.  Nacho, our student host, lives in one of the apartments that are located above the classrooms.  I think it is interesting the way that the city is forced to use space.  In fact most things in the Spanish culture are typically smaller, such as water glass or yogurt cups.  The tour was brief, as the campus is small, but it was rather interesting to see the campus.

We were then released to go shopping in the central market. The rest of the students and I ended up meeting back up with Dr. Chen and we attempted to locate the central market.  I ran into a tourist store and, after purchasing a few things for myself and others, half the group had moved on.  Kevin, Chad and I thus began our solo search for the market.  Our journey took us to the more commercial section of the city and we found a few interesting stores such as a Nike shop and a 7 story department store which proved an over whelming experience.  The primary aspect of the shopping experience I noticed was the expense.  Perhaps I was shopping in the wrong areas but the same merchandise in Valencia was far more expensive than it would be in America; this is before even factoring in the exchange rate.  I was able to see the bull-fighting arena, which I thought was very beautiful and well made structure.

Exhausted from the long walk we arrived at the hostel planning to rest; the hostel was locked and no one came to the door.  I am not sure if it was a siesta or some other reason.  The three of us decided to have lunch at the neighboring CafĂ© Penalty and after lunch the doors were open.  Still exhausted from jet lag I decided a siesta of my own was in order.  Until tomorrow, hasta luego!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Valencia – 2nd day

Never forget to factor in the effects of jet lag.  I woke up today at an easy sounding time of 9:00 am, only problem is that is 3:00 am back home.  After enjoying the hostel provided breakfast of toast and amazingly strong coffee, I readied myself for a walking tour of the city provided by our student host Nacho.  I saw some amazing things and the history of the city is very easy to see for those whom are looking.  The city has effectively two parts: the historic and the modern section.  My hostel is located in the newer section by the Football (soccer) stadium.  Connecting the two parts are numerous bridges and one of those is a symbolic and beautiful connector bridge (see below).

Running through the middle of the city is a large park.  I learned that the park used to be a river but due to the flooding that resulted due to the river over flowing the river was rerouted.  The city decided to make this a park, the park is extensive and runs through most of the city.  I felt that it really added to the charm and beauty of the city.  After walking through the park Nacho took us to a gate that used to guard the city, informing us that there were three of such gates but this was the most beautiful.  Our visit is oddly timed with what I am calling “Valencia pride day” where the citizen are celebrating the defending of their city from African invaders.   The gate was beautiful and had some modern additions that I felt where very well done.  For safety cast iron handrails where added to the stairs and more interestingly the overhang over the entrance had glass put in certain places so that one could look straight down several hundred feet, and if you’re brave enough look like you’re standing on nothing.


Touring the streets of the rest of the city proved to be a lesson in crowd navigation Spanish style.  Everywhere was crowded as people gathered for what I assumed would be a parade.   Nacho lead us to cross the street and cut through the barrier in front of a drum line that was not moving.  I hesitated as a police officer was right there and was urged over.  I guess the bike rack style barricades are merely suggestions as the rest of the group and I proceeded without the officer raising an eyebrow.  After our return to the hostel we had minutes to rest before our next adventure paella on the beach!

Stan (our faculty host) and his wife met us at the hostel and lead us to the beach via taxi.  We arrived 30 minutes before our reservation and were encouraged to take a stroll on the beach.  The sand was soft and the sun was shining.  I was grossly under prepared for a Mediterranean beach visit in both my clothing (I had no swim suit) and that of those native to this area (some had one but chose to leave parts off).  When it was finally time for lunch, around 3:00 pm for us, I was starving.  It is typical for the Spanish to eat that late, and as a result dinner is typically eaten after 9:00.  The courses included squid, mussels, salad, paella, and desert.  Lunch was an incredible journey and I tried things I normally wouldn’t, such as squid.  The paella featured rice, pork, rabbit, a type of bean I’d never had, and many things I am sure that I didn’t recognize.   The waiter was slow to bring the check but I am told that is typical of the Spanish culture.  Overall I was very much pleased with the experience and I always welcome any visit to the beach.

Arrival to Spain and finally Valencia!

My journey from Boone to Valencia Spain was a long but safe one.  Driving to Charlotte then flying from Charlotte to Chicago, then to Madrid, and finally to Valencia.  When landing in Madrid I was overwhelmed by the architecture of the airport.  The Madrid airport features a large amount of open space and countless curves and lines; it is simply a beautiful structure.  After what was a rather brief passport review process I found myself going through security again, I found security to be a bit odd.  Madrid’s agents featured batons and handcuffs.  When I went through the checkpoint they wouldn’t allow me to pass with a filled water bottle; rather than having me dump out my water I found they wanted me to exit the checkpoint and finish my bottle of water.  After finding ourselves to the terminal that would lead us to our final flight to Valencia we were released to grab lunch. I walked around with four of the other students in what is a rather large shopping area in the terminal.  The overwhelming theme I noticed is fashion.  The Spanish are generally well dressed and I couldn’t help but feel out of place as I stood there in jeans, a white t-shirt, and running shoes.  It seemed that the easiest way to pick out a foreigner, or American at least, is to look at their shoes and if they aren’t dressy they’re likely not Spanish.

After landing in Valencia and most of our group retrieving their luggage we ended up taking a taxi to the hostel.  The taxi ride was a bit scary, it would appear the driving standards of the Spanish are not what I’ve grown accustomed to; this was reaffirmed later with a drive with Nacho (one of our Spanish student hosts).  Finally faced with an opportunity to rest I couldn’t resist.  We then met Stan (our faculty host in Spain) who took us via bus (public transit) to Jamon Jamon a Spanish restaurant.  The bus featured two green seats, which two of my peers learned are for elderly, pregnant women, or disabled persons as an elderly woman kicked them out of their seats.  Our dinner seemed liked an endless course of many meals.  I am not sure if that is was would be a typical Spanish feast but it was very good; no one left the table hungry.  Dr. Chen encouraged everyone to keep eating, as you don’t know when the next meal is going to be; the Spanish eat lunch and dinner much later than our American standards.

After dinner we were introduced to Nacho who took us, the students, to the roof of his apartment building to the fireworks that were being displayed.  I asked why there were fireworks and I believe it to have been a Valencia pride day.  The display was impressive and lasted much longer than we stayed to watch; we stayed for about 20 minutes.  We finished our evening with a couple of drinks at a bar were we sat outside in a courtyard surrounded by high-rise apartments, or I assume that is what they were.  The other patrons of the bar all seemed to have dogs and Nacho told us that was normal for people to bring there dogs with them.  Exhausted we decided to call it an evening and Nacho dropped us off at our hostel.  In spite of the fact is was only 4 or 5 pm back home I found it very easy to fall asleep.  I look forward to seeing what the rest of my trip has in store for me!