Falles de València 2017: Patrimoni Immaterial de la Humanitat

Thomas Sumner is a second year Spanish major spending the spring semester on UVA in Valencia: Business. Read the rest of his Valencia blog at https://thomastravels.tumblr.com/.

Fallas of Valencia 2017: Intangible World Heritage

Fallas. Where do I even begin? Professors and other students talked up this festival to me long before I arrived in Valencia, and now I know why. Even after having lived through it, I still find it difficult to explain the “locura” (madness) that is “las Fallas.” The celebration is truly unlike any other, and although I doubt my words will be able to fully explain the celebration or convey what an incredible experience it was, I’ll try my best!

Fallas is a festival of fire that takes place in the city of Valencia every year from March 15th to 19th. During this time, huge, brightly painted wooden sculptures are erected in plazas and public areas and are ultimately burned to the ground with fireworks displays at midnight on the 19th. From the minute the clock strikes 12:01 am the morning of March 15th (and honestly, even way before that point – certain festivities begin as early as February 3rd!) until the moment the last ember dies out, the city of Valencia is in a perpetual, 24 hour “fiesta loca.”

Here’s an example of a falla (the Falla Cuba-Literato Azorín, to be precise)

As if the opportunity to be living in Valencia and experience all this wasn’t cool enough, my best friend Sam joined me for the week! I loved getting the chance to celebrate Fallas with her 🙂

The most commonly agreed on explanation for the origin of Fallas dates all the way back to a pagan celebration during the middle ages. Because of scarce daylight hours during the months of winter, Valencian carpenters frequently labored far after the sun had set. In order to continue working without daylight, the carpenters would hang oil lamps from precariously built wooden structures. As winter came to an end and the days lengthened, these structures were no longer necessary, and the carpenters would set them on fire to celebrate the Spring Equinox and the lengthening of the days. Eventually, the celebration was Christianized and made to coincide with “La diada de Sant Josep” to honor Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of carpenters. The day of Saint Joseph always falls on the 19th of March, and is also when Father’s Day is celebrated throughout Spain.

These crude wooden structures from the middle ages have evolved so much that they have almost nothing to do with the fallas you’ll see today (except for the fact that they’re flammable). Fallas nowadays are made of what is essentially papier-mâché and sanded wood, painted over in bright colors. Fallas are satirical in nature and normally are designed to poke fun at someone or something (and really, anything is fair game). In this way, fallas vary in style and subject each festival because they offer social and political commentary on the events of the year (you had better believe that there was no shortage of mini Donald Trumpsbeing burnt to the ground in Valencia last weekend, and I can’t say the sight brought me much remorse).

This year, the day of Saint Joseph (also known as the Cremà, the last day of the festival when the burning of the fallas takes place) happened to fall on a Sunday, which was just a coincidence. However, this means that the largest days of the celebration fell on a weekend, allowing many more people from outside of Valencia to take days off and experience the festival. What’s more, 2017 is the first year that Fallas has been recognized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as intangible world heritage. Both of these factors made the festival even larger (and more crowded) than normal. All in all, it’s estimated that the population of Valencia doubles (some will argue it almost triples) during the week of the celebration. The preliminary numbers indicate that this year’s festival was record breaking, as the city welcomed well over a million tourists and spent around 8 million euros (and remember, that number is even larger when converted to US dollars) on the festivities.

Most “barrios,” or neighborhoods in Valencia have a “casal faller,” a committee that sponsors the neighborhood’s falla. This committee is composed of different residents of the neighborhood who oversee the falla’s design, construction, and erection. The process lasts year-round (no exaggeration – they’ve already begun planning for 2018 and it hasn’t even been a week yet!) and brings neighborhoods together to form tight-knit communities. The process can also be quite costly – many committees sponsor fundraiser paella dinners (a typical Valencian dish) throughout the year to help defray costs. Each year, the neighborhoods enter a friendly competition with each other to see who can sponsor the best falla (as deemed by a committee of judges). To be as fair as possible, neighborhoods are separated into different levels of competition based on their budgets. The top tier of competition consists of neighborhoods that have been sponsoring fallas for years, and are so good at it by now that they can mount absolutely spectacular and humongous fallas (or in other words, they have a huge budget at their disposal). For my pictures of fallas at the bottom of this post, I looked up the names of all the fallas in the top tier of competition. For the rest of them, I’m just going to leave them captionless, because looking up all those names would take forever! Fallas are normally named after the intersection of streets they are placed on, and at times the official names can get pretty lengthy.

As if the normal fallas weren’t enough, each casal faller normally sponsors a falla infantil, a smaller falla (normally more lighthearted and less satirical) for kids to enjoy. Each individual character on a falla is known as a ninot. Each casal faller chooses one ninot that they feel is an example of their best work and most representative of their falla as a whole to be put on display the month before the festival. Leading up to the week of Fallas, anyone can visit the museum and cast a vote for their favorite ninot. The ninot with the most votes becomes the “ninot indultat” of the year. This means the ninot is pardoned from the flames, and is kept in the museum instead of being burned. This is done for both regular fallas and fallas infantiles.

The ninot indultat from this year, depicting a scene that one might see in Valencia’s famous Mercat Central

Each casal faller also chooses one fallera mayor and one faller mayor infantil to represent their neighborhood falla in various ceremonies like parades and events at the town hall. For these events, the girls wear traditional fallera dresses and have their hair done up in a particular style. There is also one fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil chosen to represent the entire city, a great honor.

The fallera mayor and one fallera mayor infantil of Valencia, 2017

Walking up and down the streets of the city during Fallas, Valencia sounds like a war zone. You can hear explosions 24 hours a day coming from “petardos,” or firecrackers. If you’re like I was before I came to Valencia, when you hear the word firecrackers, you think of cute, small little packages that pop when you light them on fire. Not in Valencia! Petardos make huge explosions, a very loud bang, char the ground, and flash brightly. They can either be lit from the ground or thrown (theoretically also at the ground, unfortunately sometimes thrown at people). Many Valencians use the illegal variety packed with an excess of gunpowder, which can be quite dangerous if set off incorrectly. Petardos are used every morning around 8 am as part of the “Despertà,” or wake-up call, where partygoers roam the streets and set off explosives to wake up anyone still sleeping and start off the day’s festivities. Although most people exercise common sense and are able to set off petardos without getting hurt, there are inevitably accidents, and the hospital burn units are always busy during the week of Fallas. There are even men who will set off full-on fireworks (which is also illegal) down in the Rio, the drained river that the city of Valencia converted into a park system. It was astonishing for me to see so many young children set off and/or play with these explosives with minimal or no parental supervision. The camp counselor in me wanted to run up and take the explosives out of their hands, but I had to restrain myself.

Venders selling food or knick-knacks out of mobile stations are also very common. Although the sale of food is supposed to be regulated and the vendors are theoretically approved by the health department, we’ll just say from my observations, the standards seem to me a bit more flexible than they might be in the US. I was advised by my host mom to buy food sooner rather than later, as some vendors don’t change the oil they use to fry food in from one day to the next, which makes buying food the last few days kind of dicey. Sam and I took her up on that suggestions, and enjoyed some delicious churros and buñuelos on our first night.

Another quality tip from my host mom was to go out the nights leading up to the beginning of the festival. This way, Sam and I got to see a lot of the fallas without having to deal with crowds. We saw a good number of fallas during the “Plantà,” the process of setting up the fallas, so some of them were only partially constructed. However, it was a lot more pleasant than trying to elbow your way through lots of people in the midday heat. In fact, some families will take their children out at insane times (like 4 am) to see the fallas in order to avoid crowds.

There are lots of events and traditions that go on during the week of Fallas. Every day at 2 pm, there is a Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the town hall square). For this event, the crowds are simply unavoidable. You have to get to the plaza at least an hour early if you want a half decent spot. The Mascletà is similar to a fireworks display, except it’s put on during the day, and the fireworks stay closer to the ground and are even louder. The joke is that the Mascletà is so deafening, you can hardly hear it – but you can feel it! The vibrations you feel from all the explosions, particularly at the finale, are dangerously potent (I’m talking so strong, we were warned to keep our jaws slack to avoid chipping a tooth). What’s even crazier, the Mascletà starts long before fallas do, on the 26thof February to be precise! And seeing as it’s a daily occurrence, the city of Valencia spends a great deal of money on pyrotechnics well before the actual Fallas celebration even begins.

Mascletà in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The big spaceship-looking tower is the falla of the town hall, which has nothing in particular to do with the Mascletà, they just happen to be in the same place.

There are also many “cavalcadas,” or parades, throughout the week. At any time during the festival, but especially during these parades, you’ll see people dressed up as falleros and falleras, wearing traditional Valencian outfits. You will also hear all sorts of bands and percussion ensembles playing music to rally people up and excite passerby.

(Very cute) falleras infantiles!

Each casal faller has its own parade to the “Plaza de la Virgen” (Plaza of the Virgen, although I feel like in this case the translation was hardly necessary), where they offer bouquets of flowers to the Virgen Mary on behalf of their neighborhood. This is known as the Ofrendà. All of the offerings are used to construct a larger-than-life Virgin Mary made out of flowers that is left on display for the week (and I feel the need to note that this structure is not burned).

However, my favorite of all the Fallas traditions are the castillos, or fireworks shows. They are absolutely stunning, and the photos don’t begin to do them justice. I also must say, as much as I love my country, these fireworks displays put the 4th of July to complete shame. Each night, the show gets bigger and starts even later. The biggest show, the Gran Nit del Foc, doesn’t start until 1:30 am!

But then again, during Fallas, the city never sleeps. This is a week where there are more people in the streets at 5am than at 9am. Fallas is a time where everyone kicks back and enjoys themselves, socializes and unwinds. However, the celebration has negative aspects as well. There is a horrific amount of trash generated in the likes of beer bottles, discarded wrappers, and the remains of fireworks that lie scattered all throughout the streets. Clubs and discos move outside, and blast music at all hours of the day, preventing people who live nearby from sleeping at night. The city infrastructure becomes absolutely paralyzed. Driving anywhere is nearly impossible with so many roads blocked-off to mount fallas, or converted to pedestrian-only for the week. This causes any remaining roads to become insufferably congested with traffic, to the point that it’s really just quicker to walk and save yourself the trouble and the gas. The metro still runs, but it becomes insanely crowded and everyone is shoved into the train like sardines (Sam and I got to experience this firsthand on multiple occasions). Businesses are shut down for the holiday and it can be difficult or near impossible to run errands or get things done during the festival. And this is not to mention the considerable environmental impact of so many fireworks, Mascletà’s, and burning fallas. For these reasons and more, some residents of Valencia dislike the Fallas, and others leave the city for the week altogether. Many residents stand somewhere in the middle, as they enjoy the celebration but dislike the effects it has on the city. My host mom is of this persuasion – she told me that she has seen enough of Fallas in her day that she would have left the city for the week had I not been staying with her. However, from my perception at least, the majority of Valencians seem to enjoy Fallas and are proud of what it represents for them in terms of cultural heritage.

Last but certainly not least, at midnight on the 19th is the “Cremà” (burning), the fiery end to the festival. Explosives are laid underneath the fallas, and when the clock strikes the hour, they are ignited. The fallas infantiles burn at 10 pm, the regular fallas burn at midnight, and the big falla by the town hall burns at 1am. These times tend to vary based on the amount of firefighters available to supervise and control the burning. Fallas that have won awards may also be burned later so more people can come to watch. I was amazed at how quickly the fallas burned, and how I could feel the heat from the fire even being a considerable distance away. At first, I thought it was sad that artists spend the whole year crafting these beautiful sculptures, only to burn them to ashes. And it is sad, in a way. But I now understand that it is all done in the spirit of the Fallas. The festival reminds us that beauty is not eternal and doesn’t last forever, and neither do the fallas. The Cremà symbolizes rebirth, a sort of purification through fire – out with the old, in with the new.

The Cremà on a Sunday night

I can now say with certainty that the title of World Heritage is well-deserved by the Fallas! I consider myself so fortunate to have been able to experience such an incredible festival firsthand and will always treasure my memories from this week.

Hopping the Pond: Virginia → Valencia

Thomas is a second year student at the University of Virginia currently studying abroad in Valencia for the semester. Check out his pre-departure blog!

Hi! My name is Thomas, and I’m a second year student at the University of Virginia. Starting today, I’m leaving Jefferson’s Grounds behind for the spring 2017 semester to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. I plan on using this blog to post regular updates on my adventures and experiences living abroad. Seeing as I’m currently somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean right now and don’t have anything particularly exciting to report on (yet!), I figured I would take the time to explain why I decided to study abroad and what Spanish means to me.

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Growing up in my hometown of Oxford, Pennsylvania, almost a third of my high school graduating class was Hispanic. I can distinctly recall hearing Spanish spoken in the hallways during elementary school, and thinking how cool it would be if I could speak a “secret language” to communicate with friends and stump teachers. When I had the chance to begin studying the language in the eighth grade, I eagerly accepted, and Spanish soon became my favorite subject in school. I always excelled in my Spanish classes academically, but it wasn’t until my junior year of high school in Spanish V when I realized it was what I wanted to study in college. I became president of the Spanish Honor Society my senior year and soon after decided to attend the University of Virginia as a Spanish major.

College classes were, of course, a rather large adjustment from high school classes, but nonetheless Spanish remained my strongest subject. My second semester, I was lucky enough to study under two particularly phenomenal Spanish professors who really motivated me to spend additional time practicing outside of class in order to further increase my level of proficiency. To that end, I read two incredible novels over the summer: El tiempo entre costurasThe Time In Between and Cien años de soledadOne Hundred Years of Solitude(both of which I highly recommend!) in Spanish to avoid the summer slump and expand my vocabulary. As if the books weren’t enough, I also developed a raging addiction to Spanish telenovelas such as Gran Hotel and Velvet. However, it wasn’t until this fall that Spanish truly became the unequivocal center of my life at UVA. In addition to taking three Spanish courses, I moved into the Casa Bolívar, UVA’s Spanish-speaking dorm. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I spent just about as much time speaking Spanish as I did English last semester. Because of all this practice, I feel reasonably confident in my abilities to communicate in Spanish, which will hopefully help mitigate the inevitable culture shock that comes with adapting to life in a foreign country.

This semester, I’m in five 4000 level Spanish courses covering a wide variety of topics. That sounds kind of crazy (and I guess it is) but hey, at least in Spain we don’t have class on Fridays! There’s no doubt these courses will keep me plenty busy, but by the end of the semester, I will have finished the complete course of study for UVA Spanish majors in two years’ time. Here’s my class schedule:

SPAN 4050: Global Integration of Latin America – MoWe: 09:00-10:30

SPAN 4600: Literature & Cinema – MoWe: 10:40-12:10

SPAN 4705: Spanish Mass Media – MoWe: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4713: Economy of European Union – TuTh: 12:20-13:50

SPAN 4320: Contemporary Latin American Short Fiction – TuTh: 15:40-17:10

As you may have noticed, in Spain they use the 24-hour system (military time) which is definitely something I’ll have to get used to. The class I’m most worried about is the econ course – economics is already like another language to me, so I’ll have to see how it goes when it’s taught to me in Spanish!

To say I’m excited for study abroad would be a gross understatement. En route to Spain, I can’t help but feel quite introspective. When I look behind me, I marvel at all the progress a “gringo” like me has somehow been able to make in Spanish so far. Even so, looking forward to this semester, I see incredible opportunities to further increase my fluency and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Spanish culture. I feel extremely thrilled and blessed to be embarking on this journey and absolutely cannot wait to see what Valencia has in store for me. Look out Spain, Tomás is coming for you!

Spanish Spring: UVA in Valencia

Kimia Nikseresht is a UVA student spending the Spring 2016 semester studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. Read her letters below as she discusses traveling. culture shock, and more! 

 

January 28, 2016

Queridos amigos,

This week, along with the start of classes, a bit of normalcy was reintroduced into my life. Believe it or not, there is great comfort in having a routine – walking the same path to school everyday, seeing familiar faces, and having something to do. Whether it’s school or work or organizations, I’m realizing that having a purpose and a daily goal to wake up to is absolutely fundamental to happiness, and “free time” is most appreciated when it’s limited.

Nightlife

A few years ago, UVa was named the #1 party school by Playboy Magazine. I bring this up to remind you that we know what we’re doing. But everything, house parties and bars alike, end at 2:00 am in Virginia. In Valencia, however, they open at 2 am. Blows my mind…

On Tuesday nights, Irish and American bars offer gatherings for international students to socialize and get to know each other. American, Italian, German, and Dutch seem to be the most common nationalities.

On Wednesday nights, there is a little bar that offers free salsa and bachata classes. So far, this has been my favorite place, as it’s a very cultural experience that brings Latin Americans and Spaniards together.

On Thursday nights, people go to the chupiterias, which are bars located throughout the city that only serve shots – 600+ different kinds. Shots with fire, shots with blindfolds, shots that require undressing, a Harry Potter shot… anything you can imagine, for 2 euros. Seems like a dangerous trap to me. While I have yet to try one, it is quite an entertaining place to people-watch as they embarrass themselves. And everyone embarrasses themselves here.

Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for the Discotecas, which open their doors at 2 am and stay open until 7 am.

I told you, they’re crazy.

Story of the week:

While at the chupiteria, we were so blown away by all the excitement that we found ourselves watching people take shots as if it were a telenovela. While admiring a fire shot, I felt something touching my leg… I turn around to see a bald man staring at me with a look of “I might poop my pants”, with his hand in my purse. In the universal language of “angry woman”, I started screaming in a frightening mixture of Farsi-English-Spanish. He sprinted out of the bar, as our new Austrian friend chased after him!

Bald man didn’t take anything, since I caught him. And Austrian boy was fine – he chased bald man down, searched his pockets to make sure my phone wasn’t in there, and returned. We all parted ways immediately after and went home to ponder the question of the night: “What the hell just happened?”. Good times.

Things I learned this week:

  1. Spaniards trust. As in most big cities, Valencia has a bit of a parking issue. Their solution? Many of the residential streets allow 2 lanes of street parking, as long as the car on the outside remains in neutral gear, so that it can easily be moved around in case the cars on the inside need to get out. Can you imagine someone just pushing your car up and down the street in America? Nah.
  1. Spanish fruit is AMAZING. I’ve never eaten a strawberry or an orange that has compared to the ones I’m eating here. It’s like a fiesta in my mouth.

 

Kimia_Valencia Host Family

However, the Spanish have their weird foods too – allow me to introduce you to “blood sausage”, a dish made out of pork blood and intestines. Yummy! (ew)

  1. Everyone, and I mean, everyone loves Persian food. I made my family “estamboli polo” this week, and even though the Tahdig wasn’t all that, they loved it! (P.S., notice the English-Spanish dictionary on the table haha)

 

Kimia Host Family 2

 

February 22, 2016

 

Friends, family, peers, and acquaintances,

These last 2 weeks were quite possibly the most uneventful weeks of the trip so far. With midterms this week, we didn’t have any super exciting trips or anything of the sort to think about. Just a bus trip to Morella – another Spanish town, another Spanish castle.

 

 

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The best part of Morella was discovering these super ugly trees. Like, what??

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I also enjoyed the random basketball court in the middle of this ancient little pueblo(village/small town) built entirely on top of a mountain. Notice the blue in the picture!

Just over 5 weeks into the trip, mental and emotional crises are also common. 5 weeks is just long enough that the things that were weird/exceptional/new the first week are now routine/a part of life. But it’s also just enough time that anything that was bothering you before is now REAAALLLY bothering you. Let me give you an example of each.

Good: The free time. I have now included an hour of outdoor exercise into my daily routine, and let me tell you,it makes a huge difference. I also have time to read for pleasure, journal, and floss every day. Thank you, Spain.

Bad: hunger. I was hungry ALL THE TIME. So I finally confronted my madre and talked to her, which resulted in me having a nervous breakdown and crying my hunger away. But then, a few productive (yet slow) Spanish conversations later, I was forced to really re-examine my cultural and personal background. Iranian culture teaches “tarof” – we have internalized the idea that it is wrong to “ask” for things, especially more food. It is the host’s job to offer, and for you to take less than what is offered. But here, exercising my acts of respect was causing me to lose weight rapidly. And it never occurred to me that this could be the reason… Our culture is so internalized that I never even considered “asking for more” to be an option! It’s rude, it’s disrespectful.. it’s wrong.

Turns out, “right” and “wrong” are very subjective and completely situational. Here, if you want more,you ask or you go take it. There is little to no “diplomacy” as they call it – just direct, assertive statements of “quiero” and “necesito” (I want and I need). This one is going to take some getting used to.Although to be honest, I hope that I never really get used to it. See, living abroad is exposing me to the differences – some good, some bad. I think exercising “tarof”, although annoying, is a beautiful thing. It’s about retaining a bit of “dervish”-ness and giving more than you can afford as a host, thus creating a sense of closeness, warmth, and welcoming. It is an expression of “you, whoever you are, are sooo important to me that I will offer you all of my food and kindness in the 2 hours that you are at my house”. In my family, I hope this expression is never replaced by a dry, calculated “I can only afford to offer you one piece of cake and 2 cups of tea”.

I’ll live with it for 2 more months before throwing it in the garbage, along with my host madre’s unseasoned pasta. (If any Iranians want to mail me some “advieh”, feel free).

Story Of The Week

1. When a friend looked at me and instead of accurately saying “I will eat it” (referring to a burger at home), shesaid te voy a comer (I will eat you). The Spanish boys around had a blast with that one.

Things I’ve Learned This Week:

1. cappuccino > cafe con leche
2. Spring is around the corner!
3. I have incredible friends and family. Every phone call, text message,snapchat, GroupMe, Facebook message, tango, email, InstaDM, and
Facetime… it all means more than you could imagine and I love you
all for it.
4. I had a moment where I was reading a Spanish news article about ISIS printed in a Spanish newspaper at a Spanish coffee shop and went on to have a conversation with the server about it, in Spanish. I guess my language really is improving!
Until next time!
Kimia_February3

 

March 5-7, 2016

Dear friends and family,

These last two weeks flew by at the speed of light, or rather, Spain’s AVE high-speed trains. Here are some highlights:

Granada, España

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Granada is a city in the south of Spain where Muslim conquerers resided for about 8 centuries. So the“another city, another castle” mantra changed a bit when we encountered walls full of Arabic, Middle Eastern gardens, and a completely intertwined culture. How incredible!
Kimia_March2
And on top of that, Domino’s sold medium pizzas for 6 euros & the hotel had unlimited scolding hot water(which has become a rare luxury these days) so I was floating in heaven.
Madrid, España
Kimia_March3
As the capital of Spain, Madrid is a city full of life, history, and diversity. The Prada museum offered magnificent art, and the parque del retiro was muy tranquilo. 
But the best part was having a sister who will walk through the streets of Madrid while discussing literature, and stare at the palacio real while listening to Future. Absolutely unforgettable.
Story of the Week:
Since Gabby is only here for a week, this Friday was her only Friday night in Spain, i.e. her only opportunity to experience Spanish nightlife to its fullest extent. So, here is the order of events that followed:
11 pm: dinner with friends
12 am: wine with friends
1 am: living room dance session (pictures omitted)
2 am: discotecas are finally open – head out
4 am: Arrive home, pack for Madrid, sleep for 1.5 hours
6 am: shower
7 am: leave for train station
8 am: Gabby casually puts on sunglasses and passes out on train
10 am: arrive in Madrid~good thing we’re young. Big shoutout to our bodies for carrying through. 
Things I’ve Learned This Week:
1. Europe looks very different when you’re sharing it with a friend. The last few months have been very valuable, but these last few days have been something special. This definitely proves to me that regardless of where you are and what you have, the people you share those moments with are by far the most defining aspect of the experience. Friends, family, and sisters who you love – that is what matters.
2. Sleep is so fun, and so important. Take notes kids.
3. “Kimia” comes from the Arabic word for Alchemy. Well, since the Arabs were in Spain for ~800 years,socio-linguistics teaches us that their vocabulary infiltrated the Spanish dictionary, and influenced it quite a bit.So what is alchemy in Spanish?Alquimia, pronounced [al.kee.mi.yah].
3. Kim Kardashian’s booty poses are not all that original. See below.
Kimia_March4
Hasta luego!

Persistence of Memory: Madrid 2016

Eunice Kim is a third-year student in the Commerce School studying abroad this semester in Madrid through the UVA Commerce Third-Year Core: IE, Madrid program. Click through the post below as she documents her first month in Madrid and her travels to Germany.
Madrid, Spain 

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This photo most accurately represents how I saw Madrid when I first landed in Spain. Although Madrid is the capital city, never have I felt overwhelmed by it as I usually do by large cities. This city isn’t as busy and bustling as the ones in the US, which is demonstrative of its peaceful culture.

Madrid, Spain 

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This photo is of the Palacio Real de Madrid.  To me, this photo represents both the leadership and façade of Spain. Behind the large and ornate structures and the glorification of religion, power, and wealth lies a real issue that a significant portion of Spaniards face every day: unemployment. To address this issue, Spain has sought to build or improve infrastructure because this would mean more people have work. This is but a temporary solution. My hope is that the leaders of Spain will tackle the issue of unemployment head on with long-term solutions so that Spain not only looks like a country of wealth but is a country in which people have wealth.
Madrid, Spain 

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This photo is of the ceiling of Almudena Cathedral. The Spanish love for color and devotion to religion are represented in this photo. It is interesting to see the Spanish perspective on Christian religion: it can be a bright and colorful celebration of new life but one that is contrasted with the solemn death of Jesus Christ.  

Madrid, Spain 

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This is a photo of the Temple of Debod, donated to Spain by the Egyptians. It was my first time seeing the structure in person after having first seen it in an online photo. I couldn’t believe that such a structure would be found in what was now my home city! It reminded me of the long history Spain has had, and the amount of history I would be exposed to during my time abroad.

Segovia, Spain 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo is of Aqueduct of Segovia. Legend has it that the devil was building this to win the mortal woman he loved, but didn’t have the last stone to finish it. This photo represents the tradition of hard work and perseverance that has made Spain the country it is today.
Segovia, Spain 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo was taken in the Cathedral of Segovia. It represents the Spanish devotion to religion. The money that was poured into constructing this small part of the Cathedral was more than what could be afforded by the citizens.

Segovia, Spain 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo is of the Alcazar of Segovia. Walt Disney used this palace among others as inspiration for the Disney castle. This photo shows the beauty of a past Spain.

Madrid, Spain 

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This photo shows Spaniards spending a Sunday in Buen Retiro park. I saw people of all ages and all paths of life. It was beautiful to see the people come together to enjoy a day away from the city.
Madrid, Spain 

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This photo is of rowboats in the pond in Buen Retiro park. Spaniards are exposed to beautiful structures every day. Since the late 1800s, this has been a public park. Today, the Spaniards gather here to do business, talk with friends, or enjoy time with family. This photo represents the great amount of life that exists in this country.
Berlin, Germany 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo is of the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. The architect purposefully did not reveal the meaning behind the memorial. Large rectangular stones are placed a few from each other forming pathways throughout. To me, the memorial represents that there is a way in to and a way out of everything, even dark times.

Berlin, Germany 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo is of the concert house in Berlin. I took this photo because it represented German creativity,love for the arts, and intellectual curiosity. I learned that although much of German history has been overshadowed by events of the past century, Germany has produced masters in the arts and sciences who have made a significant impact on the world.

Berlin, Germany 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

This photo is of the Politician’s Memorial for the 96 politicians who voted against Hitler’s rule and were subsequently murdered. This photo represents bravery in the midst of fear. A majority of what occurred during the Third Reich was due to the fear of getting killed or putting loved ones in harm’s way. The history behind this memorial challenges me to live my life in pursuit of a better life for all.
Berlin, Germany

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“Many small people who in small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world”.Street artists in Europe send messages that are of great significance. It is inspiring and moving to see messages like these around Berlin. They tell of stories from which we may learn and better ourselves.

Berlin, Germany

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It is often said that during the Holocaust, some SS officers were threatened and subdued into playing this part. They were forced to be monsters that harmed and killed innocent people. They were victims.Personally, this has been hard for me to understand. However, this photo sheds light on that issue.Often, we are prisoners who are forced to give our consent on issues which we believe are wrong. This photo makes me realize the injustice in the world that is brought about due to passive or forced agreement.
Hamburg, Germany

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I had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp memorial in Hamburg, Germany. This photo is of a circle of chairs inside a brick factory at Neuengamme concentration camp. To me, it represents the courageous ability to confront the most awful and shameful parts of human history and discuss it with each other. As humans, we are not meant to let these memories fade or boil inside of us. We are meant to talk about them and learn from them.

At Home in Valencia: Spring 2016

Claudia Bonilla is a UVA student currently studying abroad through the UVA Exchange: Valencia Program. Below is a sampling of photos from her first month in the city! 
First Day of Classes
First Day of Classes

I took a picture of this cross walk with the statue in order to know where to get off from the bus for future reference.

  
Train Station
Train Station

This train station is called Estación del Norte. It was on my walk to the Ayutamiento (city hall) and I found its structure to be very interesting and beautiful for a train station.

Ayutamiento
Ayutamiento

 This is Valencia’s city hall, where we had the opportunity to go inside and meet the alcade (mayor).
Mercado Central
Mercado Central

During our walking tour, I found this market to be very interesting because it is so diverse. Our tour guide said that one can find practically any type of food from any
country in here.
Xativa
Xativa

Xativa was my first trip out of Valencia as well as my first time seeing a castle.

 

Alcade
Alcade

The UVA Valencia program, for the first time, had the opportunity to meet the alcade of Valencia.

Gelato
 Gelato

This was my first time buying some sort of food in Valencia in the center of the city.

Royal Palace, Madrid

Royal Palace- MadridI went to Madrid not really knowing what to expect but once I saw the royal palace, I was more than overwhelmed by the structure, color, and architecture of such a gorgeous building. This experience made me want to revisit Madrid and explore the city more and see the royal palace again.

Center of Spain, Madrid
 Center of Spain- Madrid

It makes sense how Madrid is the center of Spain considering the diversity and amount of culture it contains.
Toledo
Toledo

While in Madrid, we took a day trip to Toledo. It is a gorgeous small town rich in diversity and culture of different religions. It is also a place that is very proud of its
relationship to Don Quixote.

 

Dessert

Dessert

 My host mom makes these desserts called, latía, which are similar to pudding. No matter how full I am from dinner, I can never turn down a latía.

More Dessert
More Dessert

 I went to this amazing café the other day called Le Petit Brioche. They had this chocolate cake with orange fruit filling that was absolutely delicious.

Friends 
Friends

I choose to upload this picture because I am very excited for what’s to come and the
people I will meet this semester. 

First Steps: UVA in Valencia, 2016

Kimia Nikseresht is a student currently studying abroad through the UVA in Valencia program. Read below for her reflections on pre-departure challenges and her expectations for the semester. 
Today is the day! I can’t believe it’s finally here. It’s funny – I have been dreaming aboutmy “study abroad” in Spain since I was 15. My first year at UVA, I wandered into the ISO only to turn my dream into a goal: I will go to Valencia, Spain for the Spring semester of my third year. Then, I began working on that goal. I took as many Spanish classes as would fit into my schedule, to get my language up to par (or close enough, I suppose). I applied for the opportunity 6 months ago. I got my visa yesterday. And I get to drive to the airport in less than 2 hours. And yet, I’m still in shock. Am I actually about to leave the country by myself? For four whole months?The same way that my brother and I laugh at my mom’s English accent, they are going to laugh at my Spanish. I will probably get lost, get homesick, and get very frustrated.
All of this,I am prepared for. What I am not prepared for is the unexpected. For example, after taking all my finals and finishing out what turned out to be a very academically and personally challenging semester, I came home to relax. I wanted nothing more than to let it all go and just spend time with my family. It was in this mindset that the universe threw me a hint – are you absolutely sure you don’t need a visa? Turns out, I did. This was a Friday afternoon. The embassy would be closed until Monday. I was scheduled to leave on a Tuesday, only 15 days later. If you take out the weekends, the holidays (New Years), and factor in the fact that the embassy is closed on Fridays, I barely had 2 weeks. “That’s it”, I thought, “there go my plans!”
But the universe wasn’t finished. Somehow, I managed to walk away with a visa in my hand Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours before my scheduled flight.These are the challenges that I am not prepared for. Because quite frankly, there is no way to prepare for them. But here’s my outlook – if I want to be a lawyer in just a few years, I have to figure it out. That’s it! One crisis at a time, I just need to figure. It. Out. As one of my favorite quotes says, “the days are long, but the years are short”. Well, the semesters are even shorter. So in that spirit, here I go!
Dearest Friends and Family! While abroad, I will send short updates of my experiences: where I am, interesting occurrences (the weird, the funny, etc), and how I’m feeling. If you would like to no longer receive these updates (I get it – it’s annoying and you probably don’t really want to read it anyway) then please let me know and I’ll remove you from the list!!! Please don’t hesitate to let me know – it won’t hurt my feelings I promise! So here we go…This is my first week in Valencia, España. Even at first glance, the city is beautiful: theperfect combination of historic and modern, mild temperatures, friendly people, and bestof all, conveniently located right by la playa (the beach). However, the beauty doesn’t come without challenges: the homes are freezing cold, the shower never really gets hot,and water is more expensive than wine. Go figure.
KimiaN_Valencia1
We started the week with an invitation to visit el alcalde de la ciudad (the mayor of the city). All UVa students were invited into his office, where we were given the warmest of bienvenidos (welcoming) and his greatest wishes for our journey in Spain. I cannot imagine a better way to enter into a brand new culture.
KimiaN_Valencia2

The highlight of the week was the program-wide trip to the old town of Xátiva, where we hiked to the top of a mountain to find a beautiful castle. Most fascinating to me was the construction of the palace, which was una mezcla (a mixture) of the efforts of Roman Catholics, Arab Muslims, and the Babylonians. And we think America is the “melting pot”?

 

KimiaN_Valencia3

 

Staying with a host family has also proven to be a blessing. 3 home-cooked meals a day, as well as companions to practice Spanish with in a very friendly, supportive environment. Turns out, las familias españoles tienen mucho en común con las famiias persas (Spanish families have a lot in common with Persian ones!). Dinners at 9:00 pm, loud and engaged conversations, relaxed siestas (post-lunch naps), and a very strong bond of togetherness.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned this week:

  1. My sense of directions are AWFUL. After spending 20 incredibly frustrating minutes trying to get my key to turn in the apartment’s door, I angrily stomped off to the elevator upon realizing that I was, in fact, on the 8th floor of the entirely wrong building. Huh.
  2. I am hugely obsessed with my family and friends. While I can easily make new friends and meet new people everywhere I go, I am often telling them about YOU GUYS. I miss you guys more than I could ever express, and nothing but your well-wishes and constant check-ups has kept me sane.
  3. I would like to officially apologize to my parents for making fun of your English. I thought I knew Spanish… until I stepped foot in Spain. Nope. Nada.

Hasta luego!

 

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AIFS Granada: A Photographic Journey

Shadrach Wilson is a UVA student who spent the Fall 2015 semester studying abroad after petitioning to take part in the AIFS: Granada program. Check out his photos and learn more about some of the cool places he saw during the semester! 

 

1_Morocco

Photo taken in Gibraltar. Across the straight, the mountains of Morocco rise up in the background. Since the distance between Africa and Spain here is only 15 km, it is a common crossing point for immigrants.

 

2_León

The floor of the luxurious Plaza de España in Sevilla, which is representative of all the regions in Spain. The red lion is the coat of arms of the Kingdom of León.

3_Córdoba

A view of the historic city of Córdoba across the river.

 

4_birdmural

5_dudemural

Murals are quite common to find on the older walls and buildings in Granada as they are a method to add color to the dull, concrete walls as well as function as political statements. Tagging (as can be seen in the first picture) is also easy to find, and a number of murals are painted to cover up these tags or to convert them into something more artistic.

 

6_orchard

A view from the middle of an orchard in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The trees in the forefront are almond trees, and those in the background are olive trees, which can be found all over Andalucía.

 

7_anarchy

“If no one works for you, no one should decide for you.” The “A” inside a circle is the symbol of the Anarchists in Granada, a vocal minority in the city. Messages like this can be found all over the town.

 

8_rubble

9_mountainside

We spent a weekend in the small town of Cazorla, which is located in Jaén, a very rural region in Andalucía that produces a significant amount of the olives from Spain. It is a very classic “pueblo blanco” in the region (see the second picture) in the sense that nearly all the houses are a beautiful white and the city itself seems to have been built onto a mountain.

10_castle

11_view

One of the unique things of Cazorla is its castle (upper photo) that looks down on the city and is a bit reminiscent of the Alhambra, except on a smaller scale.

12_olives

13_trail

14_sign

15_scale

16_fall

17_tower

Tourism in Cazorla is quite popular because the city boasts some of the most beautiful views from its numerous hiking trails. Additionally, the locals are some ofthe friendliest around.