A while ago, I visited Cordoba in Southern Spain. Along with Seville and Granada, Cordoba is a must-visit destination in Andalusia. One of my favorite things about the Andalusian region is its history. The southern part of Spain was under Moorish rule from the early 8th century to the late 15th century (almost 800 years!). The Moors were groups of Muslim tribes from Africa who had incredible influence on Spanish culture and history. As a result, Andalusia has a rich Islamic history. It’s also the region home to the ‘traditional Spain’ and traditions like flamenco and bullfighting.
Corboda is no exception in honoring the history of its past. Cordoba’s golden era was the 10th century, when its advances in science and the arts outshine other powerful cities like Bagdad and Byzantium. A symbol of Cordoba’s power is the Mezquita, a mosque that still stands today. Known for its recognizable red arches, the Mezquita is one of the most impressive Islamic structures in the world. The Mosque was gradually expanded over the course of 200 years. Currently, there are more than 850 pillars. However, the Mesquita had more than 1,2000 pillars before the construction of the Cathedral in the center of the mosque.
The Cathedral in the center of the mosque was constructed in the early sixteenth century. Originally, the church wanted to completely destroy the Mosque and build a Cathedral on top of it. However, this was met with strong disapproval from local residence, who saw the Mosque as an symbol of Cordoba. Finally, the Spanish King gave approval to build a Cathedral in the center. This construction spanned several hundred years. Its very interesting to see the contrast between the Mosque and Cathedral, especially because it’s essentially one big building. There are no walls that separate the two, so contrast in architecture and design is magnified.
In order to enter the Mezquita, you walk through the Patio de los Naranjos. The courtyard is filled with orange trees and a central fountain. There’s generally a long line to get into the Mezquita, so you’ll normally see groups of tourists waiting to enter the Mosque. If you look up, you’ll see the bell tower.
On the outskirts of the center, you’ll find a Roman bridge that spans across the river. It’s not the original structure, but the bridge dates back to the 1st century. It’s been rebuilt many times since then, the last changes being made in 1876. (Fun Fact: This bridge was featured in Game of Thrones – season 5 episode 3!)
I was in Cordoba for only two days, which personally seemed like a sufficient time. The center of city, while quite small, is especially beautiful. It is characterized by winding streets in between white walled buildings lined with flower pots.
Overall, my 1.5 day visit to Cordoba was great! It’s a small enough city with enough winding streets that you feel like an explorer.
While I balance a lot of my time between working as an English assistant and LSAT studying, I still make time to appreciate the beauty of Granada. Granada is a fairly small city in southern Spain, with a population of 230,000. To give you an idea, it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk from one end of the city center to the other. Despite its small size, Granada is nationally acknowledged as a beautiful and magical place. The Alhambra, an impressive fortress, overlooks the city and gives it a whimsical and mystical feel. Just by walking through the streets of Granada, you recognize its long and rich history. For centuries, Granada was under Muslim rule and it served as a popular trading center. Granada was the last standing Muslim city before it surrendered to the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella I and Ferdinand V) in 1492!
If you pay attention, you’ll notice the subtle presence of Queen Isabella in the city. The Cathedral of Granada, the most impressive structure within the center, has the initials of Isabel and Ferdinand all around the Church. The Cathedral of Granada was built directly over the Nasrid Great Mosque of Granada (the Nasrid Dynasty was the last Muslim dynasty in power) shortly after the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs.
Also, along Calle Recogidas, a busy shopping street in the center, there are statues of Isabella I and Christopher Columbus in the Plaza Isabel la Catolica. The statues depicts Queen Isabella on a throne and Columbus is in front of her, showing her a map. Not too far from Granada, Queen Isabella granted Columbus approval for his 1492 historic expedition. The monument is in honor an event that changed the course of history.
With spring just around the corner, the sunny days are perfect to explore the city. Despite it getting warmer, the weather in Granada changes enough that one hour you need a jacket while the next you’d be fine with a sweater. Layering works best for this type of weather, giving you both the benefit of adjusting to the sun and adding texture to your outfit. For this day out, I went with a lighter tone in honor of the incoming spring!
And of course no day in Granada is complete without a tapas stop! Granada is one of the few places in Spain that continues to give a free tapa with the purchase of a drink. (A tapa is like a small appetizer of a snack). Going out for tapas is an affordable and Andalusian way to enjoy life. With a glass of wine costing between 2-3 euros, it’s hard to resist!
Despite its size, every time I walk through Granada I discover something new. Whether it’s a new tapas place or a new historical fun fact, this city never disappoints!
As part of my mission to raise mental health awareness, I´ve started a guest series. The series will feature various bloggers that write about positive thinking and mental health. By creating this series, I hope to introduce different perspectives and experiences regarding mental wellbeing.
The first guest blogger is Anita Chitnis, the creator of www.unstickyourlifenow.com, a blog all about giving you the extra push and confidence to live the life you want!
So, tell me a little bit about yourself!
My name is Anita Chitnis. I am 23 years old. I grew up in a suburban town called Edison in New Jersey. I went to Rutgers University and completed my undergraduate studies in business. While attending Rutgers, I realized that I didn’t want an office job right after graduation. So currently I´m running my blog, working on an ebook & video course, and waitressing part-time at a pancake house.
What’s your blog about?
So my blog is primarily a way for me to connect with anyone who is just a little stuck in their life. For those who needs a little push in the right direction with the assurance that it’s okay to be where they are right now. We are often pushed to believe that we need to have everything figured out at age 22.
What motivated you to create your blog?
I read somewhere that you should aspire to be the person you needed to be when you were younger. Looking back, I needed someone to tell me everything was going to be okay. I also needed someone to give me tips on how to change my bad habits. Hopefully, my blog becomes that reassuring voice for those who need it.
Also, I watched a video where 80+ nursing home residents were asked about their biggest regrets. Their biggest regrets were things they didn’t do (like asking someone out or going for that job). It made me realize that I wanted to express my creativity through writing. I didn’t want to regret not doing it later in life.
What do you hope people will get out of your blog and what are your ultimate goals for the blog?
When I started college, my anxiety levels peaked and I wasn’t able to deal with it in a healthy manner. I started down a vicious cycle of self-destructive coping behaviors like binge eating. I hope that my blog helps others realize that that’s not the way to cope and that help is out there. My ebook deals with this topic and goes more in depth than my blog posts. Once my ebook is done, I hope that it´s used as a help manual that can be referred to when needed. My ultimate goal is to make a living off what I love to do – help people. I especially want to help millennial women. I want to help fellow millenial women realize their potential and not be afraid to go after what they want in life.
Why is practicing positivity and optimism important to you?
I spent about 8 years of my life depressed, sometimes borderline suicidal. It was a horrible time and I wish I had gotten help sooner. I attended therapy and while I guess it was a stepping stone, it was not as helpful as I’d hoped. My life completely changed when I started doing daily affirmations. A lot of things can change for the better if you train yourself to have a different mindset.
What does ‘being healthy’ mean to you?
There is this notion that being healthy means eating kale and drinking lemon water every day, but I think it goes beyond that. You need to take care of your mind just like you take care of your body. You could drink all the green tea in the world, but if you don’t work out your emotional baggage and let go of past regrets, you´ll never truly be a healthy person. Stress kills more people than ever, especially now.
What are some daily (or weekly) habits of yours that keep you mentally healthy?
I used to be someone who laughed at meditation. I thought that sitting there with my eyes closed would do nothing. This attitude changed when I reached the peak of my anxiety and had several panic attacks a day. Now, I deep breathe and meditate every day for about 10 minutes. I do this exercise longer on days that are busy or stressful. I also do positive affirmations on a weekly basis. Also, I’ve been working out a lot ever since I got a scare from the doctor about my physical health. Luckily, I fell in love with weight training and quite honestly, working out helps me be more focused and calm calm.
If you could give your 15-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
A lot of bad stuff is going to happen but it shouldn’t discourage you. People are not who they say they are all the time, but that doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself and not trust others. It just means to be a little careful. Do things that scare you because you might end up liking them. Most importantly, live a life without many regrets because that’s the best life to live.
What is confidence to you?
Confidence is simply the way you feel about yourself and about your capabilities to do things. You need to practice self love and talk to yourself like you would to a friend. When you start the journey towards self love, you have to figure out what keeps you from living the life you want. Once you figure out how to overcome these obstacles, your confidence will grow tenfold.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
“If anyone ever did it, then you can too”
I always assumed that to reach a certain level of success, you need certain credentials. On the other hand, you see people lose 300 pounds without surgery (not to say weight loss surgery is an easy way out because it isn’t) and people that go from living on the streets to making millions. You have to believe that if they can do the impossible, so can you. Sure it will be tough, but you have to work for your dream!
I think we all have a personal code of conduct or guidelines that help define how we want to life our lives and who we want to be. Can you share three or four codes that you live by?
1. As long as you aren’t hurting others, do things that make you happy, no matter how strange they might seem.
2. Stop hating on yourself and others, channel that energy somewhere else. (I constantly have to remind myself of this one)
3. Don’t lie to yourself. Focus on doing your best and put 100% effort into whatever you’re doing. Results will come.
4. Take away one good thing from every person you meet. Learn something from everyone.
…..and that wraps up my first Q&A with another blogger passionate about helping others through positivity! If you’re interested in following Anita, please subscribe to her blog, www.unstickyourlifenow.com, or like her on Facebook.
Until next time,
As some of you may know, I’ve been studying for the LSAT for a while now.
What’s my story?
I graduated from Florida International University in May 2017 with a Bachelors in International Relations. I initially planned to take my LSAT in June and spend my gap year teaching English abroad in Spain. Ultimately, I hoped to attend law school in the fall of 2018. I started studying for my LSAT in March 2017, which didn’t give me enough time to be well prepared for my planned exam date. Like many other LSAT takers, I would soon find out how truly frustrating and exhausting it is to study for the LSAT. Like many others before me, I assumed that 2-3 months of studying was a sufficient amount of time for preparation. If you’re lucky and naturally good at logic, then sure, 2- 3 months might be all you need. BUT, most of us, including myself, aren’t that lucky. The LSAT is a unique test in that it requires no outside knowledge. Everything you need to know is in front of you, it’s just a matter of knowing how to dissect the information. Improving on the LSAT takes a lot of time and effort, I would come to find out. What was originally supposed to be 3.5 months of studying, has now passed the 7 month mark (with breaks included). Over these few months, I’ve learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. Here’s a list of the 5 top things that I wish I had known before studying for the LSAT.
Things I’ve learned:
1. Study for while before setting a goal for yourself.
I think that it’s a common mistake to determine a test date first and then get into studying for the LSAT, expecting that you’ll achieve your goal score. However, most of us don’t give ourselves the time we need. The suggested studying time is a year. While I took this suggestion with a grain of salt in the beginning of my studies, I strongly stand by it now. In hindsight, I wish I had studied intensively for two months beforehand to understand my strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Score improvements are made when you truly understanding your struggle areas and your most effective learning styles. Such insights could take at least 1-3 months to develop but they are necessary for greater score gains.
There are several questions you need to ask yourself as you begin to study: What is my goal? What was my LSAT base score? How realistic is it to achieve my goal LSAT score? Am I willing to put in the necessary time and energy to get the score I want? How much time a week can I dedicate to my LSAT studying? Am I okay with the possibility of needing to retake my LSAT?
Be realistic with setting your goals. On average, LSAT takers improve their score 5-10 points after studying for a couple of months. Of course improvements vary from person to person. Ultimately, its up to you. Also, be open to the idea that you might end up studying longer for the LSAT than you initially planned.
2. Figure out a schedule/plan and stick to it.
Successful preparation isn’t possible without a structure plan. If you don’t dedicate the appropriate time to your studies and/or use that time efficiently, you’ll see little improvement in your score. Luckily, there are many resources out there (like PowerScore, The LSAT Trainer, Magoosh, and 7Sage) that have created various study plans to help you structure your studies, depending on how many months you plan to study. Although keep in mind that any creator of a study plan requires that you use their material to study.
Personally, I started with the 2 month PowerScore study plan during the summer. It required me to read their LSAT trilogy pack (AKA about 1,800 pages) in, you guessed it, two months. This was to prepare me for the June exam. I studied about 35-40 hours a week and essentially spent my entire summer in the public library. After I realizing that I wasn’t prepared to take the June exam, I bought the 7sage online self-paced course. 7Sage is an online LSAT resource created by Harvard Law graduates with the purpose of making LSAT prep material more affordable and easier to understand. The core curriculum is about 98 hours of information and it took me about 2 months to complete it. I found this source extremely useful because it included a lot of listening and visual explanations which helped me tremendously in understanding the material.
I postponed my June LSAT to the September LSAT, but I wasn’t happy with my September score when I received it in November. Almost immediately, I made the decision to delay law school for a year and to retake the exam in June 2018. Currently, my LSAT prep focuses on repetition and doing lots of practice exams, timed sections, and blind reviews. Blind review, a concept coined by 7Sage, is when you go over a completed practice test and take your time to go through the questions. By doing the questions with no time limit, you realize what questions you got wrong because A) you ran out of time, or B) you have difficulty with a particular type of question. Blind review is almost essential in improving your LSAT score because it forces you to narrow in on your weakness areas.
3. Improving on the LSAT requires changing how you think.
As I mentioned, the LSAT is a unique exam in that all the information you need is right in front of you. Understanding how to find the correct answers by breaking down arguments is key to acing the exam. The LSAT makers are incredibly good at creating trick answer choices and making you panic through the use of convoluted sentence structures/themes. Improving on the LSAT means improving your logic-based thinking and polishing these skills to move through questions in an efficient manner. However, rewiring your thought process takes time. Many LSAT studiers notice a general improvement after taking a study break, ranging from a couple days, to two or three weeks. During the summer while I studied, I had two breaks (about two weeks each) when I went to Miami and to Peru. After returning back from these trips, I noticed considerable improvement in my comprehension of the material.
4. Know that LSAT preparation is a mental rollercoaster.
As I mentioned in the previous point, rewiring your brain takes time and progress shows itself slowly over a period of time.The LSAT does not give swift gratification and it’s easy to get discouraged during the process. At these points, its important to remember that you’re not alone in your “LSAT disappointment”. I’d be hard pressed to find an actual LSAT studier that hasn’t A) had a mental breakdown, B) re-considered law school, or C) experienced multiple plateau in their studies. When you start having doubts, it’s important to remember that your LSAT score does not define you. What matters the most in these periods of self doubt, is that you push through and keep on studying. As said by Colin Powell, “there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,hard work, and learning from failure.”
5. LSAT is unlike any other test and burnout is real and will happen often.
The LSAT is an mentally intensive test and finding a healthy study-life balance is key. Therefore, its important to get proper sleep so that you have enough focus and energy to dissect complicated text. You will find yourself getting sick of the LSAT and in these cases, its perfectly okay to take a few days off. This is better than forcing yourself to study, while you grow more hate and disdain for the LSAT. Score improvements require you to be motivated and excited to take on theLSAT – this just won’t happen if you force yourself to study through a burnout. Taking days off will not hurt your progress and are almost a necessity. You need to take the time to re-energize, do the things you love, and remind yourself why you decided to study for the LSAT in the first place.
Personally, I found my best study times to be in the morning. During the summer, I generally woke up at 7:30AM and to study from 8:30AM to 3:30PM. Even now, while I’m working in Spain, I find time to study by waking up 3 hours earlier before work and dedicating my Fridays to the LSAT. The LSAT carries a lot of weight in law school admissions and I make my LSAT preparation a priority. However, as important as the LSAT is, I still make time to enjoy the tapas and adventures that Spain has to offer!
So that’s it – my 5 tips on what you need to know and prepare for as you begin your LSAT journey. There’s a lot more tips to be given on the LSAT and I’ll make sure to talk about them in future posts. Hope you find this helpful and please reach out if you have any specific LSAT questions!
I’ve been in Granada for 5 months now and I couldn’t be happier with the return of sweater weather.
And why exactly am I so happy about this?
Well… one thing that I wasn’t expecting from Granada: cold winter nights (sometimes dipping below freezing temperatures….. eeeeek). Being in the south of Spain, I assumed that it would be all rainbows and sunshine – partially wrong. While it is hot and sunny in the summer, Granada’s winters get frisky cold, especially when the sun sets. This is because of its location under the Sierra Nevada, the nearby mountains known for its ski resort. Due to Granada’s unique proximity to the mountains, Granada gets significantly colder than the surrounding parts of Spain.
ANYWAYS, the weather is finally easing up, AKA I can finally take off the winter coat and jazz up the streets with my sweater weather wardrobe. The buttoned down sweater that I’m wearing now is something that I picked up from an open-air market in Berlin. For only 10 euros, I knew it was a calling. With just enough color for my liking, I went with an all black outfit to make the strands of color on the sweater pop. Also, I just happened to have a yellow belt that matched my sweater, working for a great addition!
As someone who loves her black clothes, I love spicing it up with statement pieces. In this outfit, the job is done by my new, bang-for-my-buck sweater and my yellow Marimekko belt. Marimekko is a Finnish brand that is known for its use of bright colors and bold patterns. The brand makes some awesome statement pieces that I 1000% approve! (I got this belt while I was doing a summer exchange program in Tampere, Finland in 2011. For more information about the scholarship that funded my experience in Finland click here).
From the girl that’s hoping that sweater weather is here to stay, your’s truly,
Around the holidays, I spent some time exploring the city of Berlin. I was in Poland for Christmas and decided to spend the New Years in Berlin. Beyond the capital’s dynamic historical past, I was pleasantly surprised by its strong alternative culture. Berlin is one of the most diverse street art metropolises in the world and is home to one of the coolest places I’ve visited: Teufelsberg.
What is Teufelsberg?
Teufelsberg is a hill topped with abandoned buildings that are covered in street art and graffiti. Despite it’s current look, Teufelsberg didn’t start out as an ‘open art gallery’. It first served as a technical school under Nazi occupation. After the war, the Allies unsuccessfully attempted to destroy it and then covered the remains of the technical school in rubble, creating a massive man-made hill. Due to its height, it served as a spy station after the war for the American and British governments. Once the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union was dissolved, Teufelsberg was abandoned as a listening center. It was eventually bought by a group of investors who planned to build hotels and apartments on the hill. Construction never took off because the Berlin housing boom in the late 1900’s threatened the profitability of the project.
How did it end up as destination to visit?
While Teufelsberg stood abandoned and fenced off from the surrounding areas, artists began to sneak inside to cover the buildings in art. In 2016, the landlord of the property decided to open Teufelsberg up to visitors and tourists to admire this “street art gallery”. Currently, the entrance fee is 8 euros and opening hours start at 10AM everyday. While not in the Berlin center, it’s easily accessible by metro by taking the S-Bahn to Grunewald Station. From there, its about 25 minute walk, which includes walking through a residential area and then a 10 minute up-hill walk. I recommend half a day for a visit, that way theres plenty of time for transport and exploration.
Here are some pictures from my visit!
Teufelsberg is unlike anything I’ve visited so far. It’s a nice change of pace from the typical cultural stuff you see while visiting European cities. Although the entrance fee is a bit overpriced, I definitely recommend a visit!
Today’s topic: depression. For the past few months that I’ve been in Spain, I’ve been working, traveling, and focusing on my future by studying for my LSAT. However, as exciting as the future can be, I like to reflect on the past and how far I’ve come. Recovering from major depression and learning how to manage depression have made it possible for me to be where I am today and its so important for me to help others dealing with depression. Below, I’ve listed the top 10 ways I’ve stayed on track during my personal journey of recovery and what I consider to be crucial to my successes!!
1. See a psychologist.
Showing up at my university’s clinic was the first step I took towards recovery. It was the first time that I reached out for help and helped come to terms with the fact that I could not deal with my depression alone. While some people do see a psychologist for years while depressed and would argue that the therapy visits don’t help, I personally consider this an important step towards acknowledging your mental illness. Therapy helps you get into that ‘warrior recovery mode’ that you do not accept your current mental state and are willing to help other help you fight it. In addition, talking to someone helps you uncover realizations about yourself that you might of not had otherwise. At a therapy session, you have a place to share your thoughts and hear another perspective regarding your depression in a safe and consistent environment.
2. If you don’t know where to start, do the opposite of what you’re used to.
When I finally decided to take action and deal with my depression, I didn’t know where to begin after being severely depressed for more than four years. Suffering from depression during your teenage years brings an especially unique challenge: it interferes with your development. During the years when you grow and change the most (physically and mentally), depression hinders the process of discovering who you are and who you want to be. So by the time I found myself in college, depression was so engrained into who I was and who I though that I was, that I didn’t know how to separate from myself and who I was without it. All I knew what that I didn’t want to be the person who I was with depression and so I decided to do and be the opposite. That meant that even though my depression told me that I didn’t deserve to feel good because of allowing my depression to happen, I was to make myself feel good. I went out of my way to express my sense of fashion and to dress nice. I made sure to do my make up more often to feel pretty, because contrary to what my depression had been telling me, I did deserve to feel pretty and I deserved all the things that my depression had denied me.
3. Set small goals.
When tackling something as complicated as depression, its so important to cherish and celebrate the small victories. There will be times that you relapse or let depression get the best of you, and when this happens, its important to not have those disappointments destroy you mentally. Setting and completing daily goals like making the bed, reading for an hour, or completing small errands helps us feel in control and positive about our journey. Also setting long term goals such as getting an A on the class, or finishing a book, (or getting a good score on the LSAT), helps us work towards something bigger yet feasible.
4. Get a support system and trust it.
As you progress through recovery, you’ll realize that its a cycle of ups and down and more than once, you’ll relapse and find it easier and comforting to let your depression take the reins; DON’T. Our ultimate goal is to fight back for control. However, sometimes you won’t have the energy to fight relapses yourself and its important to have a support system to reach out to. Your support system should be people who care about you – your family, your friends, your mentors – who are a part of your journey through recovery. Trust that they care and will help you feel better and support you. Trust them to motivate you to get back up and fight your mental illness.
5. Find a hobby.
Hobbies are important. They help you create (whether its intangible or tangible) and reminds you that you are capable of beautiful things. They give you a sense of identity and comfort, especially as you deal with the ups and downs of depression.
Exercise has played one of the most important roles in my personal journey. Even now, I continue to go to the gym 4-5 times a week for mental clarity. Beyond the physical benefits of exercising, just an hour at the gym leaves me focused and boosts my confidence in tackling my day and my goals. It’s no secret that exercise helps with the release of endorphins, a chemical that helps relieve pain and stress, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this phenomenon. Even on days that I’m tired or down, just 30 minutes of weight training or cardio makes a world of a difference in my attitude.
7. Travel by yourself.
There’s no better way to learn about yourself than to spend some quality alone time. Solo traveling gives you the perfect opportunity to make decisions entirely on your own, to wander and to explore. I treasure my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires during my spring semester of college because it played such a vital role in helping me learn who I was. Traveling through Patagonia in southern Argentina and experiencing the Atacama Desert in northern Chile reminded me how beautiful the world is and how life is worth living. Figuring out my travel plans and meeting so travelers from all across the world taught me how capable I was and how much I could learn from other people. Even if you can’t take a trip out of the country or state, just a day out in the city or on a hike gives you time to reflect and look at the world around you. Its a refreshing experience to be reminded that the world is full of possibilities and wonders.
8. Don’t give up.
Relapses are inevitable and the faster you accept it, the better off you will be. However, the best way to decrease and mitigate the effects of a relapse is to resist it. Obviously this is easier said than done but I’ll be the first to tell you that recovering from depression isn’t easy. This means that if you don’t feel like going out and being social, then go out. When you feel like crying in bed all day, dress up, do your make up, and call a friend. The key is to do these things automatically and mechanically. The minute you start to negotiate with yourself is the minute you lose and your depression wins. You won’t win every time and over time, it’ll become easier and easier to overcome the depressive urges, just don’t be too hard on yourself!
9. Fake it till you make it.
Embarking on a journey of recovery doesn’t exactly mean you know where you’re going. You probably don’t remember what its like to get up from bed and go about your day without a struggle or what its like to live blissfully in the moment, and that’s okay. But you do have a vision of who you aspire to be without your depression and and sooner or later, you’ll become it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable as you embark on the journey of a better you and ignore the voice of depression. So get dressed and go out for a coffee with a friend. Laugh and socialize even though you might feel like you’re dying on the inside…. because you’re not dying. You are surviving and you are alive and you’ll live to see that day when you finally make it.
10. Lose the shame, get comfortable with your depression.
As you continue with your journey of managing your depression, you will learn that depression is not you, only a part of you. For some, like myself, depression is something that will always be apart of our lives, and thats okay. Through recovery, you’ll understand your relationship with depression and understand that any periods of sadness and heaviness wont last. Recognize that depression is something that happens to you and don’t let it shame you; you are strong and beautiful even with your scars.
Last week I spent four days in Warsaw as part of my two week trip to Poland/Germany for the holiday break. It was my first time in Poland during the winter (I usually go during the summer) and despite the cold and short days, the trip reminded me how much I loved the capital (not to mention, how awesome it was to have some Polish food again after living in Spain for a few months). Admittedly not the most aesthetic European city, but its rich history more than makes up for it. Poland has a rich, albeit turbulent history, but at the end of WWII the Nazis burned down more than 85% of Poland’s capital. The reconstruction of Warsaw post-WWII created a mixture of elaborate pre-war reconstruction, war memorials, and the stark buildings symbolic of the communist era.
1. The Old Town
The most touristic and prettiest part of Warsaw is… you guessed it – the Old Town! While the Old Town doesn’t look particularly different from other European Old Towns, it’s important to remember that most of its original construction has been ruined. Therefore, the current Old Town is a reconstruction of what it used to be…. from the Baroque Church in the center, to the Royal Palace next to the entrance of the Old Town. After the communist party came into power after the end of the war, they were reluctant to rebuild the Old Town, which was a symbol of aristocracy and entirely contradicted the communist ideology that everyone is equal. However, after much negotiation with the government, the Warsaw Reconstruction Office was created in 1945. The Office worked to recreate the Old Town as it was in the late 18th century by using old documents and archives. Warsaw natives and later Poles from all around the country would come to the Old Town to give a helping hand to the reconstruction. Even in my own family, my grandfather donated 100 złoty for the reconstruction of the Royal Castle. The reconstruction continued into the 1960´s and officially ended with the completion of the Royal Castle in 1986. Eventually, after many years, the Square was finally completed and the hard work and perseverance was honored by UNESCO in 2011.
2. The Warsaw Uprising Memorial
As one of the biggest memorials in Warsaw, it stands to commemorate the Polish soldiers that fought in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It was Poland’s last attempt to fight for their liberation, knowing that the Nazis were losing the war and the Red army was making its way towards Poland from the East. Unfortunately, the Uprising was a failure, as the Polish army was poorly equipped against the Nazis and the Soviet Army refused to aid them in the uprise. Stalin directed his army to wait, believing that helping the Poles win their liberation would threaten his planned expansion of the Communist ideology. The Uprising lasted for 63 days and resulted in the death of 16,000 resistance fighters and 150,000-200,000 civilian deaths (The reason civilian death was so high was because the Nazis would systematically kill Polish civilians in effort to force the insurgents to give up…known as the Wola Massacre).
It was not until towards the Communist regime ended in Poland in 1989 that the Uprising was commemorated by the Polish government. The two part memorial pays a tribute to the bravery and sacrifices of the resistance soldiers. In the first piece, the soldiers are running from under a bridge towards battle with the meager weaponry that they had – guns and homemade grenades, symbolizing the lack of equipment the uprisers had in their possession. The soldiers are all young and in mismatched clothes, reflecting how the Uprising was composed of young and untrained patriots that wanted to do their part in trying to save their country. Unsurprisingly, without proper equipment to match the superiority of the Nazi’s war machinery and as well as the absence of aid from the Soviet Union, the Uprising soon took a bloody turn. The second half of the memorial shows symbolizes this slow bleeding out to the end of the Uprising. By then, morals are low and soldiers are simply trying to save themselves by escaping through the sewers. Unfortunately, the Nazis were aware of this and often filled the sewers with poisonous gases, suffocating hundreds of Poles underground.
3. The Warsaw Ghetto Boundary Markers
Probably the greatest atrocities of WWII is the systematic killing of the Jewish people and during WWII, Warsaw housed the largest Jewish Ghetto in Nazi-occupied land. Prior to the war, Warsaw had a Jewish population of more than 350,000, which was about 30% of the city’s population. In October 1940, the Nazis announced the creation of the Ghetto. It was surrounded by a 10 foot wall topped with barbed wire and was about 1.3 square miles (3% of the capital). The Ghetto was overcrowded, unsanitary, and lacked the food necessary to feed all of about 400,000 Jews inside. Two uprisings occurred in the ghetto. After the second uprising in 1943 (which was also the largest single revolt by the Jewish population during WWII), the Nazis leveled the Ghetto by burning it to the ground.
Today, you’ll find parts of the Ghetto wall preserved in different locations in Warsaw and you’ll also find a golden outline of the Jewish Ghetto on the floors. The orientation of the wording informs people to know whether they are standing inside or outside the former ghetto. Those that can read the wording would be standing outside out the former ghetto walls and those that see the lettering upside down would be standing inside the Ghetto.
All throughout Warsaw, you’ll find metal plaques on the wall that honor past buildings that once stood there or commemorate battles or those executed during WWII. The origin of the plaques date back to 1948, when a national competition was created in search for an original design to commemorate all those lost and killed under Nazi occupation. The sculptor Karol Tchorek won the competition and set off the installation of the plaques around the city in the 1950’s (they’d be installed all the way up to the 1980’s). While a lot of the original plaques have been removed (due to the modernization of the city), there are still more than 160 around Warsaw. Unfortunately they are written in polish, but just acknowledging a plaque is acknowledging that you are standing in a place of historical significance (aka very cool).
For the most part, the plaques honor victims of roundups and the Warsaw Uprising. Roundups (łapanki in Polish), was a widespread Nazi tactic to randomly ambush civilians. By doing so on almost a daily basis, the Nazi instilled fear and deterred resistance among civilians in Warsaw. At the wrong place and at the wrong time, any civilian that was caught between the Nazis vehicles during a roundup was deported to a labor camp, sent to a concentration camp, or executed on the spot. The roundups were worst between 1942-1944, when some sources suggest that anywhere between 400 to 1,000 civilians fell victim to the roundups. And interesting fact: While many of the plaques are in honor of civilians and resistance fighters killed during the Warsaw Uprising of WWII, it would be hard to make this inference from the wording of the plaques. This was intentional, given that after the war the Polish government was a puppet of the Soviet Union and used propaganda to downplay the Warsaw Uprising.
5. The FOOD
Okay I will admit that Polish food is available all around Poland and not just Warsaw, but Polish food is GREAT. Beyond regular restaurants, Warsaw is filled with Milk Bars (or Bar Mleczny in Polish). These are cheap cafeteria-styled restaurants that were created in the late 1800’s, but became popular after WWII among workers who wanted affordable meals. Some of them are still opened around Warsaw and in them you’ll find traditional and cheap Polish dishes (around 3-5 euros). So where ever you are in Poland, it’s of extreme importance to the soul to try and explore polish cuisine, whether its pierogi, barszcz, kielbasa, or gołąbki! (Personal favorite is potato and cheese pierogi 🙂 )
So there you have it, Warsaw my favorite history book! While I went over some historical anecdotes and facts briefly, there is plenty of information that I skipped out on and I encourage you to dive into more research about Warsaw and its WWII/Communist history and I hope that you have the chance to visit!
As some of you may know, I am currently living in the beautiful town of Granada, Spain. I’ll be living here for the year to work as an English teacher assistant at a local high school just outside the city between October and May. Why am I here? Well, during the spring semester of my final year at FIU, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to go to law school, but at this time it was too late to take the LSAT and apply for law school for the upcoming fall. So, I decided to do the program to have time to study for the LSAT and figure out where I’d want to go to law school. In addition, I hope to improve my fluency in Spanish and have the opportunity to travel before I return back to school!
My specific program is called the Spanish Auxiliary program. It is a program sponsored through the Ministry of Education in Spain and offers more than 4,000 positions across the country for native english speakers. Our job is to “assist foreign language teachers in a variety of schools in Spain and to learn about Spanish culture and society and also about its education system.” Essentially, we are english assistants in classes that require the use of english and help out by reading out loud in english, correcting pronunciations, and preparing presentations for classes.
There are several other similar programs such as BEDA and Meddeas, each with their own benefits and shortcomings and its best to learn about each program to determine what’s a best fit for you. For a more in-depth FAQ document concerning the Spanish Auxiliary Program, press here.
The application period is open between January and March. However, it’s best to apply as soon as possible because you’ll find out your placement sooner and will have a higher chance of being placed in a region of your choice. While you don’t necessarily get to decide what city/town to be in, the application gives you an option of listing your top three regional choices.
What do I need?
Fortunately, the application is pretty simple and you don’t need a TEFL. The application consists of a general application online, a recommendation, a transcript, and a short essay. Also, for those that have dual EU citizenship and don’t need to apply for a visa, a medical certificate needs to be included with the application. People who will need a visa won’t need to submit the medical certificate, but its important to be aware of the fact that the visa process can take around 2-months. While the entire application is in Spanish, there’s a PDF file on the official page that tells you in English how to go about the online application and what you need to fill out.
The program pays you 700 euros for 12 class hours (with the exception of Madrid, which pays 1,000 euros for 16 class hour a week and runs from October to June). This give you plenty of time to explore and take on tutoring classes in your spare time (most auxiliaries do this to make additional income). Depending on where you are in Spain, you can charge anywhere from 10 – 20 euros per class (In Granada the general charge is 12 – 15 euros per class). Most schools offer Mondays or Fridays off, allowing you to plan weekend trips to travel. Also, the program provides you public health insurance.
When do I find out?
There are essential three levels of responses 1) an e-mail confirming that your application has been accepted and assigning you a nobramineto – a number that marks the order in which regional placements will be given, 2) an e-mail of your regional placement, and 3) an email stating the assignment of your town and school.
Responses are sent out on a rolling basis, starting around the end of May. People who have already been in the program and sign up for another year, have priority and will most likely get their first choice and hear back first. There’s a facebook group for those that have applied for the program and in it, a useful Excel sheet where people share their nomamiento, their top choices, and when they receive a response.
So I got my placement, now what?
After you get your school it’s best to reach out and introduce yourself. Your director is good source for information about getting settled in Spain and will let you know your schedule. Personally, I booked an Airbnb for 10 days to give myself enough time to get a feel of Granada and to find a place to live. Once in Spain, the next important bureaucratic things are getting the Spanish residency card (NIE/TIE) and setting up a Spanish bank account so that you can get paid. Depending on the region, some regions require that you give them your bank account information by a specific date to get paid on time. For example, Andalusia held a general orientation for auxiliaries on October 7th (our program officially started the beginning of October) and didn’t expect us to handle the NIE and bank account before they gave us instructions at the orientation. Personally, I preferred and was able to get my NIE and bank account set up the week before classes when I still had time to run errands during the day.
It’s only been two months and while I’ve experienced a lot, there’s still so much to learn! So for anyone interested, I hope you found this post helpful and stay tuned for upcoming posts on Spain, my adventures, and my experiences as an english assistant in Granada!
A few days ago, my mom and I returned from our 16 day trip around Peru. While our main reason for traveling to Peru was to visit Machu Picchu, we quickly realized that there was so much to do and see in this country! After a few weeks of planning, we decided to spend our first two days getting situated in Lima before flying over to Cusco (bus is also an option, but the drive would be at least 20 hours, since the bus goes through mountainous terrains). Once in Cusco, we traveled up to Machu Picchu and then back down to Cusco for a few days. From Cusco we started our Peru Hop bus tour, which eventually took us back to Lima by going down south to Lake Titicaca, then westward and up along the coast. Below, is a little summary of the places we stopped at during our trip!
Lima (June 23-26)
Lima is the capital of Peru with a population of around 10 million people (in total, the country has a population of around 31 million!). Located right on the water, it’s a beautiful place to walk along the Pacific coast and to try some parasailing. Also, known as Latin America’s gastronomy capital of the world, Lima has delicious (and cheap) food, ranging from seafood, to various regional cuisines, to food fusions with other cultures. (Fun fact: Peru has been selected at the ‘World’s Leading Culinary Destination’ for the past five years). Also interestingly enough, food, jewelry, and artisanal items are a lot cheaper in downtown Lima than anywhere else we were in Peru, so we did most of our souvenir shopping there.
While most people rather spend time in Cusco than in Lima, we spent a total of about 3.5 days in Lima and we don’t regret it one but. We visited Lima’s Downtown District, Miraflores – Lima’s commercial and most affluent district, and Barranco – a fun and bohemian neighborhood full of culture and a great bar scene at night, which were all unique districts that worth the visit. Plus, the best food is in Lima!
- Visiting the Plaza de Armas in Downtown Lima (It never rains in Lima and there is almost aways a constant fogginess in the city – hence the gray sky).
- Walking along the coast of Lima.
- And of course, trying the delicious food that Lima has to offer!
Cusco (June 26-30)
Cusco is the most popular tourist destiation in Peru, mainly used as a pitstop for those that plan to visit Machu Picchu. But besides its proximity to Machu Picchu, it’s a picturesque city located in a valley. Last year, Trip Advisor announced that Cusco was the second most popular tourist destination in Latin America (after Buenos Aires). We spent about two days here, exploring and getting situated to the high altitude (the rest of the days were used to get to/from Machu Picchu). A little too touristy for me, but definitely worth a few days!
- Of course, the clear highlight of the trip: Machu Picchu!
- Besides Machu Picchu, there are also other fascination wonders in the area, like Rainbow Mountain.
Puno (July 1-2)
Puno is a large town located an the shore of Lake Tictaca and acted as our pitstop for a 2day/1night homestay tour we booked to explore Lake Titicaca. At 12,507ft/3,810m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It’s also shared with Bolivia, so many people opt to cross over to Bolivia from Puno.
- Visiting the Uros Islands – a collection of about 80 man-made islands. The islands are built by the Aymara-speaking indigenous people, who use shallow-growing reeds from the lake to build these floating islands.
- Spending the night with a local family on Amanti Island and learning about the local culture and cuisine while there.
Arequipa (July 3-6)
Arequipa is the second most industrialized and commercial city in Peru, after Lima. It’s a prideful town with a unique culture, responsible for having several local, popular beverages (like Kola Escocesa) and dishes (Empanadas Salteñas). Some also refer to the city as “La Ciudad Blanca” (White City), for its buildings made from white, volcanic stone and for the fact that it was a city mainly developed by the Spaniards. It’s surrounded by three picturesque volcanoes Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu. This was my favorite city in Peru for a couple reasons A) it’s beautiful architecture, B) it’s unique culture, and C) for not being as touristy as other places we visited during our trip.
- Exploring the City’s Plaza de Armas.
- Booking a 2day/1night tour to explore the Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world.
Huacachina (July 6-7)
Huacachina is a tiny village built around an oasis in the desert. Besides the cool fact of being at an oasis in the desert, there is not much to do in the town itself. BUT, the sand dunes surrounded Huacachina mean that you can go sand boarding and ride a dune buggy, which were some of our coolest experiences in Peru!
- Taking many, many pictures.
- Sand boarding!
Paracas (July 7-8)
Paracas as a town wasn’t anything exciting (during our free time we did several laps around the town and sat around in cafes), but its located by the Paracas National Reserve. The Reserve is responsible for protecting parts of Peru’s coastal marine ecosystem.
Paracas (the town), is also located by the Ballestes Islands, these islands also happen to be known as the “Poor Man’s Galapagos Islands”. However, due to bad weather conditions, the port was closed the day we were there, so we were unable to go out and explore the islands.
- The National Reserve was the highlight of our stop here in Paracas!
After our day in Paracas, we arrived to Lima July 9th, right before midnight. We spent the next day revisiting Downtown Lima and having our last share of delicious ceviche. Before long, we were on a plane, back to Newark, wondering how our Peru trip went by so fast!
More, in-depth posts about our travels in Peru coming soon!