Social Media like it’s meant to be

Always when you start to feel at home, the end is coming. Next week my internship ends. I haven’t written so many blogs when in Spain. Shortly said, my life here has been amazing and a challenge at the same time.

Amazing because I love my internship at Vicente Gandia: the people are very nice, I join visits from Dutch customers to the vineyard Hoya de Cadenas, which is super cool; I love Valencia: the weather is perfect, the food is amazing, the city is beautiful, the culture is interesting etcétera etcétera (I can go on for a while). But it also is a challenge because my social network, as in friends, isn’t that big as it is in the Netherlands or in England. I found out that I don’t like to be alone. Therefore, a few weeks ago, I decided that it was time to ‘give myself a kick under the ass’ (like you can say it in Dutch) and do something about it.

I signed up for the application Meet Up Valencia, it works like this: based on your interests you enter a group, for instance I joined: ‘Chicas Valencia’, ‘Ashtanga Yoga’, ‘Comida Ecologica’, ‘Language Exchange Spanish-English’ and more. Those groups organize Meet Ups, as in brunches, meetings, classes etc. The idea is that you meet people, you normally wouldn’t meet, and it really works!

I really like this idea of Social Media, or technology, bringing people together and making us more social instead of more anti-social. Instead of staring at your phone all the time actually talking to each other. This is, I think, how Social Media is meant: to serve as a medium and not a goal in itself. There are a lot of other applications similar to the MeetUp app with a lot of opportunities that were never possible before. Such as: Couchsurfing – where you can stay with locals and meet travelers for free, Blablacar -where you can share a car with people that go to the same place as you, and yes you can even name dating apps like Tinder – where you can meet people close to you based on whether you like each other’s photo. Imagine how someone would have responded to that 10 years ago!

Backstrom et al‘s research shows that you are connected to any individual on Facebook just 4 chain lengths (people) away! Of course there are also negative aspects of social media, when you use it with negative intentions. But I think it is important to focus on the ability it has to serve as medium for bringing people together and creating an offline community. Adiós!

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Being used to unusual situations

At the moment, I am in Spain for two months and the normal life goes on. Well, I shouldn’t say normal, but it does feel like it’s all very normal.When I first arrived in England at the beginning of this year it felt very strange, new and exciting.In Spain it felt already from the beginning natural and familiar. Apparently you can get used to abnormal situations.

I will describe my situation: while in the Netherlands and in the UK everyone is freezing, the weather here is mostly around 20 degrees. One of the best things of the house where I live is that we have an enormous balcony to enjoy the sun on. I live together with two French people and one Italian. Every day I work from 8 until 5 at the office of winery Vicente Gandia. Most of the time I do research on social media focused on raising awareness of Vicente Gandia in Holland. Sometimes clients that sell Vicente Gandia wine in the Netherlands come to Valencia. Then I help with the preparations and I accompany them when they are in Spain. The Spanish people working at Vicente Gandia are incredibly friendly, they really involve me and make me feel like I’m part of the organisation.

Something I discovered is that the image people have of Spaniards being lazy is not true, at least not in Vicente Gandia. They do take a lot of time to lunch and they like having talks about work unrelated things. But in exchange, they often work longer than their planned office hours and when they work, they work really hard. It is different, one is not better than the other. I personally like this more flexible way of working.

Working from 8 until 5 makes meeting new people outside of work a lot harder than it was in England. I am lucky that my flat mate Edo often invites people over, that makes meeting people a bit easier. Also is working from 8 until 5 and being ‘free’ afterwards still a bit strange for me. I’m used to not having strict schedules and to work on school or projects when I have time, including in the evening.

The lunch is the main meal of the day here, and my bread with cheese often gets weird looks. More than half of the people in the organisation don’t speak English but they still really put an effort in communicating. Fortunately my Spanish keeps increasing. Another cultural aspect that is new for me are the two kisses they give on each others cheeks. I have some problems with this, I am never sure when to do it. This can cause for awkward situations. Sometimes I do it too much or not at the right time, sometimes, I’m already almost gone when I realize all people are ready to kiss me goodbye. When I want to give a hug or a hand it is not unlikely that person is already leaning towards me which creates a lot of half kisses, half handshakes-hugs. But well, despite the awkwardness I am starting to like it, it gives you a warm welcome and goodbye.

One thing I know for sure, I am a very lucky woman. And I have to make sure that I don’t get used to the so many abnormal but very nice things in my life.

Too Much To Write About

It has been a long time since I wrote a blog. This time it meant that there were really too many things to write about. So much that I had no time to write it down.

Since my last blog I had two really nice last months in England: my family and two very good Dutch friends came to visit me, there were a lot of nice parties, I visited Edinburgh, I had deadlines for school and so on. One of the last days before I left, three really good friends had a surprise for me, we went to Sushi & Salsa. This was on top of an enormous building with an amazing view and incredible food. It was seriously one of the best nights of my life. On the 13th of January it was unfortunately already time to leave England; I left with a lot of good memories.

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It was pretty weird and nice at the same time to be back in Holland. I kept saying ´excuse me´ and ´thank you´ to Dutch-speaking people in the train. I stayed in Holland for two weeks. It was very good to finally see my friends, family and dogs(!!) again. The second day in Holland I got an unexpected surprise party, which was really nice. I had a lot of catching up to do with everyone, so sometimes I had more than three appointments a day including an intensive Spanish course that I was following. In short, I went out in Groningen (I had missed that a lot), celebrated my grandparent´s 50 years of marriage, went to the island Schiermonnikoog with my family and hugged my dogs as much as I could. And before I knew it it was time to go on my second adventure again: Valencia.

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The second half of my year abroad I am going to spend as a communication intern at winery Vicente Gandia in Valencia, Spain. I am in Valencia now for 5 days and everything seems really nice. I live in a big flat with a huge balcony together with two French and one Italian, the people at the internship seem nice and the weather is beautiful. The only real barrier here is the language. A lot of Spanish people don´t speak English and my Spanish is far from fluent. But I hope to overcome this barrier soon by practicing a lot.

Hasta luego amigos!

The Fear of Being Alone

No classes last week because it was ‘reading’ week. The purpose of this is that everybody catches up with their reading, the reality is that literally everyone goes on holiday. I was invited for a couple of trips, but I finally decided to go on a trip by myself. This was something I always wanted to try. Lots of people, including me, think it’s pretty scary to be alone. But I wanted to overcome this fear and just go.

The plan was to go couch surfing (will explain concept later) in York, and sleep in a hostel in Birmingham. It started already a bit crazy: barely missed my train. I booked a ticket at Mega Bus and therefore  expected to travel by bus. However, after running like a ‘chicken without a head’ (Dutch saying I guess) to different places and asking a lot of people it turned out to be first two hours by train and another two hours by bus.

In the train I couldn’t help to feel a little bit gloomy. Last year everything was so different and now here I am, all alone in the train to York. What do I do when I’m in York? The place where I stayed could only receive me after 22.30 PM. Why did I leave so early again?

Fortunately I met a nice girl from Michigan in the bus, the second part of the way. She was travelling through Europe and very nice to talk to. With her I walked around York, and I got some new interesting perspectives on the American culture. The city York is really cute: it’s like walking into a Harry Potter movie. Everything is so old and there are little streets, churches and Christmas lights everywhere. In the evening I had dinner together with the American girl, she left around 19.30 PM. I stayed in the pub where we ate and had a tea until 10 o’clock.

Then it was time to walk to my couch surf address. Couch surfing is a really cool concept where people put their couch available to sleep on for free (this is the site). During the way to my couch I was thinking about all kinds of excuses why I shouldn’t go and just sleep in a hostel, but I convinced myself to keep walking. Fortunately the people where I stayed were really nice and not creepy at all. The couch was really comfortable. They were vegans and there were apples everywhere (they wanted to make cider from them). All with all a nice experience.

Next morning I continued my way to Birmingham by train. Birmingham was kind of nice, there was a nice Christmas market, some nice old buildings (even though most of the city was bombarded in WW2) and a place called the Goustard Factory was really interesting. However, it was such a big contrast with cute, cozy, little York that it took me some time to adapt.

The hostel had a pretty nice first impression. However, when I wanted to shower, both of the shower doors where too big for the door opening. Therefore, I had to shower in the men shower that was really dirty and a lot less luxurious. I was really tired from all the experiences, so I wanted to sleep early. However, where I had to sleep was like a battery cage and you could hear every single person’s sleeping noises, I heard: farts, coughing, groaning and snoring alllllll night long. And believe it or not in the middle of the night the person sleeping above me dropped his underpants on my head. I don’t know how he managed to do that so I hope I dreamt it.

The next morning I was really happy to go on my way to my own comfortable bed in my own room. But despite the bad night, I really enjoyed my holiday alone and am really proud that I conquered my fear of being alone!

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The English Language

I had never been to an English speaking country before. The Netherlands is the second best non-native English speaking country of the world(sadly the Danes are first). Therefore, I was mostly better in English than the people in the area where I was on holiday.

However, now I’m in the United Kingdom I suddenly feel like a real foreigner with an accent. It’s pretty terrifying that they can hear every single grammar or pronunciation mistake you’re making. For instance, I called ‘lettuce’, ‘léttúce’ – in a French way- until my friend Léa explained that this was not really how you pronounced it. One more embarrassing example was that I asked a girl at a party if she was wearing panties. No!! I didn’t want to know if she had underwear on, I wanted to know if she wore thighs.

Nonetheless, I think it’s really cool to speak the same language as the locals. In this way you connect and adjust very easily. It really encourages me to learn other languages, like Spanish (I hopefully go on an internship in Spain in February). A lot of English people are really impressed that you speak their language so fluently and say they wished they also knew multiple languages. In Holland I was also studying in English but this is really different. Here everything is English. You start to think in English, dream in English, talk to yourself in English (yes I do that:”Okay Mélanie, do you have everything in your bag?”).

Yet, a couple of days ago, I accidentally fell asleep in the middle of the day while I was suppose to change, Skype and prepare dinner. My hall mate, Kristin, woke me up. I was startled by my sudden awakening, jumped out of bed and began to ramble about everything that I still needed to do. After a couple of minutes I realized (I think my exact words were: “Shit!”) that I was talking to her in the wrong language (Dutch) already for a couple of minutes, while she stood there in the door opening not having a clue where I was talking about.  So to say: “I had a brief moment of mental aberration”.

I still have a lot to learn..

The Adventure Begins!

After an amazing goodbye/birthday party, where everybody – yes even my grandparents – were dressed up as a country of choice, it’s finally time to really go! The first adventure this year is situated in the United Kingdom, London. There I’m going to study a mixture of development, politics and hopefully journalism (because of a timetable clash it’s unclear).

My dad brought me by car, so I could bring whatever I wanted to, including all the amazing presents I got at my party. However, when I got there I realized I missed some major things, like cookware and cutlery. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who forgot it. The first night in London was already a good start, a girl appeared in my hall and asked me to come to a party. There I met a lot of nice, mostly foreign people.

The second day in London I spent with my dad walking around in the center. London is very beautiful! Around nine my dad left, now I’m really alone..

Day three, there was a fresher’s fair at Middlesex with a lot of useful information. The school looks really beautiful. I signed up for trial lessons in cheer-leading, cheer-dancing and volleyball (help! I’m not even a sportive person). In the evening we went out in Soho. It was very nice, everybody was dressed up in very fancy skirts and dresses. Totally different than in Groningen!

On September 25, there was a fair at the campus with a lot of free food, bumper cars and other things. In the evening two girls had a surprise, they bought me a birthday cake! Later in the evening we had a pub crawl in Camden Town!

On my actual birthday, I went with a group of people to London. It didn’t really feel like my birthday but I already had that the day before and at my party in Holland.

This was just one very busy week in London,  my classes did not even start yet, they are starting on the 5th of October. I really like it here, although it’s still very new.

I do encounter some differences compared to Holland, like they don’t say “Hi” when you cross a stranger on the street, you’re just awkwardly looking at each other. And they make queues everywhere they possibly can. Something that surprised me was that most English people, especially boys, are very straight forward. “Do you think I’m handsome?” is apparently a very normal question to ask. And I thought Dutch people were direct..

PS: See the gallery for pictures!