Hailey Zirkle, Honors Program ’20
Four continents, eleven countries, seventeen states. I am eighteen years old, and I have covered 4.5 percent of planet Earth in my travels. Just over two months ago I left my home state of Delaware to embark on one of the biggest moments of not only my travel career, but also of my life.
My name is Hailey Zirkle. I was born in South Carolina but moved north to Delaware during my childhood. At the age of fourteen I began working my first job at Amore Pizza, followed soon after with another job at Limestone Vet Hospital. Graduating from Conrad High School in June 2016, I made the brave decision to begin my college experience at the University of Delaware in another country: Spain.
Here are some cultural differences I noted within the first few hours of being in Spain.
- Walking is the main form of transportation. For this reason, the sky in Spain is the bluest I’ve ever seen.
- Printer paper is longer than at home. (8.5×12 vs 8.5×11)
- Everyone eats later. Natives don’t even think about dinner until 21:30.
- People stay out until 06:00. Every night.
- During conversations it is normal for natives to stand very close to one another.
And yet I find myself, in the midst of all of these cultural differences, loving every moment. Within the first week I realized just how much new there was surrounding me that it was easy to feel lost but also at home at the same time. As one could guess, travel is my favorite activity. Spain itself is incredible in that there are mountains, beaches, forests, and deserts all within a one hour flight of each other. So here’s the part where I tell you about the new that has been discovered, and the new that still remains.
Weeks 1-5: Spain Sightseeing
Monasterio de Piedra – Upon arrival to the Monastery I was left speechless. Upon departure, I was left with three words: waterfalls and vegetation. The monastery itself was used by Buddhist monks and built in the Romanesque period. In 1835, the monastery was confiscated by the Mendizabal decree and the monks were forced out. The grounds of the monastery include a large forest complete with waterfalls and vegetation (hence the two words I found to describe the place). Monks used the walking path as a source of meditation and a way to connect with nature.
Salamanca – Home to the third oldest university in Europe, Salamanca is located to the northwest of Madrid. This city is full of history and culture that lucky enough, our resident advisor Marta was willing to show us. She is from Salamanca and enjoyed showing us her home town. While we were there we came across a medieval festival complete with games, Renaissance costumes, vender booths, and amazing food. Must-see sights include: Casa de las Conchas, Plaza Mayor, and Salamanca University.
Segovia – Perhaps most well-known for the aqueduct surrounding the city, Segovia is full of natural beauty and an interesting history (as most European cities are). While there we were told this story of how the aqueduct was created: a servant sold her soul to the devil in exchange for him to build this aqueduct so she didn’t have to walk back and forth to the nearest water source three times a day. The Segovia Cathedral is also an architectural feat that every tourist should take a picture in front of.
Toledo – The city of three cultures, stray cats, and more stairs than you’d ever want to climb in a lifetime. This culturally diverse city is situated on the top of a hill that takes about twenty minutes to climb vertically. My advice for visitors? Don’t even attempt to read the map. As a UD World Scholar I’ve become really good at following maps and located my position in regards to other monuments. Toledo, however, that’s a completely different story. The best way to get to know the winding roads of this town is to just wander. Sometimes it really is better to wander through life and get lost. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten this amazing picture.
Mallorca, Balearic Islands – This trip was one that I would call spontaneous. On the trip to Salamanca I met another student named Emily who, the next day, invited me to go to Mallorca with her and some friends the next weekend. Granted, I didn’t know any of them. But the traveler in me never turns down an opportunity, so of course I said yes! This is one of the five Balearic Islands located off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Mallorca is the sister island to Menorca, a protected area. This trip was a first time for me: swimming in the Mediterranean Sea! Although it rained for a majority of the time, getting caught in a downpour made the experience unique and created funny memories to look back on. Yoga on the beach was pretty cool too.
Cartagena – Sometimes I forget that I’m actually in college because this experience is so unlike a freshman experience… however one of my favorite classes in Spain is introduction to oceanography. When I was younger I actually contemplated being a marine biologist and this class has reminded me of that and encouraged me to add a marine studies minor. Anyway, this trip was mandatory as part of taking the oceanography course. We went scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea, took a boat ride to a marine reserve, ate some really good paella, and paddle-boarded around an extinct volcanic island.
Week 6: Hala Madrid!
I grew up off of Old Baltimore Pike, very close to the main campus of the University of Delaware. Kennedy, my best friend, lived three houses down on the right from mine, and we spent endless days and nights together until she went off to college two years ago. As fate has it, she ended up studying at Hollins University in France for both the fall 2016 semester and the spring 2017 semester. You guessed it… we met up in Madrid! I have plans to go see her in December, but it was nice being in my home town and guiding my best friend around. For anyone who wants to come to Spain, I highly recommend Madrid. Besides being the capital of Spain, this city is rich with history, amazing food, and national monuments. Here’s the top 10 things to do in Madrid (in the eyes of a local), for those of you who have added Spain to your bucket list.
- Retiro Park.
- El Prado (art museum).
- San Gines for some yummy churros y chocolate.
- Plaza Mayor, especially during sunset.
- El Templo de Debod.
- Santiago Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid.
- Treat yourself to a siesta.
- Royal Palace.
- Go to Sol at night and witness the street performers.
- Spend some money at El Rastro on Sundays.
Week 7: Morocco
This was the first of my two trips to Morocco. In November I will be embarking on a camel trek into the Sahara Desert for an overnight adventure in a Berber tent. This trip, however, was special because I got to go with eight other UD World Scholars. Eleven hour bus rides, shaky ferries, and endless snacking could be used to describe the process of reaching Tangier. We met Rashit there, our local guide, and immediately I was taken aback by the fact that I was in Africa. Marking another country off of my bucket list, I was sure to make the most of my time on this weekend trip. The Hercules Cave, the Blue City, and camel rides on the beach ensured that this happened.
The Hercules Cave is based off of Greek mythology in which Hercules had to cross the mountain Atas. He used his strength to smash through the mountain and connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean, creating the Strait of Gibraltar. In 1995, a British rock group played a concert in this cave.
Chefchaouen, the Blue City, in Morocco took me by surprise for a few reasons. I expected it to be bluer than it was. At first sight it was a mix between brown, blue, and white. Once Rashit brought the group into the winding roads, the blue walls began to emerge and my expectations were met. This trip actually reminded me of why I travel: to prove to myself that I don’t know everything. Also there were lots of stray dogs and I think this one makes the picture.
One of my favorite yet most controversial parts about this trip was the camel ride on the beach. It was great practice for my next trip to Morocco in November, but I wasn’t a fan of how the handlers treated the camels. I understand that camels are working animals, but the constant sitting and standing is abnormal for camels and it was clear that they weren’t enjoying the work they were subjected to. Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to get a great picture and note some tips for November.
Week 8: Ireland
This trip began as an organized vacation with Weekend Student Adventures Europe. I highly recommend this agency for anyone traveling to Europe because they organize great trips for students at good prices. A couple weeks after booking this trip I received an email saying they didn’t have enough people sign up for the trip to pay for local guides, so they were going to refund me for the trip (minus the cost of the hostel). So ultimately, this turned into a trip in which I got to explore a new city without guidance from locals. For some this could be terrifying, but for me it was the experience I was waiting for!
Friday I took a day trip to the Blarney Castle so I could kiss the Blarney Stone, number 23 on my bucket list. Saturday I found the Dublin gems and did classic tourist stuff before touring the Guinness Storehouse and learning to pour my own pint of beer. Sunday I took another day trip to the Cliffs of Moher. This was the most reflective moment of my journeys so far as I marveled at the majesty of the cliffs and took a moment to put my life into perspective.
And that takes us to week nine of living in Spain. I’m spending this weekend at home, and I’m really relieved to take a break from constant traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I could live life on the go for the rest of my days. But as I was so kindly reminded this week, I’m also a college freshman taking five classes (three in Spanish), all of which decided to pile on papers, projects, and readings for the weekend.
When it comes down to it, I couldn’t be happier with the decisions that I’ve made to get myself to the place that I am now. I look forward to managing school, theater, and my upcoming trips to Scotland, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Andalusia, France, Barcelona, and the Sahara Desert. I also look forward to returning home to my friends, my family, and my kitten in less than two months. So as I sit in my dorm typing this and reliving the experiences I’ve recently made, I remember that life is a gift, and every day is a holiday.