A Travellerspoint blog

Waves of Happiness

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In my previous post I told you I wanted to enjoy the last bits of post-summer, so that’s what I did in these past days. After a lazy Sunday of recuperating from the weekend, I headed to Donostia again on Monday to spend a day at the beach with Niké and Tiina.

We left in the afternoon and were late for our first bus - well actually that’s not true, we were on time but the bus decided to leave two minutes early, thank you driver! - so we had to take the next one and only arrived in Donostia at 3.45 pm.

Mystic atmosphere

Although the weather predictions had showed it was going to be only semi-overcast and warm that day, we did not see any rays of sunlight upon arrival and we even felt a few drops of rain. But when we walked up the beach, all of the sudden the sun was finding its way through the clouds. The whole scenery was lovely, not too many people on the beach - we went to the smaller one, the surfing beach, because it’s cosier and not that touristy - and a sort of mystic atmosphere due to the packs of clouds and few rays of light.

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Amazing atmosphere
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Tiina and Niké

Fighting nature
As for the swimming part, we noticed the waves were very high and broke not too far from the beach with an amazing power. If we wanted to swim at all, we would have to dive under them to get a bit further in the water where the waves wouldn’t break anymore.
It’s what I tried to do and I succeeded for a while, but then a really big one came along and I underestimated it, thinking it would pass me, but it didn’t. So off I went, the wave took me under, smacked me to the ground (my arm still hurts as hell) and tumbled me around, so for a second I lost my orientation and did not know what to do. After finding my way up - in which time is of the essence because the current that pulls you back into the sea can be strong - I decided that was enough for a while, but I couldn’t resist going in there again a bit later (a more successful attempt).

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Me after tumbling through the waves


Best day

Zuzana also joined us with some delay, after first having looked for us on the wrong beach. And again a bit later, some friends of Tiina also came to the beach while the sun was already setting. I don’t know why exactly - maybe it was a mix of elements or something in the air - but it was the best day I’ve had here so far. I felt so completely peaceful and happy - for some reason everything inside was tingling - and it all seemed a bit surreal because I wasn’t able to grasp any of it. There’s nothing I love more than the sea, the sound of the waves, the infinity of it, but this time it was just that tad bit more special.

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Itziar and Zuzana
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Donostia beach at dusk, love it!
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Tiina in front of the Kursaal

Call me overly emotional all you want, but later that night when I was back home, I was actually pondering on how to elongate my stay here (maybe an internship?).

Today I learned some more Basque words, so I can finally say my name (Sanne dut izena) and where I’m from (Belgika koa naiz). I was also planning on going to a play in Bilbao tonight, a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984, directed by Tim Robbins (!!) but since I wasn’t able to find a place to sleep I didn’t go. It will however also show in the Theatre Festival of Vitoria-Gasteiz next week, so hopefully I can see it then!

Gabon!

Posted by Sajeh 23:11 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Maritxu Kajoi!

Little Mary in a Box

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Gabon/Egun on everybody! Yes, I'm writing you in the evening, but for me it still feels like morning. Main cause: Maritxu Kajoi, one of Arrasate's biggest yearly festivities, and Corine's birthday party. I have seen very few hours of daylight this weekend and I'm suffering the consequences right now. Get ready for a long post!

Maritxu Kajoi is celebrated every first Friday of October and brings youth from all over the region to Arrasate for a night of decadence, drinking and ... well, that's it. If you want to know something about the origins of Maritxu, I'd be happy to transfer you to Koen's or Michael's blog. No use in repeating it all over again.

Anyway, for Maritxu, you have to dress up! Or in the words of Barney Stinson: Suit up!
Our only problem was that we had to work all Friday at E!TB, which meant that we had to get up at 7.30 am to leave for Bilbao, where we had to take the last bus in the evening directly to Arrasate. This also meant that we had to wear the same clothes to work ànd to Maritxu, so at work I really felt too fancy, while in the evening I felt way underdressed.

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Jorge --> Exemplary suit-up!

Tuxedos and cheap booze
We initially thought that the event was primarily for people of Arrasate and the nearby towns, but when we arrived at the bus stop in Bilbao, there were a lot of people already waiting in line to get on the bus, all of them in tuxedo or gala dress. Now, I've never been a lover of mass events with ridiculous social codes and expectations to cover up the actual purpose of the attendees (as previously stated, decadence and drinking). So when I saw all these people in their very formal clothing - while they were carrying plastic bags filled with cheap booze - I was getting a bit jumpy. I know it sounds overly cynical, but I tend to observe these things too much and mostly at the end of the evening I end up feeling a bit melancholic because I'm just not the kind of person that turns off the switch and lets loose. Yes, I know, you're thinking I'm missing out on a lot of fun, but believe me, I amuse myself with having people around me that do let loose.

Teenage hormones! Run!
To my surprise, I had quite a good night and the jumpy feeling disappeared when we arrived in Arrasate and met with all of our friends. The series of fun (and less fun) events:

When we were in the town's main square having a drink, a group of very young teenage girls noticed Koen. It was like a front of commencing pubic hormones that were not at all trying to be subtle about their interest in the tall foreign guy. I compared it with the little white ghosts in the Mario videogames (if anyone remembers those): whenever Koen turned his back or didn’t pay attention, the girls came a little bit closer. All of the sudden they stood at about one meter from us, whispering and giggling while they were looking at Koen, who was feeling very uncomfortable. At last, they came to ask where we were all from and if they could take a picture with Koen. I’m sure it made those girls’ day, I can just imagine them looking at that picture together at numerous slumber parties to come.

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Koen's harem

The good and the bad
We had some drinks and went to several bars, some very pleasant, some too crowded to stay inside, so we spent most of the night out on the streets. Luckily the weather is still on our side here, so it wasn’t until very late at night that I started to get cold. The streets of Arrasate were packed with people and one square was filled with food stands, whereas you could find jewellery stands in the alleys. The cosiness of the ancient part of town made the whole event a lot more pleasant, it didn’t feel like you were in a huge crowd all the time, which was a big plus for me.

Apparently, Maritxu Kajoi is very demanding and sometimes the partying spirit takes its toll. We saw a guy sitting on the street who was so wasted that no one could make any contact with him anymore. Wrecked. An ambulance had to burrow itself through Arrasate’s narrow streets to take him away. Decadence and drinking…

In the main square there was a big stage where a few bands played and when they started, the whole plaza became one huge dancing fest. It was like an open-air prom night, everyone in their nicest and newly bought outfits, drunk and dancing. I didn’t drink that much actually, since I got a bit sick after my first glass of white wine, of which I now suspect that it had long passed its due date. Tiina, Zuzana and I also went for some fries at the food stands – Belgium represented!

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Arrasate's main square
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Zuzana, Tiina & fries!! Yum.
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Tiina and me

Getting late, hanging in there

Somewhere along the evening (night) our group got separated and we ended up in a very crowded bar. None of us liked it there, so we decided to go to Zuzana and Emilia’s apartment to rest a bit, after we picked up Oihana, who was waiting on the other side of town. We stayed at the apartment for a while – finally being able to go to the bathroom since every single toilet in Arrasate’s centre was occupied – until we heard from Eneko and Irati, who asked us to come back to rejoin the festivities. By then it was already about five o’clock in the morning and I had little energy left, but we didn’t know at what time we could catch a bus back to Bergara.

Part of the group stayed at the apartment to go to sleep, and Koen, Michael, Niké, Oihana and me headed back to the centre, where we met with the others. By then, although I had a fun night, I was feeling lousy and cold, so my input to the group and the atmosphere was very minimal. I sat on the hood of a car for a long time, with on one side our Basque friends rambling on in Spanish or Basque – I was just too tired to notice the difference, don’t shoot me – and on the other side my roommates who were sober again and looking kind of numb.

Recovery
At 6.30 am we headed for the bus stop to catch the first bus to Bergara. Dead tired we arrived at home and slept until late in the afternoon again. I don’t think we would’ve gotten up if it weren’t for Corine’s birthday party that evening. So while we were still recovering from Maritxu Kajoi, we were already on our way to Aretxabaleta for the next event. Our weekends are packed here! Not enough daylight though, I fear that I’ll look zombie-like every Monday when I enter the world of the living again – although I think the night is much more alive in the weekends!

Since we had two very heavy nights, today just served for recovering – which everyone is still doing while I’m writing this. Tomorrow a temperature of 25 degrees is expected, so I think we will head to the beach to enjoy the last bits of post-summer.

Agur!

Posted by Sajeh 20:48 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Sin carne y sin pescado, por favor

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Hazaa and hurray, today a miracle has come my way! There you have it, the lamest opening sentence of any blog post that has ever been written. Why? I have been told that there are two vegetarian shops in Mondragón and after almost a month of no meat substitutes, I must say I’m very, very pleased!

Let’s rewind: today at our faculty, we had a small gathering with all Erasmus students from Mondragón University, so also the ones from the other faculties. Julia Barnes, one of the professors at our faculty, had organized some sort of speed dating game, in which we all had to talk to each other and learn each other’s interests and phone numbers.
Although tiring and a bit chaotic, we did get to meet some really nice people from various countries: Mexico, Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, … Even three guys from the French part of the Basque Country (Iparralde), with whom we noticed the difference in mentality about their culture and heritage (to put it bluntly: they don’t give a damn).

Missing facts
When we went to have lunch in the university’s cafeteria afterwards, we got a chance to mingle some more. We got to choose from a variety of bocadillo’s (sandwiches), but of course as a vegetarian I had to eliminate all that had meat and fish in it. When they talked about a sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce, I thought ‘Yay!’ but it turned out that they failed to mention the ham and tuna accompanying the lettuce - never mind the main ingredients, let’s just describe the trimmings! I know I’ve said in one of my first posts that I haven’t had any problems ordering vegetarian food here, but in the past week I did have some trouble, several times actually…

Anyway, I wasn’t the only vegetarian at our table and the girl from the Czech Republic told me that in Mondragón there are two shops with organic products and vegetarian/vegan food. I know that not a lot of you understand how excited I am about this or why I would for God’s sake dedicate a whole post to this very insignificant part of the day, but, to rephrase my previous comment, I don’t give a damn, I’m overjoyed!

Agur!

Posted by Sajeh 00:50 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

A Korean-Spanish international film festival

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Hi all, I've posted this today on E!TB, more details and pictures will follow!

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On the last day of the San Sebastian film festival, we finally made it there. Together with Oihana, Eneko and Irati, our Erasmus buddies, we took an early bus and spent the day in the neighbourhood of the red carpet, watching a low-budget Korean movie (Animal Town) and enjoying the sea.

Our day in San Sebastian/Donostia started off with a bit of a setback, when Irati realised she had lost her camera on the bus and at that time we had already been in the city for almost half an hour. Together with Oihana she went back to the bus stop, while the rest of us had some breakfast near the sea, and believe it or not, they found the camera in the bus! I’m not going to generalize all people here by saying they’re all saints, but I know that in any big city in Belgium, the camera would’ve been long gone. Hurray for honesty (or just plain good luck)!

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San Sebastian Film Festival, the Kursaal

Red carpet
By then we had determined which movies we wanted to see, either Animal Town by Kyu-hwan Jeon or When You’re Strange: A Film about The Doors by Tom DiCillo. As you’ve read, we eventually chose the first one and looking back on it, that probably wasn’t the best decision. First, we headed to San Sebastian’s Kursaal to find tickets, which was harder than expected. After a while we found ourselves on the red carpet at the Kursaal - noticing pictures of festival guests such as Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Ian McKellen all around us - not knowing where to go or what to do. Luckily, our Basque friends found someone who could give us directions, so we headed to a small movie theatre for tickets, only to find it closed - damn siesta hours.

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Oihana's diva attitude at the red carpet :)
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All of us at the red carpet


Double incomprehension
To kill the time we went to have a drink and sat outside, enjoying the sun. When the theatre opened, we informed if the movie was spoken in English and they assured us that it was. So English for us, Spanish subtitles for our friends, it seemed ideal! But before the movie started, the director and the lead actor entered the room and gave an introduction in Korean, which was translated into Spanish by an interpreter. A first clue that English was probably not the film’s spoken language. Of course, my presumption turned out to be dead-on when the movie started and we had to sit through 96 minutes of Korean-with-Spanish-subtitles.

Curiously enough, I actually managed to understand about 70 per cent of the subs, and almost everything else was made clear by the actions of the characters. Sometimes I had to ask Eneko for some details, but all in all it was pretty clear! And I enjoyed the movie, so it didn’t feel like six euros gone to waste. Asian cinema mostly has a completely different approach when it comes to emotions and atmosphere, something I find very interesting to watch. Although some of our group didn’t like the movie at all, the audience applauded at the end, which must count for something.

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Introduction of Animal Town by the Korean film crew

We spent the rest of our day on the beach, which gave me some time to make some drawings and clear my head for a while. At 9 pm we took our bus home and I must say it was one of the best days I’ve had since I’ve been here. Culture, sea and good company!

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Irati, Eneko and Oihana at Donostia beach

Rivalry
To close this post - which turned out very long, as I just noticed - a fun fact: I’ve noticed the rivalry between Bilbao and Donostia yesterday. Oihana, Irati and Eneko are from Biskaia, the province that has Bilbao as a capital city, while Donostia is Gipuzkoa’s capital. Although we like both cities, it seems that people here tend to take sides, depending on which province they’re from. It was quite entertaining to hear them carp about Donostia in Spanish.

Talk to you soon, agur!

Posted by Sajeh 19:49 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

On spending, gathering, working and - oh yes! - school

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Epa everyone!

Last time I wrote you, I had just returned from Vitoria-Gasteiz and I can say the same thing right now. Today, Niké and I went for another day of shopping - this time more successful - and Corine and Tiina, two Erasmus friends, accompanied us. Corine has a car here, which made it a bit more convenient to go there (and get back, since we had forgotten to check the last buses back and she had to drive us all the way to Bergara, for which I can't thank her enough!!). Also, the weather is on our side again for a few days, sunny and 25 degrees, yay!

Of course, being girls, we bought a whole bunch of stuff that we didn't really need (for a very reasonable price though). But I did finally find shoes and Tiina got the nose piercing she'd wanted for some time now. More yay!

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On our way to Vitoria we stopped at Lake Landa, it's beautiful!

But let's rewind to last week. On Friday, we semi-successfully fulfilled our first real day as interns at E!TB. Koen and I even came close to fully understanding the server system that we have to use to process and edit information. Our day went by pretty smoothly, only thing was that we were quite tired and were sitting in front of our computers kind of numb-looking all the time.

We arrived back in Bergara at a little past 10 pm, took a shower and still went for some drinks in our local bar, where we saw Juanjo again - I seriously suspect that he's living there - and we also met with a girl who studies at our university and is in class with the Education students. Not much to tell about this evening though, the next day was much more fun.

Vodka and blabbering

We had arranged to go to Aretxabaleta on Saturday evening, to Corine and Morten's place, and have a small get-together with the Erasmus people. In the end, it seemed only the four of us, Tiina and of course Corine and Morten were attending, but we had fun! Tiina and I improvised some cocktails - Caipirinha's with vodka instead of rum - which got a bit out of hand as we emptied almost the entire bottle by ourselves. But again, fun! It was a nice opportunity to get to know each other a little better, even though at the end I remember just blabbering on about things I should not always be blabbering about. I'm actually a bit relieved that they still wanted to go to Vitoria together :). Towards the end we even went for some more drinks in Aretxabaleta's Irish pub and the bartender offered to drive us to Mondragón, where Michael, Koen, Niké and I could take the night bus to Bergara.

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Tiina, Corine and me
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Niké, Corine, Tiina and me
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All of us (with Michael, Koen and Morten) at Aretxabaleta's Irish pub

The bus ride, however, was a lot less jolly. It made me sick (well, not the ride itself made me sick, more like the ride combined with vodka, kalimotxo and wine), so by the time we had arrived in Bergara I had no other objective than getting into my bed as soon as possible.

I only left my bed for a few times the next day. This particular hangover no doubt ranks in my top ten worst hangovers of all time. On Monday, I felt better but I was still very glad that we didn't have to go to class. Classes started on Tuesday for us, and on Tuesday evening (to spare myself from writing the same stuff all over again) I wrote this for our E!TB blog:

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Wallet holes and revelations

Part of being a student is the constant lack of money and especially when you're on Erasmus, it seems a 50-euro bill gets spent quicker than you can flush it down the drain. Even though most things in the Basque Country are a bit cheaper than in Belgium, it still feels like there's a huge money-sucking hole in my wallet.

One of the causes is the public transport that we have to use daily, which I have mentioned before. Not that it's too expensive, but we take buses every day and we have been trying to get a reduction pass for a long time now. Last week led to a minor breakthrough when we finally arranged the paperwork and they told us the passes would be ready by Monday (yesterday). Which they were not. So we have to wait until Thursday to get them - sigh.

Apart from that, my own spending habits are probably most to blame. These lower prices are almost devilish; you're tempted to buy a lot more than you're used to. All of this has made me think about rationing for a while, but then again, I need shoes and what rational argument is there to make up when a woman needs shoes?

On another topic, we've had our first 'real' class today, International Communication, which is taught by an American professor from New York, Michele Fernandez. The course is taught entirely in English and it surprised me how difficult the English language is for a lot of Basque/Spanish speaking students. I suppose for us in Belgium it's some sort of a given for students to have at least a basic knowledge of English, but here that's not the case at all. I'm not one to criticize though; I can't even strike up the most basic conversations in Spanish.

Tomorrow the Lehendakari, the president of the Basque autonomous government, is visiting our university, which means that yet again we get a day off. Next update on Thursday, agur!

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And that's where we are now actually. Vitoria today and another class tomorrow - Digital Journalism, together with the second year Communication students. Tomorrow evening we will meet up with our laguna's again, which I'm really looking forward to. They're still amongst the nicest and most easy-going people I've met since I've arrived (they must feel so flattered if they ever read this).

So talk to you soon!

Posted by Sajeh 00:09 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Last weekend and its consequences

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I'm sorry, this week I can't seem to find the time to give you an elaborate day-to-day update.
Reasons: tired, a bit sick and too much to do!

I'll copy-paste the last blog I wrote for E!TB, which gives a short summary of the previous weekend:

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Picking up where I left off last time, I’m glad to inform you that not only the people, the food and the environment are worth our while, but the nightlife and partying spirit of the Basques are to brag about too!

Last weekend, on Friday evening, we headed to our new favourite pub in Bergara, strangely enough equivalent to our habitual haunt in Belgium, if not better. Pictures of The Clash, Bob Dylan and David Bowie on the walls and some of the best beers in the world on the shelves, what more could any music + beer lover desire?

Jailhouse reggae
Bergara has quite a lively youth and soon enough we were chatting with some of the bar’s regulars. I must say, we were more than relieved that we had finally found some people that could speak English. They took us to a reggae party in the town’s old penitentiary, which nowadays is a party venue / crashing spot / creative outlet. By the time we left, Saturday morning’s slumbering daylight had started to catch up on us so we quickly headed home and did not leave our beds until late in the afternoon.

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Reggae party @ old Bergara prison
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Juanlo and me


Kalimotxo!

The next day, on Sunday, we went to Donostia, where the annual regatta lighted the fuse for a day of crowded festivities in the streets of this beautiful coastal town. After an hour-long walk on the beach, we met up with some of the other Erasmus students and their Basque friends, who kindly showed us the way to a place where we could buy some bocadillo’s (sandwiches). They also introduced us to the right way to drink cider - yes, there are different methods to a style - which I gave up after only a sip. I’ll have Kalimotxo’s instead! Kali-what you say? It’s an apparent specialty, a mix of red wine and coke.

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Us at Donostia beach
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Morten, Corine and Tiina

This very satisfactory weekend has made sure that we now know some local youth around town with whom we can spend more nights out. Next week, the other students at Mondragón University start classes, so we will get back in touch with our laguna’s. Something I’m really looking forward to, since I’ve arranged to go to the Donostia film festival with them.

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So now you know that we're having a blast, although I haven't really given you any details - I'm not sure that I should though :).

Monday, however, I was a lot less enthusiastic, still recovering from our escapades. Meanwhile, we've really adapted to the Basque rhythm, we haven't missed a single siesta this week! A lot of time went to waste while sleeping in the afternoon, because we were all dead tired.

Also, the weather has turned on us. The temperature dropped about 8 degrees since last week, making us all of the sudden wear jackets and scarfs. Of course, a change this sudden had its consequences and I spent a few evenings on the couch under my blanket, suffering from a cold and a headache.

Today, Niké and I went to Vitoria-Gasteiz again for some strolling and shopping. I've said it before and it's been confirmed today, it's a lovely city! You have the broad shopping streets on one hand, and narrow cosy alleys with vintage shops on the other. We like!

Tomorrow we leave to Bilbao again for our second day at E!TB. I'm not quite sure what will be expected of us, since we still haven't got a clue how the servers work or how to manage the content on the English and French websites.

I'm turning in relatively early tonight. The trip to Vitoria deprived me of my siesta hours, which I have already grown so fond of.

Too bad I can't tell you guys everything on this blog, not knowing who else is reading this ;), but you can always reach me on Facebook, Skype or Msn. Just let me know in advance, I'm not online that often.

Talk to you soon, agur!

Posted by Sajeh 22:56 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Working @ E!TB

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I’m tired, haven’t left the couch for the entire evening while the other three are out discovering some more Bergara bars and I’m even too lazy to get up and move my nightly pondering sessions to my bedroom.

Oh Woe the life of an Erasmus student!

Let’s rewind to last Friday, where this state I’m in originated. A somewhat exciting day, a day in which we would be introduced to E!TB, the media company where we will spend every Friday from now until the end of our stay here.

See, this company is located in Bilbao. Yes indeed, quite thrilling for our first real working experience as future journalists. But Bilbao, mind you, is a long way from Bergara. It doesn’t say so on the map, since it’s only 60km away, but the mountainous landscape – although beautiful – makes this a long drive. Getting up early five days in a row had already taken its toll by then (I know, for shame).

So we arrived in Bilbao at 10.30 together with our Media teacher, Joxe Aranzabal, who was our driver and guide on this first morning amongst the working people. My mind not yet fully awake, I had to process the huge size of the E!TB building upon arrival. And I mean HUGE. It can easily fit the population of my entire hometown – with room to spare. Having gone through security, provided with a visitor’s pass and an ID check, I was dazzled when the immense TV, radio and web units spread out in front of us.

First things first: a brief meeting regarding our journalistic duties – I feel like such a pro – with Igor Lansorena, one of the people at E!TB that will keep a close eye on us. Afterwards, a tour in the building (did I mention it’s HUGE!?) and an introduction to the staff that will guide us throughout our days there.
You’d think that a certain amount of pressure it required when working in a media company, even if it is in the Basque Country and thus subjected to the southern laid-back attitude. But oh no, our first assignment was to put our first impressions of the Basque Country on paper – yes, paper, even in a company as huge (I can’t help using that word this much) as E!TB, computers sometimes refuse to fulfil their purposes as man’s new best friend (notice the cynicism).

A task that could easily be completed while still waking up, yawning included, and recovering from the somewhat intimidating environment we had suddenly been thrown into. The rest of the day evolved at the same relaxed pace – I must say the days in our editorial unit at Xios were much more stressing. We can take an hour to have lunch in the cafeteria, which leads me to another Xios reference: dinner’s served by Sodexo, jolly (again, the cynicism)!
We spent the rest of our day trying to figure out the E!TB server system together with our coordinators, who themselves were not very convinced of the system. Is it the fault of an overload of futile Dreamweaver classes and lack of actual useful computer classes that makes starting journalists incompatible with anything computer-related that stretches further than blogging, Twitter and Facebook?

Finishing work at 7 pm, we had to wait for a bus to Bergara until 8.30 and went for pintxos to kill the time, meanwhile getting ripped off by an illegal DVD seller who profited from my impulsive spending behaviour.

A long bus ride later, we arrived in Bergara and got home at 10.15 pm.
And then the weekend started. More on that (and a lot of sleepless nights/snoozing days) in my next post, probably tomorrow or the day after.

Goodnight (I hope).

Posted by Sajeh 02:11 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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