By: Michael Cross, Foster Undergraduate
Moving to another country is an adjustment, and it’s a bit overwhelming at first. After arriving in Pamplona after good 14 or so hours of traveling, and then taking the wrong buses to the exact opposite side of Pamplona from where I needed to go, I had finally made it to my hostel. I was told that finding an apartment wouldn’t be too hard once I got here, and that it was often the better approach. So, that’s what I did. But it didn’t make my first days here any easier!
I knew culture shock would set in at one point, and for me it was the first three days. Living in a hostel, trying to learn the culture of a new city in a new country, navigating my way through the city to find apartments, attempting to get a mobile phone so I could call landlords, and then talking to landlords in my broken Spanish over a phone with poor reception, all made for a recipe of deep concern. I couldn’t even figure out where to go to get dinner! And who’d have thought that would be hard? Needless to say, I quickly went from thinking my Spanish was “good enough to get by” to realizing it needed a lot of work. Fast forward four days and I was moving into my apartment with two Spaniards. Suddenly, this place felt like home. It’s amazing how much a dwelling can do. With an apartment as my anchor, I was ready to start living in Spain, and all forms of culture shock disappeared completely.
A week later, classes began at UNAV. Well, kind of. For the first couple of weeks, the university is a little disorganized so it turned out that neither of my Monday classes were held that first day. Simultaneously, most of the school is trying to register for classes in person at different offices and I learned the hard way not to ask other students where to go because it led to a wild goose chase all around campus until the matriculation office closed at 1pm (another thing to get used to in Spain, everything closes a little inconveniently early). Eventually I came to my senses and decided not to be perturbed. While it may not be as efficient as America, I came here to immerse myself in their culture and this is how they live. I must embrace it! As a result, the DOL-like waiting times were bearable.
The campus feels about the size of the main parts of UW’s, minus 80% of the buildings. It takes 5-10 minutes to walk between the most popular buildings, and about 15-20 for most people to commute to campus on foot each morning. So each day is kind of like having a class in Condon but with a much prettier walk because UNAV’s campus is meticulously maintained. Half of my tuition must go towards watering the place 😉 The new Business building is much adored by faculty and students alike because I hear it’s a major, major upgrade from before. I’d describe it as a dabble in modernism gone awry and eerily reminiscent of a psych-ward. It’s just lacking the details to make it homey and welcoming. But the best part? There’s a garden planted in the middle of the bottom floor. I joke about picking strawberries on my way to class.
Let’s talk about the great things, the reasons anyone would want to live here. First off, it’s full of so much history. And that by itself makes this city absolutely stunning. Right behind my apartment is what’s called the Ciudadela which is a large pentagon shaped system of walls that used to defend the city when Phillip II constructed it in 1571. Now, the whole structure is a grassy park so you can walk along the tops of the walls, wander through the maze-like moats, or go for a run around it (it’s a perfect 1.5 miles around making it easy to plan out how far you want to run). From here, you can wander up to Casco Viejo (or the Old Town) full of winding cobblestone streets, delicious pintxo bars (pintxos are like tapas in the rest of Spain, which are a typical appetizer you eat at a bar before going home for dinner), quaint mercados y tiendas of all sorts, and of course, the route through which the bulls go thundering each July. You’ll encounter buildings of old all around, including cathedrals, hospitals which are now museums, and Pamplona’s City Hall (which is where they fire the rockets daily during San Fermin). There’s a large plaza called Plaza del Castillo with many restaurants, including Café Iruña, the favorite of Ernest Hemingway. One thing Pamplona will never let you forget is that Hemingway loved this place. He has a street named after him, a statue outside of the Plaza de Toros, and Café Iruña has more or less changed its named to Hemingway’s Café. Branching off from Casco Viejo is the street Carlos the Third. This street and a couple other that surround it comprise the shopping center of Pamplona. Here you’ll find banks, government buildings, clothing stores, restaurants and cafes, and more. Another thing you quickly realize upon arrival, is that Spaniards, and especially Pamplonians, love their parks. Pamplona is home to at least 5 parks big enough to run in, and countless other little guys. One of them even has deer, peacocks, hens, and swans living in it. Spaniards also love their plazas. Nearly every apartment complex has a large plaza included in its design where people lounge on benches, kids play on playgrounds, and others just pass through.
One of the best things about Spain is how laid back everyone is. Now, this can also be frustrating when you really just want to get something done, but it’s always a great reminder to slow down, breathe, and enjoy the life you’ve been given. Don’t stress, it adds nothing to your life. Spaniards have a keen awareness of this idea, and it’s apparent in the way they conduct themselves. For most things we Americans tend to be nervous/stress about, I’m pleasantly surprised when Spaniards say “No pase nada tijo”, it doesn’t mean anything, bro. It carries with it an ethos of “don’t worry about it, you needn’t worry, nothing will happen, it’s all okay”. I find it to be one of those beautiful expressions in Spanish that captures so much more than its literal translation and sounds better than our English expressions. This phrase, among others, will no doubt be part of my vernacular and slip out when speaking English for years to come.
In a nutshell, this is Pamplona. Of course there are hundreds of other things to write about, so my next post will include more about the experiences Pamplona has provided.
But in closing, this is really important: peanut butter can be found here! And peanut butter is the gold of international students all across Europe.