With only final exams between me and a flight back to the U.S., this whirlwind of a semester is finally coming to a close. My return to America is definitely bittersweet… maybe a little more bitter than sweet. I can’t even put into words how much the people I’ve met, places I’ve been and things I’ve seen have impacted me. So instead of writing a sappy paragraph or two about how much I love this place, I’m just going to post some of my favorite pictures from the entire semester.

I’ll be seeing you, Barcelona. Thanks for an amazing four months.

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The past four months have been a break from real life. Sure, I still have papers to write and tests to take, but there’s nothing normal about weekend trips to other countries, casually passing the Sagrada Familia on a daily basis, or even going to the beach between classes. This semester has been more like a vacation than anything else. But still, spring break merits another vacation, so Brittany, Grace, Alexa and I went to Málaga, Spain in La Costa Del Sol for a week.

Unfortunately La Costa Del Sol was lacking in the “Sol” department, so it wasn’t the relaxing beach vacation that we planned. But it was still a great time. Our hotel was in Torremolinos, a resort town about 15 minutes outside of Málaga. We went to a lot of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants and met a ton of people from the UK, Ireland and all over Spain. We also went to the city one night to meet up with friends from school and saw some of the traditional Semana Santa celebrations. It was nice to get away for awhile, but I’m happy to be spending my last full week back in Barcelona.

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I think I got more sleep this weekend than I have since I got to Barcelona. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to do – it was because Munich wore me out.

We arrived in Munich around 3 p.m. on Friday and immediately met up with our friends who are studying abroad in  Italy – Eric, who is in Rome, and Caroline, Tori, Kelsey, Kate and Olivia from Florence. Our first stop, naturally, was a beer garden. We all ordered beers bigger than our heads and spent a good hour or so catching up. When it got dark we moved indoors and made a stop at the world famous Hofbrauhaus for dinner and more beer. (Beer is actually considered a food in Germany!) Since I have the taste buds of a 5-year-old, I stuck to pretzels while everyone else tried brats and weinerschneitzels. At both the beer garden and the beer hall, I was amazed by all of the people wearing lederhosen and beer girl outfits. Apparently those aren’t only in the movies. We were all cashed by 10 p.m. and in bed by 11 – the earliest night I’ve had in the last four months.

Saturday morning we woke up early to meet up with the girls before our bike tour. We climbed to the top of the St. Peter’s bell tower for an amazing view of the city and watched the Glockenspiel go off at noon. Then we split so we could go on Lenny’s bike tour around the city. I got the sparkly blue and pink bike because it was the only one where I could touch the ground. We biked around for three hours, stopping at the Marienplatz, Munich Residenz, English Gardens and Chinese Tower, among other places.

We met back up with our friends Saturday night for the Starkbierfest at Löwenbräukeller. It was an experience to say the least. We got to the beer hall around 7, and everything was pretty tame. Most people were eating dinner, dressed in lederhosen. But by 9:30 the Germans were dancing on tables, so we followed suit. We met a ton of great people and even got to dance on stage with the band. Munich is definitely another underrated city that greatly exceeded my expectations.

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In my last post about podcasts, I was a little iffy about them. But after looking into it a little more, I’ve found a few that are actually pretty interesting. One of these is Rick Steves’ Audio Europe. Rick Steves has produced more than 50 guidebooks on European travel, and has both a television and radio show. Many American travelers look to Rick Steves for advice on how to become a “temporary local” in the city or country they are visiting. He is known for helping travelers connect more intimately with Europe, and for a fraction of the tourist price. His podcast channel offers advice for travel to Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, among other places. Each of these sub-channels offer several episodes on specific regions or traditions in the country.

I listened to an episode in the Rick Steves’ Spain sub-channel, called Sevilla and Andalucia. In the episode, Rick Steves speaks with native Spanish travel guide Federico Garcia Barroso and Sevilla native Concepción Delgado. The episode offers a ton of great advice for visitors, from food suggestions to transportation options.

Rick Steves’ podcast channel is perfect for the train or plane ride on the way to your travel destination. Listen to the Sevilla and Andalucia podcast below, and if it’s something you might enjoy, subscribe the channel at travel.podcast.com.

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Now that the semester is almost over, I’m finally getting the hang of posting regularly. In the beginning, I thought a lot about what I was going to say and what I was going to talk about. Now I just write. After all, isn’t that what blogs are for?

In the first week of my Journalism 2.0 class, we learned that blogs are personal websites that provide updated headlines and news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, and that may also include journal entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user. I think I’ve managed to do that. I’ve written some posts about new media tools, mainly for the class portion of this blog, and I’ve also written a ton of journal entries about my experience overseas. Maybe my headline/news article posts could be a little better, but hey, I’m not trying to be an established blogger in the political world. I’m writing this for my friends and family back home. They want me to know what I’m doing with my life 5000 miles away from home, and that’s what I’m trying to get across.

I do, though, have to hand it to the guys who have really made it in the blogosphere. This is way harder than you’d think! I’ve somehow managed to get almost 500 views, plus a few subscribers and comments along the way, and I call that success. But there are blogs out there whose writing attracts thousands of readers, each and every day.

Are you blogging? If not, I encourage you to give it a shot. Sign up now at wordpress.com.

This weekend in Barcelona confirmed one thing: I never want to leave. Two of my roommates went to Paris, but I hate Paris and Alexa already went, so we stayed for a chill weekend in Barca.  The combination of sun, bikes and good food made it one of the best yet.

On Friday we woke up pretty early (for us) and headed to Barceloneta. For the past three months, everyone in Spain has been bundled up in parkas and boots, no matter what the temperature, but on the first of April everyone finally ditched the layers for some more appropriate attire. The beach was packed, and everyone was in bathing suits. We went to Champagneria for lunch, where you can get a bottle of champagne for 5 euro, and really good sandwiches for only 2 or 3. Then we went back to the beach for a few hours. Before this weekend, I was the palest I’ve been in years, so I’ve never been happier to have tan lines.

Saturday we started with brunch at Milk. Best brunch I’ve had in Barcelona. Everyone in the restaurant was eyeing my french toast when it got brought to the table. Then we did the one thing I’ve been wanting to do since we arrived… rented bikes! There a ton of places in Barca that let you rent a bike for 5 or 10 euro, so we finally did it. It was almost embarrassing at first because I hadn’t ridden a bike in forever and couldn’t stay balanced to save my life, trying to weave in and out of the crowds. I almost got hit by multiple cars and almost took out multiple old ladies, but eventually I got the hang of it. We rode from the beach to our apartment by Sagrada Familia, back down through Parc de la Ciutadella, along la playa, and past Port Vell. After returning the bikes, we walked around El Born, one of my favorite districts in Barcelona. We stopped at El Magnifico for the best cup of coffee in town, then wandered around until we found Princesa 23, where we ate an amazing dinner. Most productive day I’ve had in Barcelona yet. And, sorry mom, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to come home.

Before today, I had never really explored the world of podcasts. I had heard of them, but I had no idea what they actually were. In my head, I envisioned podcasts as some kind of book-on-tape 2.0, and who really listens to those except for kids who can’t read and old people? But when I looked at podcasts on iTunes, one of the biggest podcast aggregators, I was pleasantly surprised. The site offers way more than children’s books and NPR. You can listen to sports broadcasts from ESPN, find out random facts from howstuffworks.com, and even learn a foreign language from one of the many language courses.

But why listen to a podcast when you can watch the actual show or see the actual event take place? The main advantage of podcasts is how portable they are. They are available when you want, where you want and as you want. Perfect for the morning metro commute or walk to class. Plus, you can subscribe to a certain podcast and automatically receive new episodes as they are released. They may sound boring or weird, but if you check it out I promise you will find something you like.

When I told people I was going to Dublin, and not even for St. Patty’s Day, I got a lot of blank stares. I could tell a lot of people were wondering why the hell I would ever want to spend a weekend in Ireland. I really didn’t even know why I was going there. We found a cheap flight and booked it on a whim. But after going, I can confidently say it is definitely somewhere I’m going back to someday.

There isn’t a lot to do in Dublin, and that is exactly what makes it so great. When I went to Paris and Rome, I was constantly running around trying to fit everything in. In Dublin, we wandered around until we found something that looked interesting, and then went to a pub for a few hours. So the first day, Friday, was our only “touristy” day, and it wasn’t even that touristy. We took a Wild Wicklow tour to the countryside, where we visited DunLaoghaire, Sally Gap and Glendalough. It was actually breathtaking. I hate when people say that, but it’s the only way I can think to describe it. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’m going to post a ton of pictures instead of trying to explain the scenery.

Saturday we did a lot of eating, and even more drinking. We started with breakfast at Brick Alley Cafe. Spain doesn’t really do big breakfasts, so scrambled eggs and a bagel was amazing. Then we wandered around for awhile until we stumbled upon the Guinness Storehouse. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it was actually really cool. It was only 11 euro, including a complimentary pint. The whole place was really interactive, and the Gravity Bar at the top with a 360 degree view of the city made it worth the price. The rest of the day was basically pub after pub after pub. We hit all the big spots on Temple Bar – Gogarty’s, Temple Bar, The Auld Dubliner and Quay’s – and wandered off to some of the more local spots. I’m officially obsessed with live Irish music, and we made friends with a ton of locals. Overall great night.

Our flight didn’t leave until 6 p.m. on Sunday, so we had another great breakfast and went to Trinity College. Then it was pubs and shopping until about 4, when we had to drag our feet to the airport. We all went into the weekend with no expectations, and we all left contemplating moving to Ireland.

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I don’t like to think I’m being used as a tool for any big corporation. But after learning about the “evangelist customer” in class, I am just that. A great one. And you probably are too.

We all have those products we just can’t get stop talking about. And for some reason, we get really offended when people speak badly about them. Maybe the most prominent example in today’s society is the Mac v. PC debate. If there’s ever a Mac/PC argument in my vicinity, I’ll confess my profound love for my MacBook. But why? I’ve used PC laptops before and they’re just as functional. There’s just something about Apple that has me hooked. I would also say that my iPod is better than your Zune, and the iPhone is better than the Android.

Other products evoke these same feelings and loyalties. People obsess over Starbucks Coffee, and many will label themselves as a strictly Coke or strictly Pepsi drinker. Car companies are the same way.

Evangelism marketing is turning into a key concept of marketing 2.0. These customers aren’t getting paid to spread good things about the product – they’ve simply developed a strong brand loyalty that they find worth bragging about. Their opinions on a product are 100% credible. Every company wants to find evangelist customers to get their name out there.

So what about you? Are you an evangelist customer?

I came to Spain because I wanted to be fluent in Spanish. I’ve taken Spanish classes since I was 13 and was nowhere close to speaking fluently, so obviously Spanish classes in the States weren’t cutting it. So I looked into a couple cities – Barcelona, Madrid, and Sevilla – and settled on Barcelona. I can’t really even explain why I chose Barcelona. Spanish isn’t even the first language here, Catalan is. But everyone I talked to who went abroad in the past said Barca was their favorite city they visited, plus I knew a ton of IU kids that were planning on coming, so I figured why not.

I remember the very first day I was walking around with Brittany and we stopped in at Zara. When we arrived in January it was their huge after-holiday sale season, so of course it was jam-packed. We kept bumping into people, and “Oops, sorry!”or “Excuse me” immediately came out of our mouths. Then we got awkward because we didn’t know if we should be speaking in Spanish or not. After, we met up with some other girls from school for lunch. Ordering was a nightmare, not only because we were so jetlagged, but also because our brains couldn’t process what we wanted to say. It came out something like, “I want las patatas bravas con una Coca-Cola por favor. Thanks!” Umm, what? Talk about spanglish. And that’s how it went for the first couple weeks. I would try to speak Spanish, but quickly resorted to English when someone didn’t understand or I got frustrated. The only time I ever spoke confidently was with my taxi drivers at 4 a.m., for obvious reasons.

Making friends with Spaniards at Espit Taberna.

Three months later, things have changed. While I’m still guilty of speaking English almost all day, every day, I don’t freeze up when I go to the grocery store and the cashier asks me a question. I’ve had casual conversations on the metro, and I’ve had hour-long conversations in Spanish at the bars. I wouldn’t say I’m fluent by any means, but in a better place than I was when I got here. And I guess that’s all I can really ask for.