Pamplona Guide: Things to know before you go

By Laura Davison

There is so much you can’t plan or prepare for before you study abroad. That’s part of the experience. You learn as you go. That being said, here is a random compilation of things about Pamplona and the University of Navarra I found helpful to understand before I got to Spain.

Running of the Bulls/San Fermín

Hemingway traveled to Pamplona several times during the mid-1920s.

Hemingway traveled to Pamplona several times during the mid-1920s.

Read “The Sun Also Rises,” preferably before or during your stay. I didn’t get around to reading it until my plane ride back to Missouri, and I wish I would’ve read it earlier so I could’ve checked out the places Ernest Hemingway describes in his novel.  It’s about a group of Americans and Brits who travel from Paris to attend San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights.

Even if you can’t stay for the festival, it gives you a nice picture of what it is like. In Spain, the Running of the Bulls is called San Fermín and because you are a foreigner, everyone is going to ask you if you are going to stay for the festival. I wasn’t able to stay because it doesn’t start until July 7, but do stay if your schedule allows it. Many students from the University of Navarra live in or near Pamplona and several international students will stay as well.  Continue reading


Pamplona Guide: Food and Nightlife in Pamplona

By Laura Davison

Spanish meal times

cafeteria fcom

Students and professors in Spain take meal times seriously. Work halts and they take a break.

The Spanish take food seriously and stop working, sit down and eat a meal for lunch and dinner. They eat lunch no earlier than 1:30 p.m. and a typical dinner time is 9 p.m. Breakfast is typically a very small meal with only coffee and a croissant or roll. Pamplona will shut down from about 2-4 or 5 p.m. for workers to have a chance to eat lunch. Only grocery stores are open and there are few classes scheduled during that time.

I lived close to the University of Navarra campus, so I enjoyed using this time to actually cook something for lunch, instead of eating whatever sandwich I stuffed in my bag that morning, as I would have done at Mizzou. Continue reading

When I first saw Gangnam Style and other important events of 2012

davisonLast winter, I created a timeline of the things I accomplished in 2011 as part of an application for an internship. This year, I have no such requirement, but I found creating the timeline was a good exercise in reflecting over the events of the past year, as well as help me form goals for the coming one.

This past year was a year of many firsts. My first time studying abroad. My first time in many of the places I visited. My first taking all my classes solely in Spanish. I don’t think I can ever adequately communicate the breadth of experiences I was so fortunate to have or the variety of people I had the pleasure of meeting in 2012. But these few megabytes of a two-dimensional imagery are a start.

So, here’s a look back at some of my favorite parts of 2012.


Pamplona Guide: How to order and eat pintxos

Bar Gaucho is one of Pamplona’s best pintxo bars. They have some of the tastiest and most creative concoctions.

By Laura Davison

The first night I was in Pamplona, two other Mizzou students and I got a recommendation of a nearby pintxo bar and restaurant. We easily found the place, but when we got there, we realized we had no idea what to do. Were we supposed to seat ourselves? Was there a menu? Were we supposed to order at the bar? At what point in the meal were we supposed to pay? 

We sat at a table and tried to observe what others were doing. After a few minutes of confusion, I finally went up to the barmi. “Hi, I’m sorry I’m not from here, so I don’t know how this works,” I asked the bartender in Spanish. “We want to order a few things. Can you walk us through it?”

He helped us, we figured it out and we learned how to not make fools out of ourselves–at least not when it came to ordering food. Continue reading

Learning to laugh at mistakes

I’ve learned a couple things from blogging:

1. I get a lot of traffic from people searching for mentorships at Barkley (an advertising agency in Kansas City), possibly because this blog is the second thing that comes up in a Google search. You can find specific information about this year’s application process on Barkley’s site. I’m also willing to answer questions you might have for a former Barkley intern. I worked there the past two summers, learned a ton and had a fantastic experience.

2. Blogging is a great way, especially for journalists, to explain why you did something. It’s also a good way to justify the silly things I have previously created. This is one of those blog posts.

Here is a video I created as a part of the application for an internship at Barkley:

I made this video when I was studying in Pamplona. The prompt was to create a video, any video, explaining why I should be hired for a summer internship.

The idea for this video stemmed from a cheesy radio advertisement for what was either an Italian restaurant or a jewelry store. The premise of the commercial was an overly dramatic voice speaking Italian and then an English “translation” saying something that was clearly not what the original line said.

Using my friends who spoke a whole host of languages, I created this video where they said terrible things about me in their native languages and I subtitled it  with positive statements. This video probably isn’t funny unless you have all of this explanation. When I made it, my mom mentioned the humor was a little hard to find, but I continued forward with the idea.

I recently just watched this video again. While it makes me cringe to think that less than a year ago I thought this was a good idea, I’m also glad I have it for the memories.  It also reminded me of a few more things:

1. When your abroad, you will make stupid mistakes. It’s OK. Laugh at yourself. It’ll be a joke in a few weeks.

2.  It’s definitely a good idea to listen to your editor…and your mom.

Never stop traveling, if only in your mind

A friend passed this video advertisement along to me today. Trust me, it’s worth the three minutes.

It’s in Spanish, but the general message is easy to grasp even even if you can’t understand the words. The video depicts a futuristic middle-aged executive sitting at his desk when his assistant brings him a package. The box contains a video diary the executive made when he was a young man traveling in Peru for his future self. It’s as if he predicted as a young man he would a have successful business career, but forget about the adventures, relationships and memories he created during his international adventures. The young man walks his older self through the adventures they (he?) had. The young man then tells him, “If you’re happy, turn this video off.” The executive keeps it running. The young man then slyly says, “Ah, I see we are still here.” He reminds himself to maintain a balance in his life: find time for friends, continue learning and that he must create the succession of moments that constitute his life.

This video perfectly captures why I wanted to blog about my post-study abroad experiences. For one, I want to help those who go after me have the best experience they can. It’s easy to get caught up in the logistical details of going abroad and forget the big picture. Secondly, this is a mental exercise for me to continually challenge myself and others use those international experiences, insights and memories to make something more of the work we do when we return.

As an almost-graduate, I’m at a time in my life where I have to make some decisions about what shape I want my career track to take, where I want to live and how I see my life playing out in the future. It’s overly romantic to think my career will always lead me to foreign and exotic places. But even in the most velveeta-cheese-and-white-bread location, I can look at the world as I did when I was abroad and continue to ask questions, be curious and learn.

Pamplona Guide: Top six things to know about classes, exams and grades at the University of Navarra

UNAV students study in the Sala de Lectura in the lower library.

By Laura Davison

Think about the jump you made from high school to college. In college, there are less daily graded assignments and smaller projects. Instead, there are a few big projects and/or tests that compose the majority of your grade. Going from Mizzou to UNAV is even one more step. Rejoice! There are no Blackboard quizzes, clickers or weekly blog posts.*

But that means the assignments you do have are weighted much more heavily. It is not uncommon for exams to be worth 60-80 percent of your final grade. The only graded work for one of my classes was a final exam and a paper, both of which I turned in on the same day. Other classes had midterm exams, essays and projects. In general, I had between three and six larger assignments for each class.

The academic structure at UNAV is substantially different from the system at Mizzou and many other American universities. A few weeks ago, I wrote about credits and finding courses to take. This week I share ways I found to do well once you’re on campus and in the classroom.

1. Grades are figured from 1-10, with 10 being the best. Mizzou and UNAV both consider 5 to be a passing grade. As a Mizzou student, you’re classes will transfer back as passing, so long as you get a 5 or higher. Grades in Spain aren’t inflated like they can tend to be in the United States. Students aren’t obsessed with getting just 9s and 10s. Those grades are reserved for students who truly do extraordinary work. If you’re a student that is used to getting all As in the U.S., don’t be discouraged if you get some 6s or 7s. While we might see that as getting a C or a D, academically-gifted Spanish students are quite accustomed to getting grades at this level.

2. Exams take place during a three-week period in May. Exam dates for each specific class during the exam period will be published sometime during the middle of the semester. It is wise to schedule a flight home after this exam time. Professors will probably not push up the exam for you. While the exam period is much more spread out than it is at many American universities, it can also be more stressful because the majority of your grade is dependent on you doing well on the exam.

UNAV students on the courtyard in fron the the Facultad de Comunicación building.

3. There is a make-up/re-do exam period after the original exam time. This is offered every year for students who didn’t pass the exam the first time around. Because the final exam comprises the vast majority of a grade in any given class, failing an exam pretty much ensures you will fail the class. Students fail final exams in Spain. It’s normal and doesn’t quite have the stigma it does here. That is why they always offer the second exam period. Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Fashion and weather edition

Spanish university students “dress up” for class in comparison to American students. It’s what some might call snappy casual.

Spain—beaches, sun, warm weather, right? Well, not in Pamplona. It’s nice, but not balmy—Pamplona is to Missouri as southern Spain is to Texas. The weather is, however, more temperate than in Columbia, Mo. It’s not as cold in the winter, but it also doesn’t get as warm in the spring. February is typically the coldest month, with many days being less than 0°, Celsius that is. (It’s also not a bad idea to start brushing up on Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion).

So as you pack for your semester, bring warm clothes that can easily be layered. People won’t shed their winter clothes until the very end of the semester. Scarves, coats, boots and tights are still common even when it’s 65°F.

The fairly consistent weather makes it easy to pack. Don’t fret thinking you need to bring 10,000 outfits, because while the Spanish dress nicely, they also don’t have as many clothes as your typical American. They wear high quality clothing and then layer and accessorize. I frequently saw my classmates repeat the same outfits every week.

Sorry guys, my clothing advice is mainly for the ladies. But here are some things to throw into your suitcase and some things you can leave at home.

Chart courtesy of TripAdvisor

Take it!

Thick socks: My roommate Bridget lovingly called thick, wool hiking socks, “European socks.” They work well under boots and keep your feet warm as you spend lots of time walking outside.

Cardigans: Cardigans, blazers or any type of layering pieces are super popular. One friend who studied in France made the astute observation that the French wear the same few articles of clothing, but just layer and accessorize them differently.

Scarves: Guys, listen up. Scarves are also a commonly worn by guys, and not just as an outerwear item. Males and females will typically wear scarves as an accessory item year-round. Scarves are a lightweight, easy-to-pack accessory that can make it look like you have many more outfits than you actually do.

Tights: Spanish girls wear tights with everything, even when it is pretty warm outside. Of course, they wear them with skirts and dresses, but they also wear them under shorts and cropped pants in the winter time. Tights in simple, neutral tones like black and brown are a must-have for your trip.

Flats: While Spanish women are known for wearing heels much more than Americans, students and professors wear flats most of the time on campus. Simple ballet flats, in neutral tones and brighter colors, are probably the most common footwear item worn by students. Seen frequently are also tall and short boots and Converse/Keds-like tennis shoes.

Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Five Tips for Sightseeing and Traveling

By Laura Davison

A Mizzou student who went on this exchange program before me gave me this advice: You are never going to be as close to Spain as you will be this semester. Take advantage of that.

San Sebastían, a resort town located 45 minutes from Pamplona, makes for a great day trip to the beach.

This advice served me well. There are so many places to visit in Europe. It is easy to spend every weekend traveling to another place in Europe and not enjoy the scenery and activities that are right around you.

Part of studying abroad is getting to travel and cross things off your bucket list. But another part is learning about what it means to live, and not just be a tourist, in another culture.

I found it was most time and cost-effective to go on a few longer trips and spend the majority of my weekends going to events in and around Pamplona. I visited Italy and Ireland and spent a week in southern Spain. But most of my traveling consisted of day trips and weekend outings to Bilbao, Madrid, Bilbao and smaller towns near Pamplona like San Sebastían, Estella and Olite.

Continue reading

Pamplona Guide: Having an International Experience

A group of my friends and I stand outside the Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudí in Barcelona.

My biggest takeaway from my semester abroad is now having friends all over the world. Finding housing, living in another culture, using the language I’d been studying for so long and navigating a new university were all rewarding experiences. But when people ask me, “How was Spain?”, the first thing I tell them is about all the friends I made.

Making meaningful connections with students from all over the world made my experience so memorable. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and that turned out to be a good thing. There are two types mentalities that many American students start a study abroad experience with.

Scenario No. 1: “I want to fully immerse myself in the culture.”: I was definitely guilty of this mentality before I went abroad. Of course, we go abroad to speak that language, learn what it is like to live in another country and trade your culture for another one for a few months. But a complete immersion experience usually isn’t possible. Think about your life. How many times has your group of friends befriended an exchange student? Sure, we all meet international students and become friends to varying degrees of closeness. But students at your university abroad don’t become best friends with the international students for the same reasons that you don’t do that at home. They’re busy, they have a full load of classes and they already have established lives, friends and obligations. Continue reading