First Steps (& Pain!) Into Spain

September 23, 2019

Today’s blog post comes to us from University of Alaska Fairbanks student & #APIabroad blogger Claire Ketzler. She’s studying abroad with us in Bilbao, Spain.


I am a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and I recently made my long journey from Alaska to Spain. I experienced many similarities to my API Bilbao group, such as jet lag and new, exciting sights. The initial sleepiness and wonderful buildings is something we all share.

There is an endless list that all study abroad students prepare! Even though I planned to travel to Spain a year ago, there are always unforeseen blemishes that we cannot avoid. For example, my flights last week didn’t go as planned.

Initially, I had plans to meet my Bilbao group upon morning arrival. This ultimately did not matter because my connecting flight conjured a terrible, long delay. I wouldn’t be meeting anyone where I thought, and I was scared to take a taxi. It would be like dropping a goldfish into a giant, unfamiliar lake. My resident directors gave me help and support from afar, but the delay still caused enough stress that I couldn’t sleep on the flight over.

Once I arrived at my final destination, I took the airport metro to my luggage. I felt like I was targeted, because the metro broke down while the completely, full cart of people were inside. We were stuck for almost an hour, squeezed together and everyone started sweating. The metro would inch back and forth while an intercom explained the same announcement, “there’s been an issue, please stay seated.” I couldn’t stay seated for much longer! People started banging on the windows for freedom!

Ultimately, we were released off the broken metro and led back on foot through the tunnel to where we first boarded. I don’t even remember how long we waited, not to mention that the metro is the only way to luggage. After a giant crowd amassed, the metro finally was up again. I learned that I have to be pushy if I want to survive. I secured a spot and was led to my next trial.

Missing luggage. Something that no traveler wants to hear in the world. Since there were so many delays, my suitcase was definitely no longer on the revolving belt. The lone information desk was the only hope, and I am not able to hold a conversation yet.

Then I was given a gift, a friendly lady from the United States and her daughter who was also studying abroad! Even from the same flight, so they experienced the same delays. 

I am forever grateful for their help in finding my luggage (which was tossed aside by a random belt.) Meanwhile my group was looking for me, but they were on the other side of the airport. The US ladies helped me find my bus for nothing in return (so thankful!).

At this point my emotions were at a full capacity. I felt so upset by all the delays, confusion, and honestly rude people who pushed me around without empathy (but thank you helpful strangers!) I still became very upset because I couldn’t find my group. All my woes paid off, though. We found each other and everything else went fine. Beautiful in fact! Madrid is a city I would never see in Alaska! I could truly get lost forever.


We all stayed in Madrid for three days until our hometown trip to Bilbao. During these days I saw amazing architecture, historic art, and new, exciting food.

API study abroad student Claire Ketzler in Toledo Spain

One day we drove out to a neighboring city, Toledo, and made a lifelong memory of its bonita buildings! The entire town was so picturesque, and the birds eye view is certainly Instagram worthy!

The next day’s excursion was something truly connected to me. I am an art major and plan to be a professional artist, so our trip to the Prado Museo was eye-opening. The tour led us to various historical paintings and artists, from Italian, French, and of course Spanish descent. Each painting had a voice and was a snapshot of its time period from hundreds of years ago. 

All of the art was ethereal and inspiring. I want to create more into realism and symbolic art such as what was at the museum. Everyone had something to gain in seeing such masterful works from culture and history.

Spain's Royal Palace

One of the last excursions was Spain’s own Royal Palace! It is old as dirt and is such a captivating sight of Spanish royalty. We viewed countless rooms each filled to the brink with historical roots. Some of the rooms were bigger than my own house. They had plenty of art, portraits, shiny tapestry, and it’s something only a picture could explain. My favorites were the angelic, big murals on the ceiling.

Each day of these excursions I tried new food, met new people, got more woes (faulty sim cards,) but all in all, I survived. These very first few days are something I will hold for the rest of my life. I learned resilience and beauty and I have not even arrived in my hometown yet (as of writing this, but I am on the bus ride to Bilbao and seeing the countryside!)

These are my first steps into Spain. I quickly learned to appreciate everything and push through any tough times.

I hope to make the most out of my time abroad! I am thankful for everyone who has helped me in this nearly impossible opportunity. I never would have thought that a native Alaskan girl from a small, cold town would soon be studying in Spain. 


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