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15 posts categorized "*Pre-departure tips"

Moving to Spain for 1+ Years?! What to Pack ‘n' Consider…

I was initially instructed to pack based on the “Rule of 3’s” i.e. 3 shirts, 3 pairs of shoes, 3 pants, 3 dresses, etc. and I am VERY glad I didn’t. I was moving abroad for a year and although it is a relatively short chapter in my life history book; it is still a move! Because of this, I had to plan based on what I use in any given day, week, or month back home.

Also, if you are doing the CIEE program or any organized teaching placement program you will have the ease of someone picking you up from the airport. If not, simply pay the $30 cab fare to pack all things necessary. In the end, it will be much cheaper to cab then replace all the things you didn’t bring and then throw them away, donate, or try to ship them back home. Other things I heard before moving here is that it’s fine to pack light because there is cheap shopping. Okayyyy, it might be cheap relative to back home but when you don’t have an income as a teacher for 1-2 months after arriving then the last thing you should be doing is going shopping. Not to mention that the clothes are as advertised… cheap in price AND quality.

I have compiled a list of all the things I brought for perspective along with additional suggestions for items to consider bringing. I hope my full list can provide a little more clarity than the guidance I was provided.


  • 14 pairs of socks if you are someone that works out regularly otherwise 10 could suffice.
  • 10 underwear and 7-10 bras in case you aren’t doing laundry on a strict routine or have longer vacations. You will sweat A LOT the first couple months in Spain so re-wearing bras is not feasible.
  • 5 camisoles to wear under cardigans and undershirts
  • 7 cardigans or nice shirts
  • 4 t-shirts and 5 long sleeved shirts
  • 2-3 sweaters
  • 3 pairs of slacks
  • 4 jeggings/jeans
  • 2-3 pairs of leggings – If you have fleece lined ones then bring them for winter time
  • 6 nicer dresses for work, going out, b-day celebrations, etc.
  • 2 maxi dresses
  • A pack of Nylons – Working professional women wear nylons in Spain. In the US, technically you should be too but we have become more lax over time.
  • 3-5 scarves – I brought 12 and accumulated 3 more in Morocco but I’m obsessed.
  • 7 workout outfits (leggings/shorts, sports bras, and shirts – this will vary depending on your typical workout regimens).
  • 3 zippy jackets for working out and/or keeping warm at night. I brought one fleece Columbia and two Polyester jackets.
  • 3 pairs of flats – You will be walking a lot! Comfy shoes that support your back are advised.
  • 1 pair of flip flops– Gotta love hostel showers.
  • 1-2 pairs of tennis shoes – I brought 1 pair of running shoes and my Reebok Nanos for lifting.
  • 1 winter jacket and 1-2 other jackets – I brought 3 peacoats and 2 fake leather jackets to dress up my outfits. I probably didn’t neeeed all 3 peacoats but they are all different colors, I didn’t want to make a decision on which to leave behind, and I wear them all happily. #smalljoys
  • Jewelry – A couple of your favorite pieces are advised but bare in mind that anything too flashy will likely make you more of a target for pickpocketing.
  • Sunglasses 

Toiletries, where Costco/Sam’s Club becomes your BFF (if not already), and other necessities:

  • Toothpaste – 3 large tubes and 1, 100 ml travel size
  • Tampons – 2 boxes
  • Orbit Gum– 3 boxes emptied throughout my suitcase– I’m an addict, I’ll admit. I’m also particular about having the Green or Dark Blue Orbit. Gum in Spain is the Sugar coated hard shelled ones and more expensive. No Bueno.
  • Toothbrushes – 4
  • Floss
  • Favorite cover-up, foundation, eyeliner and/or mascara – Bring 2-3 depending on your use habits
  • Razor – 3 packs of 4 shaving blades
  • Brush/ratting comb (if applicable)
  • Perfume – Bring 2 if 3 oz bottles
  • Moisturizer – 1
  • Face cleaner – 3
  • Soap bars – 3 to get started
  • Shampoo/Conditioner– one bottle each to get you started
  • Deodorant – 4. You know what works for you and you likely won’t find it in Spain.
  • Q-tips- 2-3 handfuls in a sandwich bag shall suffice
  • 10-15 Cotton balls and nail polish remover
  • 2 nail polish colors
  • Nail kit – tweezers, clippers, cuticle cutters, nail file, etc.
  • Teeth cleaning kit- I’m a freak and I like cleaning my teeth at the dentist regularly so I picked up one of these from Amazon for $10 and it’s a gem.
  • Mini sew kit – Little snags and holes can be easily salvaged.
  • Lent roller
  • Medicine – Advil, multivitamin, Omega 3s, etc. that are a part of your typical regimen.
  • Thermometer – Do you realllly have to go to the doctor?
  • Sunblock
  • External hard drive – You will want it. People often lose/get phones stolen or computers croak so backing up your pictures will be necessary.
  • Ziplocs – 1 box of them with zippers to pack your lunch or you can buy non-zipper ones here. I use Ziplocs to keep toiletries dry on trips. Travel ain’t always glamorous.
  • Converter– so you can charge your electronics.
  • Various sized padlocks – 2-3 for those hostel stays, gym locker, luggage locking, and to help a friend if they forget theirs : D

Additional things I brought to assist with the transition. This will depend on who you are and what brings you joy so this category is at your own discretion.

  • I got two coffee mugs for Christmas in 2014, one is molded like a peacock the neck being the handle and the other is an elephant with a trunk for the handle; two of my favorite animals! These remind me of loved ones back home and hold a lot of coffee for my relaxing Saturday mornings.
  • Adult coloring book and gel pens – If you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Protein Powder and Ziploc bags (as noted above)/shaker (I don’t like the latter because it leaks, it’s too bulky, and I don’t care to invest in the compartmentalized one). Ziplocs carry my dry powder until I add water later, cut the corner, and drink up.
  • Special seasonings. In my case, a big mama jama thing of lemon pepper. Some things are more challenging to find (i.e. hot sauce for you spicy lovers) or don’t exist here so if you like it enough, bring it. You’ll be okay without your excess of American goods though too, I promise!
  • 3 pairs of plastic chopsticks – my trusty travel companions. I take them wherever I go because I can eat everything I want with them and their easy to sneak into luggage.
  • Pack of Thank you cards – whether in the professional world or not, handwritten cards are thoughtful!
  • Big backpack for those flights with Ryanair- I hucked my purple turtle shell through the Sahara for 7 days and use it regularly to bring my workout clothes into town so that I can pit stop at the gym after school and before heading home. I’m allll about that efficient life.
  • A smaller drawstring bag or satchel – Great for carrying around your goods on lighter days. I also pack my drawstring bag in my medium sized backpack on trips so I can use it to carry the necessities throughout the day i.e. camera, map, notebook, pens, wallet, phone, etc. because I don’t have a large purse or a purse in general for that matter.
  • Fancy camera (if applicable) – Make room to fit it in your luggage, you won’t regret it.
  • iPod – Does anyone even use these much anymore? I do for long trips to preserve my phone battery.
  • Backpacking packs (if you have one) – Largest of the ones you can take on the plane and necessary for those 7+ vacation days or winter travels where clothes needed are thicker. Here’s my backpack that’s lasted 3+ years of excessive travel.
  • 3-5 pairs of headphones – Ridiculous I know but one ear bud goes out, get lost or left behind at hostels unintentionally. If you already have them at your house then bring them. Also, pick up the free ones from flights and trains when possible. Speaking of keeping things for free, I always klepto the fleece blanket from int’l flights to use for picnics or a beach adventure since it’s light weight and I can throw it away if it gets filthy.
  • Spotify Premium – Lifesaver abroad for anyone that LOVES music and isn’t willing to pay an arm and a leg for data. The best $11 I spend a month goes to Spotify since I’m pretty much listening to it anytime I’m not teaching or meeting with people face to face.
  • Kindle app. access– I used to be a short article reader but now that I metro everywhere I have lovely books downloaded to my phone (thanks Nikole, my beloved sister, for the Membership and great selection : P) to pass the time.
  • Journal – I have a 5 year Journal that Nikole, genius she is, gave me 4 years ago. This is my trusty travel companion to record life happenings of every single day in the year. It’s fun to recollect on what I’ve done or thought about in the past. For example, October 25th, 2013 I made a 2 year goal to teach or move abroad to Europe, Thailand, or Myanmar. Well I’m here under 3 years so woo for following through on a goal anddd being able to see what I was thinking 4 years ago!
  • 2 Notebooks – I presume you’re moving abroad partially because you want to learn the language of the country? If so, you’ll be taking diligent notes. If not, notebooks are easy travel companions to take on long flights and trains to jot ideas, make plans, write poems, journal entries, letters, etc. The best thinking time I have is when I’m plopped down in a train or flight seat so a notebook always comes in clutch.
  • Phone charging brick – You never know how long you’ll be sucked into the city for and in a new place the last thing you want is no access to resources in your phone. Thank you Dad for always gifting me things I always needed but never knew about!
  • 5-7 Pens – I’m sure you have them laying around your house. Bring them.
  • Cards – I love games so I brought 2 decks of cards, Loaded Questions, and Bananagrams. They have contributed to some of my favorite rainy day memories while back home or traveling.
  • Bible, Spanish Dictionary, and Lonely Planet Book – I brought these because sometimes I like tangible things to read and scheme trips. Definitely not necessary with the advent of the worldwide web and applications but it’s part of my wind down on long days or leisurely Saturday mornings.
  • 6 copies of everything – Passport, NIE, School Placement e-mail, passport photo, etc.
  • Deflated balls and ball pump – I brought a football and volleyball since I already had them at my house and didn’t want to pay to play in the park with friends. Pumps are about $5 from your local wal-mart if you don’t have one already.
  • Yoga mat – It serves two purposes. Allows me to participate in the obvious, yogi time but secondly, serves as a floor mat/rug next to my bed since all apts. I have seen here are hard wood or tile and gets real cold!
  • Reusable water bottle – Double check that you can even drink the city’s tap water. For Madrid you are good to go! Plastic waterbottles are cheap here i.e. 30 cents for 1.5L at the grocery store but that’s a lot of trash for the landfill…
  • Phone plan – Purchase once you get here. Many people did Orange or Vodafone for 20 euros for 2GB/month. I have 2 GB for 10 euro/month with Lycamobile and have only positive things to say about them!

Potential additional items if they fit otherwise purchase when you get abroad if necessary:

  • Heels/wedges- 1-2 pair
  • Boots – 1-2 pairs for cold mornings and travels to cold lands in the winter
  • A book or two – These things take up quite a bit of space so I advise limiting the quantity brought
  • Gloves – 1-2 pair
  • Thick/Long socks – 1-2 pairs
  • Earmuffs/Beanie
  • Umbrella
  • 1 Rain Jacket AKA the ones that roll into themselves, nothing fancy needed. OR I guess you could always do the good ol’ fashioned trash bag but I don’t think they have big ones here in Spain so you might have to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag).
  • Wine Opener – You’re moving to Spain after all : D

I hope this helps provide more clarity as you scheme for travels abroad! Exciting adventures await! : D

P.S. If you’re wondering how I brought all these things without exceeding the weight limits it’s through weighing my luggage before going to the airport. Aside from that, I used my drawstring bag to carry my precious laptop, iPod, headphones, notebook, pens, journal, necessary travel information and passport in a folder, phone and laptop charging cord, wallet, gum, etc. that needed to be easily accessed for the immediate international flight. My Backpackers pack was filled with my yoga mat, fancy camera and point and shoot camera, all other technology cords, and clothes. My two suitcases were filled with everything else and my purple backpack rested emptied in one of them.

3 ways to make the most of your experience abroad

Madrid Sunset

Moving to Spain will be easy in some ways and challenging in others. Luckily, we humans are a pretty adaptable bunch, and we pick up tips and clues about a new place as soon as we've arrived.

I've found that, despite any difficulties I'm facing with paperwork, bureaucracy, or whatever else comes my way, a shift in attitude and perspective can make all the difference in achieving a positive outcome.

Here are 3 ways to make the most of your experience abroad:

1. Stay positive (no matter what!)

Keep in mind that you’re applying to live for several months in a foreign country. Things might go smoothly, but they might not. It’s much more pleasant for both you and everyone around you if you can take a deep breath and maintain a positive frame of mind.

Handy trick: If you hear yourself complaining about something that didn’t go your way, add an “and” or “but”  to the end of the sentence and flip it into a positive phrase. Slightly cheesy, but it’s actually kind of fun and might make you realize that you’re being more negative than you intended to be.

  • Example #1: “Man, I’m so pissed that we waited for 45 minutes at Caixa Bank and then they wouldn’t let us open an account…. AND I’m really happy that CIEE gave us the contact info for Banco Sabadell because maybe we’ll have more success there.”
  • Example #2: “I can’t believe that we were just rejected by 3 landlords! BUT I’m thrilled that Idealista exists because I’m sure we can find some other options pretty quickly.”

2. Ask lots of questions (in Spanish, of course)

Turns out that you’re not supposed to touch any fruit with your bare hands in Spanish supermarkets. To make sure that this was indeed a rule, I exposed my naïveté to an attendant by asking what exactly I should be doing. Clearly, I blew my cover as a true Spaniard, but that happens all the time anyway. I got to practice some Spanish, have a positive interaction with the attendant, and learn that I simply needed to don a plastic guante (glove) and then use that guante to pick out fruits and veggies to my heart’s desire.

3. Dare to do new things (read: get out of your comfort zone right away)

Escaping your typical routine and engaging in new activities can produce a virtuous cycle that just keeps giving. I’ve found that, once I take the leap and commit to doing something new, I’m immediately more likely to do so again. Suddenly, my calendar has filled up with a dance class, volleyball practice, and sewing workshop before I even realize what’s happened.

The stipend for auxiliares is definitely livable but not luxurious. This makes the power of sign-up fees even stronger. If you put some cash down up-front to reserve a class/tour/experience you’re feeling a tad nervous about, that “sunken cost” will get you in the door when the date of the class arrives.



The Apartment Hunt

Ya'll, this was rough. Even having lived in Spain before, I was not prepared for how difficult the apartment search in Madrid would be. In Huelva, I found and moved into an apartment in 5 days and had no issues contacting landlords and seeing apartments. Unfortunately, Madrid was a different story. To give you a bit of background on why the hunt was so challenging, let's start with the basics. First, September is the month in which about 2,000 auxiliares move to Madrid, not to mention study abroad students, Erasmus students, etc. Definitely would have helped to have known that before planning my flight. Second, almost everyone wants to live within a reasonable distance to the center. 

Thinking that 5 days would be sufficient again (before I arrived and learned about the chaos), some of the other CIEE girls and I booked an Airbnb for the same number of days following our orientation. One of the girls was lucky enough to have found a place right away, but she couldn't move in until a couple weeks later, so she still stayed with us. As for the rest of us, we quickly found that apartment hunting in Madrid in September is almost like a full time job. Due to the fact that there are so many people looking for apartments at this time of year, you usually have to be the very first person to contact a landlord as soon as they post and available room or apartment. We found out the hard was that even if you shorten your search to post listed within 48 hours, most landlords either wouldn't respond or would tell us that it was already rented. Some of the times in which we actually managed to book a visit, we were told upon arriving that it was soon to be rented by someone who had previously visited. 

In the end, we had to book another Airbnb for 4 days, after which myself and the other remaining girl were able to move into our new apartments (our third roommate is still waiting a few more days before she can move into hers). While stressful to go through, we came out in the end with apartments that we are all happy with and a few hilarious stories along the way. We also had the chance to get to see quite a bit of Madrid and meet some new friends along the way. Below I've listed some ways you can survive some of the stress of the hunt if you decide to move to Madrid in September as well.  

Ciao for now! 


Tips for apartment hunting in Madrid:

    1. Download the following apps: Google Maps (yes, they have everything including public transportation in Madrid already figured out for you!), Whatsapp (this is how everyone communicates in Spain), Idealista (preferred site for apartment hunting). There are other apps you can use as well, but these three at minimum are a lifesaver! 

    2. Reserve accommodations for at least a whole week while you look. It will give you a peace of mind to not have to keep moving around and wondering where you will sleep all the time. Airbnbs are my go-to since they are cheaper than hotels and usually nicer than hostels. Plus, you'll probably want to cook in a kitchen at some point. Eating out all the time is only fun for so long and then starts to get really expensive. 

    3. Don't plan on travelling until after you have an apartment set up.  Everyone wants to travel as soon as we get to Madrid since we have some time before school starts, but for your own sake, make sure everything is in place first. You will have a whole year to travel and plenty of opportunities between 3 day weekends every weekend and all of their holidays. 

    4.  Have enough financial back-up to get you through your first month and at least 2-3 months of an apartment (some places will ask for first, last, and a deposit). I mentioned this a little bit in my last post, but it's essential, especially since you don't get paid by the school until the end of your first month. 

    5. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Apartments go in seconds this time of year in Madrid. Make sure you are notified as soon as a new place pops up so that you can call/Whatsapp/email the landlord to go see it right away. Usually they go to the first person. Since you won't be the very first person every time, don't give up, just keep going. You will eventually find something. 

    6. Make yourself look good. Landlords can pretty much have their pick and Spaniards don't always love the idea of living with Americans, so do what you can to promote yourself. We found that saying we were there for the year teaching English with the Community of Madrid helped a lot! If you are a little bit older, sometimes adding your age in can also be a positive factor. 

    7. Lower your expectations. This is Europe, not the U.S. Apartments will be smaller and kitchens won't be equipped to the same level they are back home. Apartments in the centro are more popular and more expensive. You can still find some lovely places, just be prepared to not get everything on your wish list. 

Arrival and Orientation

Why hello there! It's been a little over a week since I last posted and A LOT has happened within that time: flying to Spain, orientation with CIEE, apartment search, government paperwork, exploring Madrid, etc. Basically, it's time for a new post. =) Since I'm sure ya'll don't want to read a 20 page essay, I'll just highlight the arrival and orientation process this time around and focus on the housing search in the next post. 

    This past Wednesday, September 21, I flew direct from Chicago to Madrid, an easy 8 hour flight (highly recommend going direct anytime you can). Several other CIEE members were on the flight, which was nice while we waited to board. Perks of flying to Europe? Free wine with your meal! =D The food was also better than on flights in America. Because it was a long flight, we all had screens in the backs of our seats, which was nice in order to pass the time, but also made it impossible for me to sleep with all the flickering light. Would definitely suggest bringing a sleeping mask, neck pillow, and ear buds! 

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    With the time change, we wound up landing in Madrid on Thursday morning, and also went from summer to fall in one short flight! As CIEE provided a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel, we decided to wait instead of paying for a cab. It was about a 3 hour wait  once we got our luggage, but we decided to pass the time by getting some cafe con leche and using the free wifi that Madrid Barajas offers. Several other CIEE flight groups joined us while we waited, so it was fun to get to know everyone in the meantime. Once we got to the hotel, we all checked in and then had free time until the orientation welcome dinner that evening. The phone company, Orange, was there during our free time with a special promotion for us, of which I definitely took advantage of. 

    Since I was in the Basics program, our orientation was pretty much an all-day one day event on Friday. It was very helpful as we got information about the best health care providers to use, safety in Spain, housing and teaching tips. The Community of Madrid also came in to do their orientation for us so that we didn't have to go to that on another day. We were on our own for lunch, so some of us went to 100 Montaditos, which is a super cheap place for lunch or dinner with reasonable food. For our farewell dinner, CIEE took us to a fun pincho restaurant in Madrid. There was a lot of information in one day, but most of us in the Basics program had already spent a fair bit of time in Spain and CIEE also sent us out the Power Point slides from all of the presentations so that we wouldn't forget. 

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Travel Tips:

    1. Pack light. I mentioned this in my previous post and definitely wound up bringing more than I should have, but try to keep it to a minimum. It's never fun having to lug everything around. Nowadays there are always extra baggage fees, so it's nice to avoid those as well. Plus, it's fun to go shopping once you get to Spain. =) Also, make sure you pack carefully so that you don't have to spend an hour digging for what you need once you get to the hotel.

    2. Be wise with your carry on. The best things to bring are extra clothes (in case of lost baggage), some toiletry supplies (sometimes you just need to brush your teeth or put some extra deodorant on!), snacks (in case you get hungry on the flight or waiting for the bus like we did), chargers, adapters (plugs in Europe are different from the states), and a few things to do either while you wait or on the plane (just don't go crazy and pack a lot of books as those weigh a ton and aren't fun to haul around). 

    3. Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up once you get past security. Everything in the airport is always more expensive. Make sure you fill it up before you get on the plane too since they might not give you as much liquid as you would like on the flight. 

    4. Make yourself comfortable. Flying to Europe isn't a short hop. Depending on travel time, you'll probably want to sleep in order to help with jet lag. Neck/regular pillow, eye mask, ear plugs, comfy pants, etc. can be lifesavers. 

    5. Fly direct. It might be a little more expensive, but it will save you so much time and the headache of having to worry about baggage, missing the next flight, etc. 

    6. Give yourself wiggle room. Something always happens, whether it's extra traffic getting to the airport, a delayed flight, long security lines, etc. Give yourself extra time to get to the airport, don't try to squeeze in less than an hour layover between flights, and be realistic about when you will actually arrive. 

Why Spain... again??

    Wednesday I leave the U.S. yet again to move to Spain for a year. Again? Yes, six years ago I made the same trek across the ocean to teach English. Last time, however, I had just graduated from college, wasn't sure what I was going to do with my degree, and was also single. That year was an amazing experience, although not without the normal share of difficulties and culture shock that come with moving to another country. (If you are curious about my previous experience there, you can search past CIEE blogs for Rebekah Horney or click on this link.)

    In the five years since returning to the states, I have finished a master's degree in international education, gotten married, moved from Nashville to Chicago, been a nanny, substitute teacher, research assistant, local coordinator for a high school exchange program, and a center director for a tutoring company. A lot has happened in that time, but my love for Spain and international education has never wavered. Being unfulfilled in for-profit test prep, I was eager to get back into international education and knew that teaching English in Spain to public school students was one way to do that. 

    I've studied abroad and taught abroad in Spain with CIEE before, so even though I knew there were other options to teach English in Spain, they were my preferred route to go. I love the application, pre-departure and orientation information they provide and this time around I also completed their TEFL course, which I very much wish I would have done last time. The application process is fairly easy with them and thanks to all of their information on the visa process, I was able to submit everything on the first try and got my visa back in only three weeks. CIEE also put together a Facebook group for all of us going to teach there with them this year, so I've already met up with some of the girls in my city and booked an airbnb with them to stay in after orientation and while we look for apartments. 

    Madrid will be a new city for me, and I am so excited to be heading there. I studied abroad in Palma de Mallorca, lived and taught in Huelva, travelled to Valencia and Sevilla, but have only been through the airport and train station in Madrid. Not only does it look like a beautiful city, it is also easy to travel to other locations in Spain and Europe from there! I can't wait! Plenty of pictures to follow upon arrival. Hasta luego! 


Helpful hints to anyone interested in participating in this program in the future:

    1. Apply for everything early. If something winds up being incorrect or missing, such as a background check, you will be glad you have the extra time to try again (that was me last time around- thankfully I learned my lesson). 

    2. Read through all of the information you are sent carefully. Print out the information and highlight key points and add your own notes. Put dates into your calendar so that you don't forget something. Make a specific folder for all this information so nothing gets lots. 

    3. Do your research. Ask around for the best places to book flights, find apartments, etc. Speaking of which, don't put any money down on an apartment before you see it in person. There is plenty of time in between arriving in Spain and when you have to start teaching to find a place. You don't want to fall victim to scam artists. 

    4. Plan financially. You will be given some good information about how much to bring, but you will want to keep in mind that you need to have enough to rent a new apartment, last through a month before your first paycheck, and have some extra to do the fun stuff. Have a back up plan in case you have the unfortunate event that I did last time around of having my paycheck delayed. Call your bank and talk to them about your intended move. I found out this time around that my bank has a partner bank in Spain which means no ATM fees! That's a lifesaver. 

    5. Pack light. This is harder for me the second time around, but I'm slowly downsizing. Styles are a little different in Spain and you will want to do some shopping while you are there. Plus, it's never fun having to lug several suitcases through airports, train stations, etc. 

    6. Don't stress. Everything will get figured out. Spain is a more relaxed country, so some things take a little longer to get done, but CIEE is there to help, along with the other program participants. Spain is also a developed country, so if you forgot to bring something, they have plenty of stores to chose from.


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