Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Real Problem

"Moods are worth my attention. I am discovering during these first few weeks in Genesee that I am subject to very different moods, often changing very quickly. Feelings of depressive fatigue, of low self-esteem, of boredom, feelings aslo of anger, irritation, and direct hostility, and feelings of gratitude, joy, and excitement- they can all be there, sometimes even during one day. I have the feeling that these quickly changing moods show how attached I really am to the things given me: a friendly gesture, pleasant work, a word of praise, a good book, etc. Little things can quickly change sadness into joy, disgust into contentment, and anger into understanding or compassion. Somewhere during these weeks I read that sadness is the result of attachment. detached people are not the easy victims of good or bad events in their surroundings and can experience a certain sense of equilibrium. I have the feeling that this is an important realization for me. When my manual work does not interest me, I become bored, then quickly irritated and sometimes even angry, telling myself I am wasting my time. When I read a book that fascinates me, I become so involved that times runs fast, people seem friendly, my stay here worthwhile, and everything one big happy event. 

Of course both "moods" are manifestations of false attachments and show how far I am from a healthy form of "indifference." Thinking about all of this, I guess my main problem still is I have not really made prayer my priority. Still the only reasons I am here-I mean the only reason I should be here- is to learn to pray. But, in fact, much of what I am doing is motivated by many other concerns: getting back in shape, learning some skills, knowing more about the birds and the trees, getting to know interesting people, and picking up many ideas and experiences for future teaching. But if prayer were my only concern, all of these other things could be received as free gifts. Now, however, I am obsessed by these desires which are false, not in themselves, but by their being in the wrong place in the hierarchy of values. That, I guess, is the cause of my moodiness. For the time being it seems so important to at least be aware of it."

-Excerpt from The Genessee Diary by Henri Nouwen

Thursday, January 19, 2012

More than Just Words

I am currently in my second week of a 3 week long intensive spanish language course. I go to a class 5 days a week for 4 hours straight with one 15 minute break. It is intense (haha) but so worth it. I feel like I have learned so much in just 9 days of class. But I guess that is the point. The last two days of class have been even more intense than the rest. Mostly because my professor started teaching us how to do and say things like a local person would. Strange sounding, I know. I have been here for about 5 months and somehow i hadn't learned a lot of this stuff.

A language is not just words, it is a culture. To understand the language you almost HAVE to understand the culture. Learning a language is one thing but learning how to use it correctly is an entirely different thing. One of the hardest adjustments for me in learning/applying Spanish is that the biggest difference is the manner in which Spanish people are polite. Let me explain.

As Americans who speak English we put a lot of emphasis on saying things like 'please, and thank you very much, and sir, and ma'am. We use big words and try to dance around being as direct as possible when asking for stuff from somebody we don't know. Not the spanish. They are very direct people. So when you go to a restaurant/bar/grocery store you don't really say 'please' or 'may i please have' you actually mostly use the command form of the words, meaning you are direct and to the point. The 'niceness' comes in the intonation of your voice, not the words you use.  I have been learning about this concept since 8th grade but it wasn't until i was faced with putting it into practice here that I realized just how different that is. I still feel so weird saying things like 'me pone un cafe' or 'me traes la cuenta.' (simply translated into 'bring me a/the_________.) you can say please but not many people do. It is so weird.

It has been such a great experience to studying in Spain. To learn the culture, to understand a way of life very different from my own. And to be able to travel to places I have only dreamed about is pretty awesome.  Honestly never thought i might one day get to lay on a beach in Portugal, swim in the Mediterranean Sea,  stand under the Eifel Tower, eat raw oysters out of ocean off the coast of France, take the sound of music tour, go on a winery tour through the Tuscany region in Italy and so much more. I'm sure some of you are probably fuming with jealousy right now. But I don't apologize :) I am so excited and thankful for this opportunity and the things I have learned so far and the things i have yet to learn/experience.

And to think I still have 5 months left to enjoy of my experience. I feel like the luckest girl in the world right now.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


(sunset in Granada, Spain 12/15/2011)

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” 
– Miriam Beard

Monday, January 9, 2012

Do Like The French Do

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. There is so much to say. I spent a long time thinking about what to write and I settled on just writing it all. So i shall start at the very beginning because, well, that is a very good place to start.

I left Salzburg Christmas evening to rendezvous with Georgia, a friend of mine I met in Granada, in Paris at 12 on the 26th of December. To give you a quick summary Georgia knew a few French girls she had met in August in Madrid and they invited her to come visit them over xmas break. Georgia really didn't even know them that well but wanted to visit and I asked if I could come along. I ended up leaving my phone in Madrid on accident and had no idea what time Georgia's flight was landing or even what airport she was flying into. So, once again, I just boarded the train and figured I would come up with a plan the next day. Upon arrival to Paris I procured a map, bought 3euro wireless and proceeded to try to contact Georgia. It was a fail. Greatest part was i didn't even know her cell number. But thankfully, while on Facebook my program director in Granada was online and I asked him to give me her number. And i bought a phone card and gave Georgia a call. She was waiting at the Paris-Beauvais airport which if anybody has every flown in there then you know, it is really not in Paris but an hour and a half outside the city. It is the 'economy' airport. Unfortunately i had no idea where that was so I told her to just meet me under the Eifel Tower. You know, like you do. So cliche but it was the only thing I could think to do. So 3 hours later.....Georgia finally got to the tower. She then told me we had to go to the Notre Dame to meet the girls and their parents. So, we hopped back on the metro and headed to the Notre Dame.

We were 45 minutes late, but thankfully, they were still there. 2 French girls ages 22 and 20 and their parents (who didn't speak much English at all) greeted us with lots of kisses on the cheeks and excited smiles. The mom and daughters knew some spanish so for 2 days we mostly spoke in Spanish. It was so weird but so cool. The parents had rented an apartment in Paris for 2 nights and immediately began touring us around the city in their mini-van. It was amazing. I knew I was going to love the trip from that moment on. We drove around a lot and visited so many famous things. Then went to a mass (they are vey catholic) and saw Paris by night. Then headed back to the tiny and very cute apartment. The next day we tried to go to the Louvre but it was closed so we took lots of pictures and went to the Sainte Chapelle instead. Drove around some more and walked a bunch. In the evening we made it to the Galleries Lafayette, very famous department store mall in Paris. They still had all of the lights and Christmas tree up. Just about the prettiest thing I have ever seen. I couldn't stop smiling and taking pictures. We ended our visit by going up to the roof of the mall and seeing a panoramic view of Paris once again. It was incredible. Then we were informed by the girls that we were going to their friend Claire's house for dinner. We ate dinner with 6 other french people our age in a cute apartment house in Paris. It was indescribably amazing. The next day we drove to their house near Vannes in the Brittany region of France. 5 hour drive. And on the way we casually just stopped at the Palace of Versailles. One great thing about being a student is that I get into almost all museums and major monuments for FREE!!!! and especially so when I am with native french/spanish speakers. So we literally ran through the Palace for an hour. It was unreal. I couldn't stop laughing in disbelief. Then back to the car.

I should say that the whole trip (2 weeks) i never knew what we were going to do until about 5 minutes before we were going to go do it. This was very freeing and a lot of fun.

We arrived at their French country cottage. Georgia and I couldn't believe how french it was. It looked like the house in The Holiday, only cooler and of course, french. And the surprises kept getting better and better. The dad played the accordion, painted, made his own jam and cider and was so excited about the little things in life. Their mom was super hospitable and always wanted to make sure we felt at home. The dad had rigged up a sound system and dance party lights in the small cottage and so everyday when he wasn't playing the accordion for us, we had crazy spontaneous dance parties.

Everyday for the next 5 days we had 2 full course meals including appetizers and post meal wine and cheese. We attended a New Years Eve party with the girls friends, ran in the french countryside, visited many famous places, took pictures on the beach, hunted oysters and ate them raw, saw WW2 remnants, stayed up late giggling and laughing, shopped for New Years apparel, and did so many french things i lost count. The girls had 2 another friend over during New Years. The party we went to was so much fun. I danced real dances with a french boy who lead very well thankfully. Also watched several people jump into the Atlantic Ocean before midnight. It was super fun.

One day they all asked me to teach them a Texas song (sorry NC but nobody really knows where you are) and so of course, I taught them "Deep in the Heart of Texas." Listening to french people sing this song brought a few tears to my eyes. We also taught them the Electric Slide. it was epic.

After about 5 days it was time to say goodbye to the family and head to Rennes where one of the girls goes to college. We stayed in her apartment for the next 4 days. We went to an anatomy class in french (Georgia got in trouble for accidentally yawning), ran along the beautiful river, went out with her friends,  went to Mount St. Michel, and cooked a lot of fun meals. It was like a dream, the best I've ever had.

 Last friday Georgia and I returned to Paris for the day. We spent the afternoon at the Louvre. I saw the Mona Lisa and many many other famous paintings I thought I would never see. We then spent the night in a hotel that felt like a dirty cruise ship before catching a 9am flight to Madrid the next day.

That is but a short summary of my time in Northern France. It was so amazing. I had a 2 week crash course in french, realized how much I had missed butter, fell in love with all things French, learned a lot about myself and saw things I have only ever dreamed about. It was truly an incredible time that I will not soon forget. An experience like that is hard to match. And I hope very much to see the Robino family again. I am forever thankful for their hospitality to us.


Palace at Versailles

country cottage

super cool beach

double rainbow


one of the very beautiful churches we went to. I took so many pictures of stained glass windows on this trip i feel like need to create a photo album of them all.

we found this while shoe shopping (obviously). I had just taught everybody my Texas song.
L-R (Floraine, Valentine, Amélie)

cottage exterior

the little tiny village we stayed in

fresh oysters! i ate them

mont st. michel. super cool. very windy

french castle

Now, I am back in Granada. I started classes today. Hard to believe i still (and only) have 5 full months left! whoah.

Christmas Town

I spent Christmas 2011 in Salzburg, Austria. And although it was quite strange to be far, far away from my family, Salzburg was a great experience. I went for 4 days alone and stayed in a hostel. Crazy, I know. I have traveled a lot by myself but never stayed anywhere alone. It was quite the experience.

I arrived in Salzburg after an overnight layover in Amsterdam in which i properly curled up in a corner with earplugs, a jacket for a blanket and my backpack for a pillow. I surprisingly slept 5 hours straight. it was awesome. Landed in Salzburg, Austria at 9am in the morning with no map, no idea how to get to my hostel and no idea how to speak any German. I promptly ran away from the very drunk Spanish musician who sat next to me on the flight and professed his love for me over and over. I even had to lie to him and tell him i had a boyfriend so he would leave me alone. The whole experience was rather comical. Anyways, got off the plane and vaguely remembered that I could take bus #2 into town but i had no idea where to get off. So, I boarded bus 2, road for about 20 minutes and hopped off. Then walked into a coffee shop, drank an expresso and gathered myself. I was alone, with no directions and it felt amazing. The ground was snow covered, temps around freezing and it was misting slightly. After the coffee I left the cafe and just started walking in the direction of the most people. I eventually rounded a corner and saw Salzburg. And I laughed out loud. It was seriously like being in a movie. The city was snow covered and beautiful. I immediately recognized the skyline b/c of the Sound of Music (parts of the movie were filmed here). I walked along the river until I came into town. First order of business was to obtain a map. After that I was golden. I immediately found the Christmas markets after accidentally walking by Mozart's birthplace of course. If you don't know anything about these Christmas markets they are literally what I imagine when I imagine Christmas. It was the most Christmasy place I have ever been. Eventually, I went to the hostel, dropped my bags and headed back out for a tour of the town. I spent the entire day alone, wandering the streets of Salzburg and then went for a snowy hike above the city. The weather was terrible but somehow made the experience feel that much more amazing.

That night I met a girl from China and we discussed Chinese politics. It was, special. I went to bed at 9pm i was so exhausted. The next morning I woke up early for my 9am SOUND OF MUSIC TOUR!!!!! I could hardly eat breakfast b/c i was so excited. I love the movie and never thought in a million years I would visit Salzburg. The great thing was I booked the tour with Bob's tours. They take small vans of people on tours instead of giant tour buses. There was an Australian girl named Tish on my tour. She was my age. There was also a very snobby American couple on the trip. The weather was absolutely terrible but even that couldn't surpress my excitement.

I ate dinner in the hostel that night with Tish and we met more Australians. And that evening I took my first official verbal beating from a drunk Australian political science major about how terrible America is and how we need to get our act together. It was quite exhausting but i was quite impressed with myself.

The next day was Christmas Eve. And that was when I met Harry from England at breakfast. We ended up spending the next 2 days together. Super fun. Toured the fortress of Salzburg, went for coffee, rambled around the Christmas markets. Perfect. Also met 2 Australian boys who had just finished high school and were traveling around before college. I ended up eating Christmas lunch at an Indian restaurant with them. They wore light up santa hats all day. It ended up being a wonderful Christmas. Salzburg is a wonderful city that I hope to visit again very soon.

first view

Christmas market

Mozart birthplace

Sound of Music tour!!!!!!

SOM tour

yes, the gazebo

Red Bull Headquarters. i know, random

apple strudel in vanilla sauce.

churched used to film the wedding in SOM

the fountain the kids danced around and sang "Do-Re-Mi"

The abbey where all the exterior shots from SOM were filmed

Harry and I atop the Fortress

we have many nutcrackers at my house in Texas. so I felt right at home

It was such a fantastic trip. One of my favorite parts was that Christmas Eve they have a tradition where they fire cannons off the Fortress walls for about 30 minutes. They are super loud and fun to watch. Also, all afternoon/evening of Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day the church bells are ringing all across the city. It was so very magical. I went to midnight mass in the oldest church in Salzburg. So perfect. I even got to skype with my family on Christmas Day. And then, Christmas night, I took a train to Paris. I know, totally awesome.