Monday, June 19, 2017

El Centro y Mas Aventuras

SO much has happened since my last post.  I wish I had had time to post again earlier, but I guess it's a good thing that I've been busy!  There has been so much going on and with me only being in Bolivia for 15 days, I have been wanting to use EVERY minute to explore, spend time with the ones I love down here, and soak it all in.  I will try to pack everything I've done in the past week into one (probaby long) post.

On Tuesday, it was the first day I was able to visit El Centro.  I showed up and was told "you're subbing for 3rd grade today!"  Ooook!  Here we go!  Because David was in La Paz with Mama Toti to get their stuff figured out to be able to visit Joana in England, I was going to teach his class.  He had told me I might be helping in that class, but I wasn't exactly aware that I was in charge. ;)  I don't know what they do in 3rd grade, who the kids are, there is a language barrier, and it is only my first day but let's do this!  Luckily there is a 6th grade helper in the 3rd grade (Paola) and she helped me figure out a little bit of what they do. However, the 3rd grade class at the center is quite a bit naughtier than any of the other classes.    I winged it a little bit, and we made do. :) Besides the kids being quite naughty, we read a Bible story which is how I was told they start, and then I was told to do homework with them.  When all the kids got there, they told me they didn't have homework as they had a test tomorrow.  OH BOY.  So NOW what do we do?!  I put together a quick review game to review multiplication for their test and we made it work!  They seemed to have a lot of fun, and I hope at least they got some good reviewing in for their test the next day. :)

The next day, I was told again that I would be helping sub as the 2nd grade teacher would be arriving a little bit late.  These students however were MUCH more behaved, and they were a fun crew.  The teacher arrived after about 20 minutes, but I was able to read a couple of stories to them and spend the rest of the day in their class as well.  It was a lot of fun because it was 2 of the boys' birthdays that week, and so the teacher had brought a cake to celebrate their birthdays together.  I was able to stay for the celebration.  We went around the tables and shared one thing each about what we appreciated or liked about the boys and then wished them happy birthday before all sharing the birthday cake.

The last day at the center this past week, I helped in 3rd grade again.  It was much easier with David there as well.  The students acted out a Bible story they had been learning about and then we worked on multiplication again.  I sat with a couple of boys and helped them complete their multiplication problems.  It has been a long time since I've done multiplication like this!  The center is such a blast, even though I don't know many of the kids because the majority of the students I had 3 years ago already have graduated from the program.  The center is grades Kinder-5th.  (Last time when I was here, they served grades 1st-6th).  I am getting to know them, and I worked really hard at learning all the names of the 2nd and 3rd graders.  After a few (actually many) mistakes, by Friday I could say I learned them all.  Some of the names are very different from any names in the US, so it's a lot harder to remember them.  There are a couple students there that I do remember from my time here three years ago.  I was able to see Veronica, who is the sister to Arminda, who I will share about later!  I was also able to see the siblings Gabriel and Mariana.  I remember those 3 students, and even though they didn't remember me as they were quite young when I was here three years ago, I was able to show them photos of us 3 years ago as proof that I truly was here and remember them!  They were pretty surprised!

One day this past week was a holiday.  (There seems to be lots of holidays in Bolivia, as there is one this week, too!)  That means there is no school and no Center.  Instead, David accompanied Kate and I to Parque Tunari!! I went to Parque Tunari last time as well, and it is BEAUTIFUL.  We were only going to climb to kilometer 5, but decided to keep going..and keep going... and it ended up being quite a long hike.  Most of the time we stuck to the road that winds back and forth up the mountain.  But after some time, we decided to take the "stairs" that are carved into the mountain to sort of make it go faster.  However, at this elevation (we started at about 10,000 ft elevation) it is VERY difficult to climb stairs when you're up that high.  It's a lot harder to breathe and I am not exactly in great shape!  It is safe to say my legs were KILLING me (and still are!) after that long hike.  After getting to about kilometer 8 or 9, we decided to turn back home.  We didn't bring any food with us and we wanted to get back somewhat at a decent time to eat lunch.  We got home around 2:30, so we hiked for a total of about 4 hours.  It was a wonderful time spent with David, though.  We were able to talk, hear more about him and his life, and just have some good quality time together.  He is a great dad, and I love spending time here with him!  

One night last week, we sat at the kitchen table after supper and talked with Mama Toti for about 3 hours!  She shared her life story, more about her family and the Quiroga family, and just lots of different things about her life.  It was a special time to be able to sit and have time with just her and Kate.  It is also great practice for my Spanish!  The next night, we did the same but with Papa David.  He shared more of his story, more about his family, etc.  I really appreciate that time to sit and share and hear more about their stories, their lives, their work at the Center, and more about Bolivia.  I am glad I am getting that time with them while I am here.

On Saturday morning, Isaac took us to El Cristo de la Concorida!! This is the largest Christ statue in the western hemisphere.  (Yes, it is larger than the famous one in Brazil!)  We went on the "teleferico" to the top and then decided to walk down.  Yes, this was a bad choice, after our legs were still KILLING after walking so far up and down Tunari just a couple days prior.  But, going down we figured was better than going up.  No joke, my legs felt like jello after and wouldn't stop shaking!  There are so many steps down!  But when you're up there, the views are incredible!  The statue opened to be able to climb up inside while we were up there as well, so climbed up until the point of the statue's arms.  It is really dark inside, but so fun to look out through the small holes over all the city.  It is a special experience, and something I am glad I was able to experience again!  

Sunday we went to church again.  Church is quite long on Sundays.  We go by taxi and arrive at about 9, but don't get out of there til close to 12:00 probably.  The church is held at El Centro.  In the middle of the service, after singing, prayer time, and communion, everyone goes to different rooms for "Bible Study".  I went with the young people's group that is basically middle and high schoolers.  We went through a chapter of a Bible Study book they have been using.  After that, everyone gets back together in the main room for more singing and THEN a message.  They asked me to come to the front so that they could pray for me as it was my last Sunday with them.  I will be leaving next Sunday, but SUPER early in the morning.  It is a long morning, but it goes quite quickly with all the moving around and everything.  It is a different church experience, and I really enjoy it.

Today, Monday, I have been not feeling super great.  My stomach has been a little off since Sunday night, so please be praying that I don't get MORE sick and that I get over this little bug quickly.  Despite me not feeling well, I was able to go to la cancha (the market) with Mama Toti and Kate to buy some souvenirs and do a little shopping.  I wanted to buy a little treat for all the kids to give them my last day at the center.  After that, I took a nap and felt a little better.  We had lunch and then Kate and I ventured off to a park.  We took the trufi and David and Toti went along but just dropped us off and explained how to get back.  It was a beautiful park.  We walked around a little bit then took the trufi back home.  We decided we didn't want to sit home all night, so then we took the microbus G down to Avenida America, found a place to sit down and decided to order some pizza.  It was delicious.  After that, we walked to the supermarket and looked around some and bought a couple things.  Then we successfully found the microbus G to return home.  Everything was going great, right?!  Until the bus broke down in the middle of the road.... oh great.   It sounded AWFUL but then we saw another one coming down the road so we quick ran off the bus to catch the other one.  That one was almost full and as people were trying to pile on, the driver started driving away!!  So we had to wait another 10 minutes or so for another bus G to show up to bring us home.  What an adventure!  We made it, though. :)

Be praying that my stomach would start feeling better and that I could enjoy my last couple of days here!  I will be flying back to the states super early in the morning on Sunday.  I am ready to go home, but also ready to soak in these last Bolivian moments.  

Adios y vaya con Dios,

Monday, June 12, 2017

Bolivia: la misma y diferente

I have been back in Bolivia now for 3 days.  When thinking about what I wanted to title this post, I was thinking about all that seems so familiar and the same as the previous time I was here and what all has changed since my time here three years ago.  Hence, the title -- Bolivia: la misma (the same) y diferente (and different).  

When I stepped off the plane into the Santa Cruz airport, I could already tell that it was the same old Bolivia.  The smell was the same, the people appeared the same, and all the sights were so similar.  It felt a little bit like coming "home" in that way.  I missed so many things about this place so much!! I definitely missed the laid back culture, but also the busyness of the city.  I missed the sights and sounds (and only some of the smells๐Ÿ˜‰).  I missed this culture and all that it has to offer.  There are always people out and about during the day walking around in the streets and going about their work and chores.  It is so hard to describe unless you have experienced and seen all of the craziness around me each day here in Cochabamba!  It truly is different than anything I have ever seen.  The cars and buses are always going SO fast, there seem to be no rules of the road other than "I'm bigger so get out of my way".  Everyone walks places or takes "trufis" (public transportation like a taxi or bus) or public "microbuses".  The hustle and bustle of the city is something I definitely missed, but I also missed the quiet up at the Quiroga house where we are further away from the busy city and more up in the mountains.  The view from the rooftop is AMAZING, and you can just hear the sounds of dogs barking in the distance, construction workers working, and the cars and buses that occasionally go past.  It is nice going "home" to a place that is a little away from all the craziness and busyness of the city, too.

Another thing that was more familiar for me was the Spanish.  I really was surprised how quickly I could pick up on the Spanish here.  It is SO much easier than when I was in Spain, and I remember it taking a bit while I was here to be able to understand David and Mama Toti and the boys but I am doing really well!  Only occasionally if one of them mumbles or says something that I don't understand will I have to ask them to repeat, but most of the time I can pick up on at least 90% of the conversation.  I also could pick up on everything that was said at church!! I remember it being so hard to stay focused and actually pick up on everything they were saying in the church services when I was here three years ago, but that just shows me how much my Spanish has gotten better and improved over the last years!  I was worried I was going to need a major refresher after not speaking it largely for 2+ years.  

The one thing that has changed so much is El Centro.  They have done SO much work to the center since I was here last.  There is play equipment for the kids, a new kitchen is under construction, they have "finished" a lot more of the yard and that is so cool to see all the progress that has been made!! During church and in the middle of the church service when there is a moment for "refreshments" of pastries and coffee, the kids were even enjoying the large ramp that serves as a sort of slide and all the play equipment.  It was so fun to see all the children.  I even recognized two kiddos that I helped at the center three years ago: Gabriel and Mariana!  They clearly didn't remember me, as they were quite little when I was here, but I showed them pictures to prove that I remembered them from years back.  ๐Ÿ˜Š It looks like they have changed the "programming" of what they do there a lot as well.  They added a class of kindergarten and now they only go up until 6th grade.  It will be fun to go to the center and actually work tomorrow to see all the changes and improvements to the classrooms.  I am only sad that a lot of the students that I met during my time at the center are now old enough that they don't come. ๐Ÿ˜ข  I really hope that there is an opportunity for me to see a few of them that I was closer with.  I am excited to see the rest of the kiddos tomorrow at the center, though!

Now for a quick recap of what we've done so far since being here...
As I said earlier, we went to church on Sunday morning at the Center.  It is always great enjoying a church service there.  Multiple times they welcomed us and David spoke about me returning to them after a few years and how special that is to them.  I am so very blessed that they invited me to return, and I am thankful that they are so happy to have me here with them again.  They truly seem very excited that I returned to see all the changes and to visit with everyone and help at the Center.  When I arrived at the airport and they came and picked me up, Papa David and Mama Toti also hugged and kissed me multiple times saying how good it was to see me and how they were so happy I came to see them again.  The are the kindest, most wonderful people, and I am so excited to get to spend a couple weeks with them.  

After church, we relaxed.  I definitely hit a wall yesterday and could feel the fatigue kicking in after so much traveling.  I took a three hour nap and then we all watched a movie together.  This morning (Monday) we went with Mama Toti to the Cancha.  When I say we I mean Kate and I.  Kate is another volunteer staying here for four weeks.  It is nice to have a roommate here and someone to accompany me and do things with.  The cancha is the super huge market here.  It is fun, but super crazy.  You just have to watch out for cars and people, hope not to get run over, and definitely not to get lost from Toti.  After that, I was exhausted once again and fell asleep in the trufi even, which is absolutely crazy for how rough the roads are and how wild the drivers are.  There are people constantly getting on and off the buses and trufis, too.  Many times people are standing because there isn't enough room for everyone to sit.  We got home, I took a power nap, we ate lunch, and then David and Toti were off to La Paz.  Which means, the rest of the day we have been on our own and we will be tonight and tomorrow as well.  We convinced/begged Isaac to take us to get ice cream so that we could get out of the house today and not sit at home all afternoon and night.  We went to "Globos" which has super good ice cream and then walked and did a little shopping around the downtown area and saw Plaza Colon and Plaza Principal.  We walked a TON.  I was exhausted when we returned home.  It will be nice to have David and Toti home again tomorrow night.  We hope everything goes well with their visit to La Paz to (hopefully!) get a VISA to visit Joana in England.  We are praying that works out PERFECTO for them. 

That is all for now!  We have done a lot in three days, but I can't wait for the time at the Centro to begin this week!  I only have 2 weeks with the kiddos which will go so fast!! Tomorrow because David is gone, I will be helping out in his 3rd grade classroom!

Adios y vaya con Dios,

brother Isaac and Howard playing guitar and singing at church

the NEW play equipment at El Centro

selfie by Isaac on the microbus :)

a parade going on while we were walking downtown to go to the market

the cancha (the market)

ice cream at Globos with my roommate Kate

during our Monday afternoon walk

Plaza Principal

nighttime from the top of the Quiroga house where I am staying

Friday, June 9, 2017

Returning home to Bolivia.

I'm sitting in the Chicago O'Hare airport currently waiting for my flight to Miami.  I am already this far on my journey, and I still can't believe I am returning to the country that I fell in love with three summers ago.  Three summers ago I was already a couple weeks into my stay in Cochabamba with the Quiroga family and working with International Teams at the children's center there.  

When I left Cochabamba three years ago, I just KNEW that I would be back.  I fell in love with it there and the relationships I formed with the Quiroga family and others down in Bolivia would not be something I would forget about.  I at some point in my life wanted to return and experience that place again and all of the things that made me fall in love with the country.  There are SO many things I am looking forward to... watching the sunset on the roof of the Quiroga house, sitting up on the roof and drinking my morning coffee while enjoying the sites and sounds around me, the incredible mountain views, the culture that is so different from ours but so wonderful, etc. but the thing I am most excited for is hugging those that I have missed since leaving that place.  

I CAN'T wait to see the kiddos' smiling faces and to see how much they've grown!! I know I won't possibly be able to remember all of their names, but I know I will recognize their faces and smiles.  It will be incredible to see how much they've grown and changed.  I can't wait to see how El Centro has changed as well.  I've seen some pictures of things they've added to El Centro de Amistad and can't wait to see all of it and how the ministry has grown and changed in the past three years.  It will be such an exciting time of reunions and fun and adventures I'm sure.  

However, I will MISS those I left in Iowa.  I CRIED the past two nights when saying goodbye to Luke, and it was hard to say goodbye to the rest of my family as well.  It makes it a LITTLE easier that I know I'm gone for only 2 and a half weeks rather than close to 7 like last time.  It will go SO fast, but I'm so excited for all this adventure will have to offer me.  Plus, I was just getting bored staying in Iowa so long. :)  It was time for something fun and exciting!

Pray for me and the rest of my trip!! I have a full 24 hours yet of traveling, and I know I will be EXHAUSTED upon arrival.  It is different traveling by myself.  I arranged all of my flights by myself, so I am just praying everything goes smoothly.  


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nearing the end...

I have one week until I am home.  This has by far been the longest time I have been away from my home and my family.  This has also been one of the hardest semesters of my life in so many ways!  Yet, I think I will come away in the end grateful to have had the experience.  

I've been starting to experience some of the first of the lasts.  It's a bittersweet feeling because I hate change and I hate saying good-bye, especially to a place that I really love and appreciate.  But the past few weeks, I have more and more SO ready to be home.  I think about my sweet nephews who are growing so much without me there often.  I want to just be HOME.  I'm ready for Christmas as well!  I've been getting so excited for Christmas, and it makes me so anxious to be home and spend the holidays with my family.

Thanksgiving didn't even really feel like Thanksgiving this year.  We had a rainy Thanksgiving weekend, but it was enjoyable.  We had a large Thanksgiving meal with the rest of the program students and teachers and faculty in a restaurant.  They prepared us a "traditional" American Thanksgiving meal, and it was delicious! (Especially because we haven't really had American food in so long!)  It was delicious and a lot of fun to celebrate the holiday together.  We played some games and even did a Secret Santa gift exchange.  I did better than I thought being away from my family for the holiday.  It probably helped that it wasn't my first Thanksgiving holiday away from my immediate family.  (I have spent it with Derrick & Sandy in Chicago before.) And it really didn't feel like Thanksgiving at all since they don't celebrate the holiday.

I will miss a few things from Spain, though, so I just wanted to share a few of the things that I feel like I'm going to miss shortly after leaving this place.  

-Speaking Spanish.  It truly is one of my passions, and I've learned so much!  Yet I know I have so much more to learn, and I keep desiring to speak better and keep learning!  That is a lot harder not being in Spain, so I will miss the opportunity to speak and practice my Spanish all of the time!
-The professors.  I love my professors here and everyone at Acento.  I will miss them all so much and miss the experiences and fun class times!  It also is beginning to hit me that I am DONE with classes for my undergraduate career!  Woo-hoo!  (But also scary!  I feel so old!)  On to student teaching next semester! (which I am also getting anxious and excited about!)
-Seville.  This city is beautiful and old.  I will miss walking around and seeing beautiful, old buildings and exploring the city!
-Rosa.  My sweet Rosa who I've stayed with all semester is so great, and I will miss her so much!  It has been a blessing to be able to stay in her home and for her to open her home up to us in the way she has!  She is a blessing for sure.
-The lifestyle here.  There is always things to do in the city, but yet it still feels like a smaller city in so many ways.  I will miss being able to go out late at night and see so many people in the streets and walking around, etc.  It is a great part of the culture here, and it has made living here a lot of fun.  

For now, though, I am ultimately looking towards being home.  And when I think about it, I don't think I will miss being in Seville more than I will appreciate being home with those I love!  Pray for my transition, as this week will be hard.  We have lots of good-byes, packing, and tests before I head out on Saturday morning at 4 AM from my home here!  I have an anxious heart about a lot of things, so I'm hoping that I continue to enjoy my last days and really feel like I just use my time well & don't get too antsy to be home!  I will be home sooo soon!  I can't wait to see everyone. :)

Adios y vaya con Dios,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mi viaje a Amsterdam

It's been almost a month since I traveled to Amsterdam with one of my dearest friends--and I'm dying to go back some day!  Sara and I have been dreaming about going to The Netherlands for as long as I can remember.  Ever since we knew we were going to be studying abroad in Spain, we have talked about making a trip to Holland.  We would talk about it and dream about visiting the MOTHERLAND often!  So when we got here, we quickly got to planning our trip of a lifetime--which it truly was! I absolutely adored Holland, and so hope to return some day!
We decided to go a long weekend when we had a day off from class here in Spain.  We ended up missing one day of classes, but which is something totally do-able here. Sara and I ended up finding some pretty cheap tickets--especially for flying to The Netherlands from Spain--and snatched them up.  We booked a hostel for the four nights.  We ended up staying at the Christian Youth Hostel that Northwestern's Spring Service Project students visit each spring.  It was fun to see where so many of our friends and fellow Northwestern students have been!  It was also a wonderful hostel where people were so welcoming and friendly!  We ended up attending one of the Bible studies they have each night because a worker invited us.  It was enjoyable and fun to converse with people from all over the world.  It even fell on Sara and I to translate parts of it to a Spanish-speaking fellow there!! Crazy the opportunities that are placed in front of you daily when you know a second language...

We flew to Eindhoven, because the airplane tickets were much cheaper, which is only about an hour and a half by bus to Amsterdam.  We arrived at the airport--which was filled with souvenirs of wooden shoes & all things Dutch and even had a tulip stand! I loved Holland already!  As soon as we arrived and saw everything, I just felt like I had arrived at home!  It was a crazy weird feeling.  When we rode on the bus to Amsterdam, we rode past farm fields and terrain that seemed more "Iowa" than I have seen in a long time!  It was a welcoming sight!

As soon as we got to Amsterdam, I was in awe of all of the Dutch fronts on the houses and the things that just so reminded me of my home in little Orange City, IA.  It is truly crazy how similar Orange City is to Dutch-land when you are actually there seeing it all!  I constantly would see things and be like "Ooh!  That's why they have that in Orange City!  Or.. that's why that looks like that in Orange City!" etc.  I felt almost so torn--because things felt so familiar--but yet I had to keep telling myself I was still in Europe!

As soon as we arrived at the train/bus station, we decided to buy train tickets and go immediately to Haarlem to see the Corrie Ten Boom house.  We were very glad we decided to do that! The Corrie Ten Boom House/Museum was an amazing experience.  We waited outside the door of the house (that is still standing in its original position) and were able to take a free tour throughout the house.  We were able to see the place where Corrie and her family hid men during the Second World War and hear about Corrie's life and her experiences.  It was a very cool experience & educational!  Definitely a must-see if you go to Holland.

Haarlem was beautiful & small and felt like a small town like Orange City (granted it was still a lot bigger I believe).  We also visited a windmill right along the water and were able to take a tour through it and see how it works & go up to the top and look over Haarlem.  We ended up being the only ones in the English tour, so we sort of had a private tour to ourselves with a very sweet, old Dutch man.  We had fun walking around a little bit and just enjoying being in Holland!  Then we took the train back to Amsterdam and found our way to our Hostel.  

Over the next few days, we did so much in Amsterdam and had a beautiful, fun time together!  Some of the things we did in summary:
  • ate poffertjes at a small "fair" that was set up right in front of the Royal Palace (seriously RIGHT in front!) with rides and everything!
  • visited the famous Rijksmuseum where we were able to see lots of famous art from Dutch history & from around the world.  I have been to a few art museums since being in Europe, but I think this was definitely my favorite!
  • ate traditional Dutch pancakes at Sara's Pancake House-- they tasted and looked more like crepes!  We also figured out quickly that Dutch syrup is definitely not the same as American syrup.
  • went on a boat tour through the canals of Amsterdam.  A fun, relaxing way to take in the city during our last day in Amsterdam!  The canals were one of my favorite parts of Amsterdam--they added a lot of character to the city, and I of course love being in the city, but also right on the water!  They showed us lots of famous houses & sites along the tour.
  • walked through the Bloemenmarkt (flower market) where there are lots of souvenirs..and of course TULIPS!  (Unfortunately we didn't get to visit Holland during Tulip season) :( I loved all the little gift shops & tulips, wooden shoes, etc. (all things DUTCH!) throughout the city!
  • toured the Royal Palace.  This was a lot of fun.  They shared lots of Dutch history through the audio guides & there was lots of cool art, VERY decorated rooms, etc.
  • walked by the Heineken factory & museum.  We decided not to take a tour inside, but it was fun to see.
  • ate at the Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam!
  • walked through the small Amsterdam Cheese Museum & tried out free samples of cheese!
  • took a small tour through the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and learned a lot about the history of tulips!
  • visited the Anne Frank House...WOW.  This was a cool experience.  It made learning about the event in school and reading her book that much more real. It was a cool experience and well worth the wait in line.  Very different experience from the Corrie Ten Boom House, but equally interested & very neat & special to see.
  • visited Westerkerk (church)
  • found the "smallest house in Amsterdam"-- it literally is only as wide as my armspan!  And it wasn't nearly as tall as the other houses/buildings on the block!  Crazy!
We had so much fun!! It was a packed four days, and like I said before, a trip of a lifetime!!  I still can't believe that I have been to Holland!  I have to pinch myself sometimes!! I felt like I was living a dream the entire time!  However, it did me quite homesick for my little Dutch town on the other side of the world!  I seriously felt heartbroken when I had to leave such a quaint, cute place that reminded my soul so much of my real home in Iowa!!  It was crazy how much I fell in love with a place in just four days..but I guess that love for it had been growing for many, many years back in Orange City. :)  

Soon soon SOON I will be blogging about my week-long break & trip to four more wonderful places:  Barcelona, Rome, Paris, and London!  

Adios y vaya con Dios,
From on top of the windmill... our cute tour guide took our picture :)

Poffertjes :)

In front of one of the canals


Monday, November 3, 2014

ICYMI: Life is NOT a piece of cake

The last couple of weeks have been some of the craziest of my life.  The memories I've made, the adventures I've taken, and the people I've spent my time with have really made these past weeks unforgettable.  (More posts to come about those adventures!)  I've gotten to see and experience so much.  Yet, those weeks have also held some of the darkest, most uncomfortable, and hardest moments of my life as well.  

Like I've probably mentioned before, this study abroad thing hasn't exactly been a piece of cake for me.  Lots of it has been really hard.  As of a few weeks ago, I was probably in the worst place I've been so far on this adventure.  I was feeling very lonely, very lost, and very angry.  A lot has changed since then (thank goodness!), and I've learned to appreciate a lot even though those hard feelings and emotions were very real to me.  

What do you do when you feel very lonely & everything & everyone you know and love seems so far away?  I have had to struggle and wrestle with those feelings.  Many times I've had to cry out & say "God, why does this hurt so much?  Why does this suck?  Why do I feel as if I have no one to talk to/hang out with/be with, etc?"  It has been hard to ask those questions, but I also am realizing that these questions (along with moments of praise and thankfulness!) have really formed part of my experience in Spain and can be just as rewarding as those more lovely thoughts!

Not everything is easy in life.  Not everything is a piece of cake.  Not everything gives you instant gratification.  We live in a world that very much looks for those things.  Yes, I want to LOVE my experience in Spain.  Yes, I want to be so glad I came & praise God for all the wonderful experiences and friends He gave me while here.  But if that isn't the case, that's okay, too.  I can still praise God for THE experiences He gave me, good or bad.  No matter what, He is good.

No, I'm not saying that this experience just stinks.  No, I'm not saying I absolutely hate it here and I just want to go home.  That's not the case!  {Don't get me wrong, there have been moments I've said those things to myself & to people such as my mom!}  There is SO much to truly be thankful for here!  I am in a wonderful place with wonderful people, and I'm so glad I have gotten this experience!  

Times have somewhat gotten better as well.  I have learned to cope with my homesickness little by little & get used to the fact that "my people" aren't here with me and I miss them because of it.  But I know that I can make the most of my time here and learn a lot!  My Spanish has been greatly improving & I love the professors & the school I'm at here.  The city is beautiful and the people are wonderful & kind.  Rather than days of feeling especially lonely, I just have moments where I feel so.  

And I'm learning daily to look to God for friendship.  Jesus is the best friend I will ever have, so why not take advantage of this time to grow closer to Him & learn and grow as a person!  Because when it comes down to it, people let you down.  People hurt you.  Experiences hurt you.  But God is my forever & always. Of course, this thought makes me think of one of my favorite country songs. :) 

"I could stand to lose my faith in
friends that come and go;
yeah they'll be there when you need them,
they say that when you don't.
I could give up on my heroes, 
could let myself down too,
but what would I do
if I lost my faith in You?"

That song has been one of my favorites for a long while now.  I remember the lyrics striking me at one point when I was hurt and upset over the way I was feeling beaten down by relationships with others.  And I've thought of the lyrics from this song often when I've felt as if everything around me is falling apart.  Just like it says at a different point in the song (the link is above if you want to check out all the lyrics), God's got our back.  We don't know why and we don't deserve it.  We WILL find ourselves up against walls in this life, but we have NOTHING to worry about.  God has it ALL in His hands.  Isn't that oh so wonderful? 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Un Mes en Europa

Yikes.  It has been a month in this place.  Some days it feels like it's been forever.  Others it seems like I just got here and I'm still adjusting.  Yet my time here is almost a third of the way over!!  Even worse is that this is my first blog post since being in Spain..oops! Sorry to all of those I promised that I would be blogging far I have not kept to my promise! (Now I will definitely be trying harder to stick to my promise!)  Once a couple weeks go by, so much happens that it's just so hard to know what to say! 

Well today I decided it is time to share some of my story since being Europe..what I've been up to, what I've been feeling, some of the things I've seeing and experiencing here in Spain!  I will try to recap the last month as best and efficiently as possible!

I have been living in Seville now for over a month.  It is my new home (and yes, it still feels new even though I've been here now for about 5-6 weeks.  This is crazy to me because I was in Bolivia for 7 weeks about and my time here feels like 1/10 of the time I had in Bolivia, yet Bolivia felt like it went so fast as well!  Time just really flies and it is hard to keep track of it.  I have been living with a lovely older lady who we call our "senora" here in Spain with my roommate Michelle.  I absolutely adore Rosa.  She is sweet, funny, and she is constantly doting on us and wanting us to feel completely at home in her tiny apartment.  And when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  I have never lived so "on top of" other people in my life.  It has taken some getting used to--living with a completely new roommate, in a tiny room with a bunk bed, and sharing one tiny bathroom among the three of us.  I will definitely be happy to have my own space again when I'm back in the States!  It has really been going well though, and I'm thankful for that.  Rosa is also an amazing cook, which is great!

The second weekend we were here, a large group of us went to the beach in Cadiz.  It was a couple hour bus ride, and it was well worth the trip!  I laid on the beach for 8 hours, got fried (& didn't even care!), and had a relaxing time.  It was great after our first full week of classes.  Classes have been going great.  I have class from 9:55 until 1:30 with one break in the middle.  I only have three classes daily, which is nice.  I made it through my first round of tests, which went well also!  School feels a little bit like I'm back in high school-- going to the same classes every day, etc.  But I generally enjoy my classes and my professors especially.

We have taken two school excursions as well since I've been here!  One of the first weeks we went to Cordoba!  We had a day trip where we were able to visit the Mezquita which we had been learning about in my art class.  We also were able to have free time and walk around the city and across a bridge that was built in the 1st century!  The history here is amazing, and I love it!  

This past weekend we had our only school excursion that was overnight.  We took a bus to Toledo, which was about 6 hours away.  We stopped on the way and saw the windmills from the famous Spanish literature piece "Don Quijote".  Some people were quite thrilled with the windmills!- me: "I've seen a few windmills in my day.." ha We stayed overnight in a hotel, which was amazing!  We were all thrilled to be sleeping in comfy hotel beds and to be able to take an actual shower with a showerhead attached to the wall! (Yep, our showerhead at our house is not attached to the wall)  Oh the little things.  In Toledo we walked around the tiny, winding streets and explored the many shops.  Toledo is known for all of the swords and weapons they make (Toledo was actually where all of the swords and things were made for Lord of the Rings!).  As a class we visited the large cathedral there and spent a lot of time admiring the architecture we have learned about in art class.  We also took in an amazing view of the city from a spot outside of the city.  

From Toledo, a group of me and 7 other friends traveled by train to Madrid.  We spent the weekend in Madrid at a hostel.  It was my first train and first hostel experience, and it was a blast!  We took in tons of amazing art at the Reina Sofia and El Prado art museums.  Paintings by Picasso, Dali, and El Greco we really enjoyed.  It was cool to see some famous works of art that for many years I've only heard about in school or in books actually in person!  We also visited the Palacio Real (a royal palace) where kings and queens of Spain have lived.  It was very ornately decorated, and I really enjoyed it!  We had a great time exploring the city.  When the rest of the group went to the soccer game, I was able to wander around the large Buen Retiro Park and some of the city near our hostel some more.

This past month has been crazy.  I have gone through a large range of emotions.  I have had really good weeks, and I have had some not so good weeks.  Overall, I'm having a great time, enjoying this city, and the experience.  But also overall things have been hard (harder than expected).  Some things haven't been so easy for me--finding my place, making new friends, etc. and that can make the experience difficult, confusing, and overwhelming.  I have had some definite days of homesickness in the past here.  That was very hard as I have never dealt with that before-- I was never homesick in Bolivia!  It made me miss Iowa (and even Bolivia a lot), and it has made the experience a difficult and overwhelming one in many ways.  But I'm trying to trust in my God who knows why I'm here and that I'm meant to be here, and I'm learning to take it day by day and find the good in each day.  I have been working to make the absolute best out of my experience.  Pray that I can continue to do just that each and every day!  More updates to come.. I promise. :)

Adios y vaya con Dios,