Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's not "adios," it's "hasta luego..."

And just like that, the past four months of living in Sevilla have come to an end. This morning I left bright and early from my good friend, Marta's house after staying there for a week after the program ended. And boy did she spoil me this past week. I had so much time to relax, go to the movies with her (in Spanish of course), tag along with her and her friends and eat so much amazing food! Life in Spain just looks a lot different when you are living with a young married couple as opposed to elderly grandparents. I feasted on peanut butter (haven't had that in 4 months!), cookies, homemade spaghetti, pizza, bruschetta, crepes....I told Marta she needs her own cooking show, "Cocinando con Marta." We had an absolutely amazing week together and I am so thankful for her friendship here in Spain. She was truly a blessing.

This chapter of life studying abroad came to an end this morning with yet another train ride out of Sevilla, this one just happened to be my last. The only way I can describe how it feels right now is surreal. I cannot believe how incredibly fast time can fly these days. I'm starting to sound like my grandma... "Hard to believe...time flies," she always says in her think Swedish accent. And boy is she right. I know as much as I want to, I cannot just sum up these past 4 months in a quaint, one sentence phrase. It will definitely take a lot of time to decompress and process while I jump back into another culture shock, reverse culture shock that is in my own U.S. of A. Hard to believe, but I've been told that that adjustment process is actually the hardest because life has moved on while you've been away and no one can fully understand the life you've lived across the world. But I am thankful for some great transition time before that reality strikes with some more traveling around Europe! Up next-Madrid, London, Ireland, and Sweden.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to my beloved, Sevilla today, I look back on some of the most incredible experiences, complete with lots of growing opportunities and meeting amazing people. And I am very thankful to fondly look back on my life here as well as look forward to the next great chapter that God has for me.

I definitely see myself coming back to Sevilla some day in the future. It will always have a piece of my heart. Seville's famous symbol is the "No8Do" motto that can be found all over the city on street signs, potholes, buses, etc. The legend states that King Alfonso X gave this title to the city of Seville when his son tried to take over the throne and they still stayed faithful to him. It is a hieroglyphic meaning, "No me ha dejado," or "It (Seville) has not left me." The "8" represents a "madeja" or skein of wool and when put together, the letters and symbols make the same sound of the sentence, "No me ha dejado."

And so, I am leaving Seville with that same mentality. It has not, nor will ever leave me. As my spanish señora kept saying, "it's not 'adios.' It's 'hasta luego....'"

Hasta luego, mi querida Sevilla.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

So what's next?!

For those of you confused as to why I am not on a plane headed towards the U.S. with all the other program students right now, even though I have officially finished my you go! Today, I did indeed finish my junior of college (say whaa?!) with my last final. It feels wonderful. But also a little weird because everyone in my program is actually leaving bright and early tomorrow morning to catch a flight home to the U.S. of A. Tonight we also had our last family dinner with my roommate here and so it is definitely hard to see her go.
I on the other hand will be staying in lovely Sevilla for another 9 days with my sister's friend that I have had the privilege of befriending this semester as well. So I am very grateful for a little more time to transition out of school, soak up my last moments in this city, and say my final goodbye. After that, I head to Madrid for 2 days to meet up with my friend, Jodi who has been studying abroad this semester in Senegal, Africa. From Madrid, we fly to London for 4 days to stay with Jodi's family friends, then to Ireland for another week where we will be staying with my family relatives on my mom's side. We shall finish our backpacking adventure with a week in Sweden to stay with even more of my family on my dad's side.
I am so very excited to be able to connect with family that I have never met, see where all of my grandparents grew up, and connect with my Irish/Swedish roots. This is an amazing opportunity that I have always dreamed of having and now, here it is! Here's to adventure, folks!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dominoes and toothless smiles

My friend, Juan 
The soon coming end of my time here means the beginning of the hard 'goodbyes.' One of these recent moments was having to say goodbye to all of the old men that I have come to know this past semester from my weekly Tuesday visits at the nursing home. These men have taught me so much about patience (playing dominoes game after dominoes game can sure get old...), love, and serving others simply to serve them. I had the privilege of not only playing dominoes with them over and over but also getting to know some of them like my friend, Juan on a deeper level and I am so very thankful for those special conversations with him.

The following video is one that I made for my final presentation for my community service class here in Sevilla. I believe it captures quite well the toothless smiles, the dominoes games, and the joy from our time with these men at the nursing home.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Alcazar, flamenco, bullfight...all in a Spanish weekend's work

My last official weekend with the other students on the program just came to a close and I would have to say we went out with Spanish style, for sure.

Saturday afternoon a few of my friends and I went to the Real Alcazar, the former royal palace of Sevilla. Wow, I wish I would have gone before just to be able to spend even more time there. It was absolutely beautiful, full of garden after garden, could definitely get lost with a good book in there and be in your own secret garden.

Saturday night, we went to this famous Spanish bar in Barrio Santa Cruz to watch flamenco! The passion and emotion that this dance has is mind blowing, especially when you are watching it right before your eyes in a crowded Spanish bar at midnight on a Saturday night. I couldn't help but think to myself, 'what is my life?' Sometimes, I catch myself remembering how this really isn't normal life for me and how different it will be once I go back home and these type of amazing cultural things are no longer the norm.

Sunday evening finished off the weekend with a bang-una corrida ("bullfight!")! I couldn't live in Spain all this time without going to a bullfight, now could I? Especially when the bullfighting ring is literally a 5 minute walk from my school. It was quite the nerve-racking, fascinating, thrilling, and sad experience all at once! First of all, the very first bull that came out had me on edge because we were not all that far away from the ring itself and these men are literally escaping death with everything they were doing to get this humungous bull mad. And of course there's the blood that comes from stabbing a bull several times to tire him out and weaken him before he gets one final stab that must go perfectly into his spinal chord to cause death. Yep, it was gruesome and so sad to see 6 bulls die just like that from a sport. But it was also so fascinating once you get over the initial shock to see how much of an art form and prestige this sport holds to the Spanish people. I am so glad I went and was able to experience something like that that is so foreign to our American customs.

I promise, between all of these amazing cultural experiences I actually was studying for my 4 finals, 1 presentation, and finishing my 6 page paper I had due this week. I cannot believe I am already entering my final exams week here in Spain. And after that...more adventure awaits this traveling heart of mine! Another week in Sevilla, Madrid, London, Ireland, and Sweden await!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Dulce Merienda: sweet moments over coffee

Me and Kate with Carmen
The great thing about having such small classes (my smallest, being my grammar class of 4 students) here is that I have really gotten to know my teachers. My grammar and art history teacher, Carmen has quickly become one of my favorite people-not just a favorite teacher, but person in general!
 At first I was super intimidated by her because she can be tough and definitely expects the best out of us every day. With a class of 4 students, it´s also a little harder to slide by without knowing something...and she will definitely make sure you know it. As the months have gone by though, she really isn´t that intimidating at all and we´ve all discovered that she loves a good conversation. When prompted, she can spend an entire class period just talking about life with us, answering random questions we have about Spanish culture, etc. And the best part about us going off on tangents for an entire class period here is that we are still learning and practicing our Spanish, so it really isn´t a waste at all! These really have been my favorite classes with her because she seriously exudes so much wisdom, I can´t get enough of her conversations.

So my fellow friend and classmate, Kate and I decided that instead of always just telling each other how much we love Carmen and how much we just want to talk to her more, we invited her to merienda (Spanish snack/dessert time around 5 or 6pm since dinner is at 9 or 10pm) of coffee and pastries, to which she gladly accepted. We spent a good two hours almost just getting to know each other even more and learning about her life and what brought her to Semester in Spain, having worked here for about 30 years (sidenote: all of the professors and staff members have been here for close to 30 years and it is amazing to see that the whole staff really is like a family). It was a very special, sweet moment in my semester here that I will always cherish.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Swiss Miss

"The hills are alive....with the sound of music...." Alright, so maybe not exactly the same country but Switzerland is close enough. This week's crazy adventure consisted of taking off for the absolutely beautiful country of Swiss cheese, Swiss chocolate, Swiss army knives, Swiss watches.... (believe it or not, I am sure I am missing more) and of course, the breathtaking Swiss Alps.
After taking in the sights of feria in our own Sevilla, my friends, Kelly, Lauren, Kate, and I set off on Wednesday for a full days travel of three buses, two trains, and one plane to get us to Geneva, Switzerland! This trip really could have not gone better as far as travel complications (for those of you who remember the Italy bus ticket fiasco, this was quite the blessing), besides the fact that our precious peanut butter got chucked in the Madrid airport security...and yet the jam still managed to clear security.

Day 1: We woke up to a beautiful, sunny day in Switzerland and enjoyed coffee and pastries at a nearby bakery before taking a bus for a bit and then casually walked over the France border (no big deal, right?) to embark on our 3 hour hike up Mount Saléve, all while singing songs like 'the hills are alive with the sound of music.' The view on top made all the hard work quite worth it as upon making it the top, we were struck with the fact that we were standing on a mountain in France, overlooking Switzerland and the Alps. With a picnic of bread and jam (this really has become my consistant meal during travels) and carrots, we took it easy for a bit on the top of the mountain and soaked in the beauty.

Crossing the Switzerland/France border
Embarking on the hike

We made it!!

Overlooking Switzerland

first sight of the Alps

Day 2: Well, the rain does not only stay in Spain, it stays in Geneva too! Friday morning we started off with some grocery shopping so we could make the rest of our meals in our wonderful little apartment after scouring the city the night before for the cheapest dinner we could find...a 14.50 frank (about 16 U.S. dollars!) read right, a sandwich! They aren't kidding when they say Switzerland is expensive! And then the rest of the day was spent wandering the city of Geneva and trying to dodge the rain as it soaked us! We visited the Calvin College of Geneva (as Lauren actually goes to Calvin College in Michigan!), the reformation wall, and park de Bastiones. With shoes flooded in and out, we headed in for a very cozy night of warm showers, homemade spaghetti, and a movie night complete with popcorn and swiss chocolate! A night like this was that is usually the norm back in college life was quite the treat as we are never able to have these type of things together in Spain and needless to say, it was oddly one of the highlights of our trip!
Geneva fountain 
Just a little wet...

Park de Bastiones 

Reformation Wall

Day 3:
We love train rides! 
Today we experienced the epitome of Switzerland...a small village situated in the Swiss Alps! We made a day trip out of train rides from Geneva to Montreux to Gruyéres. It literally felt like we were entering the world of Narnia with more and more snow appearing the higher we got up the Alps. Once we made it to our final stop, Gruyéres, we experienced the cobblestone streets, an ancient castle, lots of cheese samples, and just the overwhelming beauty of rolling hills of green with spotted houses scattered as far as the eye can see. My words really can't do it justice of how incredible this small village was and how happy I was to see this charming and quant side of Switzerland. Getting away from a city can allow you to stumble upon some of the most breathtaking views and cultural experiences this world has to offer. And with some dark chocolate Toblerone candy bars (oh my word, this is the best chocolate ever!) in hand, we made our journey back to Geneva, staring out the train window as the Swiss countryside zoomed by.

Montreux, Switzerland 

Montreux, Switzerland 

Montreux, Switzerland 
traveling through the Alps 

Montreux, Switzerland 

We had to...

Inside the castle of Gruyéres 
Castle gardens


Soooo goood. 

Sunday entailed our travel day back to our beloved city of Sevilla...Switzerland, I shall miss you! Get it? Swiss Miss....

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

¡La feria de abril!

You think you've seen it all in regards to going to the good ol' fair...until you go to the fair in Spain. The Spaniards go all out and deliver a week long fair that really is like stepping into another world. Instead of seeing the fair-goers in shorts and flip flops, covered in dripping ice cream and cotton candy stuck on their fingers, you see men wearing suits, hair slicked back and women decked to the nines in their traditional flamenco dresses and tacones (heels), flowers in hair, make up done to the fullest. You basically cannot be overdressed for the occasion. And though there is a whole section of roller coaster rides, ferris wheels, and fair food, the main and most sophisticated part of feria is the 'casetas' that line the dirt path streets. These 'casetas' are very fancy tents that are owned by people of the city, most of them being the CEO's of large companies because owning one of these tents is quite pricey. And so feria is all about who knows who, a social status contest if you will because you can only get into a caseta if you have a friend that owns one or can drop the right name to the spanish 'bouncer' of sorts in front of the tent. Inside the casetas, the people are having a ball of time, eating tapas, drinking, and dancing the day and night away with the traditional flamenco dances.
I never thought I would find myself in heels at a fair but this really was no ordinary fair. I am so glad I was able to see such a huge cultural aspect of Sevilla.

The entrance to all of feria that is lit up on Monday night at midnight, commencing the beginning of the festivities 

Looking into a caseta at night

Dancing flamenco outside a caseta