Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Oh, culture...

Preface: Random and slightly cynical post.

Cultural differences intrigue me. Each time I encounter a new one I can’t help but laugh.

New game idea: Spain vs. U.S. –Who is worse? The objective of the game is for each country to show its most strange or obnoxious cultural differences.

Spain: Well, we spit in the street all the time…

U.S.: That’s nothing new. People in River Falls do it constantly and it grosses Katie out…

Spain: Well, we are overly dramatic all the time. Qué horror! Qué fatal! No me digas! My life is going to end!

U.S.: Well, at least most people in Spain don’t drink to get wasted like the majority of people in the U.S.

Spain: That’s okay, everyone smokes on the street and spends 10 euros a day on packs to make up for it…

U.S.: That may be true, but at least you enjoy your lives! We run around from 6:00 a.m. and drop into bed at midnight, exhausted by the amount of work we’ve done.

Spain: Well, we do laugh at people who say they want "liberty" and "rights." Working less and being taken care of is a good trade off for liberty.

Eek I wonder how many people I offended with that =P Yes, it's general stereotypes and doesn't apply to everyone.I honestly enjoy many things about both cultures, but some things are frustrating. Good to realize that one isn’t “better” than the other, you know? Different. Entirely different.

Fun fact: Did you know that people don’t do crazy proposals in Spain? Women hate the attention. If you do it, she’ll probably hit you.

I’m off to Barcelona tomorrow! Excited for the city, the culture, and the dancing (a month is far too long to go without swing dancing).

As promised, highlights of my trip via pictures....oh, fakeout. Upload failed...and I have to finish packing. Well, pictures are on Facebook, but I'll post some Barcelona ones when I get back.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pictures when I get Internet--Scouts Honor...

Hello! First off, I would like to apologize to everyone I haven’t responded to yet on facebook or email; my laptop likes to steal all the bandwith from the other computers in the house and then not actually use it. Thus, I have about 5 minutes of Internet functionality before it dies. My phone has wifi, but emails are…inconvenient that way =P

Last weekend I went to Granada, which was gorgeous. Sevilla is a flat, metropolitan city with its gorgeous touches of antiquity: the cathedral, the 3 foot wide alleyways that lead to secret plazas, the countless parks with orange trees and fountains, etc. However, Granada is an entirely different kind of beautiful. Mountainous, jagged, with thick dark forests close to the Alhambra. The city is hilly as well, which made it even more beautiful (Ah, the irony of bad knees and a love of hiking). We saw a flamenco show in a cozy cave (Dad, the worst place in the world to have a fire—I thought of you as I realized that if anything went wrong, I’d be burned alive or trampled in the back of a crowd of panicking American lemmings). Flamenco is a beautiful, passionate, aggressive dance; I enjoyed it for the first 20 minutes, but that was enough for me. I’m sorry, but there will be no cultural transfusion coming from me—no desire to learn. We also toured the Alhambra, the palaces built by the Muslim kings before the Christians took over. Gorgeous, but again, not my interest. I honestly enjoyed the gardens far more than I did the buildings and history. Mom, you and Grandma and Randy would have just died.

Sunday I went to church again, and this time I met an exchange student from Dublin, Rebekah. What a blessing! She taught me how to use the metro and was just a sweetheart—needed it that day. I spent the next 5 hours on Skype with Tasia planning out our spring break. As much as people rave about how cheap it is to travel in Europe, they fail to mention the relativity of the word “cheap.” Ugh. Good thing I have the rest of my life to work, no? *laughs* Tash and I are headed to Paris for two days, then we fly to Italy and spend the week exploring Rome, Florence, and Venice. Then we will take a ferry from Italy to Barcelona…and make it in time for a little swing dancing =) I may or may not buy a loaf of bread and a jar of Nutella and eat sandwiches all week, but I’ll be in France and Italy! Everything tastes better there, no? =P

Starting next Thursday, I’ll be helping teach English two mornings a week in a bilingual German/Spanish school. No big deal that the kids are learning their third language...*shakes head* I also met with a man today who wants a teacher for very basic English for children and conversation for adults. As much as I despise being in front of people, it means money, experience, and pushing myself. I vote yes.

I’m sorry that I have no photos in this blog either—I need to upload it before I lose Internet. As soon as it’s fixed there will be a blog with more pictures than words. Promise. Here’s to writing this on Microsoft Word and hoping the five minutes of Internet will be gracious to me…

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Week 3: Church Search Round 2, Travels, and Choclate

This will be a "grown up" blog post (aka no pictures for those of us who need pictures to keep us entertained--me included). I still haven't taken the time to take pictures of the city; honestly, it's cold and I'm waiting for warmer weather. Yes, you can make fun of me for calling 35-55 degrees cold.

Sunday was absolutely wonderful. "Church Search: Round 2" is how I thought of it. I decided to try a church about a half an hour from my house, hoping I wouldn't get lost this time. I made it about 25 minutes and was getting close, but I was also getting to the more complicated part of the city. Suddenly, I saw a well dressed yet semi-disheveled man on my left; he was carrying a Bible in his right hand. God seems to love sending me people to get me places--He knows I probably wouldn't get there otherwise *laughs*. So I threw my directions in my purse and followed him at a mostly-discreet distance. Poor man. Sure enough, I found the church. It wasn't until the preaching started that I realized I had followed the pastor...

What an awesome experience, though. I almost didn't go; throwing myself into a situation like that is entirely out of character. Plus, the church is quite small; only 40 or so people were gathered in a small room, so I definitely stood out. However, I really got to see real love in action; five people genuinely greeted me before the service, introduced me to everyone else, and got my email so that I could get to know the young people. Also, I understood nearly the entire sermon, and the service was wonderful.

Classes are going well, albeit busy. Granted, I might be one of the 4 students that actually do their homework in a study abroad program...*laughs* I worked hard already, so I may as well finish that way. However, I realized that reading a 30 page article in Spanish takes a significantly longer time to read than one in English...and that a page of translation may or may not take four hours. I truly love the classes, though.

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope you've eaten as much chocolate as I have fact, one more before bed sounds perfect. *nods* It may or may not be dark chocolate with mousse in the middle...miss you guys.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Who needs street signs anyways?

One thing I often wonder about is why my father has such a wonderful sense of direction and didn't pass it on to me. Then I figured it out; would I have half of my adventures if I never got lost? *shakes head* I do apologize in advance to whoever I'm traveling with, and I promise that my sense of orientation is getting better.

On Sunday I wanted to go to a protestant church, so I looked up one on the Internet, got the address, and left for church. Mistake number one: I forgot a map. I did write directions, but they aren't very helpful if you make a wrong turn. In Spain, they don't post the majority of street signs in obvious places. They are written on the sides of buildings, or else they are just absent. I left 40 minutes before church, but by 15 minutes to service time, I knew I was completely lost. I knew which direction was home, but I didn't feel like staying in the house. As I was walking back, I saw a well-dressed father with 4 well-dressed children, and I figured they were probably heading off to church. I followed, and sure enough, I found a church. Granted, not the one I was looking for, but I got to experience a Spanish mass--an integral part of Spanish society.

Unfortunately, that's not the only time I got lost. Yesterday, I was looking for our program's office (which is marked on my map...*shakes head*), and I couldn't find the street sign. I searched for a good hour before giving up. However, by then I was in an unknown neighborhood and couldn't locate the names of the streets on the buildings. However, I did by chance find a store with discounts for nearly everything I still needed, so much good came of the trip. I had wandered a good distance from home, but thankfully I did find a street I recognized and arrived home with sore knees but still a thick wallet. *nods* Yay for Chinese discount stores!

School has started as well, which is a relief. I didn't know what to do with all my free time--now, I don't think I'll have much. Five high advanced classes taught in Spanish will be enough to keep me busy for awhile. Two are literature, one politics, translation, and cinema.

I do wish I could share my food. My host mom is a wonderful cook, and I need to start taking pics of the food. One of the highlights of being here is that I walk much more than at home, and my appetite has returned. I eat my weight in carbs each day, and it's lovely.

I probably should start organizing myself for classes, but I'll leave you with a picture of my city viewed from the top of the Giralda (a large tower in the center of town). The city is a sort of contradictory feel of metropolitan and antinguity--not sure how I feel about it yet.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Toledo y Sevilla

The past few days have been...adventures. Before I begin, I must say that I spoke too quickly about beating jet lag. My poor roommate must have thought me crazy. I went to bed at 10:00 p.m. the night before leaving for Sevilla, and I woke up to her leaving the room. I assumed it was time for breakfast, so I got up and started getting ready. Two minutes later she returned and gave me a strange look. I asked her what time it was, and she said 11:00 p.m. I suppose that mistake is understandable if one does it once, but I did the same thing two hours later. *shakes head*

The next morning we stopped in Toledo before heading to Sevilla. I can't begin to describe the city; the landscape was rugged, and castles, churches, and homes from centuries past were still nestled in the hills and on top of cliffs. Inside the city stood the most venerated church in all of Spain, Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo.

That night we arrived and met our host families. All of us looked as if we were going out on a first date/interview; I assume you are familiar with the pasty white face and the smile that you hope is authentic and friendly but in reality just makes you look more nervous? *nods* That was all of us. However, I couldn't have asked for a better host family. My Mamá is talkative, accommodating, and ridiculously sweet. Carlos, the father, is educated and often busy with work, but he has an easy smile and helps me with my vocabulary. Rosi, the daughter, is a student at the University as well, and she is lovely, although very busy.

Yesterday our group spent the day getting to know the city a little better. We toured the Cathedral here (the largest Gothic style Cathedral in the world and the third largest overall), and we saw El Plaza de España. You know in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, there is a huge plaza where they hold a fight? It was filmed there. I couldn't get a Panorama, so you have a video with me talking nonsense at the end of the post. Ignore me and enjoy the view.

By far the most humorous thing of this trip was the bike tour. In Sevilla, they have a running bike service where one can rent a bike and return it at a different location. There are bike paths on every street, and it's quite convenient. However, I don't think the services should ever be utilized in the way our group did. API decided to take us on a two hour bike tour of the city. Imagine 38 Americans in a single file line of bikes on streets busier than the Twin Cities'. We clogged the streets and undoubtedly provided free entertainment for countless people. For the first twenty minutes, I could hardly stand the stares, but then I realized that I was actually able to RIDE! Because of my knees, I haven't been able to ride a bike for more than 10 minutes the past 2 years. However, yesterday I rode for 2 hours; heck, I'd do the American bike parade again just to ride. What a blessing. Daddy, you'd be proud =)

Today we had orientation at our University. I honestly haven't been so excited to start school before; the building is incredible, and the challenge of taking classes in another language has me anticipating Monday. I'll post pictures of the University when I get a chance to take some.

Before I go, I got a chance to visit Real Alcalzares, or the Royal Palaces in Sevilla. Mom/Blond John--the gardens there are from my book, too =) Picture for you!