Monday, May 10, 2010
I can’t believe we’ve reached the last week of class; the last times Alfonso and Ge (and for many, María Elena) will see our bright and shining faces staring back at them alert and ready to venture out yet again into that fantastic faraway place known as the World of Knowledge. But we’ll no longer have to worry about the videos not working in Ge’s class, or the computer asking if we’d like to have a chat in the middle of a lecture, or trying to hear over the noise of motos, firecrackers, and the songs of birds or elementary schools nearby. No more frantically trying to copy down notes before the slide changes. No more listening to Alfonso talk about “rollos”, or picking on Anne in 368, and no more complementing him on his attractive ‘salt and pepper’ hair. No more making up questions to take up time. No more trips to the Mercadona/Mercadillo in between Lit and History. No more tutor sessions... No more class in Spain. All we have left are the many precious memories we have made to take back with us. And of course we keep making new ones!
We had been planning to throw a surprise party for María Elena’s birthday a little while before (surprise!) she actually invited us over for a birthday/pool party at her bungalow. Nevertheless, we were determined to make it work, so on Friday when she was busy at the UNED we snuck over early with all of the decorations and food to get everything ready. All of the other students (well, except poor Kelly!) came to quietly await María Elena’s return in her living room. As she came up to the house, Neal called to her that we were waiting out on the back patio, but as she walked in, “¡Sorpresa!” we were all there to greet her. Following this we had a wonderful time of eating coca (like coffee cake), showing the video message we had made, and then María Elena had a chance to tell us each individually how special we are :) After that it was party time! Many students (locos) jumped into the freezing pool and we all ate, drank, talked, and danced to our hearts’ content.
We have an awesome group/network of people here, not to mention unforgettable experiences, so you guys at home will have to forgive us if at times it seems like life has been so much better in Spain. The truth is that the differences have been so good, it’s hard to imagine going back. So much so that I’ve had to make some promises to myself in order to keep everything focused in these last days: I promise to remain a good student; I promise to not completely cut off communication with my friends and family back home (although you’ll have to expect a little less out of me;); I promise to make the most out of each day; I promise to take more pictures and eat more Spanish food; and I promise to have A LOT of fun. ¿De acuerdo? ¿Sí o no? Vale. It seems like a daunting task to get so much accomplished in so little time, but I know that as with all things, through Christ who strengthens me, I can.
-Written by Hope McElroy (including some suggestions from other students)
Monday, May 3, 2010
One more week down, and most of us can’t believe that we only have 16 more days here in Denia. It really has become our home away from home, and many of us have once again realized this after our last long weekend. We didn’t have class on Friday again, so there were places to visit, of course! A few of us stayed here in Denia, with a couple excursions nearby, but others found themselves out of the country yet again. Dublin, Paris, Morocco, Rome and Vienna were the five places outside of Spain visited, and Valencia and Benidorm were hit by others here in Spain. All in all, we had a great weekend and came back safely, although there are always travel issues. We have learned a lot about transportation during this semester, especially the fact that you really can’t depend on everything going as planned, which brings us back to a characteristic that we all promised from the beginning of the semester: flexibility. Many times we have found ourselves where we didn’t expect to be, or arriving or departing at different times, but we have ended up back in Denia safe and sound each time, thankfully.
So here we are back to our last full week of classes. The schedule from here on out is short and sweet. We have six more days of classes, with three days of exams after. Then, we have a weekend free to hang out with our new-found friends and our host families for the last time. The last Monday we will be thanking all the people who have helped us out this semester here in Denia with a farewell luncheon, and Tuesday we are having a little party for our host families. More on that later, I’m sure! It hasn’t quite hit us that we only have a short amount of time left to soak up the sun, swim in the Mediterranean, practice sports with the Spaniards, or hang out with our Spanish friends. Those goodbyes are fast approaching, unfortunately. And all of a sudden we will all find ourselves back in the United States of America, wondering if we really did just live in Spain for four and a half months…is it really almost done?!
-Written by Kaylee Veenstra
Thursday, April 29, 2010
In Segovia we saw the aqueducts that the Romans used more than a thousand years ago (above). In Toledo we were taken aback by the splendor of the cathedral, also built so very long ago.
After one dinner at the restaurant near our hostel we were serenaded by a guitarist and singer duo that had many of us clapping and even dancing along. They played classic Spanish hits from Latin America like La Bamba and the Macarena as well as some American favorites like Killing Me Softly.
Pray for us so that we may finish this final stretch strong. Even though we are so far away and we have all these amazing things to experience, always know that there are always thoughts of you guys in the back of our minds.
The beautiful view of Toledo
Some of us at the restaurant (with their colorful napkins!)
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
At first living with a family, or for some of us only mamas, was a weird change. Instead of living on our own like normal we all of a sudden lived in someone else’s house with someone else’s rules. We get our food made for us, our laundry washed, and the house cleaned! It’s nice to not have to worry about any of that, but like I said, quite a change.
Well, after living here for four months now, it’s safe to say that those changes were actually simple. In fact, the truth is that our host families have become our refuge, a tool to help all the changes seem less scary. Our families are the normalness in our every-day, crazy lives! This really became evident to me upon returning from spring break vacations. After 12 days out of the country I was ready to go home. I was sitting on the plane feeling like I was going home to the U.S. Upon arriving in Denia I was not very excited because I still felt like I was not at home. All those feelings disappeared immediately when I walked in the apartment and saw my mama waiting for me. She was so happy to see me, she gave me a lot of besitos, family style! I immediately had forgotten those feelings of foreignness and quickly remembered that I do have a home here.
Not only do I have a home, I have a whole extended network of people who care for me and my well-being (outside the Calvin group of course). I have my immediate family that I have developed an intense relationship with, but I also have all my brothers and their families, all my aunts and uncles, etc.
In the home with the host family is by far one of the best ways to practice our Spanish. As a group we have found it a constant struggle to try to balance school work and family time. It’s a tough battle since I can’t even decide which one I learn more from, school or my family. I have also come to find that every time I decide to travel outside of Denia, that’s another time that I could be spending with my family.
While the struggle sounds like a bad thing, it really does not inhibit the ability to build relationships with our families. They are fully aware that we are here for less than 5 months. They understand our goals, our lifestyle, our struggles, etc. and they are all very giving and here for us. We love it when our mamas pack us lunch to take on a trip and she slips in a bar of chocolate!
While we have all developed routines for spending time with our families (i.e. eating meals together) we have also found ways to spend extra time together, trying to bond as much as possible in the little time we have here. Some of us have certain shows that we watch together, others play weekly games of dominoes, others go on walks, others are in the same church groups, others cook together, and so on and so forth.
No one person can really compare their family, or home experience to that of another person. But it is certain that we can all say that the experiences are valuable, and the uniqueness of each one is what makes them attractive. Just like back home in the U.S. we all treasure the uniqueness of our own situation. Just like with our real parents, our host parents beliefs and customs can be seen in what we do and how we act here in Spain. If our mamas eat only yogurt for dinner, that’s what you’re supposed to eat for dinner. If our mamas take siestas, then we think that’s the right thing to do. It’s funny, sometimes when I am trying to make conclusions about Spain’s culture I have to take a step back and remind myself that that’s probably not all of Spain, but just my mama.
In conclusion, living with a host family is a true blessing. Not only do we have the comfort and companionship of our own home with people who care about us, we also have a constant person to practice our Spanish with, and the opportunity to see/live in Spain like a Spaniard would.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Our arrival brought us to a clean, modern “albergue” (hostel), where we dropped our stuff and headed down to the Prado Museum. Even though we had left the coast, the Spanish sun was still shining and we soaked in the sounds and smells of Madrid during our walk. I was surprised/delighted to find that Madrid is a city full of green spaces, and it wasn’t unusual to smell orange trees on the breeze there. Prado museum was incredible and overwhelming. Around every corner was another unbelievably famous piece of artwork by Velázquez or Rafael that I have seen countless times in art or history classes. So cool! Thank you liberal arts for allowing me to spend two hours in an art museum without falling asleep!
The next day we headed down to Toledo. Truthfully, the town looked like something out of a fairytale. The town itself is set up on a hill that is nearly surrounded by a river. Looking at Toledo from across the river, it looks like rows upon rows of salmon-orange houses, stacked one on top of the other up the hillside. Una verdadera maravillllla as our trusty guide Enrique said. Once again we were fortunate enough to soak up yet another beautiful day while we wandered through the historical buildings and streets.
Saturday brought an early morning trip out to El Escorial and Segovia. I can’t help but mention that yet again, we had gorgeous weather – all sunshine and barely a cloud to be seen. El Escorial was somber and cold, but still fascinating. My favorite part was the library – one of the best in Europe at the time of its assembly, and full of books written in Latin and sitting old and wise in rows and rows of cases. It was a real bummer that here, like so many other famous places, it is absolutely forbidden to take pictures (something they usually take very seriously). After El Escorial, we headed over to Segovia, where we got to take pictures in front of the Alcázar (google it) – the absolute epitome of fairytale dream castle – blue roofed towers and all. Then we headed deeper into the city where we witnessed one of the marvels of modern Spain – the Roman aqueduct. It is still nearly whole, and awe-inspiring to behold. Thanks to my History of Art class here, I was able to applaud their incredible engineering and practical spirit with a deep appreciation. Finally, we headed off to La Granja de San Ildefonso, a summer palace for the Spanish royal family. Those of us who had been to Versailles (I have not) say that it is very similar. There we witnessed the shooting off of fountains in the extensive gardens there. I use “shooting off” here because that is exactly what they did --- they would turn on a fountain, and then gradually increase the water pressure until it absolutely soaked the onlookers. I was unluckily trapped in a corner and had to endure the rest of the day with wet feet --- thankfully though, I had remembered my trusty rain coat, which has come in very useful over the past few months! =)
Finally, Sunday. We could hardly believe it was already our last day! In the morning, the group split between heading to the Parque de Buen Retiro and the Rastro – a famous flea market. In the afternoon we had our appointment to enter the royal palace. I was extremely surprised to find that this was one of my favorite sites. The rooms were visually overwhelming - not only in size, but in luxury and decoration. It was fun to picture royals and nobles of the 18th and 19th century wandering in and out of chandelier lit salons and throne rooms. There was also an armory with metal armor for adults, horses and even children! After the royal palace, we jaunted over to the Gran Vía (a main street in Madrid) to grab some cheap lunch and then head back to Denia! (Once again --- PERFECT weather!)
Yet another adventure completed, but definitely “aprovechado” (enjoyed to the fullest!)
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I would not have changed my spring break with my brother and friends for anything, but hardly sleeping the entire time and traveling to 5 major cities in 4 different countries is taxing on the body. I couldn’t help but feel at peace when getting on my last mode of transportation, finally returning to our home in Denia, where we know how to get around and there are familiar faces. I know I speak for everyone when I say that we are happy to be back in our homes with our families and home cooked meals.
The fact that our reuniting at school on Tuesday with our classmates was so exciting to see everyone, sharing and hearing stories, makes everyone even more anxious for the reuniting on May 20th with our family and friends in the States! There are now only 11 more days of class, and wow can you tell! I don’t know of anyone that can pay attention for a whole class anymore (not that I could ever this semester). Our thoughts are on the beach, our upcoming excursion to Madrid in 2 days, family, friends… nearly anything with the exception of history or literature of any kind. Our time in Spain has flown by, and I am not ready to leave in the least. We will all be soaking up the sun on the Mediterranean (while studying of course) and the Spanish culture until the moment we leave.
-Written by Jessica Van Slyke