There is a song, by Ingrid Michaelson, and it starts with, "I am a lady in Spain". Every time I hear that song, I count down the months to my exchange to Spain. I have 6 small months until I depart to Spain, where I will truly be "a lady in Spain". I'm so excited about it, and spending this past week and a bit in America has shown me just how interesting and challenging my exchange year will be.
I have loved being in America, and have loved seeing all the differences between here and home. I arrived in America last Wednesday, feeling horrible, after throwing up on the flight over, and feeling flu-ish. But felt better purely because the people were all lovely! They would go out of their way to make sure that we were accomodated for, that we knew where we were going and that we were safe. San Francisco was lovely. It was very sunny- being summer and all, but had a cold wind from the sea, that made it beautiful- just like a nice winter's day. On our first night, we were extremely jet-lagged, so we went to a Dennys, which is a chain of diners in America. There was a group of American teens across from the booth (yes, booth!) we were sitting on, and told the waiter that "collectively, we are ready to order". Just the way the Americans speak, is so nice! Every day, I am constantly blown away with how nicely they speak to each other, or to a customer. Though, this is not everyone, and we have experienced some cold, stand-off-ish people.
We did some fun stuff in San Francisco- we walked all around SF, going to the famous Lombard street, riding on the Cable Cars, seeing Pier 39... I loved the Sea Lions, and their cute faces and loud funny roars, and the delight they get from fighting each other. Close to Pier 39, we saw a bush on the path, which surprisingly, looked real. Only after staring at it for a few seconds did we realise that it was bunch of branches held together by a man, who shook the branches at any unsuspecting bywalkers. Oh it was hilarious! And everyone got such a laugh out of it. Everyone was in such a good mood. While we were watching it, though, a man came up behind us, and shouted in our ears, shaking us- and scared us so much! He said, "See! You don't need the bush!"
We also got the incredible opportunity to ride accross the SF Golden Gate Bridge and down into a small, cute, beautiful town called Sausolito. It was a beautiful ride, and has been a highlight of this trip. It was really difficult though, as I had Tonsilitis, and walking up a hill, let alone riding a bike made me want to curl up into bed and sleep for 14 hours. But, it was well worth the tiredness and fatigue. It was so beautiful, and was so great to look down from the bridge, and ride down into Sausolito. Sausolito reminded me so so much of England and the small towns in Cornwall. I just loved it.
Mum and I have been eating out heaps, which I'm getting a bit sick of, and in SF we shared all of our meals, and ate twice a day... with snacks for lunch. We have found American meals to be enormous!! Soemthing that I have been so excited for has been the hashbrowns, and I have had that for every breakfast. It is so good!
I also go the opportunity of visiting Yosemite! It was so beyond beautiful. It took us about 7 hours to get there, and it was a great drive. We stayed at this little hostel called the Yosemite Bug, and it was great there. We were in a dorm of 6 beds, and we shared with some scout girls. We were so tired by the end of the day, we just wanted to get to bed, but they didn't turn off the lights till like 12, so we didn't get the best sleeps. But we guessed thats just part of the Dorming experience! I loved going to Yosemite. It was much higher up than the valley, so it was a lot cooler, while still being sunny and hot. We went on some walks and looked at the half dome, and even got the opportunity to see a wild bear! It was a small one, but I was thinking the whole time, "where's his mum!" It was fun though, and mum, being mum, pulled out the camera and started taking photos of it. We went to the lower falls, and went climbing over the rocks for about an hour, and I think that was my favourite part of the day. I felt like I could do it all day. Yosemite is just such a beautiful place. The food was very expensive though- $4.99 for a small handful of 'fries'.
Something that bugs me so much, is the whole tax thing. The price tag says one price, but really, it's another. They just trick you into thinking your buying it cheap, and when you go up to pay, voila! It's a dollar, 2 dollars more expensive. I love that in Australia, when it says $19.95, it will be $19.95.
We have gone from a city by the SF Bay, to woodlands and beauty, to the desert. Albuquerque is fascinating. It is so different from what I expected it to be, and is so... deserty. I expected... it to be different. Mum had told me that it was full of Indian influence, and although I do see it, I expected it to be way less American, and more Spanish and Indian. We spent a whole day shopping, and I am so shopped out, I feel like if I go to another JC Penny or Macys I will die. Not to say that I haven't enjoyed it, because I have, but I would much prefer to go on a hike or watch nature than shop, which is something I can easily do in Australia. I have seen the Old Town and Santa Fe, which is just awesome. These towns really show the Indian influence. I found Old Town to be very very touritsty, and although I could see the influence, I felt that the tourist industry had wrecked the feel and integrity of the town. Santa Fe, however was so culturally rich. Everything was in both English and Spanish, and my eyes were immediately drawn to the Spanish, reading that, before I realised that there was an English translation available. There was Mexican food everywhere, and it was different, yet similar to Australian Mexican food. I have been really getting bored with American food, and have hated eating out so much. What I really crave right now, is a big, juicy salad sandwhich, with a roll from Blaxland Bakery, and some great Beetroot! I know that I've only been here a week, and I'm craving Australian food. I am afraid of when I go to Spain for a whole year! Will I begin to enjoy the food? Or will I forever be craving Australian food?
I have found it interesting- many exchangers say that they don't worry about the big things, rather the small things- whether you put your hand up to answer or ask a question, whether it will be ok to just eat food from your host family's fridge when you're hungry, whether you will be able to joke with your family, or if you have to wear shoes inside, or you have to take them off. I have found myself asking these questions to myself, here in America, as I am staying with a family friend here in Albuquerque. It is so much easier to answer those questions, because we do not have a language barrier to stand in between us, but I have discovered many differences between American and Australian cultures. Something I have found difficult, is the use of the word 'toilet'. In Australia we always use toilet, or we say "I need to pee". It is the norm- it is expected. Here in America, to say "I need to pee" or "where is the toilet" is rude. I have caught myself so many times starting to say these Australian things, only to have to change and say "where's the restroom/bathroom".
It's also unusual- so unusual... People riding motorbikes don't need to wear helmets! We (mum and I) cringe whenever we see someone without a helmet on, expecting them to crash and die at any moment. It's also unusual because dogs and pets are allowed in National Parks. I keep on thinking of how wrong it is!
Tomorrow I fly to Oklahoma, and join my brother and sister-in-law in the 40 degree heat. I wonder what differences I'll notice there, and how hard or easy I'll find it to adjust to this different country.
I have been here a week and a half, and have been blown away with the culturally different land I'm in. I am still in a Western country, an English speaking country, one that I've been before, and there have been times where I've felt beyond uncomfortable, or craving home. I can't wait, and also dread when I go to Spain, and accustom myself to that country, that will become my home. It's exciting, but also really scary!! But, I am so looking forward to it, that I jsut want to leave right now.