Friday, February 26, 2010

Rinse and Repeat.

Three weeks in. Almost a month. 49 weeks left.

I feel like I have been away from home a week rather than three weeks. Everyday I am here, in Tudela, Spain, I feel a little more at home. Everyday I am able to understand just what a year away from home looks like. Everyday I fall a little more in love with Spain. Everyday I discover a new, exciting secret of Spain. I feel like I am on my own treasure hunt, (or geocaching adventure!) and everyday I get a new piece of treasure. But like a real adventure, it's not always smooth sailing, and I am often confronted with obstacles - mainly my frustration at situations and cultural differences. But, like every true hero in these stories, I brandish my sword, fight the villains and live to tell the tale.

With these exciting moments, comes the reality of normal life. I am living a normal life, but in a foreign country, and communicating in a foreign language. I am three weeks into my exchange, and have finally settled into a routine. Everyday is more or less the same, and I feel like I am starting to live a 'normal' life. My week as follows:

Everyday I wake up at 7:30, have a shower, get ready for school. At 8am I go upstairs and either set the table for breakfast, or start eating, as it's already been set. Every meal in Spain is a three course meal, so for breakfast for el primero plato I eat fruit; normally orange, kiwi and apple. (Sometimes pear as well!) For el segundo plato, I eat a bowl of porridge, with Cola Cao, a milo like chocolate powder. The Cola Cao goes into the porridge, essentially making it a warm subsitute for Coco-Pops. Today, my family bought a 25kg bag of the oats, as we eat so much porridge every morning! For el tercero plato I eat a piece of toast, covered in olive oil. I love the bread in Spain so much. I have yet to see a loaf of bread, as we only eat homemade bread, or french-baguette-type bread. Breakfast is usually from 8 until 8:15, (but for Ana, María y Javier it's until about 8:30ish) and then I unload the dishwasher and stack it again, before rushing downstairs to brush my teeth, and head out the door to walk to school at 8:30.

There is nothing like walking to school. It is something that I have always dreamed of being able to do, and now I get to do it everyday. I love walking with the morning air, music setting the pace of my walking, and watching people take their dogs for walks. (Oh Bonnie, how I miss you!) I don't think I will ever get tired of it. School starts at 9am, and I have six classes a day. I have P.E. twice a week, which I love, as it is all prac and no theory. This week we had a volleyball exam, and I went quite terribly. They have been doing volleyball for a while, and it was my second week, after two years of no P.E. ... The P.E. teacher had to stop the exam to try and teach me how to do the shots and serves and things properly. Haha! But I loved it nonetheless. I love not driving, and walking everywhere. P.E. is great, because I am able to connect with the students on a different level, as there isn't much language involved.

School is a mixture between excitement, incredible interest, being overwhelmed, and extreme boredom. I am normally excited when I understand something like exam dates, or dates in general. Understanding something a teacher is saying in Spanish is extremely rewarding, and makes all the crappy aspects of exchange worth it. For words, phrases and expressions to click is like eating chocolate after not eating it for a while. It is like taking the training wheels off a bike, like winning a grand final. It is something so small, yet something so big, and every time I understand something, I feel like I need to jump up, tell everyone, have them pat me on the back, make me a cake and say congratulations.
With this understanding comes incredible interest. I start to pay attention to the teacher more, put every ounce of concentration I can muster in trying to understand what they are saying. If there are worksheets, then I will try and translate them. Something that has me excited, and interested is history. We are currently studying the Russian Revolution in history. I have always wanted to study modern history at school, and when I had the chance to, I had to choose between it and Spanish. Spanish won out. I was so disappointed. But now, because I have studied Spanish, I am in Spain getting the opportunity to learn what I have wanted to learn. Isn't God amazing by giving us opportunities like mine? I am continually amazed by what I am learning... about myself, God and school subjects.
On the other hand, if I don't understand what the teacher is saying (most of the time) I can feel overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed by how little I understand, by what I am not learning, and with this comes boredom.

I took some photos of what I do in class...These books have been my lifesavers. I look mainly at the grammar, and learn lots, particularly in Latín class.

The class mainly does all of their work in their textbooks. I don't have any textbooks, and I wouldn't buy them, because it would cost me about 300 euros. So, when they do their work (written work), I write letters :).

English is a great class, as I can help people with their English, and they can help me with my Spanish. They do the exercises in English, and I translate them into Spanish. This is a worksheet of English words, and my friend Gonzalo translated the words into Spanish for me.

I try and read the handouts given to me. This one is about the Russian Revolution. As you can see, there are lots of words that I don't understand, and my sheets are full of English words and phrases to help me understand what the sheet actually says. But it is an extremely rewarding experience to be able to understand quotes from Lenin and Trotsky!

There are many times when I get bored. Completely and utterly bored. So I fill pages of my notebooks with scribbles that look like this.
I draw things, and then label them in Spanish. I now know all about the insides and outsides of houses!

I love Smiggle. A) Because the pens smell lovely and B) Because I now have different coloured pens to create colourful squiggly things with.

I normally get a lift home from school with Ana's friend, and at around 3:05 I get home and have lunch. Lunch is another three course meal, starting normally with soup, or rice or potato or something like that. The second dish is normally a piece of fish, ending with fruit or yoghurt. It's really unusual having the dishes seperately, as I'd normally have it on the same plate in Australia. This has been something that's taken a while to get used to!

After lunch I normally read, watch the Olympics, and study (translate). Most nights, (6-9pm) the kids have activities, so I take them to those - music and painting, and walk around town and have a coffee. Dad, I have found my own little Cafe Cee. It's this cute little cafetería, and the coffees are only 1,20 euros. I have had some really nice (broken) chats with the lady that owns the store. She originally thought I came from France, and that Australians spoke French. But after a bit we understood each other. She sat opposite me, as no one else was in the store, smoking her cigarette, while I drank my coffee and read my book. I thought it was nice. In Spain you can smoke pretty much everywhere. I see kids every morning smoking outside school, people smoking in cafeterías, in bars... you're allowed to smoke pretty much everywhere. My clothes smell of smoke. The attitude towards smoking is completely different here in Spain then at home.

Dinner is normally between 9-10pm, and can take up to 1 hr 30 mins to eat. Eating here is a family event, and we all eat together. Dinner is the same as lunch normally. It's so frustrating. Words just don't match up to the experiences I've had in Spain. There's only so much I can say, and often I can't put what I want to say into substantial words.

Spain is great. I am having the time of my life. But I'm still living a normal life. When I talk to people from back home, everyone wants to know how it is going. Words can't describe all that I'm feeling, all that I'm experiencing... but on a very basic level, I'm living my life normally, just in a different country.

"As usual I have such a large amount of emotions running through me. I didn't know that I had the capacity to be feeling so many conflicting emotions at one time. It's a constant tug-of-war, which emotion will win? Which will be pushed into the corner waiting to come out and attack me when I least expect it? How can I sum up my experiences of exchange into one small diary, into words that cannot compare to the sights, sounds, tastes that I get to experience on a daily basis? How can I explan the warm joy I feel bubbling inside me when I explain something correctly, or understand something in Spanish? How can I show you just how similar people are to my friends and family back home? How can I describe to you, my diary, the smell - that burning, intensely sweet smell of the lolly shop, competing with the familiar delicious aroma of coffee and newly back bread in the plaza that walk past everyday? How can I describe my utter frustration when boys pull other peoples' hair, when I've told them in both Spanish and English to stop? I bought you, this diary as my substitute of my mum, dad, Min, Ape, Tarn, my friends, family, who I share my life with. I bought you so I could come home everyday and share everything with someone, something. But I come and sit and... nothing. I can't seem to express all of these emotions I'm feeling in words. There aren't enough words to describe my life right now.

Spain is like a Kandinsky painting... a blur, a myriad of colours. Different beautiful colours and shapes all mixed together to make a beautiful, wonderful, tasty picture. How can you describe such a painting well enough so that the other person can imagine each line, stroke, colour?
In that same way, how can I effectively describe my experiences in Spain?

My life is a never ending ride. It is exciting, beyond imaginable and at the same time; normal. I go to school, come home, hang out with the family - rinse and repeat. My life is no different... except that it's completely different.

Exchange is confusing.
A ride I will never forget."

I'm sorry if my words do not present an accurate picture of my life over here in Spain. I have so many memories already, that I never want to forget, but when I look at what I have written, I feel like nothing I write could ever compare to the real thing. The real emotions, colours, tastes, sights.

I still haven't found a church. But, then again, I haven't really looked. I feel like, as much as I am growing in my relationship with God, I'm neglecting Him just as much. I miss church. I want fellowship. I want to worship with others. I want to learn. I want to be surrounded by people who believe like I do. People who have a hope and a trust in the God that has promised us an eternal life. The God that cares for me. The God that provides for me. The God that has blessed me with this opportunity of exchange.
I am so often frustrated by things, that I refuse to see God's hand in it. If anything goes wrong, it's him I blame first. I need to look for him in everything that happens, whether it be good or bad. I need to acknowledge God for who he is - the author of my life. I tell myself to be the clay and let God be the sculptor, but I am so stubborn. I often try to mold myself into something that God hasn't desired. I can't live this life on my own. I need God. And I need to surrender my exchange, this year, my life over to him completely. It seems so easy as I write it on this page, but I so often hold back. My hope for this year is that it is a year where I will continually surrender myself over to God and see what he has in store for me. I was listening to a Hillsong song earlier this evening, "I will exalt you" and it struck a chord with me:

"I will exalt you, I will exalt you, You are my God.
My hiding place, my safe refuge, my treasure Lord, you are.
My friend and King, Anointed one, Most Holy.
Because you're with me, I will not fear."

Friday, February 19, 2010

I am a lady in Spain...

Before I left for exchange, I promised myself that the first song I'd listen to in Spain, would be 'Lady in Spain' by Ingrid Michaelson... sure enough, it was the first song I listened to, with the first line saying, 'I am a lady in Spain'. And indeed, I am. I am a lady in Spain. I am a lady living in Spain.

Today is the two week mark of my exchange. I have officially completed 3.84615384% of my exchange. In my first two weeks of exchange, I've spent two days in the capital city of the country, Madrid, gone to school, settled into my home, gone to a traditional Spanish fiesta, dressed up in costume, gone skiing, gone to the Pyrenees and gone to France. (And tonight I even had a type of Paella... not really paella as it didn't have any meat... but if it had, it would have been!) I have felt incredibly blessed with all that I have been able to do in such a short amount of time!

Last weekend, we had a puente, which directly translates as bridge, but in this case means... long weekend! We had until Tuesday off school, it was the festival, Carnaval, that weekend. Carnaval is a big fiesta to mark the beginning of Lent, (40 days before Easter). It's probably the equivalent of the US Halloween, but 10x bigger. Everyone dresses up as a group; so I saw lots of groups all dressed identically. I, however, only found out that you had to dress up a couple of days beforehand, so I didn't have the time to go out and get what other people were wearing. Instead I wore black, bought a mask and became Catwoman. (Unfortunately I completely forgot to take a photo of myself dressed up!) At 7 o'clock on the Saturday night, everyone came to the town to watch the parade (normally every year, the parade is held in the Plaza Nueva, but it is currently being re-tiled... so it was in the second biggest area). There were hundreds of people, and the parade went on for about forty minutes. It was so amazing, but it was so cold, -2, which made it uncomfortable, especially in my costume of tights and a thermal top (but I was wearing a jacket, scarf and gloves)! The pictures below are of the parade. (Sorry for the massive pictures... I don't know how to make them smaller!)

There were so many different dances from different countries, it was quite cool.

These were giant... things... that danced as well. They were fun!

This was probably my favourite part of the parade. There were groups of people from South America, and the groups from Peru and Bolivia did their traditional dances in their traditional clothes. It was really great. The men all wore sneakers, but the shoes are part of the traditional dress for women, so they all wore sandals, and on close inspection, many were wearing the sandals without any stockings or anything... in -2 degree weather.

After the parade, I went and had dinner with Adjowa (the other Australian exchange student) and Chessie, and English Au Pair, and we had Chinese. My other Spanish friends had dinner at one of their houses together, but because I'm only new, and they barely knew me, I wasn't invited. The Chinese food was completely different to that in Australia, and I have to say that Australian Chinese is better! But it only cost 7 Euros for an entre, rice, meal and drink which was great. By the time we had finished dinner it was only 10pm. So I went back home, and was told to meet up with the other people at midnight, you know, because that's when Spanish people leave home for the night. I was so tired, and I was leaving for the snow at 8am the next morning. But, I went, and had fun. In Tudela there is a street called Tubo, which is full of bars that everyone hangs out at. I really like the Spanish culture. You greet everyone (outside of school) with dos besos (two kisses) - one on the right cheek, and then one of the left cheek. I think it's nice, and when I was greeted that way, I felt as if I had made friends. At one point in the night, I was walking to the restaurant in Tudela, when I heard someone yell out, "Laura?" I looked around to see a guy in a costume looking at me. I had no idea who it was, so I said, "Sí?" And he started walking up. When he got closer, I realised that it was Gonzalo, the guy I sit next to in class. I felt like jumping up and down because someone from my class had recognised me and gone out of their way to say hi. We greeted each other with dos besos and chatted for a bit. The small things like someone yelling out your name and stopping to say hello are the things that make being in Spain special. I stayed in Tubo until 2 in the morning, and fell into bed, exhausted.

I got up at 7 the next morning to get ready for skiing, as we were leaving at 8. At 8:30 my family still weren't up, so I waited... and waited... and waited... until around 10:40. Almost three hours after we were meant to leave. I then found out that the carreterra (the road) to the snow was closed, so we couldn't go skiing that day. I was so frustrated at the situation, as I could have slept for longer, and we didn't leave until around 4pm that day. I get stressed with things like this... when I get up early, and then don't leave until late. I don't really know why it stressed me out, as it didn't really matter that we didn't leave, because we couldn't ski anyway... but I just felt stressed, which in turn, made me homesick.

We stayed in a small town called Isaba, about 25 km south of the border of France. It was covered in snow (not that you can see in the photo) and was extremely beautiful. On the Sunday it was -6, during the night it was -18 and on Monday it was -12. I'm not sure how cold it was on Tuesday though. Probably around -6ish.

On Monday the road was still closed, so we went cross-country skiing instead (de fondo in Spanish). It was so much fun. I was so terrible at it, as I'd never done it before, and felt like I had no control over the skis as my heel wasn't connected to them. So my skiing was more like disjointed, clumsy walking. But definitely fun.

The road was open on Tuesday, so I got to go downhill skiing. Oh, my, the view to France was just stunning. The view while I skiied was stunning. I loved it so much. It was such a great day, and the skiing was fantastic... The last time I went skiing was in 2004, so a while back and I had been worried that I would have forgotten how to ski. But I didn't! I remembered it all straight away. Ahh, skiing is so much fun.

As you can see from this photo, the view was magnificent! I kept thinking "Just beautiful!" for you Mum :)

But as I wrote earlier, I was homesick. Everything I do and see reminds me of home in some way. And I felt ecstatic that I was seeing France, getting to ski, being able to see another part of Spain... but I felt a twinge of homesickness. This is a small excerpt from my diary:

"I keep asking myself, 'Laura, are you having fun?' and I don't know how to answer. Because as ecstatic I am that I am skiing, and as wonderful as my time in Spain has been, it's also been very surreal. I think it is only just sinking in that I am in Spain for a year. I. live. in. Spain. It's sinking in, but so is the fact that I am away from my family for a year. I'm starting to miss my home, and my family, Australian food. I thought this year would be so much easier than it's been. Not that I've had a hard time, but emotionally it's been hard. I think it's hit home that I'm missing out on a year of my parents' life. And that makes me really sad. So, I'm on holidays, skiing, I should be ecstatic - I am ecstatic, but underneath that there is a dull ache. I'm aching for a hug from Mum, and I'm aching for Dad's squinted smile. I've only been here one and a half weeks... how will I cope for a whole year?"

And this isn't to say that I'm having a hard time all the time. Oh no. I'm loving it here. Yes, exchange has its low points, but it also has its highs. Like, finding a Spanish friend, who doesn't speak a word of English (as most of the kids at my school speak English really well) and finding out that he has the same love for movies as me. To be able to connect with someone through something like movies, showing them and them showing me the Spanish equivalent is amazing. To be able to try and succeed in explaining the Royal Easter Show and The Man From Snowy River is fun. To be able to see how my Spanish is improving every day, and see my confidence in my language skills growing is such a blessing. María Antonia told me a story today in Spanish, about a mouse who was with his children, when a cat started chasing them. The mice hid behind a chair and said, "woof woof!" and the cat ran away. He then turned to his children and said, "This is why it is important to learn different languages." Haha! I thought it was hilarious, and I loved that I understood it. I am understanding more and more, which I'm loving. I'm not speaking as much Spanish as I'd like to, which is a cause of frustration, but I believe that that will change, and no matter my circumstances, I will try my absolute best to speak Spanish.

Sorry if my posts are disjointed, as I am only going to write once a week, and it's hard to remember all of the things I want to say. I'm bursting with things to say right now, but can't express it in words that will make sense. I guess, all I can say, is that is exchange is more and less than what I expected. Every exchange student has told me, "Don't go to your country with expectations." I thought that I was the best exchange student, and that I had no expectations whatsoever. But everyone does, either consciously or subconsciously. In so many ways I have been challenged in the way that I view Spain. I have been right about so many things, and wrong about so many things. I have been surprised by the amount of bread Spanish people eat. I have fallen in love with Spanish bread. It is so delicious. I eat bread everyday, toasted with olive oil. I was surprised by the kindness of the students in my class. The first day they didn't really pay attention to me, but as they got to know me, they started saying 'hi' in the corridors, talking to me, making my timetable readable, translating things that I don't understand. I feel like I have discovered a Spain that I never knew about, and as the year goes on, I can't wait to discover more of the hidden truths about the country that I am living in. However, one thing I have been right about (at least with my host family), and I have struggled so much with, has been running late. You're on time if you're 10 minutes late to school. You're early if you get there at 9am. (When school starts.) I am someone, who in Australia, was occasionally late to things, by 5 or 10 minutes, but not all the time. If I needed to be somewhere, I would make sure I was there. I have been to school for 2 weeks now, and have been late everyday, which just absolutely. stresses. me. out. It's not a bad thing that my family are late; that is part of who they are, and the culture of Spain. But for me, (and one of my teachers) I have found it something really difficult to adjust to. I talked to my host mum, María Antonia, and told her how important it was that I was on time to my maths class, as the teacher has been annoyed at me for being late. So, today, we left earlier, and got to school at 9am. But by the time we got out of the car, rushed to the class, the door was already closed, and I had to knock to be let in. The teacher told me that if I was late again, I wouldn't be let into the classroom. I felt horrible. At that moment, I was thinking, "Oh my goodness, what am I doing in Spain?" I've been here two weeks, and already a teacher doesn't like me. These cultural differences are challenging to me, and I know that it will take time for me to properly adjust to them. Maybe when I get back home I will always be late, or perhaps I will always arrive 5 minutes early!

One constant through my time in Spain has been God. I wrote in my diary today:

"I feel like all of these things are happening, and it all just means that I need to learn to rely on God all the more. I don't have Mum and Dad and my friends to talk, celebrate and cry to all the time, I have God. He is with me always. And he will never forsake me."

I feel like this exchange, if for nothing else, is going to be a year of yearning to know more about God and searching to find what His plan for me is. Brad sent me a bible passage the other week, which I found really powerful. This little bit is 2 Corinthians 4:8,16-18:

"We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed... Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Min!!

Today (well, tomorrow for me) is my best friend Min's birthday.

Happy Birthday Min!!

This is a picture of Min, Myself, and April. We are best friends. I miss them a lot over here in Spain. We started to become really close friends at the beginning of year 11, and I have loved becoming a part of these beautiful girls' lives. I feel so blessed to have such wonderful friends. They have become an extremely important part of my life, and I know the friendship that we have, is a friendship that will last forever. Thank you Min, and Ape for all the good times, and the support you have given me over the past couple of years.

Min, happy birthday. You finally made it to 18. Enjoy this year. Live it to the fullest. I miss you, and I love you. x x x

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I made it!

I made it to Spain! How incredible.

I don't know where, or how to begin... maybe with saying goodbye. I don't know what to say about saying goodbye, except that it was one of the hardest things I've had to do, and I found it incredibly hard to do. I thought I would never stop crying.

I didn't sleep well on the last night I had in Australia. Not because I was sad about leaving, but because I was dreaming about all I had to do. Before I went to sleep I was sad, because I only had one more night to hug Mum and Dad in bed. So I got up, went to their bedroom, had a little cry, hugged and finally went to sleep in my own room. One last time for a year. That morning I repacked all my things, and got rid of so many clothes. (Looking back on it, I'm glad I got rid of all my t-shirts, because there is no way I would be wearing them now... it's way too cold!)

Before long, it was time to go. Oh saying goodbye to Bonnie. How I miss that little cutie. I swear every dog I see (big or small) looks exactly like Bonnie. Mum, Dad, give her a big hug for me!!

And then I was at the airport. We had a coffee at Krispy Kremes, and I thought it was lovely that my best friends April and Min, and Josh came to the airport to farewell me. This is from a journal entry that I wrote on the way to Spain:

Time moved on and I realised, I just wanted to 'rip the bandaid off'. I didn't want to sit around for another half hour pretending I wasn't going. Oh the tears, will they ever disappear?
Saying goodbye to my family has been the hardest thing I've ever done. I love them so much and it pains me so much that I won't be able to share this part of my life with them physically. I miss Dad's warm hugs, and Mum's soothing touch already, and I'm only just past Alice Springs. But like 'Desert song', from Hillsong, "All of my life, in every season, you are still God, I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship." in every season, whether it be a hard or joyous season, I will always have a reason to praise God. Because he has given me, for now, a wonderful family,mybeautiful friends, and a life full of adventures.
So I take a big breath in; I sigh. I close my eyes and anticipate the year God has in plan for me.

And I have felt incredibly blessed by this opportunity! I have seen so many great things in this past week. Madrid was so amazing. I feel like I could easily live there for a year.. so many great things to see, and many narrow streets to explore! We got to Madrid, and I was pretty disappointed.. I felt like it was too warm to be Europe! But, when I went out later it was really cold.. well I thought it was cold - around 9 degrees... but from summer it was. At the airport I had my first translation fun. We were at customs, and we weren't sure what we had to declare, and Vic (another exchanger) had a shep's skin. So she said, "sheep skin" and the customs guy was like.... "no understand" So I said, "piel (skin) de...." I couldn't think of the word for sheep (ovejas) so just said, "Baaaaa" He understood then!

The people of JYC are very nice. We were met by Maria Carmen, who told us about the city on our way to our hotel in the centre of Madrid. When we arrived at the hotel, we met Emerito, the old man in charge of JYC. He is the loveliest man ever, and the cutest one too! After lunch, we had a shower, and cleaned up, and then Olga, another JYC representative took us around Madrid at about 3pm. Madrid is just beautiful. It is full of old, history filled buildings, and has such a lively unique characteristic. In all the different plazas, there were different people playing music, which added to the mood. By the time it got to 3:45, the jetlag had set in, and I began to resent having come out. I felt like if someone so much as smiled at me, I'd cry. We stayed out till 7:30, and I felt like I'd conquered the world, I was so tired. We went and saw all of the sites... The Retiro (the most beautiful garden!), La Puerta de Alcala (also very stunning!) The picture to the left is of the lake thing that's in the Retiro. There were a lot of boats out there, and apparently, lots of people go out there (especially couples) for an hour at a time. It looked like so much fun. After we got back from our walk (trek in my eyes!), we had dinner, una bocadilla de tortilla. A Spanish omelette on a roll. The bread in Spain is really nice. I have yet to see a loaf of bread. People just eat like baguette type bread, and it is so delicious!

I was meant to catch a 3pm bus the next day to Tudela. Emerito drove me to the bus stop (I don't know if I'd call it driving though. He was driving around 90km in a 30km zone, barely looking at the road. I have noticed that road rules aren't taken into account when people are driving. Here in Spain, give way signs at roundabouts are just a recommendation. Cars stop in the middle of roundabouts to let other cars through, or just stop randomly. Cars cut other cars off, and no one seems to care. Cars stop in the middle of the road, people get out of the car, get back in, leave, creating an enormous amount of traffic, and no one seems to care. I'm glad that I'm not allowed to drive while I'm over here... I don't think I'd want to!!) Emerito is lovely. He told me that "You have to open the door to your heart and your mind, if you don't you will learn nothing while you are in Spain". I believe that he's right. I'm going to make sure that my time here is a time where I will learn a crazy amount of things... Spanish, the Spanish culture, and maybe even some Latin and Maths! Exchange is a year where everything we've known will change and with that will come a new world view and characteristics. I'm looking forward to learning. So, I have opened the door to my heart and mind, willing to be challenged.

Emerito, of course, being the old, funny Spaniard he is, got the times wrong, so I of course, missed the bus. "No problema". I ended up eating a second lunch (my first lunch being another bocadilla de tortilla) at Maria Carmen's parents' house. It was an interesting experience. They knew no English, spoke rapid Spanish. To say I was a little overwhelmed is an understatement. I got really tired from trying to understand everything, so I had a 'siesta' after I ate. I caught the bus to Tudela, and got more and more excited by the minute.

At about midnight, I finally arrived at Tudela. I saw María Antonia, y José Antonio waiting for me at the bus stop, and they are so lovely. There is a definite difference in temperature between Madrid and Tudela... Tudela is much colder. I got to skype Mum and Dad that night, which was so so so lovely.

On Monday I started school. I was pretty nervous. But, there is another Australian in my class, which is both a blessing and not. The blessing is that she is able to show me the ropes, and explain everything to me in a way that I'll understand. The downside is that we speak English together. I was expecting to get to school, and have to really use my Spanish, but on my first day, I barely used any Spanish. That got me really down. My whole aim for exchange, is to become fluent in Spanish. And there I was at school, speaking English to an Australian. Exchange is certainly different to how I expected it to be. I was really surprised by the ease I felt in slipping back into school. I thought it would take me a week or two, but I felt completely natural in a class where I didn't understand anything. It felt like I was back in Tonga, or Hong Kong, and I felt... comfortable. The school that I go to is pretty big. It's a lot smaller than Wycliffe, but has 13oo people that attend. It's three stories high, and reminds me so much of American schools. Long hallways, a cafeteria type thing... Though is probably completely different. They don't take attendance here, so you could not turn up, and no one would do anything about it. And they do exams all the time! On Monday they had an exam, tomorrow, they have two... every week they have an exam for a subject, so it's constantly study study study for them. It's a completely different education system, and I'm loving working it out.

Today is Thursday, and I'm in a completely different mindset to my first day. I changed out of Economics to Latin, and have moved seats, and am sitting next to some Spanish people. I'm actually loving going to school, and trying to work out what people are saying. And, to make things even better... It snowed today!! It snowed all day. At first it was just like sprinkles of snow here and there, but by the end of the day it was steady, and was staying on the ground. But, then for about half an hour the sun came out and melted most of it away.

This weekend is Carnaval.. I think the equivalent to America's Halloween, but, bigger! We all dress up, and go out to town. And this Sunday I'm going skiing in France! It's really close to the Spanish border... but still in France. I'm really excited.

I miss my family. And my friends. But in an unusual way. I am happy to be in Spain. I love that I am here for a year, and that I get to experience life as a Spaniard. But I see my family and friends in everything. Everyone reminds me of someone at home. Mum, you would love María Antonia. She puts so much butter on bread! That reminds me of you. In my home, there is a model plane, and everytime I walk past it, I think of you, Dad, and wonder what you're up to. Any dog I see, reminds me of Bonnie. Everything brings memories of home, and the only thing I'm sad about, is that you guys don't get to experience this journey with me physically.

Exchange is completely different to how I thought it would be. I thought it would be a lot easier, or fun, or crazy. But it's not. It's difficult. Leaving everything for a year is incredibly difficult, and I've had a lot of times in just one week, where I question what I am doing in Spain. Being somewhere where I can't express myself is difficult and so frustrating. But with the hardness, has come great triumph. I have been praying more constantly, continually thanking God for the small things, like snow at school today, or asking for help when I call my ears (orejas) sheep (ovejas). I started a prayer journal type thing when I left. And looking back just a week, I can see how God has been answering my prayers. I love that God is a constant through exchange. He is always there, when everything that I hold dear to me is not. This week I have learnt a lot about the God of comfort, the God of wisdom, the God that answers prayers. He is a God worth praising, and I'm looking forward to being revealed of all of His glory this year.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

So long, farewell...

This will probably be my last post in Australia.

Such a weird feeling to be writing that sentence. Ever since I decided to go on exchange, and started the process of applying, I have been avidly reading blogs of exchange students. I would get so excited at their 'last post in home country' entry, eagerly anticipating the time when I would be in their shoes.

Well, the time has come, (I leave in 2 sleeps, on Thursday afternoon) and I can say that this period of time is a time of a crazy amount of emotions. I am constantly thinking about exchange, and everything that I do is about exchange now. I only have two sleeps left in my own bed, and then I will be away for a year. The countdowns have well and truly started, some already having finished.

Can I just say that saying goodbye sucks?! I have felt so emotionally tired from all of the goodbyes I have said. I think I'm going to make it without crying... and then they smile at me, or say, "I love you" and I lose it. I'm a silent crier. I scrunch my face up and cry silently, and so forcefully that I can't speak. My brothers (particularly Grant) make fun of my crying, and I have exposed many people to this style over the past couple of days. Saying goodbye to small things, like crunchy peanut butter, no. 2 at the petrol station outside of maccas, maccas visits after church and youthgroup, Martin's lookout, the smell of gumtrees, walking at home in barefeet... these are all goodbyes that I have said 'goodbye' with sadness, but with a knowledge that I will return home and they will still be there. Saying goodbye to friends, especially my friends starting uni is another matter. This year, in particular, is a year of huge change for my friendship group... people starting uni, moving out of home... I will return from my year on exchange, and everyone will have gone through a massive journey. I sometimes feel left out of my friends' world; as I'll be experiencing and I'll be apart of their life from the side lines. I'll be watching, cheering them on (via Facebook and Skype of course!), but I won't be there physically. This isn't to say that I've only just realised that; I knew this was a part of exchange. It just doesn't make goodbyes easier.

This is a photo of me and my sister-in-law at my farewell party that I had on Saturday night. I loved the party so much. It was such a celebration of the friendship I have with everyone, and I felt so blessed to have so many people there farewelling me as I embark on my exchange. It was a little sad, but overall, a celebration of life, friendship, and of the adventures of exchange.

I said goodbye to some of my relatives tonight. We had a family dinner. Oh so sad, I thought I would never stop crying. To make matters worse, my goldfish died. Long story short, I had a hate relationship with my fish. Galileo was given to me for my 16th birthday, almost three years ago. He was black. After about three months, he turned gold, indicating he was sick. I always made jokes, "Just die!" (Though, now that he is dead, I think of him with fond memories!) Dad loved Galileo. He would feed him often three times a day, when I would go three weeks without feeding him. When I was in charge of Galileo, his tank would be green before I cleaned it; with Dad, the tank would be cleaned at least once a week. So with all my, "Oh I don't care about you, you stupid fish!" what did I do when I found out he was dead? I cried. It was just another sign that everything about my life right now is coming to an end. Last Thursday I cried for about an hour because I realised I wouldn't have my dog Bonnie with me all the time. I seriously don't know what I'll do without my white ball of fluff. Cutest. Thing. Ever. Tonight I sat with Mum and Dad and watched an episode of House (second last episode of season 5). Tomorrow we'll finish off the season, and then it will be an end of an era. No more sitting in bed watching t.v. shows on DVD with them before bed. At least for a year. The luxuries of my life now are being taken away, and in no time will be replaced with new luxuries of my new host family. It's sad though. I will miss my parents and family and friends beyond measure. I will miss their familiarity, and the comfort of their hugs, and the way that I know what makes them tick. But they'll be here, and when I get back, we'll be together again.

So, goodbye Australia. Goodbye my family and friends. Goodbye home. Goodbye Bonnie. Enjoy your year, I know I will, and I'll see you in one short year.