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."


  1. How beautiful :-) !!!!!!!!

    I just love to read your thoughts....hearing what you are doing is so very interesting but the sharing you do from your journal, which is your heart....make my heart sing.

    Love Mum

  2. You are certainly having such a busy, interesting time so far in just 2 weeks Laura. It will be great to continue to follow your exchange this year through this blog :D

    Aunty Lois

  3. love reading your thoughts and feelings, such a big adjustment! You have been very busy! you should be so proud of yourself we are ,and before you know it you will be doing things that will be just routine and you will feel more settled. love you lots. xoxo

  4. Hey
    I know what you mean by homesickness. Don't forget to smile, as sometimes it will just make you feel better =)
    Oh and remember that homesickness will always pass.
    How are you going with finding a church over there? I don't think I'm gonna be able to get to one over here for a while at least so I've had to get creative. And I already feel so much closer to God which is great =)
    Love you.

  5. Reminds me of Perisher skiing and the family photo we had taken. You look beautiful.