Friday, March 12, 2010

Winter has returned...

I don't want to apologise for not writing again last week, because my excuse is that I got caught up in life, enjoying the Spanish culture and all that Spain has to offer... I don't think that is something to be sorry about. It is my only hope, that as these weeks turn into months, I will become more and more busy becoming a little Spaniard. But nonetheless, I have so much to say that I wish I had written last week, and let you all know what's been happening in my life these past two weeks.

What a couple of weeks it has been. Not that anything remarkable, or life changing has happened, but small things that make me realise that I am in Spain, and that there will be both good times and bad. Exchange has been crazy, and so completely different than I or anyone else could have imagined it. Last week, I had credit card fraud. My money from my bank account was stolen, leaving me with $50 in the bank. Credit card fraud isn't extremely pleasant at any time, but it's especially not nice when you're on the other side of the world from your support system, without knowing what to do. It was one of those moments where I just wanted to hand everything over to Mum and Dad and let them deal with everything. I sent them an email about what to do, but had to call the bank to get everything sorted out. Mum and Dad helped lots, and I am forever thankful that they didn't really mind waking up at 2am in the morning to help me sort it out! I felt a little like I had been pushed into the deep end, without a lifesaver. I had to try and explain what had happened to my host family, which took a while cause we didn't understand each other at first. María Antonia thought that I had had $50 stolen, telling me to be careful next time... but after we communicated to each other that I only had $50 left in the bank it became much clearer. It doesn't feel like too much of a big deal writing about it now, but I remember feeling overwhelmed by everything at that moment. But it was a great learning curve for me, as I had an important issue that needed to be talked about, and gave me an opportunity to improve my Spanish. Not everything has been resolved from the fraud, as I haven't got my money back yet, but I am hoping that it'll be returned!

These past two weeks have been the weeks where I have felt like I have finally settled in. I am starting to get into the rhythm of life, and have started to feel like, and have accepted that Tudela is my home for the next year. It has been an incredibly exciting, fun, draining, tedious and wonderful experience to have things start to feel like home. I have started to have a routine. I now know that if I walk up the stairs to cross the bridge over the train station in the morning before the old beret-wearing grandfather taking his grandson (I'm assuming) to school, then I am on time. If they are infront of me, then I am running late. I know that I'll pass the courtyard near my house on the way to school at 8:37 every morning. I know that I'll pass the courtyard before school at 8:44 and I can walk slowly and relax a little. I know how long it will take me to get to la biblioteca y el conservatorio (the library and the music conservatory) and when I need to rush or relax. I know that on Monday, I'll pass that lady who walks her Siberian Husky. La camerera (The waitress) at the coffee shop I go to everyday knows exactly what I want, and I don't need to ask anymore. I have noticed the routine in other people's lives, which only emphasises to me, the fact that I now have a routine. This thought alone is invigorating, and a little crazy to comprehend. I am looking forward to when I know Tudela like the back of my hand, and I can't wait for the day when it will become my 'second home'.

Last Wednesday I got the opportunity to go to Madrid for the day!! I had to go to re-apply for my extended Visa. I was so excited, and I couldn't wait to see the other exchange students to see what they have been up to this past month. We have all Facebooked each other, but it's not the same as face-to-face contact. I wasn't sure as to how I was going to be getting to Madrid, as JYC (Juventud y Cultura, [Youth and Culture] - my Spanish exchange program) hadn't organised anything. After writing to them, they finally (In Spanish time!) replied and let me know that they were paying for my ticket, and that I'd be going by train. I was really happy, because it cut my travelling time down by 4 hours (2 extra hours there, 2 extra hours back by bus.) Winter has temporarily returned to Tudela, with really extreme winds, and it has been absolutely freezing. I will be wearing lots of layers, all rugged up, but the wind just passes straight through them, making me feel like ice. I had been told that Madrid was even colder, so I left to walk to the station with too many layers on to count. I started to walk and as I was listening to my Ipod, my fingers started to lose their feelings. Regardless of my loss of feeling, I was in total bliss. I felt so blessed to be able to be walking to the train station in such a beautiful town, looking at the white sky and feeling... at home.... when it started to snow. On the outside I was calm and poised; on the inside I was a giddy five year old, jumping up and down. I got to the train station with 15 minutes to spare, and had the choice of waiting inside for the train, or waiting outside with the snow. I chose the snow. It was so beautiful, with the wind picking up the snow and making beautiful patterns, each of the snowflakes doing their own dance. I noticed that I had started walking in circles, walking in beat to my music, bopping about, a goofy grin plastered to my face, with the Spaniards looking out at me from the heated waiting room at the crazy girl who was dancing with the snow. This is why I love exchange. This is why I love Spain. I get to experience small but amazingly big things. These small but big things will be the things that I remember when I'm 84 with no teeth telling my great-grandchildren about that time I went to Madrid.

The train ended up being half an hour late. The trip down was stunning, with the landscape changing by the minute.

From mountainous (you can't really tell from the photo, but it was!)

To desert. I know that it doesn't really look like there is much difference, but it was staggering. So beautiful.

It was great to see the other exchange students. I felt quite nervous though, I'm not sure what about... maybe about my language skills, if what I had been experiencing had been the same as the others... but as soon as I saw them, that nervousness faded away, It was so good to see them, and lo and behold... we have been experiencing the exact same things. I was really impressed by everyones Spanish and was so glad that their Spanish had come so far when they hadn't known any to begin with. Most of them (I think!) are taking Spanish for foreigners classes and I think I may look into that, cause it's obviously working immensely for them. We got the Visas done, without any pain and talked to each other at every possible moment about how everything was going... comparing daily routine, food, family, friends, experiences. It was so nice to see people who were experiencing what I have been experiencing, at the exact same time. It was extremely reassuring that the struggles I have had were the same that they were experiencing. We had lunch together, and we ordered a salad. (YES!!) All of us have been feeling quite sad about the lack of fresh vegetables and salad that Spaniards eat. It was nice to share a moment of, "Oh my goodness, if I don't eat some salad soon I might die" together, and then eat a salad and sigh at the loveliness and un-oily-ness of it. We were on our own then, and decided to have a Starbucks coffee. We all ordered our coffee, and I was astounded by how normal it felt to be ordering in Spanish. It made me realise how far my Spanish has come, and how I am confident enough to do everyday things like order coffee. Ordering coffee may not seem a big thing, but to do it with ease, and no fear of getting things wrong makes me feel on top of the world. These are the moments that make exchange. I feel like most of my accomplishments that I feel, are ones that seem so small and insignificant. I guess that there will be many small and insignificant moments that I will remember forever.

There is nothing like sharing a cup of coffee with a group of girls. And these girls, (L>R: Rachael, Me, Pascale, Vic and Bianca) are girls I know that will be very close to my heart at the end of this year. We all share a special bond and cannot wait to get to know them more and more.

I love Madrid. It is so beautiful. Although I have only been there twice, and for such a short amount of time for both of those times, I know that Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world. I look at Madrid with a little bit of possessiveness. I look at it, and I feel myself whisper to myself, "Mine." Because, for a year, Madrid is mine. It is mine to explore, to look at, to become a part of. Because this year is all about me being in Spain, discovering Spain, becoming Spanish. I feel like everytime I have come to Madrid it has taken a little piece of my heart. The architecture is amazing. The atmosphere is inviting, like a hot cup of coffee on a cold winters day. The people's Spanish nature is infectious. Everyday I find myself falling a little more in love with Spain and it's culture.

I have found myself liking different things than when I first arrived in Spain. I like a little bit of olive oil on things now. When I first arrived, I thought it was weird, and I thought to myself, "Why did I come to a country with such weird food!" I am becoming a Spaniard by picking the bones from my fish, occassionally chewing the fish from the bone. I now use washing up gloves, when before, in Australia I despised them. In Australia I never used a bath mat, thinking they were the most stupid invention in the world, and I secretly had a thing against people that used them. Here in Spain, we use them. I have gotten so used to the bath mat, that, the other day, when the bath mat wasn't in the bathroom, I freaked out, thinking to myself, "How am I supposed to get out of the shower! I can't get out of the shower without my bath mat!" Before carefully getting my hand towel from its rack and placing it on the ground as a substitute bath mat. In Australia, I did not like licorice. In fact, I really didn't like it. I wouldn't ever eat it. But here, in Spain, I love it. I'm not sure if it's because it's differently made, or if it's because I miss my Dad so much and I know that he likes licorice. I am astounded at the things that have changed. But, I'm enjoying and embracing this type of change.

There has been some things that I worry about, particularly with change. I have been challenged immensely while I've been in Spain by the different personalities I have seen while I've been here. I feel like a lot of the time, I don't really fit in here. I mean, I do in some sort of way, but I'm different. I am yet to meet a Christian in Spain. That's been so difficult for me. People expect particular things out of people, or expect people to behave in a way that I don't really want to be like. I don't see the point in getting drunk every weekend, or doing stuff that is not good for my body or good for me emotionally. I am still new here, in Spain, and I haven't yet made a real Spanish friend. Yes, I have friends, and I chat with them, and I would call them my friend... but it's difficult to have a friend that you connect with on a deeper level when you don't share the same language. I know that a lot of exchangers struggle with this, and it is a challenge, as I want to fit in, become friends with everyone, without giving up who I am, and what I believe.

"I don't want to sacrifice myself, who I am to have people accept me. I don't wante to give up who I am, who God made me to be to fit into what people expect of me. I am different to a lot of people. (General group of people... not everyone!) I haven't met a single Christian while I've been here, and that has been difficult. There have been times when they've (This they I'm talking about is about a particular group, not about the whole of Spain or my whole class etc...) bagged out Christianity, and I've just wanted to run. But, I haven't. I've told them what I believe. They have a moment where they stare at me in embarrassment of what they've just said, and then I smile and it's all ok. And I think they respect me more because of that. I haven't shied away from who I am, and what they've said. Sure, I'm still different. I'm not Spanish right now. I am Laura, the Australian. I want to adapt and become a culture Spaniard, but I will never be the person who will give themselves up for the ways of the world. It may be a more difficult road, but I've heard, (and studied... :|) that 'the road less taken...' has '...made all the difference'"

That being said, I really like my classmates, and I don't always feel like I am completely different from them. They really do go out of their way to approach me and be friendly to me, and I'm beginning to see through my first judgments of them, and see the real person behind the clothes and hair and appearances. I just tried uploading a class photo of my class, but it didn't work. So, I shall tell you about them in text, and hopefully will get the photo up another day. Starting from the top left of the photo:

Gonzalo. I sit next to him in most of my classes, and is probably the nicest person in the world. He is always going out of his way to make me comfortable, or making sure I understand everything. His mum is a kindergarten teacher, so he brings me in books in Spanish and gets me to read them to improve my Spanish. He is really nice. He is also 18. Most of the kids in the class are 16, which I struggle with, as soon I'll be 19, and they'll still be 16, or 17. A two or three year age gap.

Carlos. I don't really know anything about him. I haven't ever talked to him, but he seems nice enough.

Luis. Luis is also 18. He is a giant, (compared to me anyway.) and is really lovely. He is always late to class, (it seems) but noone seems to mind. I think he has the goofiest smile and has a big laugh. But, also has a shy side to him.

David. Hilarious. I love him. I kept wondering why he kept on changing clothes for while, as I'd see him in some classes with one jacket on, another class with a different jacket. Turns out he has a twin brother, that's in geography with me. Oops. Loveliest guy, and is my little badminton partner. He reminds me of Scotty, with all the energy he has.

Raquel. Raquel is really nice. She is an amazing artist. In Latín I sit next to her, and just stare in awe at the talent she has.

Sabier. He cracks me up. I assume he has the humour of Arby, and is extremely stubborn. When he gets into a debate, he gets extremely fired up. VERDE ES VERDE! Filosofía brings fun memories of him and the teacher arguing.

Tamara is gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful. And nice :)

Pablo. Pablo's a ranga. And funny. And nice. I like him.

Andrea. Andrea reminds me of Jess Taylor. I think you guys would be friends. I quite like her too.

Aritz. He reminds me of Nick Davidson. Has a unique laugh, but I don't really know anything about him. He's nice too.

Rosa. Rosa is gorgeous. I don't really know much about her, but everyone really likes her, so I'm assuming she's really nice!

Javier. He is pretty much the Spanish version of Joel. But more... Joelish. It's like having 100 Joels in the room. I like him :)

Nora. Nora is Madi Weston. But Spanish. So cute, and adorable and shorter than me. She is so unbelievably nice and wonderful. And she seems to be small enough to fit in my baggage to take back home. She is really really, lovely. I really like her.

Sofia. Sofia sits infront of me, and although we haven't talked much, she's really lovely. She is going out with Gonzalo, and they've been together for a year and a bit. They're really cute together, and she has a nice smile.

Marta. Marta sits next to Sofia, and is really good friends with her and Gonzalo. She is really nice, and absolutely gorgeous. I love her hair.

Adjowa. Adjowa is the other exchange student, and I've already talked about her in previous blog entries. She's really nice, and has helped out heaps with my first few weeks of exchange and getting settled in.

Naiara. I love this girl. She is really funny, has the funniest laugh ever, and is really accomodating. She and Luis sit behind me and Gonzalo and we get to chat a bit. She's really cute :)

And that's my class. I quite like them :)

Sorry that my blog has been so disjointed, I have been writing it all weekend. I thought that I would share another little bit from my journal.

"I'm currently sitting at the table outside of the coffee shop at the tennis, and I'm quite cold as teh wind has a bite to it. It it's nice nonetheless. I love where I'm living - it's so beautiful. I feel so blessed to be here, but I do feel a little jealous of the exchangers living in Madrid. They're all so central to everyone and everything. But I know I shouldn't dwell on that. I should dwell on the face that I am close to my town and can walk everywhere, whereas they cannot. I should see that I have been able to go to Madrid, and will be able to do that again and again. I have people like Joc, who seem to call at the right time and offer such a sense of comfort when I'm feeling down. I've gone to France. I am wiht a family who genuinely care fore me. I am with a family who will allow me to experience many different things. I am able to get an exchange experience that I know will be an excellent success. There are many things that I struggle with on exchnage. There are things that I love. there are things that will frustrate me or make me feel like a failure. But I know. I know with every essence of my body, that going on exchange is the right thing me for to do. I might get frustrated beyond belief or want to give up, but like they say:
Exchange...they never said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it."

It's now Sunday night, past my bedtime and I thought I'd leave you with a book I just read Javier. It is a book called Lotsa de Casha by Madonna. Here is the blurb. "Lotsa de Casha was by far the richest man in teh country. He had everything that money could buy, but no matter how much money Lotsa made, he wasn't happy. No matter how many grand castles, fast horses or fancy carriages he bough, he was still a gloomy old sourpuss. Find out how Lotsa not only discovered the secret to happiness, but also found a friend."

I think this has got to be my new favourite book. It was filled with different facts, which added to the story, but I think also said a lot about how to live life. I was greatly encouraged by the words, and encourage you to read the book. I'll leave you with some of the quotes.

"Fact number 1: Just because something's expensive doesn't mean it's worth it."

"Fact number 2: Unhappy people like it when everyone else is unhappy."

"Fact number 3: The secret to happiness is this: if you share what you have and ut others before you, you will find happiness."

"Fact number 4: Unhappy people always attract more unhappiness."

"Fact number 5: Smiling is contagious."

"Fact number 6: When you learn to share, oyu will not only find happiness. You will also find a friend."

"Lotsa de Casha had never worked so hard in his life. He had never seen so many people smile. He was starting to feel good about himself.... he thought about how nice everyone had been. He realised that he hadn't thought about how much money he had for over a week. He realised he was happy."

In what ways are we able to share today?


  1. well i think i must travel to spain to see if i like licorice because nothing would make me eat the horrid stuff here :)

  2. Laura, sounds amazing!
    Loving these blogs a lot. You have a great way of writing, its really good to read. Hope you continue to have an amazing time/be challenged and learn lots. Ill be keeping you in my prayers and thoughts.
    Liam D

  3. laurakins i agree with liam...i love reading your writting style and hearing all about your spanish version of life.

    ps i think we should organise a skype date

    love you lots