I have learned many things while being on exchange, from small things like your wedding ring finger is on your right hand instead of left hand in Spain, to big things like knowing and trusting that God will pull you through every situation.
Exchange is a process of making mistakes, laughing through the embarrassing situations, learning from them, and slowly feeling at home in your exchange country. There has not been a day where I haven't made a mistake or learned something. Sometimes it's as small as learning how to open a window, to discovering something about myself and the world around me.
I love learning. I love knowing all these interesting facts, how to do things, and then being able to use them in 'the real world'. I think I was worried that this year I wouldn't learn anything. I think I felt that the word 'learn' only applied to school subjects, homework and exams. I came to Spain to be surprised. I have learned more about myself, the world, and God in these short three months than ever before.
I often find myself in situations wanting to and making mistakes, 'embarrassing' myself, inorder to learn something new, the correct way to do things. I wonder what life would be like if I took this yearning and need to learn into everyday life (life outside of exchange) - how much would I learn? How far would I come if I put myself out there, willing and wanting to make the same mistakes I make here, unafraid of people's thoughts or perceptions of me? Would I learn more? Experience a different sort of life? I want to throw myself into this life I've been given and live it out, glorifying God in any way I can.
This week Adjowa, the exchange student taught me something invaluable. Our class had an English exam, so we were sitting in the courtyard of the school, relaxing in the sun, listening to music, talking about coming on exchange; about being placed in different and new places, not knowing anyone. She told me, "You need to place yourself out there - you need to talk, cevome interested in other people's lives. People always say, 'Yeah but I'm shy.' Shy isn't a personality trait, it's a state of mind. Everyone has it in them to be bubbling with confidence. Talk. Be interested in them, and they'll be interested in you."
It opened up doorways, opened my mind and challenged me. Here I was nodding in agreement, while realising that I had been telling myself that I had been shy. Shy to truly engage in people's lives, too shy to get to know them all properly. I needed to get out of this state of mind. It's not easy to tell yourself to completely change the way you have been thinking. I told myself to snap out of it, take Adjowa's advice. But the easy way of doing things, the familiar ways are always so tempting. I think exchange will always bring struggles and challenges, especially for me, speaking Spanish. I feel extremely challenged in being able to speak Spanish, and because of my lack of confidence in my language skills, I 'feel shy'... But, I know that making my language mistakes, I will learn, and become confident in speaking.
These past couple of weeks have signaled the change from cold to warm. The mornings are now 18 degrees, the days warming up to 28, 30 degrees, and I am loving putting on my dresses and walking through the old cobble stoned streets. I don't understand the Spanish. It's thirty degrees, but they still wear jeans. It's hard to try and assimilate to their culture, without dieing of the heat. Ideas? There is something about summer that just yells creativity. I have been reading a book called 'Capture Thirty Days of Inspiration' by Amanda Powell. It is a thirty day journey of creativity, finding the simple things in life, being inspired to create, and marvelling in God's creation. I have loved reading it and seeing all the wonderful things around me. Something that I have loved doing, something that I have found a love for in Spain, has been baking. Every weekend for the past month, I have baked something - mostly Anzac biscuits, but also cakes, brownies, lasagne... Seeing the bare ingredients and seeing what they've been turned into makes me excited. I don't like sweet things like cake, so I don't really enjoy eating the end result, but I enjoy seeing my creations being enjoyed by everyone else! It has been something that brings me great joy, and I am loving that my family really enjoys the things I make.
"On Friday I had a terrible day... He said I didn't know a word of Spanish, which really hurt me. It make me feel like I wasn't respected, like I couldn't do anything, like I was a failure, like I wasn't trying. I wanted to say to him, 'Do you know how hard it is, being on exchange? I dare you to go to a country that you've never been to for a whole year, live with a family you don't know, go to a school half way through their school year, try and make friends, and learn their language... I dare you to move around the world and have everything you know taken away from you and be challenged about everything. To be away from all of your family and friends for a whole year, not being able to hug them, or run to them for comfort when you're upset. I dare you to take a year and try your best to speak a language you don't know, to experience it to the full, to take everything in stride. I dare you to try and assimilate into their culture, when your body and mind is assimilated to a different type of lifestyle. I dare you to do what I am doing, and maybe you'll see that you should respect me, that I am not a failure, that I am trying.' Of course, I didn't know enough Spanish to say that... So, I walked home crying. Ah, the life of an exchanger!"
I felt terrible on Friday, that I didn't know anything, that I wasn't learning. God works in amazing ways.
On Sunday, I went to my first Spanish church! The walk there was so wonderful, listening to Hillsong, just worshiping God for the life he has given me, no matter what challenges stand in our way. I got extremely lost finding the church, but still somehow made it to the service just before it started. I was the only person under thirty, above the age of 10, the only blonde-ish haired person, so the whole service I had people just openly staring at me. It was great though. So lovely to be sitting there with other people, other believers, learning about God, in Spanish. It was extremely traditional, (like the church in Darwin Mum and Dad) but great nonetheless. It was quite funny, as no one introduced themselves to me afterwards, but I didn't mind, because I just felt home. I was in the home of God, and to sit and just reflect on that was great.
On Sunday afternoon, I went to the park with Javier and watched him for an hour while he played with his friends. I sat, listening to the conversations around me, eating my pippas, when I had a breakthrough.
"I thought to myself, I am in Spain. I was sitting there, in the Spanish sun, feeling completely content, listening in on other peoples conversations, understanding them, eating pippas! I remember when I first saw pippas and thought that they were the weirdest things imaginable. I am here. I am in Spain. I am assimilating, slowly but surely. I am becoming my own unique Laura/Lowwwrrra and Australian living in Spain. God has got my back. That's all I need to know."
This week we are having an English exchange student, Marcus, who is 15 years old. He is in Spain for a week, and it has been great to have him in this house, because it has been such an eye opener to just how much my Spanish has improved. I translate for him and María Antonia, I see how much I have improved, and makes me realise that I am learning. That I have improved immensely. I may not be where I thought I'd be, but God has a plan, and slowly I am realising that this plan is going to be amazing, and amazing journey filled with blessings and joy, and challenges and growth. I have grown and learnt so much in my first four months (four months!!) of exchange, and am so excited for what God has in store for the remaining eight (only eight months left!!) months of my exchange.