Tuesday, June 29, 2010


These past couple of weeks have flown by incredibly fast, including time to blog! A couple of days ago, I sat down to get started on another post (I think it was this past Monday... five days ago) and wrote this much:

"Ok, so today isn't the tomorrow I was talking about in my last post, but, at least it's in the same week, not"

when I hear a buzzing at the door, and real life starts back up again. Finding time to myself, now that everyone is on holidays, and everyone has the same amount of free time as me is becoming difficult! I am currently sitting in my bedroom, listening to the thunder roll over our house, as the clouds darken the summery sky, with the vuvuzelas humming in the background while I watch the Ghana against Uruguay game (currently 1-1!)

I have been absolutely loving these past couple of weeks of holidays, relaxing, exploring, hanging out with Spanish friends...

I finished school on the 11th of June, and from the 11th until the 18th, I was the only one on school holidays. I spent this time wandering around the streets of Tudela, having coffee after coffee, and watching the world cup, and preparing for Fiesta de la Eti! Fiesta de la Eti, is a celebration of the end of university (Eti is the name of the university in Tudela), and with this, the end of schooling for another year. Every year is made up of different classes. For example, in primero bachillerto (the equivalent of year 11) there were six classes, 1A, 1B, 1C,1D, 1E (my class!) and 1F. For Fiesta de la Eti, each of the classes have a class dinner, and then go to a botellón. Our class met at the Plaza Nueva for dinner at 10pm. Adjowa and I came at around 10:30, after finishing watching the world cup game of Ghana against Serbia... a disappointing draw. We had all previously paid 6 euros for alcohol, and then had a really cheap dinner (I had pizza... for 2 euros!) before trekking to a random (I really have no idea where we were!) little grassy spot to start our botellón. A botellón directly translates to bottle. It is where a group of people go to a specific place, for us it was the grassy hill, for others it may be by the river where I live, and socialise... After the botellón, we all made our way to El Tubo, which is a street in Tudela, filled with bars, where people can go and dance, drink and socialise. I left quite early, around 2:45 am, because I was heading to Madrid the next morning, but I had a really lovely time spending a good couple of quality hours with my class outside of the classroom.

I got home at around 3, and was in bed and sleeping by 3:05! I slept like a baby until I heard my alarm clock waking me up at 5:50 am. A couple of days beforehand, my host sister told me that she was going to Madrid with her class on the Saturday, the day after Fiesta de la Eti. I immediately asked why, and was told that she was going to a theme park. For those of you who know me, I love going to things like Zoos, theme parks, going on adventures, so I immediately wanted to go with her... María Antonia (my host mum) was supposed to go as a parent helper, but she let me go instead of her. We left at 6:15 in the morning, and I slept the whole bus trip down there. I felt a little out of it, cause I didn't really feel like one of the kids, as I'm 8 years older than all of them, but not quite one of the adults. At the park it was scorching hot, and because of the bad weather we'd been having, I had dressed in pants. I sat down, rolled my pants up, joined to the group of María, her two friends and the parents of her friends, and started wandering around.

In Spain, when you go on wet water rides, you wear rain coats! No one bothers on getting wet, they prefer to stay dry.

I loved going to Warner Bros. Movie World, as it reminded me so much of family holidays and of America. We went on the rides, watched the shows, ate greasy food, laughed and had fun. It was an extremely rewarding day, which I really loved, and a day where I got to speak a lot of Spanish, which was a really nice change! We ended up getting home at 4am in the morning the next day, 22 hours after we had left. How crazy that they return children home from an excursion at four in the morning!

Since then, I haven't really done much, but hang out by the pool. My family are part of a club called Arenas, which I can only really describe to you as a country club. To give you some understanding of it, it costs 250ish euros per month to be a member of it. It has two pools, saunas, tennis courts, paddle courts, a gym, a cafetería, a ludoteca (childcare place) and I get to go for free! My pass is a pass where I can only go with the kids, so I go most days with a towel, some board games or card games, my book, my music, and a euro. I spend about four hours there a day, hanging out with the kids, swimming, sitting under the thatched roofed umbrellas, sipping my hot coffee, reading my book, enjoying the summer vibes. It really is lovely most of the time. My daily routine at the moment is getting up at 9, going to Arenas at around 10:30 or 11, come home for lunch at 3, relax a little then at five play with Javier, or go out with Ana or María, or go back to Arenas, go swimming in our pool, fit in a game or two of soccer, have dinner, talk to people back at home, and go to bed. Although it seems like a day of just relaxing, it is a full day of relaxing, all the time with other people, which can get a little tiring on its own.

I have finally finished the sixth book of Harry Potter. A little sad I must say, as I now realise I only have one more book left in the series, and then I won't know what to read! Any suggestions anyone? SPOILERS: I still cried when Dumbledore died, but it made me smile that Spanish can still bring out such sadness, that I can understand, and understand what's being written and be affected by it, but in Spanish!

This week will be a little different for me, as I'm preparing for my summer holidays to really start. I have been extremely blessed with a host family that has the travelling bug! This Thursday I am getting to go to the famous Running of the Bulls, also known as San Fermines. San Fermines is the festival celebrating the saint of Pamplona, San Fermin (San = Saint). It runs from the 6th of July until the 14th of July. We get to dress up in the typical Navarra dress, which is all white with a red scarf around your neck and waist. I'm really excited to be able to participate in such a typical fiesta of Spain and of Navarra. On Saturday, my host family and I are packing up house, and driving to France. I still can't get over the fact that I'm in Europe and that everything is so close. We can drive to another country! We will be staying in an area called Angers, about an hour and a half south of Paris. We will be visiting Paris, and eating French bread, and growing french mustaches. (I just had to look up the word mustache on the internet to see if mustache actually was the hair that grew on your upper lip... ahhh Spanish, what are you doing to me!) We will be staying in France until the 20th, when I will be travelling to England to visit some old family friends. I'm really excited for the next couple of weeks, and will definitely be keeping you updated in what I'm doing!

I definitely feel like this year has been planned out and mapped out by God. There have been so many things that have happened, some that I've liked, some that I've definitely struggled with, but all have helped shape and grow me in a way that could have only been by God's hand. I feel so blessed to have been placed in this family, to have been challenged and to have felt so many emotions here. I have begun to understand what it is like being the oldest, and I only wish that every person could experience what I have: to be placed in a family completely different to your own, to be completely challenged by how you want to live, to be able to experience life through another culture, another language, another world view. I believe that exchange is an incredible opportunity, and is something that can only really be beneficial. I have been here for five months, and I am somewhere completely different to where I thought I'd be. I have been living for five months in a place where eating dinner at 11pm is normal, and I'm a little frightened to say the least, to enter back into the world of English speakers, and lunch and dinner at a reasonable hour for ten days before re-entering the Spanish culture. I don't know how it will affect me, if I'll prefer the Spanish way or the English way, or if I'll just fall back into my English ways straight away. I wonder if I'll be overwhelmed by all the English in England, or if I'll find it normal? I have all these uncertain feelings in me right now... which for me is exciting. I like the unknown. I like being surprised.

This post has been extremely crazy and unjointed. It is now the 5th of July, my five month anniversary in Spain, and I started this post 10 days ago. But, I hope that within the jumble you can see a little glimpse of my life right now, and a little bit of how I am feeling, and the greatness of God, and how he has guided me through my life and this exchange thus far!

Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup Fever.

3:47 pm.

"Quick, quick, quick! The World Cup starts in 13 minutes!" We all scramble to the kitchen sink to help with the washing up of our plates from lunch (a three course meal... like usual). The clock ticks away quickly, as we rush to have cleaned up in time to watch the opening and first game of the World Cup.

3:59 pm.

We finally finish the dishes and run downstairs, turn on the t.v. and jump onto the couches, María, Ana and Javier arguing about where they are going to sit. "Shhh! The game's started!" They've kicked off, and we all watch with anticipation and excitement, twitching in our seats, excited for the game to unfold.

4:15 pm.

Laura looks around her, to find... no one. Just her, the remote, and South Africa and Mexico playing on the t.v.. She thinks to herself, "Isn't this Spain? The place that's crazy about football? The country that lives and breathes off football? Why is it then, that the only person watching the game, is an Australian girl, who is living in the country of football heroes?"

This has pretty much been the World Cup experience for me.

Sure, my family watch some of the games, but only those of Spain. I have been watching about one a day, excited, keen, loving the matches. I have an extremely close relationship with the t.v. Lot's of yelling, arguing, and throwing of popcorn. It has been a great experience for me, especially watching the Australian games, feeling proud of Australia and how awesome we are (ok... well maybe not with the game against Germany...) I got to watch the first Australia against Germany game with Mum! It was so much fun. Mum and I were on skype, watching the game together, getting annoyed together, dreaming up ideas on how Australia was going to win together. It was lovely to watch a game with a fellow Australian, to bathe in Australian pride and just generally enjoy watching the football with my Mum. I think what I loved the most, was listening to our Australian Anthem. We sounded so bogan! I loved our horrible singing, our extreme Australian accents, it made me feel so at home.

Mum and I on skype, watching the game.

For the Spain against Switzerland game, Javier and I went to Jorge's (Javier's best friend, and where Adjowa was living) house. I got Javier geared up in the Spanish flag, and we walked over to Jorge's house. There, Jorge's t.v. was garnished with Spanish flags, and we all excitedly watched the game for the first half. After the first half, Javier and Jorge got bored, so went and played while Ajowa, her host parents and I continued watching the game.

Javier wearing the Spanish flag. :)

Jorge's house filled with Spanish flags.

Fifa.com has become my favourite website, as I look at it all the time, seeing who is winning in each group, and thinking about stage two, and who will play who. I have absolutely loved being in Spain for the world cup. Although it may not be the experience I thought it would be, it has still been incredibly exciting, and I feel as though my love for football has definitely grown over the past two weeks!

It's around 11:15pm on Friday night, and I've just finished watching Spain beat Chile, 2-1. Tomaaaaa!!!! The best thing about the world cup here in Spain, is that we are on the same time as South Africa, making the times very convenient, allowing me to watch more games, than if I had been in Australia. I'm so looking forward to the Spain Portugal game, as it should be a good one... maybe I'll go to a bar to see it?

Anyway, just a quick update on the world cup, and a new blog tomorrow (I hope! Yes, I know, I've been absolutely horrible with the blog updates...)

Just quickly, I've currently been reading about living a 'zesty' life... looking for the beauty in life, seeing God's hand in it all. Today, I went to Zaragoza, and spent around four hours in the centre of the city, by myself, just wondering around, looking at the shops, listening to the buskers, when I got to the Basilica del Pilar. I've talked about the Basilica del Pilar in some of my other posts, and it is the representative of all Hispanic, all Spanish people around the world. It's extremely important. I got there, and just stood, as I looked up at the beautifully architecture of the building, of the church. A woman behind me was playing the violin, so beautifully, and I just felt overwhelmed with the beauty God had presented me with. I hope I never grow old of seeing the beauty in things, and that I'll never look at things and at the world with nonchalance. Today, I ask you to look at the world and see the beauty in the small and big things. When I see beauty, I see art, I feel passionate, I feel zest. What makes you feel passionate, how can you live a 'zesty' life? It may be having a coffee with your best friends (Oh how I miss you April and Min!), watching the football, or for me, sitting at a cafe in front of the Basilica, having a coffee, reading Harry Potter, completely blissful that I'm in Spain...

Who out there has a zest for life? Can't wait each day to come upon beauty." Psalm 34: 12 (MSG)

Monday, June 14, 2010

The ups and downs of learning a language.

"I. cannot. believe. it. It's June. it seems like yesterday was February... where did the time go? I'm currently sitting outside Javier's dibujo class, with some lollies, Jamie Cullum, and you, my diary. How is it already June???"

These past couple of weeks, have been crazy, I don't know where they've gone! It's been a lovely few weeks though. It's Monday, today, and instead of being at school, I'm sitting in my living room, writing this, because I'm on holidays!!!! Quite exciting :)

This week has been especially fun for me, as I've had yaya (grandma) stay with us. I have temporarily moved bedrooms to upstairs, and she's taken my bedroom downstairs. It's been fun, to have her in the house, and get to know her a little better. Yaya (or otherwise known as Carmen) is 79 years old, and is the cutest, most typical Spanish grandma I've ever seen. She is the cutest little old lady ever, with her cute little waddle of a walk, her wild white hair and her crazy Spanish. When she first came, at the beginning of last week, I could not understand one word of what she was saying. It would be like, "hugjskd a;lkdsjfaiwe rjisod f jkls e comer alksjfiefje" (comer meaning to eat). So I would just smile and nod. Only, most of what she would say wouldn't be a yes or no answer. Haha, the life of an exchange student! But, now that it is Monday, I am proud to say, that I understand a lot more. I still nod and smile, bewildered most of the time, but I can converse with her! She talks to me, telling me interesting (often random and irrelevant) pieces of information. Yesterday, she went for a walk and said, "I almost walked a kilometre! Do you know what a Km is?" I nodded, and told her of course. She continued undressing, and replied, "If you know, you'll know that its... 1000...?" I quickly replied with metres, which made her happy. She is a very interesting character. On her left hand, she only has four fingers. I asked Ana (my host sister) why that was, and she told me that when Yaya was young, she was making bread, and she cut her finger off in the process. I feel like everday, I'm learning a little bit more about yaya, the fired up lady, who still believes she's 29, rather than a frail, 79 year old. Two years ago, she was like Peg from Woy Woy, she was around 5 foot 5, walked everyday, played tennis occasionally, but has really deteriorated over the last two years. She still has that fire in her, and it's lovely to watch her determined to do everything by herself. When I first met her, I was a little scared because I just didn't understand anything, or who she was. Now, I am enjoying her company, I look forward to our little conversations where we both act out things because we don't understand each other. She knows I'm not perfect at Spanish, and that's fine for her. It makes life a little interesting, for both her and myself.

For me, I find knowing someone's accent is really important in understanding what they're saying. I struggle to have big conversations with people that I haven't really met before, if their accent is unusual or different. It takes time to get used to how they talk, and once I'm used to that, I can understand a lot more. My lengua teacher, Mari Carmen is from Andalucia, (down in the south of Spain) and speaks incredibly differently to the people of Navarra. Sei is seis, cua is cuatro, ta lugo is hasta luego... completely different, and in the beginning, impossible to understand. But now, I can understand a lot more of what she says, because I have gotten used to her accent, and now I can understand what ta lugo means.

I am really enjoying understanding more of this language. It seems strange and unusual at times, and I often don't understand what is going on at all... but, that's fine by me. It almost feels normal to be sitting down, surrounded by language, not really getting what they're fighting about or discussing. I'm content with just letting the words, their passion, the way they use words to waft around me, soaking in the wonder of this language, and get to know it a little bit more. But then, on the other hand, I often am sitting there, not really listening, when I realise that I'm understanding what they're saying. I was talking to Juventud y Cultura, my exchange organisation and María Antonia, my host mum, about how I often I feel like I'm not learning, not speaking Spanish well, and about how frustrating it is to feel like I'm not improving. But they both told me that in the beginning of the exchange year, you will experience a great growth in language, you'll feel like you're learning all the time, and you'll notice the improvements you are making. Then you get to the stage where I'm at, where you've had the big growth of language, and now the improvements are much slower. You will continue to learn, everyday, you'll be learning more, but it won't be that big growth you've experienced before. It definitely gets frustrating, always feeling like you're not learning anything. But then you get those moments, when you're sitting down, understanding the conversation, talking to people about day to day things, understanding all of a T.V. show, when you realise just how far you've come. So, to all other exchange students reading this, or to-be exchange students, don't worry... you are improving! It will be extremely frustrating. Very frustrating. But, you will get there. Before I came to Spain, I had studied Spanish for two years. I think I came to Spain, expecting me to be fluent, knowing everything already. But, I came and was completely overwhelmed by everything. Everything was faster, harder, and just completely different. But in saying that, studying the language has been excellent, because I already know the grammatical background of the language. That helps a lot!

Cartoons are a great way to learn the language. They speak in more simple terms, about simpler situations and is in general less complex than real life, and is much easier to understand. Now, when I watch cartoons, I understand it all, which is really fun. I do still have to concentrate hard to understand them, but the main thing is that I understand them. When I first came here, I barely understood anything. Something else that is extremely helpful, is watching movies you've already seen in your host language. I love re-watching all of my favourite movies with my host sisters, but in Spanish.

I'm currently reading Harry Potter in Spanish, and I'm absolutely loving it! I can understand so much more now, so it's more of a relaxation, a joy to read it, than a piece of homework. It was through reading that I understood, that when everyone said 'A ver', they weren't saying 'Haber' (pronounced the same way, as V is pronounced as a soft B)... this had frustrated me incredibly, as it had been about two and half months of not understanding why they kept saying 'Haber' ('to have') at the beginning of every sentence. Then, I read 'A ver' (Let's see) in Harry Potter, and it all made sense!

The downsides of immersing yourself in another language, is forgetting your mother tongue. I have only been here for four months, and this is something I struggle with so much! I sometimes sit here, writing this blog, or talking to friends, having to think sometimes for actual minutes about what the word is. I have completely forgotten the different their, they're and there, and often have to write them all down to figure out which one is best. Same goes for you're and your. This absolutely upsets me because it was something I hated people to get mixed up on (Josh Abbey!) and now I'm one of those people who gets confused! I'll often have to act out words that I can't remember, which often gets me funny looks from my family or class mates. It's exciting to think that I'm losing my language, as well as a little frightening. I have also fallen in love with some Spanish words, that I just in general prefer to use than English words, like pues, entonces, vale, pero, porque y por qué, lots of just joining words that just flow out of my mouth naturally. I love them!

Did I think that my language would be better by now? Before I left, I thought that by June, I'd be fluent. Exchange is so completely different than I expected it to be. I have to speak English to my host siblings, so there goes a large amount of my speaking time, there's an exchange student (Adjowa) in my town, whom I speak English to, my class wants to speak English rather than Spanish to me... all of the factors make it incredibly difficult to speak all the Spanish I want, meaning that English is still my dominant language, even though I'm in Spain. Frustrating? Yes, incredibly. Lot's of tears, frustration, whining calls to parents, and desperate prayers to God. But, God has placed me in this position, where I am for a particular reason. I may not learn Spanish as quickly as I thought I was going to, but I am learning, and not just Spanish. I'm learning about honesty, patience, prayer, about giving everything over to God. I can pretend to give everything over to God, while I'm here on exchange, but honestly, without God, I don't know where I'd be. I am learning that without God, nothing is possible. It is through his grace that I am here, it is through him that I am able to experience this opportunity, and it has been excellent so far. Challenging? Yes. Exciting? Yes. Unforgettable experience? Definitely.