Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh, Spain, what you do to my heart.

Well, I am back in Spain.

What a weird sentence for me to say. I´m back in Spain. I´ve spent the past year in Spain, and after only six weeks away I feel so weird to be back. I arrived from rainy Germany, in Madrid on Sunday afternoon at about seven o´clock, and walked numbly down the aisles to the exit signs, salida, to the welcome to Madrid signs, then out into the city. It didn´t feel real that I had arrived, or that I was in Spain. There was Spanish, but it just felt foreign, rather than a language, my language that I love and speak. I felt like I had arrived to the equivalent of the Gold Coast in Queensland, like I had arrived in Australia, but that I wasn´t back home in Glenbrook, the Blue Mountains, Sydney. And I guess it was ok to feel like that, because I had arrived in Madrid, Spain, not Tudela, Navarra, my hometown, Spain.

I got to the hostel that I was staying at, in a part of Madrid that I´d never been to before, cementing and confirming that feeling that I didn´t really feel like I belonged back in Spain. My reservation and payment was conducted in English, and I realised at that point what I felt like. A tourist. Not a Spaniard, like I have felt the past year, but a tourist, visiting Spain, staying in hostels. I didn´t really know how to feel about that; excited or revulted, but I decided to go with the flow. I arrived in my shared room, relaxed a little and then I met my roomate, a German girl who had just arrived in Spain, who is going to be studying in Madrid for the next four months. It was really lovely to chat with her, as she wasn´t just a tourist, but would be living, like me, in a foreign country, studying in another language. It´s been really fun to get to know her, and I´ve really enjoyed her company. She had met some people that day, so that night we went out with them, were greeted with the dos besos (two kisses) and that is when I realised that I still had ten days left in Spain. No matter how I felt; like a tourist or Spaniard, I realised that I needed to embrace my time left. It was great to just chat to her friends, who happened to be Germans teaching Spanish to the German football players in the Real Madrid team. (Cool, I know!) We went and had a beer at El Museo de Jamon, The Ham Museum, and I smiled at the fact that I felt at home. Home in a world of different people, cultures, languages. I love the fact that the Ham Museum is a bar where a beer costs one euro, and the ham costs 50.

Walking through the city that night, I fell in love with the architecture, with the language whispering to me, all over again.

Today I changed over my luggage (finally! I´ve been living out of the same luggage for the past five weeks meaning: two pais of jeans, four shirts and one jacket. So much variety!) and got to walk down the small streets, listen to Spanish. I felt so conflicted; blissfully happy of where I was, but also really sad of the fact that I would be leaving this country in 9 days. Malwina, the German girl and I had lunch out, and met a Colombian man who was our waiter. He was the nicest person, and so friendly, and made me love the Spanish people, the language and the culture.

I am now sitting in the hostal, on the hostal computers about to go to bed. Tomorrow I head off to Sevilla. I´ve never been to the south of Spain, so I will be spending the next four days there. I´m really excited to see the architecture, the tapas, the flamenco, the different and exciting culture of the south. I hope to keep you posted!

I really am amazed at how many conflicting feelings someone can feel at once. Every thing that makes me laugh or smile, also reminds me that I only have nine days left here. I just need to make sure I capture these nine days and embrace them fully. My heart is full to its seam with love for Spain, and I´m sure it will break when I have to leave. But I know that I´ll have Australia to look forward to, something that will fill my heart once more with great, great, happiness.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

10 days and Train Trips.

I am currently on the train in Germany, on my way to Düsseldorf to catch the plane to Spain. About a month ago I left my beloved Tudela, my wonderful home in Spain to set off on an adventure for Europe. This month has passed incredibly quickly, and I have had the greatest time, experiencing a range of different cultures, languages and people. It has been so nice to see people that I haven’t seen in a while, and see their homes and where they live. I can’t believe that my last leg is coming to a close, meaning that my exchange is drawing to a close. In ten short days I will be heading to an airport again, but this time in Madrid; heading to my home in Australia, my next new adventure.

This week I became an official uni student. I will be attending the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney. I am so excited to be finally starting this new part of my education. I will be studying a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies and Culture Change. UNSW is situated in Sydney; about a two hour commute from my house. I will be catching a train and bus everyday to uni, which has been really surprising to many people in Jordan and here in Germany. I have been staying with Benne, an old exchange student that stayed in our house in Australia in 2007. It has been so lovely to spend the time with him and his family. He will be starting uni like me this year, and he is planning on moving to Münster, where he will be attending university. Münster is about a half hour or twenty-minute train ride from Emsdetten his hometown. I would love it if I only had to travel for half an hour everyday! Anyway, I’ll be starting university the 28th of February, and am really looking forward to it!

I can’t believe the amount of things I’ve been able to do this year. I have been able to see so much, and go to so many places. I often fail to realise just how blessed I’ve been with a generous and supportive family, and the opportunities to travel. I love travelling. Growing up, my Dad was in the Navy, so we moved a bit; I’ve grown up in different states, and have been lucky enough to see a lot of Australia at such a young age. Travelling has always been a big part of my life, and I feel like I have got the travel bug ingrained into me. I am sitting in a train, in the middle of Germany, about to head off to another country. My total hours of travelling today will be eleven hours by train, bus and plane. To get from Jordan to Germany it took me sixteen hours. Although they are long days, I am perfectly happy to pass the day looking at the scenery, listening to the different languages, cultures surrounding me. I love travelling. Because I have been travelling non-stop for the past month, it seems normal to me, that everyone must be doing it that I often forget that what I am doing, what I am seeing and experience is so special. How many nineteen year olds get to spend a year in another country, learn the language, make another home, and spend a month travelling around Europe? I often forget, and forget to thank God for the amazing life he has given me. This past month has been a month of realising just how much God has blessed me, challenged me, and helped me grow this year. I have seen so much; been to so many unique places, and I thank God so much for that. These past nineteen years have been amazing, and I can’t wait for the next nineteen. I am excited to see what God has in store for me.

This week I have spent in Germany. I have absolutely loved my time here. Staying with the family of Benne this year has been some of my favourite times this year. I was able to spend a week with them in December, and a week this time in January. I arrived on Sunday night, after flying in from Jordan, and just felt at home. I love the family of Benne. They are such a colourful bunch, with kind hearts and wonderful smiles. Benne’s parents are so wonderful, and so funny! I often tell Hans, his dad that he should become a tourist guide, because he knows EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING. He is such a funny man, and makes me think of my own Dad and how much I love Dads. On the Monday I went to a city called Essen, a little further north (?) of Düsseldorf with Benne’s Dad as he had a meeting there. It was nice to just walk around the city for the couple of hours that we were there and see another German city. My favourite part though, was the drive, learning the word for traffic jam (Stau) and hearing stories of Benne’s family. After Essen, I had lunch with Hans in Münster and just walked around the city, enjoying the buildings and the German feel of it all. I love walking around cities with my Ipod playing; it was a really nice end to the day. The Tuesday I spent relaxing, as I have had a pretty busy past couple of weeks, and it was really nice to just… relax. On the Wednesday I got accepted into uni, and went to Münster to look around. I spent most of the day by myself, as Benne works everyday until 9, his parents work and his younger sister is at school. On Wednesday night Benne and I went to the pub to meet up with his friends, which I really enjoyed. They were just really lovely people, and reminded me of people from home.

Emsdetten is about a two and a half hours train trip from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I had really wanted to visit Amsterdam for a day, and found cheap tickets (19 euros each way) to go on the Thursday. I booked my tickets and knew that I would have about six or seven hours in the city, before having to come back to Emsdetten. I don’t know German. This week I have learnt a few phrases and words, but I really do not know or understand German. At the train station, the notice board said the next train to come was the train to Amsterdam. Little did I know that the announcement that I heard said that my train was delayed. A train came, and as the noticeboard said it was my train, I hopped on, unsuspecting. After a little bit, I wondered if I really was on the right train. I asked some people and they just nodded and went on their way, giving the impression that they didn’t really understand my English. When the ticket man came around, he took my ticket and shook my head. I asked him if I was on the right train, but he didn’t speak English. He kept on pointing to the ticket and shaking his head. I tried explaining my situation, pointing at Rheine, a train station, saying “I. Got. On. Here.” I would then point to Amsterdam. “I. Want. To. Go. Here. Am. I. On. The. Right. Train?” He would then look at me stupidly and then shake his head rambling off in German, pointing to his little portable computer at Amsterdam, and writing in red. After successfully achieving nothing, he shook his head once more and left me, more confused than ever. I stayed on the train for about an hour and a half, until the train stopped at a station called Emden. Knowing that this wasn’t Amsterdam, I was surprised to see everyone get off, and train shut down. I got out and went into the station into the tourist information. Asking how to get to Amsterdam, the lady quickly told me that I had to go to Rheine, (where I’d just come from!) on the train at the platform (where I’d just gotten off!). I then knew I had definitely come the wrong way, and hopped back on the train. The ticket man this time knew a little more English and said the trains to Amsterdam were delayed. After another hour and a half, I arrived back in Rheine, at about 11:30. I was meant to have arrived in Amsterdam at 11. Surprisingly I wasn’t upset or stressed, as the journey to Emden had been quite beautiful. I still had no idea where I had gone to, but it didn’t really matter. I caught the ten o’clock train for Amsterdam at twelve, two hours delayed, and got into Amsterdam at two. My train back to Emsdetten left at five. I asked the train station if there was a later train, but the only one after five left at seven, and I would have had to swap trains four times. After my little mistake earlier in the day, I opted for the safer option. I did a quick whirlwind tour of Amsterdam, and absolutely loved it. I love Amsterdam! I think it is such a beautiful city. I went to the palace, to the monument; I tried to find Anne Frank’s house and walked along the canals. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and the sun was shining. I had the perfect time just walking along, turning right, then left, getting lost in the small streets and the canals that shape the city. The time went too quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to catch the train again. I said my goodbyes to Amsterdam, with the hope that I’d come back again one day and explore it with my time and ease. The train trip back was uneventful, and I got home safely without catching the wrong train! Benne’s family laughed so much when I told them I went to Emden, and I found out that Emden is on the coast of Germany, right at the top of the country, where you can catch ferries to other places. I figured out that I spent nine hours on a train on Thursday and three in the city, and I was completely happy. I really enjoyed my day, looking at the scenery, getting lost and not understanding German. When I was in Barcelona and Madrid I always seemed to get annoyed at the announcements made in English, thinking, “No one needs the English announcements, they should just learn Spanish. This is stupid.” Knowing Spanish, I had no problems getting around or knowing where to go. But after being in Germany, with no language skills and going to the completely wrong part of the country because of my lack of knowledge of German, I now feel very grateful to all those English announcements.

Something that I’ve loved this week has been listening to Benne and his family speak German. When Benne was in our house in Australia, he didn’t speak German (obviously), and I have absolutely loved hearing it so much this week. I really would like to learn German one day, as I think it is a really beautiful language. The pronunciation for me is really difficult, but it’s something that I’d really like to learn.

This week in Germany has passed incredibly quickly, and I really hope to come back one day soon and spend some time here and learn German! (And eat lots of their delicious bread!)

Today I head off to Spain, my last stop before arriving home. I have ten days left before I board that plane and say goodbye to my exchange, and hello to Australia, my family and friends and the new and exciting adventures that await me. I am spending two days in Madrid, going to the museums I’ve yet to go to, exploring the city a little more, before heading down to Sevilla for five days. I hope to spend these five days relaxing, exploring Sevilla and its surroundings. I’ve never been to the south of Spain, and am a little anxious about their dreadful (probably not dreadful, just ‘different’, though dreadful is how people from Tudela describe it as!) accents, and if I’ll have trouble understanding them and visa versa. After Sevilla, I will head back up to Madrid for my last couple of days, hoping to go on day trips to Toledo and Segovia. Then, on Wednesday the 2nd of February, I will head off the airport, board the plane, say goodbye to Spain, my second home, and get excited about heading back to my other home, in Australia. Some days I just want to get it over and done with, rip the bandaid off and get home already, the other part never wants this to end. I suppose it’s a little bit like leaving Australia. Only this time, I don’t know when I’ll be back. Gosh, I’m going to miss having Spanish in my life everyday. Never again will I have this experience.

Thank you, thank you, thank you God for this experience. I will never forget it – the good bits and the bad bits. And thank you to my parents. If it weren’t for my parents, their support and love, I wouldn’t have been able to leave everything for a year, and learn about life. So, thank you.

I have learnt so much this year, and I don’t know what God has planned for me, but I hope that I will take this year, all that’s been challenging, all that’s been easy, all the learning and use it to be living my life for God. I’m so excited to be getting back into church, into fellowship. Although that aspect has been really difficult for me this year, the lack of fellowship, I know that God has shown me how important fellowship, community, church really is.

The scenery is beautiful, so I am going to go and enjoy it. I love travelling (and listening to German)!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Time Flies When You're Having Fun.

Wow, I can't believe that it is now January, and I only have a few more weeks left of my exchange. I will be in Australia, back 'home' in 25 days. It's something that I can't really comprehend, that I'm actually counting down the days until I'll be in Australia, when I've been away from home for a year now. Thinking about home is complicated, because I see Tudela as my home, and Australia as this far away land that of course is my home, but hasn't been for a year. I feel a little confused to be honest! I have finally left Tudela for good, and that has made me realise just how much I really miss it, and how much Tudela meant to me, and really felt like my home. I find it unusual to think that I'm actually going back to Australia. It doesn't really feel real, and I'm not sure how it will be finally seeing all my family and friends and my hometown. I mean to say, I'm extremely excited, I'm itching to go home, but at the same time, when I take that step, and reach my homeland, Tudela will be thousands of kilometres out of reach, which really makes it feel extremely daunting to leave Europe.

But this is a part of exchange, and coming home and readjusting to Australian life is all part of the experience. I'm really looking forward to coming home and making myself at home, exploring my town and seeing it with new eyes. Just sitting here, writing this post, I feel like it will never happen. It doesn't feel real at all that I'm coming home. My best friend wrote on my facebook wall that I'm coming home in three weeks. It just feels so foreign to me! Haha, I suppose I keep on saying the same thing over and over again, but to me, I need to keep on thinking about it, because I can't understand the concept of actually FINALLY coming home to Australia, speaking English with Australians, and saying goodbye to my European year.

I have had a very busy few weeks since I last posted. I went to Germany (was late by three days because of the air strike in Madrid) and had the most wonderful time. I absolutely fell in love with German, and it was so much fun to see Benne, our old German exchange student and his family again. I am actually heading to their place again next week, so am really looking forward to that.

Christmas was a really different Christmas for me. Different, but really enjoyable. In Spain noche buena, or Christmas Eve is more important, so we spent noche buena with the family, where Santa came and delivered presents. It was so fun to see the little kids that actually believed that Santa really does exist, (and to those who do still believe, he does exist! We heard him!) open their presents, and squeal with delight when they heard Santa say, "Merry Christmas boys and girls!" It was a really lovely last night with my host family. My host family went to Singapore on Christmas day, so Christmas was so different, as I was alone for it! Not all day, but for the afternoon at least. My parents Christmas presents also didn't arrive so I only had one present which felt weird. It didn't really feel like Christmas either because it wasn't centred around God. It wasn't a celebration of Jesus' birth, but rather a celebration of presents and family. I think I found that really difficult, not having anyone to fellowship with, and celebrate the real reason of Christmas with.

Saying goodbye to my host family was really sad. I said goodbye to them at the train station, and María Antonia, my host mum, just held my face and started crying. She said to me, "You know where your home is." It shocked me just how sad I was to be leaving my family, but it was really nice that it was sad, because it meant that we meant a lot to each other. After they left I headed back to Tudela, repacked my bags, and had my Spanish friends and exchange students over for my last night in Spain. We had a Mexican feast and hung out and reminisced. It was the perfect end to my exchange.

I didn't feel sad about leaving Tudela, because the people I was saying goodbye to, I am actually seeing again before I leave, so I didn't really feel like I was saying goodbye. As soon I was out of the town, I realised that I didn't know the next time I was going to see it, but it still didn't really sink in, until I was in England.

I will hopefully blog about my week in England and then Lithuania later, as I have a lot to say, but if I never get around to it, know that I had an amazing time, and that I really got to experience some different and wonderful cultures!

At the moment, I am actually in Jordan. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to travel this month. It is absolutely crazy! Today I went to Petra and was just so amazed by the culture, the history, the architecture, everything. It is easily one of the most amazing places I've been to in my life. I cannot believe that today I went to Petra, and saw the treasury, the monastery, rode a donkey, talked to Bedouins, and speak Spanish! When I was at the monastery, in Petra, I took a photo for a couple, and learnt that they spoke Spanish, so I asked them where they were from, and found out that the woman was from Peru, and the man from Zaragoza, right near my home town! It was so exciting to meet someone in Jordan who knew my town, that spoke Spanish, I felt like I was at home again, and it felt wonderful to speak Spanish again. I spent the day with a lovely 70 year old, Pam, from England that I met on the bus, and it was wonderful to talk about life, Jordan, trips and the world with her; I loved that we were 50 years in age difference apart, yet we could talk about so much, and enjoy each others company immensly. I will hopefully write some more on Jordan and Petra this week, as I have so much to tell, but am tired at the moment.

25 days. That's what is left of this incredible year that I have been blessed with. I really hope that these next 25 days will be as great as the 25 days after that, and the 25 days after that. I really pray that although my exchange year is finishing, my adventures will keep coming. I sometimes get frustrated that I've been away this year, my Dad turned 50, my best friend got engaged, my friends started and completed their first year of uni. I've missed hanging out with my friends, but I know that this is just around the corner for me. In literally 25 days, I will be able to celebrate these milestones with the people I love, and start my own as well. I can't believe what I've accomplished and am so excited for what I am going to be doing in Australia!

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.

For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Psalm 95