September

It is hard to write a blog post about the month of September, because in order to do so I have to acknowledge the thought that September has already come and gone. How can it be? My first month in Spain, my first month at a new university, my first month living in an apartment…so many new and exciting things that I am just now getting used to myself.

I started this month after finishing an intensive Spanish course in a small beach town called Gandía. While there, I met about 100 Germans, 10 Italians, more Swedish than you would imagine, the rare French – and then of course the rest of us (that’s where I fit in). To explain where Oklahoma was, I had to say the word “Texas” more times than I would like, but besides that I enjoyed being from a place so far away. I don’t get to experience that sensation very often going to school in Oklahoma, and I think it has helped me realize how special home is. There is rarely a situation presented in the U.S. to explain your city, your state, your university – because most of the time that is information within your circles realm of knowledge. Oklahoma is completely alien to these people, so I have enjoyed getting to share with them the wonder of tornadoes, Native Americans, and really, really good Mexican food.

However, I want to focus more on Valencia than Gandía. Gandía was great and I made friends, but Valencia…I had no idea what I was expecting but I could not even begin to imagine this. I don’t know if it necessarily the city, or the lure of the thought that I get to call it home for the next year, but I am in love with this place. From the beach, to the historic center, to the park that stretches through the city…I could get lost here for months. There is so much to see and to explore and I feel so lucky to have the time ahead of me that I do. Today, I just went for my first run in Jardines del Turia and I discovered a whole new active sector of the city that I did not know before. The day before that, I took a bike ride home from the other side of town and when I stopped for a quick second, I found the historic center which was spilling with tourists. I found it quite funny that there were all these people from all over the world, rambling about in these streets that I did not even know existed yet. Tomorrow I will get to explore a different part of the beach than what I have seen so far. It is so exciting to have these pockets of the city to explore – some I will save for later, some I will never find, and some will slowly become part of my everyday life.

Another thing that I was not expecting was how addicted I would become to unfamiliarity. It’s almost like my mind and body crave it and I find myself trying things I have never tried before. I am so used to knowing what types of activities, people, situations, etc. that I enjoy that my first instinct is to follow that. But then, when I arrive to the deciding point I realize that’s not actually what I want to do, it’s just what I am used to. I wish that I had this inclination always, but I know it is always not so easy done as said when we are in our natural habitat. The people we surround ourselves know the path we follow, our feet know the streets we normally walk – and day after day we find ourselves funneled through the same routine. Not particularly “scared” to try something new, but the thought just doesn’t cross our mind often. Or at least, when it did mine, it was always overshadowed by preconceptions of what else I needed/wanted to do. It isn’t that way here, and I haven’t quite found out what that will mean for me, but in the moment it means studying French, taking a surfing class, joining a yoga studio. It feels good and I am curious to what else will come.

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With A Little Help From Strangers

Every one who has traveled in another country knows the pain of the Traveler’s Luck- maybe better, the lack there of. I used to believe that this was preventable, that perhaps adequate planning or dropping my untimely habits would fix this, but I’ve found there is no real escape. It is better to embrace these moments for all that they are. However, there is some good news. No matter how dire of a situation I have found myself in, there is always (always!) someone right behind me setting me back on the right track. Sometimes a complete stranger, sometimes a friend – whoever it is they sweep in right at the perfect second and all is right again (at least for now). Here is a story of a day I got by With A Little Help From Strangers.

Upon arriving to Spain, I quickly realized that 1) there are not as nearly as many Americans here as I believed would be and 2) the European Union is a beautiful thing. They have uniform cell reception all across Europe, they don’t have to apply for a Visa, AND they are incredibly good looking. How is it fair? Anyways, I have been in the process of applying for my pertinent residence card. I had to apply for a Visa before leaving the U.S., and this is the follow up once you are in-country. I just received a paper from the General Consulate of Spain before leaving saying that I needed to go to the National Police within one month of arriving to Spain. Cool. No problem. Not so fast, Heath.

As you may know, I spent two weeks at an intensive language course in Gandía (about an hour outside of Valencia) before arriving to Valencia. In Gandía, we only knew how to practice three things. These three things were simply: beach, party, eat (+sleep?). Therefore, there was no “confirming your Visa blah, blah” happening these first two weeks. When I arrived in Valencia, another two weeks quickly went by setting up my apartment and confirming my courses. So here I was, in the last week of my “first month” in Spain and thought it would be a good time to visit the National Police. Exciting!

I spent one morning taking the bus/walking to what I believed to be the office I needed to go to, but this was not the case and is not quite the story I am wanting to tell – so we will skip this part. Just know it was hot and sweaty and ultimately a waste of beach time (never a good thing).

Yesterday, was the day I had scheduled an appointment to get my pertinent residence card (TIE number). My roommate, Pilar, had helped me by calling to set up an appointment over the phone (Spanish is hard). I knew the time and location and what I needed to bring. I went to my first class of the day, and finished at 12:15. Then, a few friends of mine told me about an interesting course they were taking, and I decided to sit in on the lecture. I left early in an attempt to be avoid the disaster that was inevitably waiting me. Cute 🙂

I checked on Maps and I needed about an hour to get where I was going. I had an hour and 15 minutes. There is a kiosk next to my apartment where you can take and print ID pictures for official documents. I went to this first, but I was missing one euro. My credit card has not been working the past week or so because someone hijacked my other card, so I haven’t been able to take out cash lately. I was fairly sure I had some spare change upstairs, so I decided to go up, grab my things, and then try again. After grabbing my passport, asking my lovely roommate for a euro, and grabbing some things to make a sandwich on the bus – I was back to try for the photos again. I inserted 4 euro and then I realized that I cannot count and 2 + 1 + 1 is, in fact, not five. It is four. I wish you could see my face in this moment.

Sweaty, four euros stuck in the machine, running out of time, not sure what to do. I peaked out of the curtain and saw a nice couple walking by. This was my best/only option. I nicely told them my difficulties and asked for a euro. The man did not believe me, but luckily his wife was a little more compassionate. Once I won her over, I could see he felt a little bad for his initial resentment. He said he thought American girls were rich. Glad we could clear that up. Thank you, Stranger #2!

I got my pictures and was on my way to the bus. A little nervous that I would miss it, I walked quickly and arrived with a few minutes to spare. 48 minutes left to get there. 45 minutes ETA. Once the line approached, I boarded and scanned my card. Surprise! Out of bus rides. Out of cash. This stranger was potentially the most important helper of the day. We negotiated and he let me stay on the bus. Thank you, Stranger #3!

I took my seat and decided it was time to eat some lunch. I was the kind of hungry where you start to feel a little nauseous, so it was good that I had grabbed something before leaving my apartment. I prepared my sandwich in my lap, and right before that glorious first bite my sandwich had other plans and decided to crumble to the floor of the bus. I pathetically looked up at the passenger across from me and she was not amused. She resentfully handed me some napkins, but nevertheless, she handed me some napkins. Thank you, Stranger #4!

I got off at my stop and started to head towards the office. 5 minutes in the wrong direction. That’s okay, back on track now. 5 minutes until my appointment and about a 9 minute walk ahead of me. A ran a little bit. I got to the office, and when I walked inside I was greeted with the great news that it was impossible for me to have an appointment at 2:15 because they close at 2:15. My appointment was actually at 12:15, not 2:15. If you do not know, in Spanish, this sounds fairly similar (doce and dos) so that must have been where the confusion was. However, I had come all this way, and I really did not want to have to do so again. I did my best to communicate how desperate I was in Spanish and she asked future Stranger #5 if she could help me. She could and Stranger #4 sent me on my way. Thank you!! Finally, I had the papers I needed and could move on from this mess. Let me not forget the prequel of the Strangers that came before this day. The woman who helped me pay at the bank, a friend who helped me fill out the forms, Pilar for setting the appointment, and the list goes on.

On the way home, I decided to just take a bike home and not worry about finding an ATM to pay for the bus back. It was a beautiful bike ride through Turia Park and I felt thankful for all the experiences of the day. It reminded me how much humans need each other, even those we do not know. Even just to feel the heat of other humans around you, to see the eyes of a passerby, to hear conversations floating around you – it all reminds you of how small you are and how common your problems are. We are all just living each day the best we can, separate yet together. I find that to be a beautiful fact of life. The sun felt extra warm on my skin and the bike glided extra smooth down the paved roads. Isn’t it true that we all get by With A Little Help From Strangers? I think so.

Goodbye

OU Cousins is a student organization that provides the platform to be several different things. There are the typical weekly gatherers for lunch, who maintain a somewhat friendly, yet oddly removed, relationship for the duration of a semester. There are the ones who drink too much together one night and never speak again. And then, there is something outlandishly special. This past year I had the chance to befriend a girl named Pilar Gimenez as my OU Cousin. What I have said before in a previous post about Pilar, all continues to be incredible and true; however, there is now a new spin on our story. This upcoming fall, Pilar and I will be studying at the same university in Valencia, Spain. I’m so excited to add this to our list of adventures together.

Currently, we are sitting on a couch in my friend’s loft in downtown Chicago. We’ve spent the day walking around the city, completing her architectural dreams with visits to the Farnsworth House, Cloud Gate, and other works by Mies van der Rohe. We popped into an open house at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where we viewed some models and had a few slices of a California Roll. I bought some old comic books for a friend of mine. We have two more days in the city, and then I’ll send her and Indo on their way to Spain. We’ve both agreed that this would be impossible, but the promise of us seeing each other again in Valencia provides some condolence.

Pilar, it has been an amazing year with you. From our first trip to Turner Falls, then on to San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and now, to this lovely couch in Chicago… it has been a joy.

A Day in Oklahoma City

One Saturday, I swung by Traditions and picked up Raul, Pilar, and Indo – we were going to spend the day in OKC and Sophia was with me. First, we went to go find this International Fair put on by UCO. We went to the wrong place first, and we were really confused because it was similar to what we imagined, but it was the opposite of international. An older guy was playing country folk music out of his pickup, and a group was selling homemade dog treats. After walking around for a little, none of us acknowledging the highly anticlimactic environment we had just found ourselves in, we agreed that it was “cold” and walked back to the car. It turned out the real event was just around the corner. We got some cold asian food in to-go boxes and moved on. Next, we went to Penn Square Mall because they had never been. We spent some time walking around, making fun of the overpriced Santa pictures, and trying on weird clothes in Forever 21. After this, we went to Lake Hefner. It’s a nice view and there are a couple of restaurants along the water that are nice to sit and have some “tapas” hahahaha. We had great conversations, and I really loved this moment with them. Such genuine, pure people that I am more than thankful to have in my life. I sure do have it good.

I took them home and they told me I was “puro amor” – pure love. They just don’t see that it’s because my heart is beaming through my entire being when I am with them.

Heath

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A Day in Oklahoma City

One Saturday, I swung by Traditions and picked up Raul, Pilar, and Indo – we were going to spend the day in OKC and Sophia was with me. First, we went to go find this International Fair put on by UCO. We went to the wrong place first, and we were really confused because it was similar to what we imagined, but it was the opposite of international. An older guy was playing country folk music out of his pickup, and a group was selling homemade dog treats. After walking around for a little, none of us acknowledging the highly anticlimactic environment we had just found ourselves in, we agreed that it was “cold” and walked back to the car. It turned out the real event was just around the corner. We got some cold asian food in to-go boxes and moved on. Next, we went to Penn Square Mall because they had never been. We spent some time walking around, making fun of the overpriced Santa pictures, and trying on weird clothes in Forever 21. After this, we went to Lake Hefner. It’s a nice view and there are a couple of restaurants along the water that are nice to sit and have some “tapas” hahahaha. We had great conversations, and I really loved this moment with them. Such genuine, pure people that I am more than thankful to have in my life. I sure do have it good.

I took them home and they told me I was “puro amor” – pure love. They just don’t see that it’s because my heart is beaming through my entire being when I am with them.

Heath

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