Houston 8.9.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m back in the States. It’s been a long year since I was last living here, but I suppose it’s good to be back. I loved Japan. I loved living in Kyoto and looking out my window to see mountains circling the city. However, I think I have learned what there is for me to learn in Japan at this point in my life. Living abroad, I learned a lot about myself and the world I live in, but I also found that there is much I don’t know about my own country and myself. Before I go abroad again, I have things to do here.

First, I want to continue developing myself and my interests. I tend to become mired in my work, so I forget to pursue interests and hobbies. Worse yet, I sometimes forget to enjoy them once they’ve been added to my daily to-do list. I want to make a focused effort on having hobbies and extracurricular activities that I enjoy outside of my major and career goals. Related to that, I want to keep working on my language skills, now for my own sake rather than for classes. I’ve spent a lot of time on my Japanese, and I want to keep it up. I want to become bilingual. Living in an international dorm for a year, most people I knew spoke at least two if not three or four languages. I want that too.

The next primary goal over this next year is to continue my journey toward self-sufficiency. I’m finally living in non-university housing for the first time since I left home. I’m also working on getting a part-time job to pay for as many of my day-to-day expenses as possible. As a college student in America, I have always had a foot in both worlds, childhood and adulthood. After having been mostly independent and self-sufficient for a year abroad, I don’t want to go back to being a pseudo-adult. I’m not in a position yet where I can shake it off completely, but I can start a conscious journey toward being fully independent.

Lastly, I want to further invest in my relationships, both here at home and those I built while abroad. I have always struggled to stay in contact with people I no longer see regularly. For much of my time abroad, I had little if any contact with people from home. However, I also was reminded of how wonderful my friends from OU are and how important they are to me and my life. I want to actively invest in and develop those relationships further while maintaining the friendships I spent a year building in Japan. I am no longer content to take a passive role in my friendships. My life is only as fulfilling as I make it.

I have changed a great deal over the past year. Now that I’m in motion, I don’t want to stop. There is so much more out there for me, and I am capable of so much more than I have in the past expected of myself. This year, back in a comfortable place with a group of amazing friends nearby, is the perfect time to explore what I can do. Once I have tested and expanded the limits of my capability, I will be ready to explore the world more fully. My next flight is coming soon—I want to make sure that I’m ready for it.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

First Week with Host Family

I have now stayed with my host family for a week. I think these two weeks were a really good decision for me, especially since I was looking for full immersion in the German language this semester. My family has shown me a few places around where they live, and it has become more apparent the longer I live in Germany that they love nature. During the week everyone was busy, so we only had time to watch a few things on their TV or play a card game. They showed me the famous “Dinner for One” sketch that they all watch on New Year’s Eve.  It is quite entertaining, but I’m still not sure why it became so popular to the point that they watch it every year.

 

On the weekend, we finally had quite a bit more time to explore the local area. Since the region traditionally used to revolved around mining, they had to deposit the leftovers from the mining process somewhere. What they ended up with a what is a called a “Halde” in German. The top has been covered and plants grow freely all over these hills. There are paths all across each hill, and we took an hour or two to enjoy the fresh air and amazing view from the top of the hill.

 

We also visited a special event called the “Cranger Kirmes” in the nearby city of Herne. I didn’t know this before they told me, but apparently this “Kirmes” or festival is the second largest of its kind in all of Germany, right behind the famous “Oktoberfest” in Munich. The place was packed with people, and I headed directly for what I later found out is the largest portable roller coaster in the world! After that we people watched for a while and went for a few drinks at different stands. We also had the chance to see some amazing fireworks before heading back home after a long day.

 

Yesterday, my host mom and I biked around the city of Recklinghausen (where they live) and enjoyed the nice weather. My host dad is currently traveling for work and will be spending three days in Berlin. He’s a trainer for a call center at his company. Because he is a trainer and not actually one of the callers, his schedule is a little more flexible. For example, he still has to let his boss his schedule for the week, but he is free to show up at work anytime between 8 and 10 am each morning.

 

Speaking of schedules, Germans love them. While it may not be true for all German families, my family seems to have their schedules, even on a normal day, figured out quite well in advance. They always would prefer to know if I will be back for dinner each day, and if so what time exactly. While it is a little more work to have to coordinate everything the night before, it does mean that they don’t have to wait on anyone too long since they then know approximately when they are meeting other people.

 

That’s it for this blog. The next one will be up soon!

Week Two: Florence, Siena, and Rome

The second week of the PLC trip began with a short bus ride to Florence. This was another moment where I had trouble comprehending where I was–Florence: the birthplace of the Renaissance. For real.

We arrived at our hotel (the Hotel California, oddly enough) and immediately began our tour with Kirk Ducleaux. Kirk is a fiery, fast-paced instructor, and he didn’t wait on anyone to catch up. We began by touring near the duomo and the baptistery, with Kirk talking in our earpieces (this was a new concept–there were a lot more people (a lot more tourists) in Florence, and it would be much easier to get lost from this point on). We learned about the church, the baptistery, and other important buildings in Florence, and then we visited a museum to look at some important works. We got to see Ghiberti’s doors, which I recalled learning about in my sophomore year world history class, and some other famous sculptures by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello. After the museum tour, we got to climb to the top of the dome of the cathedral. It was absolutely the most breathtaking view of anything I have experienced. It was a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains, and one could see centuries of history in a single glance.

Just some guys being dudes in Florence

The top of the duomo

Later, we had a group dinner, where my table nearly set our table on fire (oops). It was a lovely dinner, though, in a wonderfully lovely city.

The next day, we did more touring, visiting more sites in the morning (including the gallery where David is held!) and then the Uffizi Gallery later in the afternoon.

David!

I learned at one point that the Obamas were in the next building at the same time we were at the Uffizi, so that’s pretty neat. In the Uffizi we got to see a variety of incredible art, including works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, and Botticelli. After the Uffizi, I attempted to go to the Galileo museum, but it was closed on Tuesday. What a bummer. I kept walking for a while, though, and found my way into an anthropology museum! It was incredible–there were works by multiple famous ethnographers and artifacts from civilizations I had only read about in books. I explored town a little more before meeting back up with a group at the leather market, where I bought some souvenirs for my family. We ate another fancy dinner, and then worked on our papers for class before calling it a night.

Wednesday morning, we departed for Siena. We arrived shortly at the small medieval town, checked into the hotel, and left to tour. We toured the Siena government building, which had incredible works of art everywhere from the floors to the ceilings. We got a bit of free time to roam around, before we had a tour of the cathedral. The Siena cathedral was, dare I say, the most impressively unique of all of the churches I visited. The floors were marble, covered in Latin engravings, while the supporting columns were made of striped granite.

Facade of the cathedral in Siena

After this, a group of us got dinner and headed back to work on our papers before going out for the night.

View of Siena from hotel balcony

The next morning, we had a brief stay in Siena before departing for Rome. In the morning, we had a tour of a church that housed both the thumb and the head of St. Catherine of Siena, which was an interesting and humbling experience. After the tour, we were free for the afternoon. I walked around with Michael and some of the guys for a while, visiting a soccer stadium and some shops in the town. I had lunch with a big group at a restaurant that was recommended by the locals, and it may have been the best gnocchi I had on the trip. Later that afternoon, we left for Rome! We checked into our final hotel of the trip and had dinner (a four course meal!), before exploring the city at night and taking pictures at the famous Trevi fountain. What a good life it is.

The Trevi Fountain!

Friday morning, we were up early for another tour. This time, however, it wasn’t in a museum. We got to tour a neighborhood called Quadraro, which has become famous for the way it is utilizing street art to make the area more beautiful. It was a nice change of pace. After Quadraro, we walked toward the center of town and had a mini-tour before splitting off for lunch. We ate lunch at a rooftop McDonalds, which was super legit. We met at the Campo del Fiori in the mid-afternoon and finally made our way to the Roman Forum. As we ascended the Capitoline Hill, I was in awe of the amount of history that had occurred beneath my feet. I thought of the people that had walked there–Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and some of the other most famous (or infamous) orators and governors of all time. We walked on a sidewalk alongside the Forum ruins and I got my first glimpse of the Colosseum. With the Forum on my right, and the Colosseum directly ahead of me, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I started crying–for real, I could not stop crying. My friends looked at me funny and smiled, amused at the girl who loved a place so much she cried. We finally got to tour the Forum, and I listened with rapt attention as Dr. Watson described the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Saturn, and other going-ons of the Forum.

The Arch of Titus, which commends the siege of Jerusalem

After the Forum, we headed toward the Colosseum. We were informed that we would get to go onto the floor of the Colosseum. The floor, as in where gladiators fought and died and some of the most important and real stories in the history of Rome occurred. We entered onto the floor through an arched tunnel, and I couldn’t help but imagine the way it must have felt for someone to have come through that same entrance, unsure about whether they would walk back out. I imagined the thousands of screaming fans, the emperor’s box, and the ceremonies taking place. Nothing was better than that experience for me, I think.

The Colosseum!!

Anyway, after the Colosseum, we had another family dinner, where I performed a rap I had written about Julius Caesar in 8th grade for Dr. Watson. It was singlehandedly one of the best days of my life.

The next morning, we toured a monastery that was still in service and got to go into the catacombs underneath the building. We learned about the history behind the bones; the entire experience was extremely humbling. We walked through Rome, stopping by the Trevi fountain once again, before heading to tour the Pantheon. The Pantheon was absolutely beautiful; sculpted in the classical style during Agrippa’s reign, it looked as if it had not aged a day.

Me inside the Pantheon

After visiting the Pantheon, we took the long hike (about 40 minutes) to the Vatican. We first visited the Vatican museums, which contained some of the most beautiful artwork I had seen. We made our way through to the famous Sistine Chapel, which was, as everything else was, quite unreal. I stared up at the ceiling that was painted by Michelangelo and smiled at the fact that I was really, truly there.

Cathedral at the Vatican

After this, we visited the main cathedral, which was beautiful, and walked around outside for a while before catching a taxi back to the hotel. We ate dinner on our own and then explored the city a little more before heading in for the night.

Our last day in Rome, we got to visit more catacombs and another archaeological site. In the morning, we visited the catacombs, which were extremely impressive (even though they had to move the bones to the lower levels because people kept taking them). We walked around the park area, and then to the archaeological site. We saw a centuries old church and a castle, among other historical buildings. The most fascinating part, however, was the circus ruins. Circuses were where Romans hosted horse races, and there were still ruins from one of the largest circuses in Rome. We also got to walk on a cobblestone path that was one of the most important roads in ancient Rome! This was a major difference between Italy and the U.S.–everywhere I looked there was history underfoot. We had our last dinner in Rome (our last everything, really), and then had to pack up to leave on Monday morning.

Onward, to Switzerland!

The Difference in Health Attitudes Between Europe and the US: Part 2

The Difference in Health Attitudes Between Europe and the US: Part 2

I am a strong believer in only eating all-natural foods. Artificial coloring, preservatives, even so-called “natural” flavors are big no-nos with serious health effects. I’m didn’t just jump on a health-food bandwagon; there is real science that shows our bodies aren’t designed to handle all those chemical additives. Organic food is what humans evolved to eat; all those extra unpronounceable ingredients really do cause cancer and neurological disorders and all other sorts of problems, and yet here in America we gobble them down without a second thought. Organic and all-natural options are hard to find and usually come with a hefty price tag.

Fresh Milk Machine in Ljubljana
The ultimate example of organic food in Europe: the milk dispenser in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a high-tech machine that provides extremely cheap, fresh, local milk. Liter-sized bottles to dispense the milk into are also available for about a euro.

In Europe, organic and all-natural food is readily available and cheap. Even the Walgreens-style drugstore had entire shelves full of all-natural shampoo, soap, and conditioner; at home, I have to visit Natural Grocers or order it online. Not everything is all-natural, but the percentage of food that I could eat was so much higher than in the US.

In addition, and also in direct correlation, to this, weight extremes are a much smaller problem in Europe than in America. Some people were very overweight, and some people were far too skinny, yet I never saw either of the extremes that are fairly common in America. Grocery stores don’t provide electric scooters, and I never saw a girl with such stick-thin legs than I worried she wouldn’t actually be able to walk on them.

The difference isn’t only in what Europeans tend to eat: they also are far more active as a part of their daily routines. In the US, everyone owns a car and drives everywhere; exercise is something we do in the evening or on the weekends in order to “stay fit.” In Europe, people walk to the grocery store and then carry their heavy bags home, and take a bus or train and then walk a few blocks to work. Of course people still lift weights and run in the park and bike on the weekends, but their daily lives are already less sedentary than ours are. This level of constant, non-strenuous activity keeps them extremely fit for their whole lives; I regularly saw tiny 90-year-old ladies slowly but competently make their way through the supermarket and then get on the tram to go home.

After my observations in Europe, I wouldn’t say that either America or Europe is healthier than the other; we simply have focused our negative health habits in different areas. Europeans smoke a ton but are also more active and eat healthier food; Americans are more wary of cigarettes but drive everywhere and eat bright blue cake. Is one better than the other? Maybe not, but by combining both sets of health ideologies, it’s possible to have the best of both health worlds. All we have to do is commit to being truly healthy.

The Difference in Health Attitudes Between Europe and the US: Part 1

The Difference in Health Attitudes Between Europe and the US: Part 1

One of the most difficult things for me to adjust to about living in Austria wasn’t the language or the public transportation or the frustratingly limited opening hours of supermarkets. No, one of the hardest things for me to deal with was the omnipresence of people smoking.

I have always been extremely sensitive to strong smells; even the perfume in most shampoos and hand lotions is too strong and chemically for me to withstand. But cigarette smoke has always been one of the hardest things for me to deal with; I can’t breathe with it nearby, and it gives me an instant, piercing headache.

I had read before that Europe has a higher concentration of heavy smokers than America does, but I didn’t really understand what that would be like until I was in Austria. Cigarettes and smoke were everywhere: every bus and tram stop had a perpetually full ashtray, outdoor seating at restaurants smelled more of smoke than of food, and the entryway to every store was an impossible gauntlet of unbreathable air.

There wasn’t much I could do about any of it, except look for restaurants with non-smoking rooms and practice my shallow breathing skills. That, and silently judge all the people around me who didn’t seem to care that cigarettes are, you know, lethal. At least in America, we have a lot of laws and taxes and educational programs in place to prevent such rampant smoking. At least we care about our health, right?

But then I stopped myself. Yes, cigarettes are terrible and kill people. Yes, from my experience, fewer Americans smoke than Europeans. But Americans aren’t really any more health conscious than our neighbors across the pond; we just focus our health problems in different fields. What are Europeans doing right that we should emulate? See part 2 of my blog post :)

Week One: Arezzo, Italy

Now that I’m back in the states, I finally have access to my computer and I’ve had time to process the many notes I made throughout my trips and condense them into blog posts.

I can honestly say that studying abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life. I know that everyone says that, but I am now a firm believer that a change of pace (and location) changes everything.

My journey began with the PLC Italy trip. I arrived at the Kansas City airport at 5am, and my flight left at 6:05 (not gonna lie, they called my name to the gate–I was cutting it pretty close.) At any rate, I took a short flight to Dallas, where I met my friend Michael, who was on the same flight as me to Rome. As we waited in the airport, more students from our group began to arrive. It was an odd concept for me to grasp seeing everyone in a non-school context, and especially not in Norman. We boarded the flight around 12:30 and set off for our adventure.

The flight was relatively non-interesting. I watched movies, read my book for class (SPQR by Mary Beard), and talked to friends sitting around me. We arrived in Rome after 9 short hours and I got off the plane and tried to take it all in. I was in Rome–THE Rome I’ve read about and seen in movies for as long as I can remember. The pinnacle of a successful society which defined many modern structures, from architecture and music to government and warfare. Rome.

We sat in the airport for a while, and then my group left for Arezzo. It was a two hour bus ride, but I slept the whole way. We arrived at Arezzo, unloaded our items at the monastery, and took a tour of the monastery and the small city which would be our host for a week. I had my first Italian gelato and real Italian pizza, and I knew that this would be one of the best weeks of my life.

The next day, we had orientation at the annex (OU’s other classroom building in Arezzo). We learned all about navigating Arezzo, very basic Italian, and the structure of the week’s activities. After that, we visited a basilica in Arezzo, which had breathtaking frescoes. We had the rest of the afternoon free, and I went with some friends to the edge of the city and sat on the medieval walls enjoying the view. For dinner, we ate with our family groups, small groups of ten which were led by a faculty member. My faculty member was our professor for the class, Dr. Watson. He was absolutely incredible, and as I talked to him at dinner about my interests in anthropology and archaeology, he informed me that there was an OU professor who did Roman digs in Italy–a future opportunity to come back!

On Wednesday, we had our first actual class lecture. We arrived at the annex and Dr. Watson began teaching us the history of Rome, even from its mythological origins. I learned a lot more than I gained from the book, which was really cool. After class, we had a tour at the Arezzo amphitheater and archaeology museum. The amphitheater was a small colosseum, and I could only imagine just how large The Colosseum(TM) would really be. The archaeology museum was also amazing; it included a ton of Etruscan art (Arezzo, or Aretium, was first an Etruscan town).

Chillin at the archaeological museum

In the late afternoon, we had our vineyard tour! We walked towards the outskirts of Arezzo, to a beautiful vineyard on the side of a hill. We got to learn about how the vines grew, how the wine was made, and at the end of the tour, we had a wine tasting and some bruschetta. It was an absolutely incredible place, and it was Italy as I had imagined it. We had another family dinner after the winery, got gelato as a group, and headed back to the monastery for the night.

Frolicking in a Tuscan vineyard

The next morning, we had another class lecture with Dr. Watson, where we explored the beginning of the empire further. After class, we had another archaeological tour, this one at the Pionta. This site was an old Roman church that had been taken apart so that the stones could be used in the construction of other buildings. There was another, newer church on the site, and we were able to go down into the crypt of this church, where I got to see real human bones. After the visit, we went to lunch at the crepe place and had the afternoon free (I took a nap). We had another family dinner, this time at a super fancy outdoor restaurant, and then a large part of our group went to the bar that was under the annex for a wild time.

On Friday, we had our last class in Arezzo, in which Dr. Watson talked about the expansion and success of the empire and its eventual demise. We took an afternoon trip out of town to Rondine, a site where people come from different countries that are in conflict with one another to work and learn together. It was interesting, for sure, but it didn’t seem like the people that were there enjoyed it all that much. For dinner, me and a group of friends headed to a very quaint little restaurant in Arezzo. I had some incredibly good gnocchi. We finished out the night watching a movie and headed to bed kind of early.

The next day, we didn’t have class in the morning, but instead took a group trip to the flea market. It was a really cool experience, but I didn’t see anything I really wanted to spend money on–except cherries. I bought an entire bag of fresh cherries, and they were some of the freshest, best-tasting cherries I had ever eaten.

Some neat flowers at the flea market

We got a light lunch afterwards (crepes) and I headed back to the monastery to prepare for our pasta making session. Pasta making was super fun; we got to make everything from gnocchi to ravioli, starting with only an egg and some flour. Our pastas even turned out to be quite edible. Later that night, it was karaoke night at this bar called My Way, so a bunch of us ended up singing random songs with some OU basketball players who also happened to be studying in Arezzo. It was a good farewell to the lovely city.

Our last day in Arezzo wasn’t really in Arezzo; we had a free day, which meant that we could go practically anywhere we wanted within the time frame. I went with a group that first visited Pisa (Galileo’s birthplace!!), and then Viareggio, a cute little beach town on the western coast of Italy. In Pisa, we walked around for a bit, had breakfast, and visited the leaning tower, of course.

The leaning tower!!

We caught our next train to Viareggio, where we got to chill on the beach near the mountains. It was an absolutely incredible view. We got a late lunch at a seaside cafe, and then headed back on the train to Arezzo.

Beach day at Viareggio

For dinner, we had a cute little picnic in the courtyard of the monastery, and took some final pics before heading to bed and preparing to leave for Florence the next morning.

My first week of international travel was better than i could have ever imagined. I learned more about the Romans, about people, and about myself, than I had in a really long time.

Moving in with my host family!

This week I moved to stay with my host family for the rest of my time in Germany. After spending more than four months in my student dorm near my university, I am excited to be able to get a better feel for regular life in Germany. While staying in the student dorm is convenient, many of the students there only speak English (or another language) and are often busy with classes and exams. Now that I will be staying with a German family for the next two weeks, I already feel more at home!

The family I am staying with lives around one-hour north of Bochum. I’m still going to campus everyday since I am in the process of preparing for finals which take place a few weeks after lectures are finished. Even though the commute is significantly longer, I have the opportunity most mornings to have breakfast with the family. When possible, I will travel with the father and he will drop me off at one of the subway stations nearby his workplace.

I’ve only been with this family for a few days now, and I can already say that unsurprisingly some stereotypes relating to Germans are true and some are outright wrong. For example, Germans are known to be straight to the point when they talk, almost to the point of appearing rude in certain cases. This is certainly true with this family, as evidenced by our attempt yesterday to decide what we should do after dinner. They were decisive enough to quickly decide on a card game.

Another common stereotype is that Germans are not friendly or are downright cold. While this may be true for strangers, I have found that once I get to know anyone here on a slightly more personal level (which entails having spoken to them more than a few sentences) they are willing to answer everything to their best knowledge. In fact, I have found that they are very thorough in answering any questions I have for them. For example, I asked the father of the family yesterday about his video game collection and what he thought about his games, and he said something about every single game on his shelf! I feel like most Americans would simply make general comments or only comment on a few games.

Even though I have been busy the last few days wrapping up a few things and moving from my student dorm to my host family, I am immensely grateful for the change of environment. I think it has allowed me to clear my mind in order to prepare for my upcoming finals here in Germany. More importantly, I am excited to finally be fully immersed with the language around me now that I also can always speak German at home!

Leaving Security, Choosing Joy

Wow. I don’t even know where to start this post, honestly.

Maybe with Proverbs 16:9. “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” How true this is. And how good this is.

Since I was 16, my plans were to graduate with a nursing degree and come out of college with a solid career that would give me good pay, good hours, and a good job security. As a nurse, I would make a lot of money and not really have to worry about the future. It was my security blanket.

So I ignored the still, small voice that reminded me that I hate the smell of hospitals. Ignored the quiver in my stomach every time someone talked about blood. Struggled and cried my way through the science classes that I knew deep down were not my passion. Put on a brave smiling face and told everyone that nursing was my passion because I was afraid to admit that I was only choosing this path out of a fear of the unknown. Submitted my application to nursing school and rejoiced over my acceptance letter because it was my ticket to a life of comfort and security. Or so I thought.

It’s funny how your decisions will eventually catch up with you.

As I was driving around the campus of the OKC Health Sciences center after meeting with my enrollment advisor, I had the moment. You know, the moment when everything catches up with you and you realize you’ve made a ginormous mistake? The moment when the tears come faster than your brain realizes what’s happening and you spend 45 minutes driving the same loop because your heart and your brain and your spirit are all saying something different? The moment when the truth shines through and you stop and wonder why you’ve been lying to yourself for the past five years? Yep, it was that moment.

I realized that the passions that the Lord had placed in my heart were not for nursing. It was my own fleshly passions for comfort, security, and a clear life path that had driven me to pursue this path. I hate blood. I hate hospitals. I hate vomit. I hate needles. I’m not good at comforting sick and hurting people. I have no desire to spend two years studying pharmacology and how to give an IV or a shot. (It honestly feels good to confess this after years and years of pretending that I liked it.) It’s crazy how a desire for pleasure and comfort can be used by the enemy to bring so many lies and so much deception until it’s hard to distinguish what is true and what is not.

But the light has finally come on. The truth has finally come out. I’ve talked with my parents and with other people whose judgement I trust who have helped me to see truth and to pursue it in my life. I’m still working on letting go of the pride that has kept me wrapped up in the identity of a nursing student for so long. I’m still working on facing the fear of an uncertain future that comes with changing a plan I’ve held onto for five years. But I know that no matter what happens, the Lord will determine my steps.

So I’m majoring in Spanish. Basically the opposite of nursing, there’s no real secure or certain path that follows graduating with a degree in Spanish. What I do know, though, is that the Lord has given me a desire to communicate with people, a desire to make them feel comfortable and safe and loved. He has given me the ability to learn languages and to use them. He has been so gracious in tenderly guiding me towards the path that will give me joy rather than security, because in the end, He, not my career or my major, is my only security. I don’t have to know what I’m doing after graduation (or even what I’m doing tomorrow) because He already knows. And his plan is infinitely more beautiful and unique and glorifying than my plan could ever be.

So I’m trusting. I’m letting go of pride. I’m letting go of my identity. I’m pursuing the passions that He’s placed inside of me because they are there for a reason. I’m letting go of fear of the future, of the fear of other people’s judgement, and of a fear of failure and instead believing that He will make my life beautiful and pleasing to Him.

Praise the Lord for freedom. Praise Him for truth. Don’t allow a desire for comfort or security to smother the truth about who you are and what you were made to do. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Live the life He made you to live, because that life is the only life that can truly satisfy.

Spain: Saying Goodbye

Though my last two posts have focused on exciting side-trips, most of my time in Spain was spent in class. The combination of those classes and the necessity of using Spanish in most situations caused my Spanish abilities, and my confidence in them, to improve a lot, which was my primary goal for the summer. Outside of Spanish, I was also able to learn an extraordinary amount about art history, Spanish history, and literature. I’ve been able to go to art museums and truly analyze the paintings, visit monuments and understand their significance, and recognize Spanish literature and analyze the contents within. After two months of intensive coursework and restless exploration of all that Alcalá and Madrid have to offer, I’m exhausted. I’m going to miss Spain, and all of the excitement I’ve had here, but I’m also ready to go home to rest and reflect before the fall semester begins. This blog only scratches the surface of my experiences, and I’ve failed to mention many of the ups and almost all of the downs. Without delving too much into minutiae, its not only my Spanish and my knowledge gained in class that have grown on this trip, but also my comfort zone and my self-confidence in stepping outside of it and navigating a foreign country on my own. To conclude, here are some final pictures from my second month in Spain.

Córdoba, Granada y Sevilla

View from the Torre de Oro in Seville

Since I am staying here for two months rather than one, I had a five day break in between the June and July classes. Some other OU students and I used this time to explore more of southern Spain. We spent a day in Córdoba and two days each in Granada and Seville.

 

 

In Córdoba, our first stop was the Mezquita-Catedral. Back during the 8th through 15th centuries, Córdoba was the cultural capital of the Iberian Peninsula. This was the period when the Muslim Caliphate extended through Spain, so the mosque there has a lot of historical and cultural significance. After the reconquista, when the Spanish Catholics reclaimed the peninsula, a cathedral was built in the middle of the mosque, and daily masses have been held there since. We also saw the Córdoba Alcazar (or fortress). The grounds of the fortress were beautiful and there were old Roman and Visigoth mosaics and pottery displayed throughout.

In Granada, we spent out first day visiting the Granada cathedral and an open air market as well as just exploring the city. The next morning, we began the long hike up to the Alhambra, which is widely known as Granada’s most famous monument. Granada was the last province of Spain to be retaken by Ferdinand and Isabella during the reconquista, which ended in 1492. The Alhambra is a large palace and fortress complex where the last Sultan of Granada ruled until it was converted into the Royal Court for Ferdinand and Isabella. Since it is a well-fortified citadel, it is located on a large hill and offers stunning views of the city below. After a long visit there, we got on a bus headed to Seville.

In Seville we did much of the same, touring the Sevilla Alcazar (which was a filming location for Game of Thrones) and the Torre de Oro. We’d also been told that there was a palace in Seville which had been used as one of the filming locations for Naboo in Attack of the Clones. Unfortunately, there are four palaces in Seville, and we had no idea which one was correct nor wifi with which we could find out. Over the course of the weekend, we walked to three of the four palaces only to be met with disappointment. Ultimately on Sunday, we abandoned the search and went to an archeological museum instead. Returning from the museum, I looked down at my map and suggested we walk through a park where there was a plaza called Plaza de España which looked interesting. As we drew closer to the plaza, we realized that we had accidentally ended up in Naboo. I’m not sure if this is because I’m a huge nerd or just because the plaza itself was stunning, but it was one of my favorite places I’d seen all trip.

Speaking of favorites, on Saturday night we went out to see a flamenco show. The association of Spain and flamenco may seem ubiquitous, but the dance form actually only hails from Spain’s southern region, Andalusia, and it is there, especially in the city of Seville, where it continues to be widely popular with dance aficionados, tourists, and locals alike. I’d seen flamenco performed once before as part of a school showcase. This performance was very different as it took place in a crowded bar on a small stage with only a single singer/guitarist as accompanist to the dancer. I was very impressed by the complicated clapping and footwork involved, as well as the strong emotion poured into the singing and the dancer’s movements. I always enjoy watching dance, and have been able to see several performances while here in Spain, but watching such a well performed example of a traditional Spanish dance in its birthplace was a special treat. Enjoy the photos below!