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"I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things." --Antoine de St-Exupery

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Halfway Done?

Hard to believe, but it's true. Today marks the exact middle of my trip. 9 weeks in, 9 week to go. I think I'm in a good place right now though when I think about being halfway done. I'm not feeling terribly sad that I only have 9 weeks left and I'm not feeling like I'm ready to go home sooner. I'm excited to go home and see everyone, but I'm also excited for everything that's coming before. I think that's a good place to be.

As I said in my last post, midterms happened last week. They went pretty well, but I'm still glad their over. Not nearly as hard as Madison exams where you have 150 pages of a book to basically memorize, but it's all in Spanish, which makes the 60 pages or so a little more difficult to solidify in my mind. I think my Spanish overall has been getting better but not as much as I thought it would. Still time to fix that though.

After exams, a group of five of us celebrated by going to Paris!! To start, you definitely need more than 48 hours in that city. It is amazing. We got there on Friday and after settling into our hostel, we went straight to the Louvre (for free too!). We saw the Mona Lisa, some of Michelangelo's work, and a lot of new pieces that I really enjoyed.

Then we went to the Eiffel Tower to see it at night, even though it was raining. The best word I can find to define that night: enchanting. I didn't expect it to be as impressive as it was. I've seen x number of pictures of the Eiffel Tower so I guess I thought I'd seen all there was to see of it? I'm not sure. All I can say is that I was wrong. It was amazing. We grabbed some nutella-banana crepes and hung out taking pictures for probably close to an hour. This is in tie for the number one moment of Paris.

Delicious crepe.

The next day, after navigating the metro, we went to the Arc de Triomphe and saw the Opera Garnier (Phantom of the Opera). Then to the Musee de L'Orangerie, which is what the Eiffel Tower is tied for first place for the best moment in Paris. The museum has two oval rooms that are two different scenes painted by Monet, "The Water Lilies". One is full of his famous water lilies and the other includes weeping willows. However, before you enter to the rooms, you go through a white room that has nothing in it and was designed by Monet as a decompression space between "the city's agitation" and his work. I love Monet and walking in there was an amazing feeling. The way he created this peaceful environment was completely unexpected and great. We were there for about an hour. There was more art downstairs as well that we were able to see. But those rooms are another new happy place to go to when feeling stressed, that's for sure. 


After that, we headed to the Notre Dame. Another breathtaking place. There is so much history there that you just get this overwhelming feeling when you walk in. Even sitting outside eating our croque monsieurs was amazing. Unfortunatley we didn't go up the towers. It was very cold (in the 40s) and we were not dressed appropriately and the line was very long. Guess I'll have to save that for the next trip :)
My friend Rosie (who is studying in Paris!) and I

Then we walked around for a bit, stopping for more crepes, and went to Shakespeare and Company which is a bookstore that housed writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway back in the day. We then went to the Montmartre area and saw the Sacre Coeur which is another beautiful basilica. Right outside it was a great view of the city.
That night we went to a nice dinner with my friend Rosie from Madison who is studying in Paris. We had also gotten to see another friend of mine who is studying there as well on Friday. Rosie then showed us the Moulin Rouge, Hotel de Dieu, the Bastille Prision, and another wonderful crepe stand. The next morning we ended our trip with another visit to the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately we had to leave before the lift was open to go to the top, but I guess that will be another thing to look forward to next time :)
Au revoir/Hasta luego!!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning in Class?

I had a very relaxing, family weekend, and that will be the same for the next week or so. Next week we have midterms, so I'll need to be actually studying unlike the past month. Crazy that it has already been a month that I've had actual classes. I have learned a number of things however, many outside of class:

1) Spain living (as expected) is very different than American living. Although I've gotten used to eating a tostada (basically toast, sometimes with meat on it) at 10am, a bigger lunch at 3:30pm, a snack at 7pm (sometimes not even necessary), and a smaller dinner at 10pm, there are some things that strike me as even more different. For example, there is siesta time. It is usually between 3-5:30 or so. Obviously this sounded amazing when coming over, and still is an enjoyable time; the whole city basically shuts down. I forget that occasionally and find myself planning to run a quick errand after my 4:30 class, but unfortunately that is never an option. In general, it seems much more laid back here which on one hand is great. They really enjoy life and don't have to make time for family, fun or anything else. Enjoyment is number one on their list. And that is great. But on the other hand, they are going through a major economic crisis right now and sometimes I can't help but think that they could maybe be doing more. I'm probably out of place by saying that, but the time that is spent on some things I can't help but wonder if it really needs so much time. I am in no way judging, since I am living this way as well and enjoying it, but it's just interesting to compare. All cultures have their strengths and weaknesses, my own and the one I'm living in now included.

2) People are more similar than they are different. Coming here, I thought I would be thrown into this totally different world, which in some senses I am. As I said, the lifestyle and culture are very different. I had also thought that the people would be very different, more proper due to all the style tips I got before I left about not bringing too many t-shirts or sweats. But in reality, everyone here is just living their lives like everyone at home. They just have different hobbies, different histories, different upbringings, and speak Spanish. Listing it out makes it seem pretty different I guess, but it seems like lives everywhere follow the same basic strategic plan: you're born, learn to walk and talk, go to school, learn about your country's history, go on field trips, find your hobbies, etc. The steps are more similar than I had thought. I was surprised when I wasn't faced with the shock of how different life was or the feeling of intense homesickness that I had prepared myself for. At first I took that as a bad thing. I didn't think I was living in the culture enough, not putting myself out there enough. Then I thought, I'm in Spain, not seeing my family or friends for over four months, living with a family I didn't know the names of until two days before I moved in. I think that's pretty out of the box. So then I got to wondering why I wasn't homesick or anything, and I realized it was because everything was already a little bit familiar. My host mom is still a typical mom making sure I have sunscreen, my 10 year old sister Paula is still a typical 10-year-old, I still attend a university although they may grade differently and speak in Spanish, and I've still found friends that I like to do things with. I think that I was so focused on finding the differences that I was almost disappointed in myself when I could only find a few. I didn't realize that it was because there are so many similarities in the people who are simply living in a different culture. There are definitely differences, don't get me wrong, but the regular phrases such as "boys will be boys" and "mother knows best" still stand here.

3) Retention of imagination is very very necessary. A few weeks ago I spent the day with my 10-year-old sister Paula. The things she would find for us to do were numerous and I'm sure she didn't even pull out all the stops. Putting on plays, doing science experiments, drawing, singing, and a lot of dancing just highlight some of what we did. There was a TV show or two in that mix as well, but I got to thinking about how these were things that we would do as kids as well and how now, TV, the internet, cell phones, Facebook, etc. seem to dominate our lives. Not that technology is a bad thing, I love it, but the ability to entertain yourself without it may seem impossible to some. After that day, yes I still watch some TV shows online and yes I still have a Facebook account, but I've also spent more time sketching, more time outside even if it's just to go for a walk, and more time talking with people than I had been since I'd gotten here. Technology can be and is a great thing, and the people who came up with it all had amazing imaginations. I do not think it was even close to their intentions to take away our imagination with theirs, so being aware that imagination needs to be kept intact is important to have in the back of my mind.

4) Something that I've learned from an actual class is the reason why we English speakers have such an issue pronouncing the "rr" in Spanish words. For the most part, we suck at rolling our r's. My "Phonology and Phonetics" class has taught me why. In our mind, we have abstract symbols that we associate with sounds. These symbols are different in every language and we learn them at a young age. There are also slight changes made in these symbols that we still somehow relate to one thing in our mind. For example, the "a" sounds different between the words "cat" and "have", yet our mind still knows it is an "a". Well, in Spanish, there are two different abstract symbols for the sound "r" and the sound "rr". In English, we only have "r". We also have an abstract symbol for "th" in our minds whereas they do not in Spanish. There is a significant difference between "then" and "den", but for them, "dedo" and "detho" will have the same meaning in their minds. Maybe that's just me being a nerd, but I think that's interesting. Guess it's good I like and am learning in, at the least, one class!

Something else I've learned is that I am a pro procrastinator over here, even more so than in Madison. So with that, off to finish my homework I go!