Friday, August 23, 2013

Off and Away

It's officially been my longest non-blog-writing streak, but I've decided to make some changes to help this.

Tomorrow I am headed off to Europe, where I will spending a semester studying abroad at the University of Seville in Spain. I've created a blog on WordPress that will probably be updated more frequently than this one, as it will be more media-based versus writing-based. My longer posts with descriptions, stories, and all that jazz will be updated on this blog, while I find WordPress a bit more suited to handle all of the millions of pictures I take over time.

I'll be spending the next week with family in the Netherlands, before I fly off to Spain to visit Caroline for a few days in Madrid.

Two summers after our big departure in Madrid, I'm finally heading back. What's weird is how long ago exchange feels, and 'how young' we all claim to have been. Three years have passed since I was packing and heading off to New York for orientation, and I'm in the same situation again. It's like repeating something from your childhood...except...not quite.

Hard to explain.

Packing-

First things first. I'll be bringing two checked bags to Spain versus the one I took during my year abroad. Why? Because I plan to buy the least amount of things possible, so I'm just taking it all over. I know the styles, I know what I missed last time, and I know that no matter how much time you spend packing you'll always end up bringing things over you won't need, and leaving things at home you wish you'd brought.

Housing-

I won't be staying with a  host family! I've graduated. I'll be in a shared apartment, be responsible for my own meals, etc. It was my first choice and I just got my placement yesterday. It looks like I'm really close to the University, which is good, because from what I can tell the nearest bus stop is about 3/4ths the walk to the university. The University is beautiful by the way, I'd post pictures but prefer to post only what I, myself take, so those'll have to wait.

Still don't know who my roommates will be, or when they will be arriving, but that doesn't really bother me too much. I didn't know my college roommate before I got there, and things couldn't have worked out better.

Classes-

Classes for me can be taken at three different places. One- at the study abroad center (CIEE) with other CIEE students. Two- Direct enrollment at the university with other Spanish students. And three- at the university, but classes specially designed for exchange students. Exams can range from anywhere between December 12th until the end of January, depending on where I take them. This will influence my choice a bit, as although I am guaranteed housing until my exams end, I'm not sure if I want to be sticking around an entire month for just one or two exams. We'll see.

Trips, traveling, galore-

WE GO TO MOROCCO!!! One of the things on my bucket list. We got our itinerary about last week and we have  a few excursions planned. Good stuff.

For now that's about all, I'll post again with some type of news.

Keep updated with my "photo blog continuation" on WordPress at Mary Beth Abroad.

( www.marybethabroad.wordpress.com )

"Y'all come back now,"

-mb


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Morning Report

It's not writer's block. All the ideas are here. It's not a lack of interest. I'd throw everything away if that were the case. It's not that things are changing. My intent it still to have an active blog.

Perhaps it is the lack of discipline. To make the time, sit down, and write about the millions of ideas and things that go through my head every single minute of the day. Have you ever tried pouring water into a bottle from a pitcher? Typically you need a funnel to make your life easier. But even then you can't go too fast without making a mess.

My apologies for the "No-Post November." Deep down inside I like to blame it for my lack of time, while very true I think it's always possible to make room for the little things.


To touch on a variety of topics, here is the morning report. I'll give you the long, and the short.


I went to college loving to write. Loving to blog. Loving to travel, and take pictures. I went to college as a Mass Communications major.

That didn't last long.

The major, that is.

Currently I'm listed as an International Business major at Loyola University in New Orleans. Thank you to my teacher who took a point off when I wrote "University of Loyola" on my report. I won't ever mess that up again.

However, things may change. There's no need to major in Spanish when Spanish is your first language, and there's no need to major in International Business when so many things in your life already make you international. So marketing, management, or something else may be my new trend later on. But for now I'm sticking close to home with IB.

And this is where AFS come into play.

The more time that passes, the more I am confused why parents don't let their kid go on exchange. Sure every kid is different, but in most cases comes down to one thing. The parents are selfish.

There you go. I've called you out, parents. You are simply too selfish for not letting your kid leave you.

And it's as simple as that.



The fact that I have gone on exchange before going to college is what gives me a leg up, and is what is going to get me in the door before many others. In the competitive world we live in today, it is crucial, now more than ever, to be playing in the same game with everyone else. Take a soccer match as an example. Have you ever seen a player not wear cleats? Certainly not. That would put them at a disadvantage. So let's say everyone is "made equal" so to speak. They all have the same equipment. Play on the same turf, and play with the same soccer ball. Everyone was required to try out for the team (think: apply for college), get accepted, and practice with the rest (think: study).

Now think, exchange.

Initially, it's all exciting. You figure things out. Experience new things. Go through ups and downs. Start out weak, and grow. In soccer, you develop skills. Build relationships with team members, etc.

The more games you play, the better you play your next one.

So, your first abroad experience is like playing your first soccer game. But here is where things get tricky. So many college students play their first game in college. Game One.



How many college students have already played the game?




Oh, you have! Good. Although I have not met anyone so far from my university that was a high school exchange student, here's where so many people go wrong.

News to you, you are not at the top of the totem pole.
Look at all of the international students who are kicking our rear ends.

In other words, all of the international students at my school have most of the core competencies I thought I had, too. Many went to a bilingual or English speaking school, and have two languages down flat. They go to school here in the US, and go home to their home countries over break.

You can't win in a tie.

Makes me feel bad for those who didn't even make it to the tie, though. I'd hate to have all of that catch-up to do, just to enter the competitive field. Granted, you may be going for a major that is completely unrelated, so it's not like this applies to everyone.

The bottom line? Whatever you do, make sure you are equipped with everything you need to put you at the competitive level. Once you're at that level, it's your job to get the edge, and win the game.

Just remember, not all games can be won,
and no 'one' can win all games.




Back to my life story.

On campus, I'm involved in quite a lot. International Buddies, International Student Association, Sorority, Ambassadors, and will be working as an English tutor next semester. I'm taking 18 hours including three business classes, history (common curriculum), Spanish, and Italian. Since I was able to skip the first level, Italian is just my "fun" class, something for my personal interest.

  • Fall 2013 I will be on exchange again! Yay! Just now to figure out where.....

    *repeats blog from beginning*

I'm quite excited, for a variety of reasons. One, as mentioned before, I've already played one game. Even though changing continents can sometimes be the equivalent to changing from soccer to baseball, I think I have a certain guaranteed % of having more success. There's so much more to learn, and it's nice already have been through the routine once before. Depending on where I go, I'll probably stay with a host family. In order to broaden my international range, I'm looking at Latin America, and thinking about trying to pick up Portuguese. ...We'll see.

  • The big project over holiday break is looking for an internship. I am coming to the conclusion that this is more difficult than choosing and applying to a university. Options. Choices. Essays. Acceptance.

  • I'm convinced that my life will forever be AFS. There's not much I can do about it. At first I tried to deny it, although I've come to accept it now. In a typical day I will talk/email to people from 4 different time zones, and type/chat in 2 different languages. The number of languages spoken between those 4 different people is around 5. When I go to the post office, I'm mailing more international than national cards. My iTunes has quite the collection of foreign jams, and all of this is my normal routine. Living in Atlanta is a bit strange, since I only have one friend here (whom I met through AFS). I'll remind readers that this is because we moved here right before I went to university.

Photo Credit: Olivia Seal
  • Speaking of the end of the world, I can assure you all that we are pretty safe. And if we're not, I'll make sure to post the latest news from my friends in New Zealand. They are almost one full day ahead of us, remember.

  • The terrible disaster in CT was ten minutes away from my friend's high school. Also another AFSer. Things like this make me laugh when people say that going on exchange "is too dangerous." Have we taken a look at the country we live in today? Someone needs to connect the dots why this doesn't happen in other countries. Not saying that there aren't worse, but there are better.

  • I'd like to throw out a congratulations to all of the "Viaggio Italiano" scholarship winners. Always feels nice to give back to AFS, this time around as a judge. After reading a handful of essays, I recognized many of the winners. I am not to give out any information on details, but am at liberty to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading the essays in response to a question about how you would handle "the worst day" during exchange. A few of you nailed it on the head. I did not, did not, did not read every one's essays. Just some.

  • My mind is still stuck in fall, or late summer for that matter. New Orleans is a tropical rain forest. It's weird, because the more places I go to in the US, the more I realize how different one place is from another. I always kind of saw our country as being more or less the same overall, and even though it is in many respects, there are a lot more inner-cultural differences than I thought.

  • Sorority? Yeaaaah I'm in one of those. It surprises many people when they hear that. My biggest struggle with it is how people start to think that sorority is a characteristic of them. Joining a group, to me, doesn't make you a better person. Other people can impact your life, but not a color or a symbol. College is a lot more like high school than I thought it would be. "High school on wheels" I like to call it. It's easier to get away on wheels. We don't have houses, though, I still live in a dorm. Although now in 2012 the term "dorm" is a derogatory term, and we as ambassadors must use "residential halls" instead. Same thing with the word "rush" in sorority. We have to call it "recruitment" instead. Anyhow, one day a few weeks ago a fellow friend was talking about how she wants to go on exchange. But she doesn't know when, because HEAVEN FORBID WE MISS RECRUITMENT NEXT YEAR. A bunch of "nods" and "yeahs" of others in the car followed. I wanted to run out of the car and shatter something.

    SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE, PEOPLE. SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE.3 days of recruiting freshman members into a group that you will only be in for three more semesters?What in society has corrupted us into thinking that these current day things, such as sorority, prom, or high school sports are so life changing? College in many ways has been good, because it's taught me to just keep my mouth sealed and not even try to put the energy into things like this. Although I just wrote about it, so I guess that makes me a bit of a hypocrite.

  • Everyone should get Google+, and even though I myself have not really figured the whole thing out, it appears to me that it can function the same as Skype, but with up to 9 people. It's also combined the format of Facebook, Twitter, and Pintrest all together. Even though I don't have the last two, some friends of mine claim they are going to start a website posting different quotes and catchphrases I say throughout the day. Hmm...

  • I have watched a few movies via YouTube. Lion King was one of them a few weeks ago. All in Spanish, of course. It is quite entertaining to see how these things are translated and I hope everyone gets the opportunity to be able to experience this hilarious phenomenon. The best is when they translate songs, like in The Sound of Music or The Last Song. It's interesting.



So I'll leave it at that, a bunch of rambling, but next will be, finally, about the trip to Graz. Backtracking to my excursion this past summer.

Enjoy the holidays- we were finally able to get rid of our snow blower and shovels this year. Our university actually had a professional snow company come out and make a pile of fake "sneaux" for the community to play in... It was about 65 degrees out that night.




"Not sure which is worse, the mind numbingly ignorant people, or the people who think they know everything about world."
-Catherine James













  Feliz Navidad, chicos.
-mb



PS- Props to those who got the "o-say-a"/frustration joke.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

180ยบ

"There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning."
-Jiddu Krishnamurti

Before October comes to a closing end, I should post at least the smallest tidbit of information before my favorite month is over. Two years ago, I would have never been able to predict my future.



Here I am, sitting at my desk, looking out my window to a beautiful fall afternoon. In fifteen minutes my philosophy class will start, a teacher will get up to teach, and a group of students will come to class. A few students may arrive late, while some may not arrive at all. Some will sit and listen, while others will take notes. Various students will check their smart phones periodically to see what their friend's Halloween plans are, while others will just surf the web. The class is fifty minutes long, talking about a given reading assignment we were to do on our own. The level of comprehension is not based on intelligence, but rather how well we are informed.




To recap October, university has been going great. I've been staying involved in plenty of activities, but most of all I have noticed one thing stands out in particular...

I have learned more in the first half of one semester than any other semester in my life. Academically speaking, that is.



Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to take a survey called "StrengthsQuest." This online survey gives us a well informed, scientific idea about what our greatest qualities are, and a brief description of them. The welcome week activities held the week before class started included a guest speaker from the company, who described the science behind this process.

Usually when I am dealing with the topic of "strengths, qualities, etc." I am dealing with the topic of intercultural activities. Hence AFS.

My "Top 5"?:

Activator
Learner
Achiever
Command
Adaptability

The only one I was surprised about was "Learner."


Recently I have noticed a change in how I get things done. Schoolwork, class lectures; university life has been the start of a whole new routine. The people I talk to, the discussions I've had- things come to me in new ways that they didn't before. Is that due to guilt knowing the price we pay for university's tuition? Possibly. But whatever the drive is, it's there.

One of every four students in my class will not return next year. This is due to a variety of things such as tuition costs, transfers, or dropouts. The most surprising aspect of attending university has been simply this: people just don't care. They flat out, do not care about going to class, doing well, or the greatest of all, learning. If you handed them a diploma with a big 4.0 they would take it and walk away.

So what does that mean, 4.0? Well, I suppose that depends on the teacher you may ask. To most college students, it's the ticket to the good life. A good job. But what good is that new job if you can't tell figure out what to do, how, and why?

Studying is like a competition. The highest test scores win. Because to reality's "judgement day," you either sink, or swim. If someone handed you a trophy, let's say for karate, and they said, "Ccongratulations! You qualified for Nationals!" and you had never once taken karate, chances are you will get shot down in that national karate competition. It's like anything else in life.

Today is Halloween. Today people wore costumes. Today people painted their faces. Today people came to class. Today people skipped class. Today people came to class in costumes. Today people came to class with their face painted. Today people brought breakfast to class. Today people slept through class. Today people slept through class, while in class. Today is just yet another day of the week that ends in "y".

Why?

Because that is how people work. Some put forth an effort and some don't. Such is life.


Here's a short story.

This past weekend I was required to make a religious visit for my World Religions class. I went to the Jewish service next door to campus. As I sat in the back of the synagogue and observed the bar mitzvah, an older man passed me and asked me if I would like (what I do not know the official name of, but appear to be their song book) a book.

"It's ok," I replied, "I'm not actually Jewish, I'm just here for a clas."

"That's ok," he replied, "you can still have a book, I'll go get you a book."

He disappeared for a moment, bringing me back a book.

"Thanks," I replied.

I thought it was weird that he handed me the book with the backside up. So before opening the book, I switch sides to the front. But the front was blank. "That's odd," I though. I flipped the book back over once again.
There was writing on this side, but in Hebrew.

I turned it 180 degrees.

Well, that didn't work because now the tiny words in English were upside-down.

Confused, I switched the book back over to the front, blank page, and opened the book. The first page was somewhere in the high hundreds. I started to flip through the pages, and then it occurred to me:

The book was written backwards.

The fact that the book was indeed written backwards was one surprise, but my biggest shock was that I now realized why the older man insisted on giving me the book. He didn't expect me to understand the words. He didn't expect me to read Hebrew. He didn't expect me to follow him and ask him questions.

He simply saw the window, although a small window, to teach me something, and did exactly that.



Where would we be, if no one cared to teach others? Where would we be, if no one wanted to learn?




"You cannot open a book without learning something." -Confucious


Happy Fall, Ya'll.

-mb

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Fine Line of Time

"Any fool can know. The point is to understand."
- Albert Einstein





[WRITTEN ON AUGUST 15TH, 2012]

Friday I move again. Classes at the University of Loyola New Orleans start on August 27th, and I'll be there, attending a new school for the seventh time in the last eight years.

It's weird that it's not weird, really. New city, new school, new people, new home. The routine starts again. Pack--travel--unpack--meet people, live life.

About two weeks ago we moved from Minnesota to Georgia. Again, it's weird that it's not weird. Everyone in my grade is going off to college, so the fact that I am moving is not a surprise to anyone. It's just that this time I won't be coming back for Christmas.

Since the middle of May, the longest I have stayed anywhere continuously is two weeks. The whole 'getting up and moving locations' now feels like a big game of musical chairs. I've already left Minnesota for a year, so leaving a second time doesn't seem so out of place.

Things here have been great so far. I can't say that I've seen much more besides the inside of our house or cardboard boxes, but it's nice here. There is also a whole new list of insects to add to my discovery list...



So, along the fine line of time, there are a few things I'd like to say that are way overdue. To everyone that has kept up with my endless rambling and stories, I really appreciate it. Hopefully there is something that will keep bringing you back to read more, as I hope somewhere down the line something I've written has had a positive impact in your life in some way.

To everyone who has sent me emails, thank you. The support has been great, and I am shocked at how many people decided to study abroad after reading my blog. Whooohooo!!! Those messages have nearly completed my mission. And congratulations to those who are going or went on exchange, Welcome to the Club.

There is a whole list of blogs that I follow. Whenever someone posts something new it comes up in my newsfeed, keeping me updated on the latest adventures and travels. It's been great to hear the stories of others, especially when you can relate so well to what they are saying. Reading other blogs has been quite the inspiration, and a great way to reflect back on my own year.

Take a look at Zakiyya's year in Italy and Katie's year in Spain. Two blogs that I will really miss reading about all the time.


A some time after returning back to the United States, I logged into my blogger account, looking for the most recent blog updates as usual. At the same time I was on the phone with Jake. As we were talking, I was reading a blog post when all of a sudden both my name and Jake's appeared on screen, being thanked for writing. I was shocked. I (not only felt like a celebrity) was stunned at how helpful our writings have been for others. And that wasn't the only time--- So here's a big 'de nada' to you guys, and to those who have read "my whole blog," which blows my mind. Not even I have read my whole blog. Some blog posts I have read over before publishing, while others I have read several times. But I am sure that there are many posts that I have not read upon completing them. All I can say is I'm happy I could help. It means a lot to know that what I write actually gets read. And those who listen know I'm talking about you. Thank you. We owe it to you guys. There's no point in writing if there's no audience. We are glad there are listeners out there.


So cheers to that fine line of time we have all traveled. One day it's off to Spain, another day it's off to school. But either way,

"What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."
-Jane Goodall


Sept.3rd.2012
Two years today.

-mb

The Suite Life

Another long delay, maybe sometime I'll get back into the swing of writing more regularly. I seem to have quite a collection of rough drafts though, it's just that I never seem to find a way to make the post flow or close whatever point I was trying to make or whatnot.

Not that all of my posts flow or really make much sense but...

So last week, Two and a half weeks ago my dad and I made the hike from Atlanta to New Orleans, where me and a carload of "things I think I need" for college got dropped of at the University of Loyola New Orleans. I didn't put any effort into packing since I was taking full advantage of not having weight or luggage restrictions. If it fit in the car, it was coming.

The 9 hour hike was a piece of cake. I feel like I have no excuse to complain about anything if I'm in a car... no matter how long we may be sitting on our rear ends memorizing the radio's song play list.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I finished writing up to there^ before we lost power at my uncle's house, where I was since I had to evacuate my dorm.

Evacuate....yeah. A word you don't use much in Minnesota.


The following Tuesday after arriving to New Orleans was when I moved into my dorm. Six trips with two people from the car in the parking garage all the way up to floor nine was something I don't ever want to have to go through again. That nor the cleaning required before you can actually unpack your stuff.

Gross.

That week was filled with welcome activities to get to know other students which included a hypnotist, excursion into the city, and an inspirational speaker that was absolutely outstanding.

It's hard to explain everything that he said, nor is there really a good YouTube video to show you exactly everything the two hour presentation covered.


Curtis Zimmerman talked about a variety of things targeting his audience- us. An auditorium filled with first year students.

He started off his presentation introducing himself, a best selling author, juggling, mime, fire eater, magician,... the list continues.

Immediately he asked us to put our phones and everything else away under our seats. He was going to talk for two hours, and he didn't spend the last day and a half traveling, missing his child's first day of school for nothing. The least we could do was to give him our full attention for these two hours.

And the same goes with the classroom. Teachers don't spend their entire career preparing themselves to talk to a bunch of students on their phones. Teachers wouldn't be there to teach if they weren't there to share something that they loved talking about.

But if you choose to stay on your phone, teachers aren't going to make you listen. Teachers aren't going to make you understand.

Teachers get paid whether you understand the material or not.

He was here to speak to us. If our friends on the phone were so important, why weren't they here with us?




The beginning of his speech started off like this..

Everyone was instructed to stand up. He had us do the following, and I would like you to do the same.




Hold up your right hand in the air, and make a circle.

Put it down.

Hold up your left hand in the air, and make a square.

Put it down.


Now, hold up your right hand and make a circle.

While making the circle, hold up your left hand and make a square.

Take a look at his video. Pay attention to what he says about the circle, and follow along with his actions.





Interesting, eh? Yeah we thought so too. He had us do a variety of things.

How many think you are responsible?

A show of hands went up.

Well, that's when we got to play a nice game of Simon Says.



You should have seen the two kids from the front row that jumped up on stage...Priceless, omg.

As the video showed, Curtis picked a random student and taught him how to juggle. The student had no idea how to juggle, but was taught in about ten minutes.

In the process of teaching the student how to juggle, for every time the student dropped a ball we were to cheer and applaud him loudly. Why?

Because he was that much further to learning how to juggle.

Starting out with one, then two, three balls were dropped many times, but after much cheering from the students, the student was finally able to juggle all three. Curtis then juggled himself, bouncing the balls off of his knees, chest, elbow, chin, the amazement continued.

And why was Curtis able to juggle this way? he asked us. Because he had dropped the ball 5,000 more times than we have. Have we given something 5,000 tries?

Throughout the duration of my blog, I have used a lot of metaphors and abstract examples to try to make a point or get a certain idea across. This was one of the reasons why I enjoyed this presentation so much.

---Cheer every time you drop the ball, because you are one step closer to reaching your goal. Give those people who make your show worse fewer lines. And even though you look great at doing what you already know, you are learning absolutely nothing.

Your teachers get paid whether you understand or not. Everyone in the room is in the 1% of the world to have the opportunities we do. That's right. 99% of the people in the world do not have the same opportunities as the first year students in that auditorium.

Starting off new in college is great. Everything in that circle, everything that we have done in our past is was got us here, in this room. All of those achievements, and grades and awards in high school and hard work got us here where we are now. But now what we are here, we start from zero. We are all starting from the bottom up. Because no one cares about what happened to us as a kid, the neighborhood we grew up in, or the school we went to. None of that matters now. What matters is what we do from here on out.---




Going on my EuroTrip was such an eye opening experience for so many reasons.

Upon returning home from exchange, many of us exchange students return home to a place where not many other people have gone through the same thing. Granted no two exchange students ever have the same experience, it is very difficult to return home to an environment where you finish up a conversation in a different language, and everyone looks at you as though they've seen a ghost.

Visiting my friends goes way back to that post I wrote on reality. The "the grass is greener on the other side" post. Being able to travel our not so small world really proved that nothing is impossible. It's not impossible to go back and see your friends. It's not impossible to pick up right where you left off with your friendships. It's just different. Your life how it was at whatever point in time will never duplicate itself. My AFS friendships aren't any worse just because people live far away. Ties weaken, sure. My trip proved that point to me. The value, however, stays the same if it is well preserved.

What a small world we live in, it was strange to bounce from one friend's house to an other's as if I was just walking down the street on a normal day. I didn't go to Europe as a tourist. In fact, the only time I felt like a tourist was in Hamburg, Germany, which brings me to my second point...


Seeing friends of people I hadn't seen in years was great. It's always another reminder of how times flys, and how every "good bye" makes the next "hello" closer. I was able to meet the neighborhood, culture, and families of the friends that I got to know under America's terms.

Hamburg, however, was quite different than any other stop on the map. This was simply because Hamburg was the only place I did NOT spend my time at a friend's house. I stayed in a youth hostel for two nights.

Turns out I have two connections in Hamburg. One from AFS US of A and one from Spain. Unfortunately it didn't work out to meet up with either of them, so I was on my own.


Was Hamburg great or what.


Not only did I have 4 amazing roommates from England, I met all sorts of different people doing the exact same thing.



I don't think I met a single German in Hamburg. Everyone was from a different country outside of Germany, passing by on a EuroTour. There were so many things to talk about. How was Berlin? Where are you going next? Oh you have to go see this church in Copenhagen! Yeah it was really crowded in Milan during the soccer game. Are you going to Poland? It must have been a crazy train ride from London! How many hours does it take to get to Amsterdam? How long are you traveling for? Where are you attending school? How many languages do you speak? Oh, you're from Canada? WE ARE NEIGHBORS!!!

....the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

Another thing I realized during my trip is that, there's a time for everything. My exchange year was not my time to travel, but this trip was. My exchange year was not the time to get too hung up over my school work, but now it is. My EuroTrip was not the time to go to the blind museum, or the Anne Frank house, (yes, this one kills me I must say) but there will be another time. There will be another time to travel Eastern Europe, to see Auschwitz, to eat the mussels in Brussels, to go to Paris, or Rome, but instead I have to just know that my time spent in Europe was to do exactly what I did. No more, no less. It's always good to have a reason to go back. If it wasn't completed during my two month stay, it wasn't the time.

I really wish I could have realized that better during my exchange year.

Towards the end of my year in Spain, so much effort was put into thinking about "what I had done, and what I had failed to do." I look back at my year now knowing that, if it wasn't done during the year, it wasn't the time. You can't look back and say you should have done this or that, because the reality is that if it was the time to do this, or that... it would have been done.

My primary focus of my trip was to spend time with the people I was visiting. Remember the names of monuments, the history behind a bridge, and seeing things that the rest of the world marvels at were just bonuses. I didn't go to France to see the Eiffel Tower. I went to France to see the people who have impacted my life. And the last time I checked, I do not have a personal friendship with the Eiffel Tower. (nor the cost to get me there)

To be more realistic on the subject, I too want to do everything. Take advantage of any given moment. Jump at every opportunity available. Live life to the fullest. But in the end, if all effort was put forth and you only finished 4/7 items on the list, (and the 4 were done well) than that's all that was meant to happen at the time.

Not that we should let things slide by us, because that is definitely not what I meant.



Most of the friends of my friends that I visited in Europe (if that makes any sense) spoke English, most of which went on exchange either through AFS or another program. And if they didn't go on exchange, they had either traveled a lot or had quite a cultural background.

Meeting so many people who 'went on exchange' really helped me to get closure on the whole thing. Exchange was something we all had in common, but something of the past. It wasn't something we were trying to figure out, or waiting for, but instead something that made up part of our life resume. An event that was completed, a event that didn't need explaining, but yet, it automatically connected us all in this type of world that's hard to explain to anyone who's not in it.


So, what now? Well classes 'resume' on Tuesday, even though they never really started. My evacuation plan never included more than 'take the stairs,' but I guess that in other parts of the world such as here, there are other ideas of a plan. Going 68 hours without electricity, internet, (no, I am not the fortunate owner of a smartphone) or a single battery operated fan in the INCREDIBLY HUMID south I thought would kill me for sure.

I felt quite like Anne Frank, being locked up in a house, listening to the sounds of other's generators sounding through the night. The city curfew was from 8PM to 7AM, which put a psycological twist on things. Illegal to leave your house? For that long? I'd never experienced anything of the sort. Being arrested was never before a threat to disobeying curfew.

Our windows were open once the storm passed, in any hope of a breeze of any sort to get some air circulation in the house. We didn't know when we would get power back, and as of almost a week later it is not restored.

My makeup melted, along with my book. Who knew a book could melt in a house? The two inch thich pieces of tree started to curl up and get moist in no time at all. The house got dark starting as early as 7PM, when the sun began to set. We had two lanterns/flashlights that were our only source of light until we went to bed.

Friday we went to the store, and the first two places we went to were completely out of ice. It was unbelieveable. Walgreens was completely out of drinking water. Wiped clean. And the third store had ice...after you waited in line behind about 40 people. Even then it was only two bags per customer.

Campus halleluyah was up and running by mid Friday, with air conditioning and internet. I moved back in, and turned on the TV for the first time since Tuesday afternoon, a day before Hurricane Isaac came.

"Back at Loyola, which may be the only place back on it's feet after Isaac. 4.5 days of university canceled and a very long 68 hours without power--(AC, fridge/freezer, garage door, lights, TV, radio, phone, computer)-- internet, or a single battery operated fan in the very humid jungle of New Orleans. At one point someone informed me that we were among another half million people who also lost power, which was almost comforting to remind myself that we weren't the only ones. However, upon hours of sitting in darkness with two flashlights, it hits you..... there are a lot more than half a million people in this world without power."
 --Facebook status from Friday





Friday morning alone there were 38 car accidents. Let me remind you that electricity is needed in order to run traffic lights. There were a fair number of 4 lane intersections that didn't have working traffic lights.

This resulted in the...

"whoever-gets-there-first-goes-first/CRAZYAGRESSIVE European driving" approach.

People, this is not a rational way to solve problems...

*Sigh.*

So that was that.

You should have seen Whole Foods when their power came back on. People from the bakery to the seafood were cheering. A guy was even standing behind a crate of wine, charging his phone from an unused outlet.


Later that day I walked around campus and took some pictures of the damage.


I promise no photoshop or picture editing was used in any of this.



Behind the library

On campus at the "Quad"
 Like I said, we didn't get much flooding here in uptown, but supposedly other areas did. Areas that didn't flood during Katrina flooded during Isaac. The TV had unbelievable footage sent in from people who video taped what their house looked liked. Since I went the week without TV, my face dropped at the sight of the flooding damage.




Things here will hopefully continue to normal on Tuesday. It'll be nice to have health services open and the bookstore...so I can do my homework for the classes I haven't even been to yet.

No special plans for this Labor Day weekend; it's just the suite life, here in Buddig Hall...celebrating a great two year anniversary of meeting possibly the most awesome group of people on the planet.


Thanks for playing,
-mb





Sunday, August 5, 2012

Awkwarddd.

"It's really funny because I do not know where I am going. Like never. This only Spanish thing is intense. Very, very confusing. I just act like I understand so (1). they don't think I'm completely retarded or (2). They keep talking to me and don't loose interest."
--Saturday, September 4th, 2010 (Day 1)



EURO TRIP

After Milan, that Monday I went to Graz, Austria to visit an AFSer who was in my town the 2008/2009 school year. But my trip to Graz is a story in itself, so I'll write about that later. Let's detour back to the title of my blog for this note.

Last night I actually brought myself together to read my journals. Originally, I thought it would be easy to go back and read through them, but one of the biggest surprises about coming home is that it is not easy. No Sir. It is not easy to read through the emotions, events, and life that I lived that year. For a few reasons. One, those who know me personally know that I kept my blog very positive, compared to the realistic experience I had. Yeah, secret is out. Bummer. I didn't have the greatest life that year. I struggled quite a bit, and there are a lot of things I couldn't put on here with AFS monitoring my blog. But they messed up, horribly. AFS Spain did an absolute horrible job with my host family placements. The volunteers there knowso very much and refuse to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with my host family placement. Once I left Madrid, thank the heavens I found some volunteers who were able to agree with me, and give me the piece of mind I was not indeed insane. In a nutshell, as I may have hinted before, my first host family was not informed properly of what AFS is. Instead, after an interest form, the President of AFS Spain came to the apartment, begging for them to take me in, saying "the student could even sleep here in your living room on this couch." I was one of the last two students placed out of 80 some, or atleast out of the 31 Americans. My host family, being the incredible giving people that they are, agreed to host an AFSer, even though it was not the best time for them financially. I'll leave it at that, but you can see in what direction things went from there.

I'd like to meet the volunteer who searched for my blog with the exact words "AFS Spain is terrible." (yes, it IS possible for me to see the engine search keywords that people use to find my blog.) I never ratted out AFS Spain during my time there and I don't plan on going into details. AFS is an amazing organization and I do not want to steer anyone away from AFS, or going on exchange.

Some of you may have already known, but I won't elaborate on it more than I feel the need to do in order to explain why I say what I do. I respect what happened that year moreso now after my Euro trip than I did a year ago. There is so much I took from that year that other kids didn't get, and for that, I am thankful.

Let me note one, final thought. AFS-USA and AFS-SPAIN are almost two entirely different organizations. My host family refused to call them that, but instead, businesses. They even have different regulations and standards, such as- AFS USA requires all American host families to have criminal background checks. AFS-Spain does not. It's based off of country regulations and fun. AFS-USA has been awesome, and I would like to give an extended thank you to everyone who helped me during the year- you guys were great, really, and you all know who you are.


Reading through my journals has been a bit easier after some time, I've come to accept different things and look back at the wonderful time I had during my year abroad. The most amazing thing for me, is how much I have grown since the start of my year there, nearly two years ago. A big part of why it is so easy for me to read back through the journals now compared to a year ago- is because my exchange year is something of the past. It is not something I "will be" or "am currently" doing, nor something I "just got back from." After a while the whole thing wears you out a bit, and it's nice to get some closure. I'll elaborate that later on in my stories about my EuroTrip.

Last night I read through most of what I wrote during my first week on exchange. I thought I would share some funny stories and quotes from what I found. Writing down everything is the best way I can "go back" to that life. It's really amazing how much you gain when you write things down.


Now for the fun. Those of you who can relate can laugh with me.

Monday, January 25th, 2010

"My trip to Spain starts with getting accepted. Today I got an email from AFS saying that I was accepted into AFS-USA, and it will be another 4-6 weeks before I know if AFS-Spain has accepted me. I am very excited to hear back from them- if Spain does not accept me I am not sure where I will pick next. I want to learn Spanish but do not want to leave Europe. Earlier this month I received a $600 merit and $200 host family scholarship. I hope to hear from AFS-Spain soon. PS: Semester 2 starts tomorrow and I start Spanish 3."

MAY 15th, 2010 1:47 AM

"So much to say in so little time. The only update on Spain is nothing. I still don't have a host family or location yet. I hope I find out before the end of June. I met a guy from Spain at Annika's surprise birthday party, but he didn't say much. (Besides the fact I'll be screwed if I get put in the Barcelona area because of the Catalan dialect, and I'll probably be put in a small town. I hope not. Today was my first golf clinic of the year, and I hope if I enjoy it I can do it in Spain."

Saturday, June 19th, 2010 4:29 PM

"Yesterday we got a confirmation from Dharma with AFS 'after extensive research' that an AFS representative can drop off and pick up the visa information at the Consulate of Spain in Chicago, and no FBI criminal background check is needed, the local one will be fine."

Monday, June 28th, 2010

"A few days ago I got the paper from AFS that tells me when I leave. According to the current report I can bring 44 pounds in a suitcase and a carry on that is 22 pounds. I leave Minnesota for New York and arrive there anytime between 12:00 and 4:00PM. The next day I leave NYC to Zurich, Switzerland and arrive there around 10:55AM. 1.5 hours later I then fly to Madrid and arrive there on September 3rd."

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

"So, I have set up a blog. Hopefully AFS will put it on their website like they said they would. Oh, and I've met a girl, Phoebe Ziegler, through Facebook who will be on my plane to Spain. (hah, that rhymes) if AFS gets my visa in time! **** It's the 13th already! Our appt. was for yesterday if we did it by ourselves...what the heck is AFS wasting their time on?! I CAN'T leave late!"

"September can NOT come soon enough. I swear."


"Oh, SPAIN WON THE WORLD CUP! Which is totally awesome, and I'm super excited."

"Oh, and a brief Spanish placement test put me at the bottom. Pffff. I've gotta long way to go."

"Still no word from AFS...no host fam. yet but not knowing is better than thinking you have a bad one I guess. Got word on a country conference call July 26th which should be good."

Monday, August 9th, 2010

"Holy buckets I haven't written in here for a while...but I have been keeping my blog updated so I guess that's O.K. I'll start from current and work backwards. I HAVE HOST SIBLINGS! FOUR! O.M.G. that is amazing! I am very excited for the news."

"I cannot express in words or emotions how excited I am to go to Spain. Oh yeah, did I mention? I'm in Madrid! YES!!!!! Population 3 Million and I'm in the middle of it! And according to some website online the average low winter temp. is 38*F! 38*! Incredible! There is no way in the world I can complain about that! :)"

"I am so excited to go! I wonder how these next few weeks will go by..."

"...everything is so much more real now that I have my host family."


Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 12:56AM

"WOW! And the day has come! Yesterday, the 10th I finally received my full host family from AFS. YAY! Complete relief...I have been waiting for this day FOREVER...!!!"

"Google map. Street view. Gotta love it. I hope they put me in the right grade (1st bachillerato or something like that)."

"And I have to remind myself that the grass always looks greener on the other side. So love every minute of Spain =) My hand can't go anymore...So best of luck to my unknown future, whatever it brings...ciao, ciao"

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

"I have to write quick but here it is. My last day. There was a point I thought it would never come. But I'm packed. And completely ready to start my new adventure."

[Marshall High School Visitor Pass pasted on page]



--------ARRIVAL TO SPAIN-------

Culture shock: the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, or to a move between social environments. -wikipedia


Saturday, Sept. 4th 2010

Day 1

"Wow. I am officially at my new home."

[about meeting host family and orientation]

"I was scared to meet them. Very scared. Thank God the kids weren't there. I met my liason today, here they call it a "tutor." Pablo is very nice and thank the Lord he speaks English. Thank the Lord. Us kids played like cards forever. And the cup game thing."

"Orientation was good to meet other kids but at a terrible location. We met our host families by walking through the door to the theatre."

"They drive crazy here. The van is huge and ugly no offense. I have no internet in my room, which sucks. The buildings here are ugly, and it is like the Sahara Desert. No grass. None. And there are olive trees everywhere outside town. Atleast I think they are olive trees. The apartment is small. Tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny. But I guess that is fine. I have no hangers so I suppose I just fold my clothes."

"I accidently fell asleep and woke up, being shocked when I realized I spoke English to the 3 oldest when I tried to give them their welcome gifts. I just forgot to speak Spanish. It's just really weird. And when I called home I almost said Spanish words. It's so weird because I'm starting to think in Spanish. Not completely but like a little bit. Uh, what else. The door thing, yeah I think I have to keep my door open unless I'm sleeping or changing. The light switched are weird. Like big buttons. I hope everyone stays patient with my Spanish- it's seriously not very good. First mistaken word was "regalo" for "regla"- "gift" for "ruler" and I thought that was funny. We walked like 3 miles to a McDonalds for wifi and I called home. I have a feeling here I won't be using my computer much. The bathrooms are strange. I have no clue what the tiny sink is that is really small. And the shower like at the camp is one that has a hose thing. My brain cannot think with so much going on. There are no screens on the windows (are left open) but I haven't really seen bugs besides 1 in the bathroom so that might be ok. It's like a desert here. It's so weird. The metro is clean though. And convenient. The toilet flushes weird. The blinds are wicked awesome. I don't know how I'll sleep tonight- there's a lot of honking outside. You can't see the stars here is what my host sister Maria told me. No one here speaks English."

"I need to get a clock. I don't know what time it is."

[let me note that I did not have a cell phone at that time, nor a computer charger, since I didn't have the right cord.]

"Oh yeah and the toilets? are weird. Barely any water in them. And eating a small dinner will be very interesting as I am not very hungry during lunch at 2 like today. It's pretty hot here. And the pillows are long and strange. Maybe that's just because it is a twin bed. We wear shoes in the house, yes. But I wouldn't want to take them off. The floor is wood and I think a bit dirty. School starts like the 17th-ish and we are going to Segovia sometime before then! Awesome! Elizabeth from the United States I believe lives there. I think it'll be good."

"Whoo. first time since last Sunday really That I can actually sleep. I think I will like it here after some adjustments and the bathroom thing."

"My journey has started and it is amazing. Too many thoughts to even think about. I hope my allergies aren't bad as well, as I sit here with the window open."

"So after all the Spanish tests and miles on a plane I am here. I am here and am starting to live a new life."

"Diego put subsitles on the TV which is super helpful. Like I can't understand TV without them. And the google here is ".es" strangeeeeee~~~. And hopefully they don't get too tired of talking slow. But I can't seem to tune them out because I understand enough to get the "jist," and they frequently ask me questions so I have to pay attention."

"Day One. Incredible. Time flys. Seriously."

September 5th, 2010

Day 2

"I am alarmed at the fact that I don't think we have a dishwasher. And that is is too expensive to run the dryer. Except in the winter...I think I won't be washing my clothes much, but again I don't know. They have really small glasses, and normal ones. And I don't know where they get the water- it's always in this cooler-like thing. And today there was lemonade for a change. The milk is terrible. The cereal was disgusting haha but whatever. The lights [switches] here (atleast in the apartment) are weird and are square shaped. I think it would be possible for someone to break in since we always have our windows open and live on the first floor.

***that last statement is ridiculous, because we were technically on floor 2 inside a locked fence that surrounded the building.***

Amaya and I went to have a "picnic" and so I asked if it was far and if sandals were a good idea. well, I got the impression that the park was literally right around the corner because the mom said it was very close. Well, we caught the metro and met someone named Ana, and yeah, well, she talks very fast. And we switched trains atleast like 4 times and once even missed our stop. It's amazing because we never had to wait really long for a train. And I think I'll buy a monthly pass for the metro because I have a feeling we use that a lot here."


"The elevator in the apartment is awkwardly tiny. The door handle is awkwardly in the middle of the door. And I awkwardly met some of Maria's friends when I was in my pajamas. And yeah, awkward might be the word of the day."

-mb



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Nos Vamos

It's been awhile. I can explain.

The last time I wrote a blog post I was sitting at a table in Milan, in a bit of shock that I was finally back in the great EU. Since then a lot has happened, and I feel no need to justify why I haven't posted any updates.

I've been on the go, like you wouldn't believe.

Looks like I left off right before I saw much of Milan. I'll go back through again and post story by story of all by day trips, but for the moment here's a brief overview.

After the weekend in Aosta I spent the week in Milan, and left on the following Monday for Graz, Austria. Mario and I saw most of the touristy sights in a day or two.

The Friday before I left the Pope came to Milan, which was too cliche for my brain to handle. We went into il Duomo's piazza and upon stepping off the trolley we saw the signs promoting the Pope coming to Milan for "World Meeting of Families." There was a poster on il Duomo for atleast a week before, but we just kind of missed it somehow.

I thought that Milan was a typical place for the pope to visit- but it turns out it was the first time in 28 years that a pope had visited Milan. That came to me as a bit of a surprise, but I guess when all things are considered, it's pretty expensive with all the security and everything in between.

Here's a link to an article with more information: Pope Visits Milan

So that was really cool. Something to check off my bucket list in life. We got really close too, which required waiting on the rail for close to an hour in the dreadful heat, but it was definitely worth it.


Pope Benedetto passed us in his popemobile, surrounded what I would like to call the pope's "Secret Service."  They were everywhere, and frequently got in the way of my pictures...

Sigh. Atleast I got a few good ones.

Also, I was kind of surprised but it was really cool- there were a few babies that were passed in from the crowd and blessed by the pope.

Milan was packed with people cheering for the pope when he came around. They had a few big screens filming the pope's journey from the Linate Airport down the streets to il Duomo. I was pretty surprised how much everyone was cheering so much- Milan obviously wanted to prove they were happy for a pope to visit, which was cool to see.

Sunday I went to Lake Como, which is really close to Switzerland. Mario's brother's girlfriend Anna took me there for the day and it was really nice. Como is a beautiful city, and although it rained we still had a good time and were able to see everything we wanted to see.








Upon returning to Milan I met Sergio, who I hadn't seen since 2009. He was an exchange student in a town in our AFS Chapter in the states, so it was nice to see him again and walk around the city for a few hours. He doesn't live in Milan, so I was more or less of a tour guide haha

That evening Mario and I caught up with some of his friends for ice cream-- they had been studying for exams all day, which end on July 16th. The difference between the two different systems is unbelievable...complely different, and sometime I wonder about how our level of education compares to theirs...


So that is more or less of catch up from the first two weeks. I'll send more updates soon-- as of right now I'm back in the states in Boston visiting Caroline and I've gotta run...but there's much more to come.

Arrivederci amiciii
-mb