- In January, immediately upon returning from the US, Jordan and I went to Valencia to meet up with all of our friends there. Several of them who are studying in different countries this year were home for the holidays so we all enjoyed being together and had a delicious Mexican dinner (much more typical in Oklahoma than in Spain).
- At the end of January, Jordan, Amanda and I went to visit my friend Reda in Casablanca Morocco. I met Reda when he came to OU as an exchange student (like most of my international friends) and he was an incredible and gracious host. He showed us around his beautiful city, hosted us for an amazing homemade couscous lunch with his family and even put us up in an incredible 5-star hotel. We all really enjoyed the weekend. The sights, food and people were all amazing! It just reinforced my love of Arab culture.
- Lots of delicious meetings of SFC (Sunday Food Club).
- In March, I was lucky enough to be able to meet up with Winston in London while he was traveling with a group from Kingfisher High School for Spring Break. One of my favorite things about Europe is the ease and affordability of plane travel. I was able to hop on a quick flight and spend a weekend in London. Their group kindly allowed me to join them on their tour. We visited Stonehenge and Bath one day and spent the rest of our time together in London. I really enjoyed catching up with my little brother and getting to hang out with him in London. I also got to see one of my good Colombian friends, Silvia, who is currently working in London. Great weekend!
- The school which I teach at (for those of you who are interested, it’s called Colegio Internacional de Santo Tomás de Aquinas) hosts an annual race every spring. This year it benefited the rebuilding of a school in Haití. They asked me if I would co-host and be in charge of making the announcements and introductions during the race. It was an early but very fun Saturday. I loved getting to meet all the families of my students and see the excitement on their faces as they crossed the finish line.
- One of my favorite days at school this semester was Carnival. In Spain, Carnival a huge celebration (not quite to the scale of that in Brazil, but still really big and fun). All of the kids and teachers come to school dressed up and we spend the day playing games. It’s similar to the way Halloween is celebrated in the US. Kids dress up as their favorite characters, movie stars, etc. as opposed to Halloween where they all wear really scary and bloody outfits. It was a fun day and I love seeing all my precious students dressed up as princesses and super heroes. Plus it’s another day of the year where I have an excuse to wear lots of glitter :)
- Jarrett Franklin, one of my best friends from high school, came to visit me for a few weeks. It was so fun to travel together again. The last time we traveled together was in 2004 when we went on a school trip to Egypt. I enjoyed showing him around Spain and it was cool for him to meet all of my friends here. He went to school with me one day and met many of my students. They thought it was so cool to meet one of my friends from home and still ask about him.
- Our equivalent of Spring Break occurs during Holy Week. It was a nice long break because we got Friday off, the entire next week, and the Monday following Easter. Jarrett, Jordan, Amanda, Kacey and I went to Italy. It was an incredible and much needed vacation. Winter had been pretty rough in Madrid. It was the coldest and harshest that anyone can remember. Spaniards tell me constantly that winter is NEVER like that. Just my luck. The weather, in addition to the demands of our program made us all ready for a break. And no better place to unwind than beautiful, delicious, passionate Italy. In order to be brief I will avoid going into many details but it was simply incredible. We flew into Milan and then went south to Cinque Terre, which is perhaps the most beautiful place I have ever been. It’s hard to say because I have seen some amazing and very unique places but it definitely ranks pretty high. We then went to Florence for a couple of days and then went to Rome. Charles Ramsdell, a fellow Kingfisherite who plays professional basketball in Spain, met up with us for a few days in Rome. We were in Rome for Easter, which was a remarkable experience. We saw the Pope on two different occasions: on Good Friday at Palatine Hill and also on Easter morning during Mass at St. Peters. Unfortunately it was really rainy and cold that particular Sunday morning but I’m glad that Kacey and I fought the crowds and endured. Definitely a unique life-experience.
- My 24th birthday celebration in Spain was definitely a memorable one. My friends made sure it was packed with lots of good food, sparkles, Shakira and dancing so I was one happy little duck. My high school students also surprised me. They bought me two cakes and when I walked in the room for class, they had the lights out and candles lit and jumped out singing “Happy Birthday/Feliz Cumpleaños”. It was one of the most genuine surprises I have ever received and they were so pleased that I was shocked. I truly had not expected anything. I also received gifts from several students. I really like being a teacher on my birthday, haha (and all other days of the year as well). Jordan’s birthday is just three days after mine so we had a joint birthday party and it was really fun!!
- Five days ago I turned in my thesis. This is a monumental moment (and the reason I am currently able to write this blog). It ended up being 180 pages long and I’m quite proud of it. It’s not due until May 30th but I really wanted to just be done with it and enjoy my last couple of months here. I realized back in January that I would rather be inside working on my thesis while it was snowing outside instead of when the weather is beautiful. And I am ever so thankful that I made that decision and got motivated early because it feels amazing to be done with it. All of my friends are currently in major thesis crunch mode and I am able to calmly hangout and finally enjoy and bit of free time, which makes life in Spain truly incredible.
A combination of things have prevented me from updating this for a couple of months: my classes haven’t gotten increasing more demanding and time consuming and I had to flee my old apartment mid-November which left me living with friends for two weeks and now in an internet-less apartment. Despite this flaw (which is significant in my life), the new apartment is SO much better. I feel as though I have been snatched from the fiery pit below and placed in a clean, tranquil, modern heaven. I reduced my daily commute by two hours and my quality of life has improved dramatically (goodbye creepy public transportation companions who have major issues with staring!).
December flew by and I took several trips with great friends. We spent a four-day weekend in the South of Spain in Granada and Cordoba and it was amazing although much colder than I had been prepared for. The next weekend I went with 10 program-mates to Lisbon, Portugal. It was incredible! I loved the people, sites, my travel-mates, and the food!!! I could talk about all those things for ages but I won’t since I got to catch up with most of you over the break.
It was fun to experience Christmas festivities in another country. There were lots of similarities and plenty of differences as well. My students performed in Christmas programs that were adorable. I participated in an invisible friend gift exchange with my teachers (which I thought was more like secret Santa but in the end I discovered that you never reveal who you gave the gift too…something I totally blew since I thought we would tell the person when they opened it…oops, haha). I participated in the Christmas lottery which according to every Spanish person you ask is a national past time and an absolute must. After several teachers spent 30 minutes telling me why I needed to buy a ticket and even showing me examples of YouTube videos I caved and decided to fork over 20 Euros for my chance at the BIG one! All the teachers in my school had the same number so if we won, we would win big and cancel school the next day. We didn’t win. But the excitement and cultural experience was fun. For several weeks it was a conversation topic. I received many great gifts from my students including a super sparkly scarf and lots of candy. One of the most special gifts I received was from my high-school juniors. They mad me a huge card that was the Spanish flag that said “Spanish is Fun!” since they always laugh at the sign I have that says “English is Fun!” They all signed it and put a picture of themselves inside. As if that wasn’t sweet enough they then gave me two beautiful and very nice Tous bracelets. They had collected money from everyone in the class and went and bought them. It was so cute! I almost cried. And all the other teachers in the school were expressive of their amazement and jealousy since it is very unusual for kids of their age to do such a thing and they have never done that for any of them.
On December 23rd the moment I had been waiting for since November arrived! I flew home for Christmas!! I do know if you could have ever seen two more excited people in the Madrid than Jordan and me. When an airline worker approached us the tell us the flight was overbooked and offer us $1000 to fly the next day we said “NO” so quickly she could barely finish the offer. It was a good thing we didn’t take the offer as a pretty intense blizzard arrived mere hours after our flight and we wouldn’t have made it one day later. I felt so smug to be wrapped up at home in Kingfisher when all of the snow was falling and closing roads and airports. The next 2 weeks at home flew by as two of the most enjoyable and delicious weeks ever! It felt so good to be home with all of the people and things and food that I appreciate and miss so much. I spent lots of quality time with family and friends and got my American heart refilled, refueled and ready to take on Spain once again.