Thursday, May 13, 2010


The final two months of exchange are notoriously known as "bittersweet"... There's a struggle for balance between the life that it's taken you 9 or 10 months to establish in a foreign country and the life that is effortlessly and comfortably waiting for you at home. Simply put, as much as I miss everything I know in the United States, I feel the knawing anticipation of how much I'll miss what I have in Spain. I absolutely feel the bitter- the thought that I will never be in this place with these people in these circumstances is chilling and upsetting. But the sweet has yet to arrive. Maybe I'm just not close enough to my departure date (three weeks from today)... But there is a distinction in that Northfield, Minnesota has it's consistencies and will always be my home base; always. Quarterback Club awaits with it's delicious fish sandwiches and the Cannon River will keep on flowing past Goodbye Blue Monday with the best roasted coffee in town. Northfield is always accessible. Majadahonda and Madrid in Spain are not quite in the same scope of availability. The thought that as each day closes, it's then sent through the paper-shredder, the memories scatter in pieces but the experience as it was in whole isn't going to happen again... The only way to describe that feeling is that it just aches.

As weighty as that all is, it's by no means meant in a depressing manner. This is an anticipated obstacle while on exchange, it's one more thing that reinforces strength and personal growth, and for that I'm incredibly thankful. The past few weeks have been one amazing experience after another. Dancing, sleeping, eating, meeting, visiting, observing and participating, Madrid is forever churning, just waiting for you to get yourself caught up. School came to a tidy close and I'll say my official goodbyes with my classmates at the graduation party at the end of May. There's a constant loop of soccer games playing and there's always music playing in a discoteca. We've gotten pretty unlucky with the weather recently. At the beginning of May, it was 80 degrees and sunny every single day, not a cloud in the sky. But the past week or so it's been cloudy, rainy, and cooler, which of course, I'm not all that thrilled about.

I was lucky enough to meet the upcoming president of the world for next year who came in from India on his way to Chicago to meet with the Spanish Rotary Club in Madrid. He was jolly little man accompanied by his equally fantastic wife who deemed me a "hot mama"... Of all the compliments to recieve it wouldn't have been my first thought but hey, I'm not complaining. This past week has been spent with Lisa from Canada, who is here through a professional exchange also provided by Rotary. She, along with a group of five other young professionals, is here to observe how her field operates in a different country. I've been acting as her tour guide and interpreter around the city. Fortunately, she's a music teacher in the public school systems, so I've gotten to play the xylophone with elementary aged kids and watched a young adult audition to test out of a semi-professional consevatory on the violin, all for free and all provided by Rotary. If you dig deep into this program, it offers endless opportunities.

Routines at home are cherished and precious. Jacobo recently made me a small, beaded crocodile that I'm not quite positive what to do with but I love anyways :) Bea is finishing up school in just a few weeks so she's really loaded down with exams, projects to turn in, and general studying for finals. My host mom and dad are excited to see their son who comes home on June 15 but careful to remind me that I'm welcome 24/7 in any conditions back to their home in Majadahonda, Spain; back to my home.

It's the hardest talking about leaving with my exchange student friends. My Spanish friends are simply in denial that I'll be going, offering such plans as plane sabotages and giant trips to the United States for weeks and months. I feel incredibly fortunate to have made friends in 9 months that care that strongly. My exchange student friends, on the other hand, are more aware of the inevitable finality that awaits us all and watching me have to do it before most of them makes them anxious and puts all of us in a surreal state. Don't get me wrong, Northfield, I still love you dearly. But gosh darn it's hard to say goodbye to such a good thing.

A kiss for you all, Sami

The pictures are all of people... An enormous part of exchange is just the people you surround yourself with, so here's to them

Alicia and Adrian... I have no idea what I would've done without them this year

.... and Jesus :)

David and I

This was way too much fun

Emma and LUIS!

Devon and Luis

And it always comes down to the three... Devon, Emma, and I. Irreplacable.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

wide open spaces

No, this is not a reference to the Dixie Chicks song. Exchange opens a lot of things up-- it opens up your vantage point and perspective on what's going on around you and what's going on within you. It connects you and exposes you blankly and without shame to every other kid in your same situation and every kid that does and doesn't want to help you out. It opens your eyes and opens your ears and opens your heart and peels away and layers on to your perception of the world and yourself. Being on exchange leaves you with some wide open spaces, place to roam and relax and work harder than you ever have. It's beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, the definition in the dictionary might have to battle with April in Spain. The average temperature is 70 to 75 degrees and it's been sunny for two weeks straight. Photo tour? Excellent :)

April 10 was just a regular Saturday driving to my grandpa's house in Las Matas for our first outdoor lunch together since October until Jacobo donned these 3D glasses. I might have to take some sort of class for my withdrawl symptoms from Jacobo's total cuteness

Devon, Emma, and I are frequent park-goers, where children run, skip and play, dancing around their grandparents' fet and seedy teenage couples sprawl out on lawns where they should charge admission for the shows they put on. My host aunt recently told me that Madrid has more trees than any other city in Europe. I wouldn't feel comfortable using that fact in a research paper, but my aunt's zealous love for her city does add some credibility to the statement. This park is called El Capricho and we visited on a scorching day where the recently-fertilized smell mixed with freshly blooming buds... Surprisingly appealing

Capricho used to be the Queen's park... When it was a chilly day, she would have people go around and light these to warm it up before she went out for a stroll

I couldn't ask for two better friends. We're from Minnesota, California and Colorado and found each other in Madrid, Spain... I love them both

We all assumed April would go by a little bit slower (in comparison with other Spring months) as there were a lot of days in there that there was just nothing going on. We were right about the nothingness and how good it feels to be free of responsibilities (sometimes) but we were totally wrong about the slow part. Emma, Devon, and I have been doing a lot of wandering around and seeing things we've been meaning to see our entire exchanges. This includes gardens, museums, clubs, and restaurants, all in the city we've come to call our own.

My friend Devon sipping on her coffee outside of the Royal Palace. Off the lefthand side of the photo is the Opera house where we later saw the famous German opera Salome for only 15 euros a piece with a student discount.

Emma and I outside the Prado Museum with the tulips all in bloom

We also took a full day trip to Alcala de Henares, a small university village outside of Madrid. The buildings were old and gorgeous and the history was so strong you could feel it as you strolled the streets.

The next big day trip was to see Segovia, somewhere I've been meaning to go for a while now. It's northwest of Madrid, about an hour and a half by bus and it's absolutely lovely in that Extremadura Spain sort of way, originally constructed by the Romans and most famous for the acueducts that still stand there, centuries old.

The Cathedral-- oddly similar to the cathedral in Sevilla

The Alcazar-- The Fortress

I've also been taking little trips here and there with my host family-- This was a stroll through El Parque Oeste, the West Park, in Madrid with my aunts and uncles on my dad's side of family.

My host mom and Jacobo, with my host dad in the background

Please remember that the majority of this time the Champions League in European Soccer has been going on. I was and am and always will be a Barcelona Futbol Club fan and so I've been religiously watching matches with my Spanish friends, wherever we can catch them. Whether it be in a friend's house, in a restaurant or a hole in the wall bar, we watch. Last night Barcelona won the battle (a 1-0 game against Italy Milan's Inter team) but lost the war as they didn't have enough points to proceed on to the finals of the Champion's League. They needed 2-0. I love Spain's national identity that it finds in soccer- a sport that I absolutely love.

So what can I say? It's been easygoing and easyliving. I return home in far too short of a time-- I've never identified with a cliche as much as "time flies" is now hitting home for me. Lazy days reading David Sedaris while ordering a cafe con leche outside of the Royal Palace are limited; the question is, how do you come back down to reality when you're living in such a wide open space filled with nothing but what you want-- friends, coffee, soccer, a good book, and the newest episode of House MD. It's funny how living in a crowded city that never sleeps can feel more spacious and alive than the wide open plains of Minnesota brimming with nature and life. I'm simply, madly in love.

A kiss for you all! Sami

Thursday, April 8, 2010

familia y más familia

There was a short break in between my adventure with the exchange student gang and the arrival of some folks that I've been eagerly awaiting since about the week after I got to Spain. On March 24, my grandma Colleen, my great aunt Marcia, aunt Cuda, cousin Kaylie, and Mom landed and met me in a Barcelona apartment that we had rented out. We lost a day in Barcelona as the flights got mixed up and they had to come in late (also, however, resulting in a hilarious time in New York City). I'll follow the same outline as the previous blog and add pictures and descriptions as I go but I'll start by saying this: The blessing of having my two lives collide, an ocean apart from each other, bettered my exchange more than I can even put into words. I really, really missed my mom. And the stories that I have to tell after two weeks of joyous mayhem with this crew have my Spanish and American friends rolling with laughter. Que suerte, mis amigos, what luck.

March 24: Barcelona

Since the family's flights in got thrown off, we lost a day in Barcelona and so I flew there alone, staying that night by myself in the apartment we rented. When they arrived in Barcelona, it was totally exhausted and yet pretty darn happy that we were finally all together and in BARCELONA! After pulling ourselves together, we hopped onto the very confusing metro and walked around the Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudi that is yet to be finished and houses more styles of architecture and design than you could imagine. We also managed to teach some French toursits that were walking right behind us various words that you use when terrified and hanging off the edge of a precipice on a tower way too far above the ground.

March 25-26: Paris, France

The particularly nice thing about living in the European Union is that flights within the various countries are pretty cheap if you find the right companies, like RyanAir. Unfortunately, they make up for the ticket price in treating the whole plane ride like an advertisement, selling anything from Avon Perfume to a bar of chocolate to a portable foot massager. But hey, whatever gets you there safely, right? My grandma didn't come with us to Paris as she had already seen it and wanted to experience some more of Barcelona. We were headed for several days of early starts and nervewracking travel, with beautiful Paris in between. Despite my mom's wishes to rent a poodle (as she felt this was particularly French), our two days there flew by. We stayed in St. Christopher's Inn (a FANTASTIC hostel chain that I would recommend to all, it's also where I stayed in London) and climbed the Eiffel Tower (despite a ravaging storm that both terrified and humoured us to death). We wandered through Versailles and jumped off the steps in time to the flash of photography with the golden carvings behind us. My aunt Cuda forever left her mark on Notre Dame, posing as Quasimoto for the world to see, and we had quite a lot of fun with scarves on the Metro. It was really shocking to be in a place where I understood NONE of what was going on around me... It leaves you feeling pretty darn vulnerable (as my aunt Marcia will tell you; she nearly got taken up with a lift bridge to the yells of "Madame! Madame!")

My aunt Cuda in chandelier heaven in Versailles Palace

Fun with scarves

March 27: Barcelona

We returned on another early morning flight to arrive in Barcelona at about noon to find my Grandma tan and ready to go. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Parque Guell (a park in Barcelona designed by Gaudi as well) and Las Ramblas, the main strip downtown where there is shopping for anything from bird cages, to McDonalds, to luxury handbags.

My grandma and aunt Marcia at Parque Guell

Kaylie and I

March 28: Granada to Cordoba

We took our last (and earliest) flight out of Barcelona to arrive in Granada and catch a bus to Cordoba. Since my mom and I have already seen Alhambra, and I think that the Mosque in Cordoba is just a wee bit neater, we opted to skip the famous Palace and instead head straight to the Mezquita. Cordoba is filled with small shops and tiny streets, so we called ahead and reserved ourselves two rooms in a darling hotel and my aunt got her first taste of Sangria, the famous Spanish beverage with a red wine base mixed with fruits and some sort of tangy soda, usually Lemon Fanta. We then saw our first procession of the week as we were in the heart of the city. Instead of being called Spring Break, the week off in the spring for students is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and always leads up to Easter. There are processions (sort of like parades) throughout the week. People dress up in costumes that (initially shockingly) look sort of like the KKK outfits, long robes and tall, pointy hats of all different colors. The different colored robe-hat combos represent different brotherhoods, all marching in their devotion to Jesus. Each brotherhood carries a cross at the head of it and a giant float holding a representation of Jesus or the Virgin Mary surrounded by candles and carried by several men that trade off throughout the procession. Incense is in the air and there is a band playing. All in all it's a pretty solemn affair, everyone comes out to see it but it's not really a time of "celebration" as much as it is acknowledgement of the religious holiday. The most famous processions are in Sevilla (which we also got to see) and it was incredible to think we were witnessing a tradition (as opposed to a place) that dated back centuries.

The first procession we saw in Cordoba

March 29: Cordoba to Sevilla

We went to see the Mezquita in the morning and did a lot of coffee drinking and wandering around the streets. After waiting for a brief shower to pass, we headed to the train station (my mom having a lively conversation with her taxi driver that resulted in him thinking my aunt and cousin like to dance and that they'll be attending the big dance next May... he was just as confused as you all are, believe me :) that took us into Sevilla. We stayed at the same Hotel that we stayed at two summers ago and the same friendly man was working when we arrived. We ate Chinese that night and headed off to a Flamenco show later. Flamenco is the traditional Spanish dance (especially in the South) and is characterized by a lot of rapid foot movement and very proud, measured gestures with the arms and legs, as well as the Flamenco music, a guitar and several voices. We saw my Uncle Peter reincarnated as a Flamenco singer, the least likely place you'd think he'd be, and my Aunt Cuda almost wandered onto stage thinking that the door "Privado" (private) might mean Privy, as she needed to use the bathroom.

Inside the Mosque once again

At the Flamenco show Los Gallos-- The Roosters

March 30: Sevilla

We had a full day to roam around Sevilla. We woke up late and headed over to the Plaza de Espana, reenacting Star Wars scenes, jumping with beautiful tiled backgrounds, and attempting handstands among the vendors and tourists. We then headed over to the Parque Maria Luisa right across the street which is enormous and gorgeous, where we saw several people making their way (already in costume) to the processions, looking a little out of place. On the way back to our hotel, which was in the heart of the old town, we got caught IN the procession and had to walk with the band blaring and the incense wafting... NOt good for closterphobic personalities, let me tell you. That night, the moms stayed home and Kaylie and I went out with our Grandma and Marcia for a delicious dinner and relaxed evening. How I love Sevilla.

In the Plaza de Espana

Reenacting Star Wars

Kaylie and Cuda

My mom and I

On his way to the procession

A line of hoods in the brotherhood

All dolled up for the procession

March 31: From Sevilla to Cadiz

We left Sevilla after a pleasant stroll down to the bullring in Sevilla, the Plaza de Toros (pleasant besides the large bird that defecated on my aunt Marcia from above, resulting in a quick pitstop for a new shirt and a plastic bag). We hopped on a train to Cadiz, about two hours away, and found our four star hotel on Playa Victoria with no problem at all. With a view of the Atlantic Ocean and a McDonalds right around the corner (music to my cousin Kaylie's ears) we had nothing to complain about.

April 1,2,3: Cadiz

After all the busy coming and going at the beginning of the trip it felt good to have three solid days of just laying out in the gorgeous weather. It's the kind of life where the biggest worry is finding the nearest ice cream stand and you only get worn out from being in the sun doing absolutely nothing. Since it was April Fools Day, we kept up the tradition and played a little trick on my grandma and aunt Marcia resulting in them searching frantically for their underwear and thought we'd been fooled when we came back from dinner to find a crib in one of our rooms! It turns out it was just a mistake and the "cuna" was promptly replaced by a bed. We took a stroll around Cadiz one of the days and walked the boardwalk outside the hotel. All in all, not too shabby :)

Downtown Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe

Kaylie and I on the Playa Victoria, the Atlantic in the background

The church in the center of the city... All those people are gathered for the processions

April 4,5: Madrid

We rolled into Madrid at about midnight on Saturday and settled ourselves into the hostel, which is right in the center of the city (literally) in the Puerta del Sol. My mom and grandma came to my house the next day in Majadahonda and met my host family... It's remarkable how little language matters when you've got something to say and someone who wants to understand it. My host mom fell in love with my mom, commenting how young they both looked (super nice of her) and I think my mom and grandma would've taken home my little brother Jacobo if they could've gotten away with it. Instead, after a scrumptious lunch of Arroz Negro (a special kind of seafood paella) we packed up all my winter clothes and headed back into Madrid. Leave it to Mary Weaver to chatter up a storm and enchant a room of people who can barely understand her; really admirable. We later met up with my two best friends in Madrid, Emma and Devon, and ended the night with one last ice cream cone and plans to meet in the morning. I can't say that seeing them off at the airport the next day was easier than my initial goodbyes in September... A goodbye is a goodbye. They usually stink. But instead of 10 months of uncertainty looming ahead, I now have less than two months of total joy set out ahead of me. With the famous pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago still on the schedule for April and the anticipation of school ending and the eventual dreaded and can't-wait-for-it plane ride home, there's nothing I can look back on or forward to with anything other than thanks and blessings.

I wish all the same to you, Sami