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Pre-Departure to Barcelona!

The nerves have set in! I hope I didn’t forget anything, and I hope I didn’t overpack! Even though I am only studying abroad for a month, I hope to make the best of my time there. I can’t wait to fall in love with the city, or to shop for groceries at a local market! This will be a special trip for me, because many years ago, my late uncle traveled the same streets on his own when he was just a little older than I am. I hope navigating in a city where I don’t speak the native language won’t be too troubling….at least I have mentors there that can help. As I’m sitting in the PDX airport I wonder what my parents are thinking. I have a feeling they are more nervous than I am! We had an awesome dinner last night at a Brazilian Steakhouse, and it was a good way to say farewell for just a short while. This summer is going to be one for the books.

See you soon, Barcelona!

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Week 1 in Querétaro

The first day had been rough: overwhelming, exhausting. The second day seemed a mere extension of it.

Classes were to begin immediately and our host moms were to show us how to get to the university campus using Querétaro’s public transportation. We had to be at the campus by 8 am, an hour bus ride from our barrio, so we were up by 6:15 that first day. My host mom had prepared a simple breakfast of sliced fruit and hot coffee and handed me a sack lunch for my break at school. I felt spoiled having a person thoughtfully care for my every anticipated need. She made my breakfast, cleaned my dishes, and prepared my lunch. All offers for help were refused. My job was to follow along and learn as much as I could. I was again grabbed by the elbow and led out of the house with my house mom speaking what seemed a rushed Spanish, but in reality had probably been her slower version. It was all I could do to just smile and nod, follow along to the best of my ability, and say “Sí” when she paused and looked at me.

The language, the customs, the style- all were very different than what I was accustomed to.

But it was the bus that really revealed to me, “Brande, you’re not in Oregon anymore.”

Passengers are responsible to get the bus drivers’ attention by waving them down. If you don’t wave, they don’t stop. The drivers are always in a hurry, so dawdling passengers are likely to be left behind or required to climb on to a still moving bus. Because of this, potential riders are always seen rushing up the bus stairs with purpose. I learned: be ready, get on, sit down. Quick. Then: hold on. The buses are driven quicker than any other vehicle. Constantly speeding, they zoom around other buses, cars, motorcycles, and bikes. Lane marks on the roads are taken as suggestions, as all vehicles seem to go where they want, making new lanes as it fits their needs. It was like being in a constant game of “chicken” with several hundred other vehicles. That first ride, I envisioned a Frida Kahlo-like accident on repeat in my head. Yet somehow (miraculously??), we arrived in one piece, and were rushed to our first classes, the second-year spanish series.

Each day of my first week mirrored the first: busy, full, exhausting.

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I felt ill-equipped to use my Spanish. Each encounter left me more exhausted. It was the interpreting, the thinking, the problem-solving, all in Spanish, that made my head feel like it would explode. The good-natured laughter at my ineptitude left me feeling all the more incompetent. To top it off, I felt regularly taken advantage of by taxi-drivers and market vendors who seemed to charge me more because I couldn’t speak the language well. Often, after a day of attempted connections that seemed to end in failure, I often felt more alone than the day before. Each perceived personal failure was added to an ever-growing pile, and by the end of the week I was so full of fear and insecurity I could see only a trace of the confident, excited woman I had been when I left home.

In this mind-set, tiny setbacks seemed to be insurmountable roadblocks. My first day riding the bus by myself, I missed the stop on the way home and ended up in a neighborhood I’d never been in (not that being there before would have helped because I couldn’t differentiate between landmarks those first couple days). After making my way off the bus, I had to take a taxi home (in which I was over-charged, of course), and, to make smash my ego a little bit more, had to deal with the laughter of my host mom when I got there. These setbacks, which would have been little more than speed bumps in my life back home, suddenly became stumbling blocks in which I seemed incapable of overcoming.

At night, when I was so angry I couldn’t sleep, I wrote it out. I found my part in all the mess, found the aspects of my situation I had control over. I realized I hadn’t put enough time or effort in learning the language before I came, so perhaps spending some solid time studying would give me some action to take which might getmy mind off all the stress. I wrote gratitude lists in the morning that sometimes only included the things I wanted to be grateful for because that I couldn’t muster any more positivity than that. I looked around for opportunities to be of service, even if only folding pamphlets at my local meeting. I practiced listening rather than complaining – and thank God I was only practicing, because that was definitely the hardest part!

Then, in what is the most recent phase of darkness I’ve experienced, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel — God did for me what I could not do for myself.

I talked to a dear friend, a person who has always seen the light in me, even when it’s buried under piles of resentment and bitterness. He reminded me why I’m taking this trip and the ways it will enable me to make the kinds of differences in the world that I want to see. He reminded me that these struggles are the ways that God shapes us and forms us into the people he needs us to be. He reminded me that pain really is the touchstone of spiritual (and emotional!!) growth. He reminded me of the fortitude I have inside myself that will get me through anything the moment I choose to harness it.

Bless him. Our conversation made all the difference.

We made a pact: both of us would enter the next day on a new footing. We had spent enough time struggling and growing, cursing and angry. We decided that it was time to go into the world as a light and be the people we knew we were created to be.

I wanted an adventure and that’s what I’m getting.

My mistake was thinking that an adventure is synonymous with fun. Sometimes the adventure is a learning process, and that can sometimes be painful.

I guess this is what studying abroad is all about: learning things about yourself that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Things have begun to shift and I’m beginning to get the hang of the bus system, the language, the customs. I’m beginning to feel more confident in my ability to make it through each day with a little more independence. It’s still very touch and go, but I can tell that it’s getting easier and ultimately, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be out of my comfort zone, because I know that is where I will grow the most.

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Arrival in Querétaro

I arrived in Mexico City at 3 in the afternoon after 24 hours of traveling. To say I was tired does not even begin to describe the weakness in my arms and legs and the sting in my thoughts. Yes, it hurt to think. And now, my thinking had to be in Spanish, the language I’d been learning from a textbook for the past year.

I arrived and forgot the word for “luggage” – for “exit” – for “left.”

I was shuffled through the dingy airport, relying on the slightly better spanish of four other students I had only just met on the plane and the well-meaning airport personal.  They would ask me a question. I would respond with “Como?” They, perhaps realizing the pointlessness of repeating themselves would start using gestures or broken English to try to communicate with me.

I felt incompetent. I felt dependent. I felt lost.

I wanted only to get to my homestay and take a nap.

After a three hour bus ride from México City to Querétaro, we arrived at a brightly painted yellow bus station and hailed our first taxi. Three of us shared a ride and the cost was $50 pesos, or about $4 US dollars. Not bad! Then we got to our barrio. To take us to each of our homes, approximately two blocks apart from each other, the driver wanted an additional $40 pesos. It seemed a little unreasonable, considering it had been only $50 to get all the from the bus station, but none of us knew where we were or how to get where we were going. We were at his mercy. I’ve learned it’s common for taxi drivers to increase their price with foreigners.

My frustration at feeling taken advantage of quickly dissipated at my relief at finally being “home.” My “house mom” came outside, visibly excited at my arrival. We embraced, touching our cheeks together and kissing the air, as is Mexican custom between women.The house was immaculate and the decor simple. The dining room table shined, the pine green couch wasn’t worn or faded, and the plastic flowers laid on the floor in the walkway were perfectly arranged. I was shown to what would be my room for the next six weeks, sparsely decorated like the rest of the house. A picture of Mary hung above my bed, a small arrangement of plastic lilies and a cactus were on one bed stand, and an small glass lamp stood on the other. I would have my own bathroom, a shower and a toilet with a yellow rubber duck pattern on the seat cover. The house was clearly decorated with care, yet there was little consistency in style or pattern. With my unaccustomed, Americana perspective, it seemed cheap and stylistically ignorant, maybe even quaint. It took time to appreciate the time and care my hostess took in displaying and caring for her household items. Nowhere was there clutter, or even dirt. But, I didn’t see that my first day.

At first, it all seemed wrong.

I put away a few items, but was cut short from settling in to eat comidas, the two-hour lunch period where families join together for the largest meal of the day. We were to go next door to join her sister and nephew, who were waiting for us with another study abroad student. I sat on the couch with a young Chicana student who had family in Querétaro and advanced Spanish skills, both of us across from my host mom’s nephew, a gentleman in his late thirties who had come home to eat with the family. Sweetly, they had prepared a vegetarian meal for me, and I was comforted to be able to talk about literature in English with the nephew.

After food and awkward conversation in my struggling Spanish, with my study abroad peer often translating, I was finally able to make it to my room to unpack and rest. I had an hour before we were to leave and start exploring the barrio with the other house moms and study abroad students. Out of the house, my house mom held me by the elbow, determined to explain everything to me: where I could buy good chili rellenos, where I might have a pizza party, and when was the best time to go to the movies. It was clearly well-intentioned, a way for her welcome me and give me a chance to get to know my new environment, but the constant Spanish combined with endless new sights was overwhelming, especially with each of the moms grabbing me excitedly to show me something else or ask a question.

After an hour of exploring, we went home, and I was finally able to retire to my room and pat myself on the back for making it through my first day.

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Pre-Departure for Querétaro

As I am slightly late in posting my pre-departure post, unfortunately, I will have to write this from the hindsight perspective. Thankfully, they say hindsight is 20/20, so hopefully it will still be useful.

Prior to departing for Querétaro I had little to go on as far as what to expect culturally. I’ve had many friends who are from Mexico and I am slightly familiar with their culture, but the majority of my understanding comes from the American stereotypical perspective, which generally designates itself as superior to all other countries. Because of that, I can’t help but expect to witness an increase in poverty. Also, I’ve heard many stories about how violent and politically unstable Mexico is, so I also expect to see people being more careful and reserved.

Poverty Photo

As for my personal feelings prior to departure, although I am excited to have the opportunity to travel and expect to have a great time, I also am leaving home for an extended period of time, and ultimately may not return when I’m done traveling. For this reason, I am incredibly sad to be leaving. It is hard to leave my friends and family behind for this trip. But, I have faith in my ability to cope, so I am not worried that this will disrupt my trip at all.

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A Slightly Tardy Introduction

Hello! My name is Brandy and I will be (Am – Sorry, I’m late posting this!) studying in Querétaro, Mexico. The reason that I chose to study in Querétaro is because it is one of the few spanish programs that offers the entire second year spanish program in only one 6 week session. That probably sounds ULTRA-practical and gives little indication why I would choose to study spanish in the first place, so, let me tell you, I am studying spanish because 20% of my city’s population is spanish-speaking and I would like to be able to communicate with them. Especially as a future teacher, I feel that it is important to have a more in-depth understanding of the large demographic of people that I will likely be teaching.

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Fateful Encounter! Host Family and University!

The arrival to the house of my host family was one was certainly anxious for. I had never stayed with another family other than my mother and my girlfriend, but thankfully I was blessed with a kind family that was quick to take me under their wing. I was impressed by their house. It seemed very nicely designed with plenty of rooms to fill the needs of everyone; it was two floors and has a sort of living room upstairs, and the downstairs seems to serve as the place for “Comida”, the time for eating since it has the kitchen and a dining room as well. The rooms were upstairs and I had everything I needed in order to get settled in. Like with many other places in Mexico, my host family places much emphasis on family and the protection of the Virgin of Guadelupe. The family is reasonably close, though it seems like they do not mind doing things independently in their spare time. It is not that different from my house, actually. Nevertheless, I find my family one I can rely on when I need something in times of stress.

Upon arriving to the university, things begun to start rolling. I noticed that the classes were a lot like the ones back at Western: we had our plan and we had assignments in class. What was different was the class size. In one class, there was only two people: myself and another girl. In the other, there was five. It was such a different experience to have so few students in a class and honestly, I enjoyed this change. I felt like it was a little bit easier to be outspoken and to feel a connection with the professor in regards to the assignments. Even with the smaller class sizes in Western, it is not that common for me to be very outspoken. I feel like it is still too soon to say for sure, but I feel like I might be able to discover new learning styles that I have never had the chance to be exposed to before. I will have to wait and see if I can perform adequately.

After finishing class, I had the opportunity to explore the campus a bit with a fellow abroad student, and we discovered some interesting sites along the way. The university in Queretaro has many places that carry a sort of significance that seems to reflect the ideals of the school and possibly Mexico itself. There was the museum made over a hundred years ago. The statue of Juarez, I believe it was Benito Juarez the lawyer who was well known for the modernization of the country and  other contributions for the country’s over betterment. Mexico treats its history with plenty of respect. I know the U.S has its own famous landmarks, but Mexico has really helped me to be more aware of sites like these. I feel like I might learn more if I talk to others about it. Only time will tell how much more cultural knowledge I will obtain, in addition to bettering my Spanish.

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Week 1

This week we started school and upon first arriving in the city of Siena I noticed intricate looking lamps down every street and down the street my apartment was on there were flags every ten feet for as far as I could see. They were beautiful with lots of bright colors and had what looked like a horse on the flags. During the week I had the opportunity to go on several tours with my school and learn about the history of the city. I wanted to know more about the variety of flags I saw around the city and the flags down the street. The coordinator of my school is from Siena so I also talked to her about it and she, as well as the tours, informed me that they were flags and symbols representing sections of the city. The city is divided up into 17 sections called contrade. Each contrada has a “mascot” that represents their section (mine happens to be the leocorno, or unicorn) and each contrada has a rival, except for two that are supposed to be rivals, but have now formed a friendship. Twice a year these contrade race horses around the Piazza del Camp, which is similar to a large plaza in the city, the horse race is called the Palio. The Palio happens in July and August and I will be able to attend the Palio di Siena on July 2nd. An Italian is born into their contrada based on where their family lives and it forever becomes a part of them, their culture, and passed down tradition. Attached are some photos I have taken from around the city to show you the different lamps and the unicorn contrada’s flag.

Leocorno (Unicorn) contrada

Leocorno (Unicorn) contrada

Onda (Wave) contrada

Onda (Wave) contrada

Bruco (Caterpillar) contrada

Bruco (Caterpillar) contrada

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The Arrival! The New Country and Feelings.

When I first arrived in Mexico, my emotions were in a sort of tug-o-war. I was actually pretty excited to finally be in a new country, especially that appeared very developed like Queretaro. Actually arriving in the city, I knew exactly what was coming, a whole new set of challenges to overcome: getting used to the new set of rules the country and its culture has, the use of a language that I was still learning to be proficient at, and just trying to find out where everything is.

Honestly, I am still frightened about being here in Queretaro. Despite knowing some Spanish up to this point, I still wonder if I will be able to make it. I am also worried about getting everything in order to survive and getting from place to place without getting lost. I know these kinds of things will go away with experience, but still, it is something totally brand new that I am not used to. I still have not seen everything yet, as well as gotten all the tools, and there is still time before classes start and I begin living with my host family. Beneath all the anxiety, I believe, deep down, I am awaiting everything with intrigue. As the photos show, Queretaro is a big place, and given time, it can be quite a journey unlike I have ever experienced.

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Arrival Post: Anny Sheie Queretaro

Going through customs/immigration was so different! I had never done it before but it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be.  We filled out some papers and pushed this “magical” button to find out if our bags would be searched or not. What came next was what surprised me. Behind the tinted glass doors were twenty or so people crowded up right near the door awaiting the arrivals from Houston. It was just a bit overwhelming to me because there were so many people. After the long flights and lack of sleep, the bright lights and the many people staring at us five Americans was just crazy.

The taxi ride was good. It was funny because I assumed all Mexicans would enjoy football (soccer) but my taxi drive said he didn’t. I guess my assumption was wrong.

He drove so fast and confidently! We came within centimeters of parked cars as we navigated the tight streets of downtown Queretaro. DSCF0138   DSCF0154

Our hotel is great! So nice and clean. Most people are very friendly and helpful The waiters are so patient while we try to figure out the menus and how to order our food.

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First week abroad!

I am just ending my first week abroad in Siena Italy, and wow!  In just this week alone I have heard so many interesting historical stories, myths in this culture, seen historical places, and the culture it’s self.

In this post I really want to talking about the contradas.  Now you may be asking what is this; a contrada is an area in Siena.  Sieana is broken down into 18 different contadads each having their own mascots.  Some mascots are the eagle, tortes, snail, and the unicorn.  A persons contrada depends on where you are born and grown up.  When you are born you are baptized in a fountain in your contrada ( this is not a religious thing, more like a right of passage.)  Now I live in the Unicorn contrada. Each contrada has its own flag and colors.  Everyday you can hear drums from one of the contradas and see parades with flags, music, people following.  It is a big deal here.

So what is the point of this?  A big horse race called the palio will be happening on July 2nd and all the contradas, come and watch this race hoping for their team to win.  People carry flags of their contradas and wear their colors,

Each contrada  has an enemy, for example the eagles hate the fish.  People know when they step in a different contrada  because immediately the flags change and all the lamps and statues now match the new contrada.

I learned all my information by my school,  they took us on two all day tours of the city and its history.

Below I attached 3 pictures:  1, of the fish flag, 2. where two contadas meet, and 3, a parade( of the unicorn contrada :) )

IMG_1420   IMG_1422 (1)   IMG_1386

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