Finding and Keeping Friends While Abroad

Me, Monse, and Saira at their Alpha Gamma Phi formal last year.

We all know about Hope culture, and the Hope “Hi!” It was one of the things that attracted me to Hope when I was a senior in college. I knew it was the right environment for me and because of it, I made so many friends just that way. But being abroad is a completely different atmosphere, especially when you’re in a program with students from all over the country, different backgrounds, levels of maturity, school culture, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made friends here despite its difficulty, but it’s still not the same as having the people that I have spent the last 2 and half years getting to know at Hope.

In a study abroad program, you find that in the first few days everyone is in survival mode, literally. It’s like freshman year, but the pressure is kicked up because you are tired from jet lag, being in an unknown place/culture, meeting new people, possibly speaking or using a new language, and ultimately, you are stressing out. I had a strategy from day one; be kind to everyone, if you find a small connection see it out, and trust your gut. There’s plenty of studies that tell you that in a matter of seconds you have already made your judgment about a person you meet for the first time. Often, it’s used to talk about job interviews and how you should dress for them, but I think it can also be applied to the way you live and choose friends. No, you can’t know everything about a person in a matter of seconds, but people definitely show you who they are deep down in small instances from the time you meet them. We all have gut reactions to people and our bodies pick up on it way before our mind usually does, in my experience. I mean, I know what it feels like to really want a person in my life, I describe it as a warm glowy feeling that just makes you light up. This is then amplified as you begin to get to know the person and they affirm your feelings with actions that build trust. So this was my strategy. Who do I trust?

At the beginning, it was easiest to try this with my housemates, but as you know that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I knew it was best for me to leave the situation. However, there have been some consistent characters in my study abroad experience. Those people over time have showed me that I can trust them, and gave me some hint of a glowy feeling. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people give off signs that they don’t mean to emit. I would say two of the people I trust the most in this program were not showing their true selves in our first encounter, but over the course of the program and multiple encounters, I’ve found them to be the people who help me keep my sanity as a person of color in this program. As you might guess, they are also people of color and we share the experience of being minorities within a minority while studying abroad in Spain. We are able to build trust and our relationship over that shared experience and others that we go through as students in PWIs (predominately white institutions) in the US. If you think about it in another way, it’s the thing that makes us feel most alone in the world that brought us together and gave us a deeper connection. In that way, I am grateful for the experiences I had at the beginning of the program that were not so genuine because its made me go out of my way to find the right people for me and my study abroad experience.

About two months ago, I was really feeling that loneliness kick in. I was the only person of color in my apartment and most of the students were not understanding. Of those who were, they offered minimum support. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I had already been in contact with program directors about what I was experiencing and it helped me change my environment. Although, what really helped me was my internship. I’ve made so many friends of color in Madrid from various ethnicities, nationalities, and ages. It’s made my experience richer in ways that the average study abroad student might have to fight for a connection so profound. I remember praying on a day that I didn’t have classes, I was affirming the idea that what is meant for me, God will bring it into my life. From that day on, I met new people of color each day, specifically African Americans and Latinos who are either studying abroad or teaching abroad. It made me feel like I finally was out of the minority ad, if anything, casted into a positive and affirming space that gave me time to reflect on my experience from a non-white perspective/narrative. I felt free.

Although I’ve made great connections here, at the end of the day, I still miss my friends from back home. Those are the people who were there for me during some of the hardest times of my young adult life. Love has always been an interesting concept to me and a feeling I didn’t truly understand, but this experience abroad has definitely helped me sort through the complexities of this feeling. Love takes trust and trust takes love. I trust the people that I’ve developed deep and honest relationships with from Hope, and it’s made me love them for the support they continue to give me even while I’m abroad. I will say the drawback is that I can’t see them when I want or share this amazing experience with them in the same way that I can with my new friends here. However, their love for me and mine for them is felt across the big blue pond that separates us. The friends that I felt the greatest connection with are the ones who are easiest to stay in contact with and it says a lot about our feelings toward our friendship. It has shown me who I care about most and who cares about me.

To my friends who are reading this, thank you for being here for me. I’m grateful for having you in my life and our senior year is gonna be amazing! I hope you all have a great summer 🙂

 

Interning at Intersect Madrid

 

**English at the bottom**

Genevieve y Joe organizando un evento de Open Mic en febrero de 2019.

Hace tres meses que tuve mi entrevista con Intersect Madrid. Durante la entrevista, hablamos sobre el inicio de la organizacion, así que pude entender las ganas de Genevieve y los líderes de Intersect Madrid, llamados Harshal, Joe, y Lela. Es una organización de las relaciones interpersonales acerca de temas de diversidad en el trabajo y en la vida diaria aquí en España. Anteriormente, solo se enfocó en las relaciones raciales. Desde 2016, Genevieve ha desarrollado la organización para la comunidad de los extranjeros que hablan inglés y para crear un espacio de colaboración entre los hispanohablantes y los anglófonos, ayudar con el desarrollo del informe de impacto, actividades para las talleres, y unos proyectos nuevos. Mi trabajo consiste en hacer el informe de impacto, tengo que utilizar el portfolio de Race Relations Madrid.

Anteriormente, Intersect Madrid se llamaba Race Relations Madrid. El portfolio ya tiene todos los eventos del inicio de la organización. Utilizo estos datos para empezar a ordenar los eventos que han ocurrido y los impactos que Genevieve notó ya. Después de ordenar, tengo que traducirlo a español. A parte de eso, hago un plan de actividades nuevas para los talleres de educación. Intersect Madrid hace los talleres de educación para ayudar a la comunidad de extranjeros de color y anglófonos con temas de discriminación y prejuicios en el sistema de educación en España. Ya he tenido mucha experiencia con el manejo de conflictos acerca del tema de diversidad e inclusión.

Hicimos un taller el 9 de marzo a las 4 y media acerca del tema Challenging Blackface in the Classroom. Consistía en una colaboración con un colectivo local que se llama Black View. Es un grupo de actores en Madrid que quiere expandir los papeles que pueden hacer los actores negros de España. También lucha contra el Blackface aquí en España. ¿Sabes que es Blackface? Mucha gente de los EE.UU ya sabe que es porque durante el principio del siglo 19 había espectáculos llamados ministriles que demostraban imágenes, obras de teatro, caricaturas, y más para burlarse de los afroamericanos. Aquí en España se aparece durante carnaval, Halloween, y una tradición de los tres reyes magos, específicamente en Alcoy. Ya existe el problema de blackface y la ignorancia de las consecuencias en los demás. Blackview lucha contra la idea de que no hay actores negros para hacer los papeles y que no pueden hacer papeles a parte de esclavos o prostitutos. Su misión es desmantelar los estereotipos de negros, presentarles como actores en la comunidad de actores españoles, y ser referentes.

Durante el taller, hicieron hincapié en el punto de que no son afroamericanos y tienen que luchar por su propia historia y presencia aquí en España, aunque se respeten y admiren la lucha de los afroamericanos en cinema estadounidense. Inmediatamente, Intersect Madrid le ofrece a los auxiliares algunas actividades y planes de leccion para discutir la presencia de blackface aquí en España. Por ejemplo, para los niños en la primaria, es útil que los auxiliares les enseñen a los estudiantes algunos términos básicos como “burlarse” en inglés.

 

Yo, respondiendo a los organizadores con mi opinion como siempre jaja

Para hacerlo interactivo, les dicen que traigan unas fotos de revistas o álbumes de la familia de carnaval para hablar de las apariencias de blackface. Harshil y Leela del equipo Intersect Madrid les daban a los auxiliares un paquete con todas las actividades que desarrollaron y más recursos para amplificar el impacto en los estudiantes. Fue un gran éxito. He tenido mucha suerte con esta práctica y el equipo en un país que no tiene mucha diversidad ni idea de los retos que tienen en el mundo las personas de color. Hago mis propios talleres en los meses que vienen y espero que os diga más de esos temas y mi experiencia dentro de la práctica en Madrid.

 

Genevieve and Joe hosting an Open Mic event in February 2019.

**English**

I had an interview with Intersect Madrid three months ago. During the interview, we talked about the start of the organization so I could understand their goals. The team leaders are Genevieve, Harshal, Joe, and Lela. It is an organization of interpersonal relationships about diversity issues at work and in daily life here in Spain. Previously, it only concentrated on race relations. However, since 2016, Genevieve has developed the organization for the community of foreigners who speak English and to create a space for collaboration between Spanish speakers and English speakers. My job is to help with the development of the impact report, activities for the workshops, and some new projects. In order to make the impact report, I have to use the Race Relations Madrid portfolio. Previously, Intersect Madrid was called Race Relations Madrid. The portfolio already has all the events from the beginning of the organization. I use this data to start chronologically ordering the events that have occurred and the impacts that the team has noticed already. Afterwards, I have to translate it into Spanish. Apart from that, I make a plan of new activities for the education workshops. Intersect Madrid conducts education workshops to help the community of foreigners of color and English speakers with issues of discrimination and prejudice in the education system in Spain. I have already had a lot of experience with conflict management on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

We did a workshop on March 9th on the theme Challenging Blackface in the Classroom. It consisted of a collaboration with a local collective called Black View. It is a group of actors in Madrid who want to expand the roles that black actors in Spain can play. They also fight against the use of Blackface here in Spain. Do you know what Blackface is? Many people in the US are familiar with it because in the beginning of the 19th century there were shows called minstrels that would show images, plays, cartoons, and more to mock and discriminate against African Americans. Here in Spain it appears during Carnival, Halloween, and a tradition of the Three Wise Men, specifically in Alcoy. There is already the problem of blackface and the ignorance of the consequences in others. Blackview works to change the idea that there are no black actors to do the roles and the idea that they cannot do roles apart from slaves or prostitutes. Their mission statement is to dismantle the stereotypes of blacks, to present them as actors in the community of Spanish actors, and to be referents.

During the workshop, the point emphasized was that they are not African-American and have to fight for their own history and presence here in Spain. Nevertheless, they respect and admire the struggle of African-Americans in American cinema. Immediately, Intersect Madrid offered to the teacher assistants some activities and lesson plans to discuss the presence of blackface here in Spain. For example, for children in elementary school, it is helpful for assistants to teach students some basic terms such as “mocking” or “making fun of” in English.

Me responding  and adding on to the presentation ( as always haha)

To make it interactive, they are told to bring some pictures of magazines or family carnival albums to talk about the appearances of blackface. Harshil and Leela gave the assistants a package with all the activities they developed and more resources to amplify the impact on the students. It was a success! I have had a lot of luck with this internship and the team in a country that does not have much diversity or idea of ​​the challenges it perpetuates in the world for people of color. I will do my own workshops in the coming months and I hope to tell you more about those topics and my experience as an intern in Madrid. So stay tuned!

 

https://www.facebook.com/Intersectmadrid/

Changes

I’ve been abroad for almost three months now, and so much has changed. As you could imagine, my perspective on life has changed, but I’ve undergone other huge changes as well. So many that I don’t know where to begin. 

For about a month in a half, I was in a shared apartment with 4 other girls: three white Americans and one Spanish graduate student. Quite frankly, this was a recipe for disaster. Many white Americans are just not culturally competent enough to live with a person of color(s) without a lot of tension. To be more specific, in a majority white European country, there is an added level of cultural pressure on the person of color. I could never catch a break because I was constantly in an environment in which I was seen and treated differently because of the color of my skin and/or the culture I was raised in.

“Did you just say, “The Italian?” said one of my housemates, who we’ll call Jessica. She often made remarks about me speaking Ebonics to the point that I would just answer all calls to my family behind a closed door. “You say your opinion a lot,” said Karen, another housemate, to me because she didn’t understand why I would actually talk about conflict when it arose. “Yeah, she said you’re such a b-word,” a friend told me after overhearing Dawn, another housemate, complain about how sassy I am. “The Sassy Black Girl” or The Angry Black Woman” stereotypes have been given to me so much I stopped responding to it with concern and realize this was unacceptable for me to have to explain myself and undergo constant cultural rejection and micro-aggression. This was not the right environment for me. Week two of the program, I talked with one of the coordinators and it was followed up with a meeting on week five in which I was given the option to move into a homestay. I moved out less than a week later.

In my homestay, there is an older Spanish woman who’s inherited a luxurious apartment with a terrace in the center of the city. She’s never been married and does not have any kids apart from two neighborhood kids who come by every weekend. Like any typical Spanish person, she loves to talk, stay up late, smoke and drink beer. Although she sometimes mothers me more than I’d like, she is an amazing woman who has lived a very full life and still has so much more ahead of her. Physically, I am in a completely different environment and full Spanish immersion because she knows very little English.

The first week in my new home, I took a trip back to Valencia to visit my host family from over the summer. They haven’t changed a bit. I realized how well I got to know them and missed them even in my time away. It felt like I actually had a family here in Spain. We spent time together in the city on Saturday, and a few hours at home on Sunday. It was nice to see that I made an impression on them when I sometimes don’t seem to notice that I have that effect on people.

It’s interesting now to compare the two experiences I have had in Spain with two different families. To give your more of an idea of that experience, I’ll give a comparison to the US. Imagine having lived two months with a family in New Jersey and a separate set of months with a family from Alabama. It would be pretty different right? This is exactly my experience here. My host family in Valencia speaks a different language, it’s similar to Catalan, and Spanish as a second language. I could understand a good amount of it because of my background in French and Spanish, however, I would have to concentrate way more than with Spanish. When they would switch back to speaking Spanish it was as clear as someone speaking English to me, and my head would hurt a lot less as you could imagine. They live closer to the sea so they have a lot more traditional seafood dishes worked into their diets. In contrast, my current host mom is from Andalusia which has its own culture and dialect of Spanish that is spoken. I understand them pretty well because I have a lot of friends from Seville, but sometimes it can be difficult because of the different words and phrases that they use on top of the accent. All in all, it’s really beautiful to see how their history affects their culture and changes my experience as an outsider. I can tell you more about this in a different blog because I learned a lot about how these cultural shifts came to be, through my Religion and Society class. Just stay tuned. Also, I’ll upload another video of my time in Valencia on YouTube so check it out when you get the chance!

 

Día Internacional de la Mujer

I am privileged to say that I have now participated in two Women’s Marches, in two capitals of the world. Back in 2017, after Trump was inaugurated, I traveled overnight to our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., with a bus full of Hope faculty and students. These are experiences I will never forget because they are the moments in which I truly feel like I have acted out the words that my favorite black female activist, Angela Davis, said at a time when the Black community was at its height after the civil rights movement. She said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Not to my surprise, the lovely women of color I protested with even quoted her on one of their posters, in Spanish of course. Words on this screen can’t do the experience justice, so I can tell you better in video. Watch my video below to relive this once in a lifetime experience with me.

 

Cherish la Sevillana

I spent the weekend in Seville! CIEE organized a planned weekend trip to Seville, Spain. Sevilla is a part of the Andalusian region of Spain. It used to be populated by people mostly from the middle east and home to three of the country’s most practiced religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Today, you can see so many remnants of its past and the way in which those things are still a part of the culture today. For example, there used to be mostly Arabic speakers in this part of the country and that affected a lot of the town names, colloquial terms, and the accent. Andalucía was previously known as Al-Andalus to the former Arabic-speaking inhabitants. If you think is cool, you’re gonna flip when I tell you that I went to the royal palace of the famous Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Fun fact: it is still used as a palace for the Spanish monarchy when they make visits to this region. There’s a beautiful culture and history to unpack here in Andalusia and I’m going to tell you a little bit more about what I learned!

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Religion and Society and we focus on the three main religions of Spain. It’s such a great class because we are able to not only learn about the religions, but how they were created, intertwined with society, and understand more about their structure. Often, classes on religion can become more preachy than teachy; however, this class gives us actual accounts of the facts, beliefs, and societal perceptions over time. I love it! What makes it better is that over the weekend I was able to visit some of the sites we discussed.

We left around 8:30 AM Friday morning for Sevilla. I slept most of the ride there. About 5 hours into our drive, we stopped for lunch. This was the first I had a traditional Spanish meal since the summer. Next, we made a stop in Cordoba. Ever heard of it? Well, if you were to ask any Muslim at the height of their expansion into the west, and specifically Spain, you would know that it held one of three important Mosques of its time. It was the central Mosque for Muslims in Spain. However, as I learned in my class and during our tour of the mosque, it did not remain a mosque. After many years of oppression, relentless efforts by the Pope and catholic rulers throughout Europe, all of these religious spaces, including Jewish synagogues, were “Christianized.”

To give you a clearer picture, let’s talk about the royal palace in Seville. It is almost entirely decorated in Arabic script and constructed in Islamic style architecture. When you go deeper into the palace and its many salas you would be suddenly struck with byzantine Christian imagery. I’m talking about all the stuff that Muslims would avoid to remain their founding principal of equality. You will see paintings that reach all four corners of a wall adorned with golden elaborately designed frames. Angels, Jesus, saints — if it’s Christian, then it is present in any of the Christianized religious buildings. In class, I learned that this kind of complete take over and hierarchical power structure that we find in Christianity is deeply rooted in the political and societal structure of Ancient Rome. For me, it cleared up all the conflicting ideas that were present in Christianity. I could honestly write a whole blog on just how much I’ve learned about these 3 religions’ fundamental and structural makeup. I’ll leave you here this time and pick it up in a later blog. Now it’s story time!

While in Cordoba and Sevilla, we visited some off site locations such as the medieval Jewish neighborhoods that once occupied so much of these cities. Upon walking away from the palace, we find ourselves in one of these beautiful and historical juderias (Jewish neighborhood). This isn’t any ordinary Jewish quarter because it is the actual location in which a story of star crossed lovers met their fate. I am really trying to make this interesting and suspenseful. Is it working? Okay, let’s keep going haha. There was a young Jewish girl and young Christian boy who shared a forbidden love for each other. One night, the young Jewish girl planned to meet her lover in the neighborhood square. She heard her father talking about planning an attack on the Christians who lived nearby. When the Christian boy got word of this, he decided to tell his comrades in order to prepare themselves for the events to take place that night. In the end, everyone is slain except the couple. It was such a deadly battle and it caused the Christian boy to want nothing to do with the young Jewish girl. She was then without parents, without a lover, and without any place to go. She goes to the church, and yes, I mean the catholic church, to ask for help. They tell her that they will help her, but only if she converts to Christianity and joins the convent as a nun. The young Jewish girl then lives the rest of her life as a Christian woman.

Everything I’ve told you to this point is an actual account of history in this neighborhood that happened thousands of years ago, if I remember correctly, it happened in the 15th or 16th century. However, the legend goes on to say that before she died, she asked that her head be separated from her body and placed in her childhood home as a lesson to young Jewish children not to disobey their elder or betray their people. Although the story is unfortunate, it has been kept alive for generations and the legend has taken the shape of a narrow street and a tile decorated with a skull. The street of the dead who were killed that night of the battle and a skull to remember the “wishes” of the young Jewish girl. This was all told to me in Spanish by the way. It was pretty amazing to be in this spot in which it all took place so long ago. Then, as we exited, I began to admittedly critique the character of the young Christian boy who abandoned his star-crossed lover. Que tonto era! He was such a jerk!

Before I get upset again about this 15th/16th century Justin Bieber wannabe…let’s just look at some pretty pictures in the video below haha.

Code Switching and Other News (Madrid, Spain)

Remember when I said that people like to stare in Madrid? During orientation, one of the Spanish assistants in the CIEE Global Institute explained that it has nothing to do with us and that the Madrileños just like to stare. Turns out there’s a lot more to this story then she led on. Moises, a student in my program, is doing a full year in the Liberal Arts Program; therefore, this is his second semester. He’s from the Dominican Republic and has a different accent and colloquial terms from a Spaniard. He’s very tall, brown skinned, and has beautiful, curly black hair. People always stare at him with a little bit of a feeling of alarm because he looks “foreign” and “unpredictable.” When he opens his mouth to speak Spanish, he is told that he speaks bad Spanish. Spanish classmates don’t want to work with him because he’s different; because he’s black. I am also stared at with looks of exotic wonder and a feeling of distrust. Racism exists in all parts of the world and is inescapable for black and brown people around the world.

I am “otherized” back home in the states as well. It doesn’t make my experience in Spain any easier; however, I already have tools to deal with covert racism. There are only four black students in my program, including myself. One of these students has witnessed a white Spaniard call the police on an African immigrant in the most diverse neighborhood in Madrid, what we call in the states a “high risk,” or “bad” area.  The same student overheard a Spaniard say that he spoke Spanish “like the Cubans” or a “slave.” This is not what I want to report on about my daily life in Spain, but it’s an important aspect of my life — not a political debate or a conversation about race. It’s a reality that racism exists everywhere and as a person of color, I don’t catch a break from it. During my time here, I’ve made a friend who is a black Madrileña. She is a Spanish citizen and grew up in Madrid, but at the end of the day she does not get to exercise her full rights as a citizen and is made to feel like an outsider. Some of her black friends from various backgrounds are running for office because they are Spanish citizens and will fight to be treated like it.  

Differences in culture and race are a big part of my reason for studying abroad in Spain. Over the summer, I was not able to learn a lot about this aspect of life because I was only gaining perspective from white Spaniards. They told me that the U.S. was worse, but I would also see the way some looked down on the African immigrants and the gitanos (gypsy) or Roma people. I knew there was more to this story, so I came back to find out. I will continually talk about this topic as I gain more insight and perspective. I can tell you now that Spain is very much in the “I don’t see color” racial identity stage. This is the idea that if we do not acknowledge the difference, there can’t be racism. As many black (African Americans)  people would say, “ das a bol face lie” which means that they know this can’t be true. If they did not see color, why do they feel uncomfortable around Moises, Brian, the African immigrant, and me?

On a lighter note, I have plenty of other daily experiences to share about my life here in Madrid as well. I’m going to break this up into categories to make it easier to explain. Also, I talk about these things and more in the video below.

Groceries

They are a lot cheaper here than they are back home. Things are never sold in bundles or as deals like “10 for 10 with the 11th item free” or “Buy One, Get One Free.” Everything has a pretty set price and it’s marked down when its going out of season or is popular for a special time. I go grocery shopping every two days at least. As you could imagine, this is a hard concept for an American to wrap her head around. My mom would go shopping every Saturday for 1-2 weeks worth of groceries. It’s a huge change. At first, my housemates bought the items that we all needed to share as a house, which I recommend because it saves money and time. The first two weeks I was just guessing, but now I know how to shop for myself. The trick is to buy what you need, and  maybe one or two things that are simply for your enjoyment. Don’t buy anything more than what you need until it has run out, or else, it will spoil quickly because the food is not made with preservatives like in the U.S. Bread is baked fresh daily, so you should buy pan, a baguette, every 1-2 days, but have backup pan bimbo, a loaf of bread. I will have this down to a science in a month, so wait for my update haha.

Cooking

For the past few years, I thought that I was just horrible at cooking and shopping for groceries. However, I’ve learned here in Spain that the only thing that I was missing was an opportunity with a sprinkle of motivation. I’ve lived on main campus the past three years, and for two of them in Kollen Hall. Have you seen the size of the kitchen? Can you imagine all 250 residents trying to cook even one meal a day in that kitchen? Yeah, impossible. I was always thankful for my meal plan, but it felt like a crutch at the same time. I wasn’t able to make decisions on my own about what I should be eating and I didn’t have the opportunity to gain confidence in the kitchen and cook for myself. I realized that I know a lot more than I thought about food and cooking. All those years in the kitchen with my mom and watching her cook have paid off. I do know how to make things, and it isn’t to hard for me to learn something new or make something up with Spanish ingredients. I have to adapt to the kind of produce that is available for the season and that can be grown here. In the U.S.,  you can find anything because of our high use of preservatives and imported produce. Spain is a main producer for a lot of produce in Europe, however, it still has seasonal and regional restrictions. Also, I took a Spanish cooking class to learn how to make some of my favorite Spanish meals, such as paella (a seafood rice dish) and tortilla de patata (potato omelette)!

Laundry

We don’t have a dryer. How do we dry clothes, you may wonder? I noticed this over the summer, too. Spanish people will normally only have a lavadora, washer, and dry things on their clothes line on the balcony. Yes, even in the winter. To be honest they don’t have a real winter. But, don’t tell them I said that. They think it’s cold haha. But that’s all I have to report on laundry.

Transportation

I take the metro everywhere with a monthly pass called an abono. I love it! It’s one of the things I missed when I got back home to the U.S. after the summer here in Europe. At 16, I was so excited to drive. Fast forward five years, I am always asking other people to drive for me. I love catching a ride on the metro and cercanias, a faster train for long distance outside of the city. I even took a ride on the bus the other day for a class field trip. I’ve always been horrible at public transportation in the states because I never had to learn it. Honestly, if you don’t live in a big city, you don’t learn and you don’t have a good system in your town. However, my summer in Europe gave me so much confidence and now I can handle anything. Even when I don’t know the language. Speaking of which, I’ve planned a trip to Portugal for spring break. Can’t wait!

Classes

Everything is in Spanish. Okay, this is why I chose the program. I wanted the challenge and to improve my Spanish in this way. In the future, I plan to do research in a Spanish speaking country so this is perfect! I was surprised by how quickly I adjusted. The moment I began taking notes in Spanish was the moment I felt so accomplished in my Spanish language abilities haha *flips braids over shoulder*. My reading comprehension takes me a bit longer than in English. I’ve learned that a lot of my bad habits in English and American style learning have crossed over and I’ve had to reevaluate the way I study.  For example, not taking notes because “I can just remember,” does not work for me here. I am more inclined to take notes for memorization of important themes. This helps a lot with learning in another language. It’s hard for me to recall information in Spanish because my brain hasn’t gotten used to having to do it. In the moment of instruction, I understand everything and I make great connections in Spanish; however, later my brain has turned the comprehension into English. This is to say I can’t remember it perfectly or exactly in Spanish, although I learned it that way. I expect this to improve over time. All of my classes are in Spanish, but only one is a direct enroll with Spanish students. The professor speaks at a normal speed, which I understand, but if I take a moment to multitask, such as taking notes while listening to the lecture, I only catch a few words of what he’s saying. I’m going to start recording the lectures. Passively listening in Spanish is not my strong suit yet. My other classes are with other international students who are not native Spanish speakers. The professors speak at the same speed, but will stop to make sure we comprehend. It is a lot easier to speak in these classes. Not because I’m self-conscious in my direct enrollment class, but because I don’t speak as fast as a native speaker yet. My Spanish classmates speak so fast and sometimes really low or they have a different accent I don’t understand really well. These are challenges. However, I expect it to get easier over time.

Phew! I have so much more to talk about. I’ll have to update you next week. Stay tuned!

Life is Life is Life

When you walk into my room, you see a shelf above my bed with a picture of my mom, dad, and I. By its side is a candle from Paradise Funeral Home. Below it there’s the dream catcher that hung in my dad’s car when he used to take me to school. These things were essential to my packing list for Spain.

A year ago, my dad passed away. It was spring  semester, during winter break, and I had just arrived to Ann Arbor the night before. That day we got a call from my mom, she was crying hysterically, and I already knew what she was going to say. I knew this day was coming, but nothing could have prepared me for February 10th, 2018. Afterwards, I often felt mood swings as the 10th of every month would approach. There was always a combination of thoughts and emotions that triggered this behavior. The semester before he passed, my mom had left him, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and I was constantly struggling to be who I thought I was at the time.  It felt like everything that kept me grounded was now being cracked by the earth’s surface. Subconsciously, I was experiencing everything all at once, however, my mind could only process everything one at a time.

Three months after he passed, I was preparing to go abroad for the first time. I had just finished the semester and I felt like I had nothing left to give because I was drained.  I experienced so much loss. Multiple friendships disappeared before my eyes, family members went into the shadows, classwork piled on me, new people came into my life, I cried, and I felt so much anger that I cried some more. I experienced a lot of loss, and still carry it with me. You might even be thinking why didn’t I take a break or give up.  I had no choice. I’m a young black woman from a poor community. What other choice did I have but to keep going? I have generations of black women and men, like my father, who spent their lives in oppression and hoped that their children could live a life that is just a little bit better than them. This is what helped me push through.

My da was born to sharecroppers in small city in Arkansas. He said that he could remember working fields with them. The stories that I have of my da are a little choppy. I only got these stories from my mama. I wasn’t really close to da. To me, he was always this mysteriously big, “little” chocolate man. We called him da, (dah), not dad, daddy, pops, or father. He was just da. I knew that he loved to draw when he was a kid, that he always had a supernatural gift, and that he never could sit down for more than 20 minutes without falling asleep or getting up to go somewhere. There’s much more that I started to realize that da and I have in common, especially after he passed. Such as my curiosity about other cultures and a deep desire to share with others my experiences and wisdom. Without a doubt, it’s what led me here to Spain. Right after he died, I wrote down memories I had of him and lessons he taught me, good and bad, just so that I won’t forget them when I’m older. I wrote them as if I was telling him the story and thanking him for his time with me. 

His heart was always in the right place and he taught me to follow my intuition. Even when I was irritated by him as a teen, I knew that he just wanted to help. He would always say, “Aww Cherish, you kno dah-d don mean no ha-m.”As I started going to a majority white school in high school, I was so embarrassed by the way he spoke. Now that I’m older and research the language, I feel so much closer to him. There were times that I misunderstood him as a kid, and it was because I was looking at him often through someone else’s lense. Whether it be the lense of the world or a family member. However if there’s anything I learned in this past year, it’s that at the end of the day your intuition points you in the right direction. You already have the power and knowledge within yourself to understand others and most importantly yourself.

So how do I feel now, you may wonder? Well, I realized that it’s not something you can explain. This week, was a rough week as it led up to the anniversary of his passing. Two days ago, I felt tears coming on and just let them out. This is completely okay, but the problem was that I’m in a foreign country with people I only met two weeks ago. So I talked with family and called some friends from back home and cried with them. However, I realized that it didn’t really matter that I am abroad at the same time as the anniversary. It would have been hard no matter where I am in the world. Life is Life is Life. I have to trust those who don’t necessarily understand, like my friends from back home and the new people in my life here in Spain. This continues to be hard for me since my relationship with trust has been reevaluated so many times by family members, significant others, close friends, and strangers. I had to realize that trust is earned, but also you have to give it in small instances like this one. It’s the only way to live a life that’s more than just worthwhile.

As many people say, death is inevitable. Most people only think of their own death when they hear this statement. However, the truth is that it’s bigger than our own deaths, but the deaths of the people around us, hopes, and dreams. We can’t escape pain in this life, but there are resources for healing. Vulnerability is not weak, but courageous. It’s not about what people think about you, but what you think about yourself. You are daring to be seen and heard in a world where most people we encounter are only waiting to be loved. The beauty in the bitterness of a loved one’s death is to know that their being now lives on through you as love. We’ve all learned at some point in our lives that energy can never be destroyed nor created. Therefore, love is love is love. No matter where we are in this world, life still goes on and the things of our past continue to be with us.

 

Ya estoy en España!

**English Below**

¿La última vez que he estado en este país? El 12 de agosto. Me acuerdo de los sentimientos pesados. No quería volverme a los EE.UU. ¿Por que? Pues, a ver…

Hablando de mis primeras impresiones de España, yo estaba enamorada de la cultura, la gente, y el estilo de vida. El primer día sentí una especie de sobrecogimiento cuando finalmente llegué a Valencia. Durante el verano, especialmente en la costa, España es maravillosa. Puede ver las montañas y las palmeras de cualquier sitio. La playa no está tan lejos del centro. Había fiesta del jueves al domingo. Siempre la comida es fresca y  se acompaña con un vino tinto o una copa de cerveza con limón. A partir de la segunda semana, la gente española me mostró que “se vive” en España.

Es una locura que  todo eso hace 4 meses y estoy en España de nuevo. ¿Sabes que? No me siento como hace 4 meses. Desde el momento que ha aterrizado el avión, me siento como hace 2 semanas que estuve en este país. ¿Se lo cree? Pues, yo tampoco. Esperaba que hubiera tenido un choque cultural. Cuando conocí a las personas de mi programa, enseguida, comenzé a hablar en español con ellos. Estaba llena de emoción y quería comenzar la experiencia con confianza en mí misma. Si quiere mejorar un aspecto de vida, hay que tener confianza en sí mismo. Esto es clave en un ambiente distinto. Sin embargo, el tener confianza en sí mismo no significa no necesitar la ayuda de otros. También esto es clave.

Solo he estado en España durante una semana. Todavía estoy enamorada con el país, especialmente la ciudad de Madrid. Si quieres saber mas de mi experiencia durante el verano, eche un vistazo a mi blog en tumblr (enlace). Tambien, estaré cargando unos videos bisemanales, más o menos. Abajo tengo la primera semana ya.  Espero que disfrute los blogs y videos. ¡Hasta pronto!

 

English

The last time I was in this country? It was August 12th. I remember this heavy feeling. I didn’t want to go back home. Why? Well, let’s see…

My first impressions of Spain were those of a love affair. I was in love with the culture, the people, and the way of life. The first day I was in awe when I finally arrived in Valencia. Over the summer, especially on the coast, Spain is magnificently beautiful. You can see the mountains and palm trees from anywhere. The beach isn’t too far from the city. There were fiestas from Thursday to Sunday. The food is always fresh and they eat it with a glass of red wine or a beer mixed with lemon juice. From the second week on, Spanish people showed me that “one lives” life in Spain.

It’s crazy to think this was all 4 months ago and now I’m back again. You know what? I didn’t feel like it had been 4 months ago. From the moment the plane landed, I felt like it had only been 2 weeks ago that I was in Spain. Can you believe it? Me either. I was expecting to feel a culture shock. When I met people in my program, I immediately began speaking in Spanish. I was filled with excitement and I wanted to start off on the right foot with confidence. If you want to improve an aspect of your life, you have to have confidence in yourself. This is key in a new environment. However, this doesn’t mean that you don’t need the help of others. This is also really important.

I’ve only been in Madrid for a week. I’m still in love with the country, especially the city of Madrid. If you want to know more about my experience over the summer, check out my blog on tumblr. Also, I’ll try to upload videos every two weeks or so. Below is a video from the first week. I hope that you enjoy my blogs and videos! See y’all soon!

 

 

Pre-Departure Thoughts

I leave in TWO days!!?? Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited. But now that it’s here, I’m afraid something will go awry. I mean, I’m just a black girl from a poor black community in Saginaw, Michigan. You’ve probably never heard of the city, it’s next to Flint. Yeah, the place known for the on-going water crisis. Okay, this is sounding a lot more depressing than I intended. Wait, just let me backup a moment. Espera

The day I met the enthusiastic and wide-smiling Karl from Hope Admissions was the day that actually changed the course of my next four years. I was a junior in high school at the first ever career fair at my school. This guy was too excited; I had to figure out what he was smiling about. He told me that he went to Hope College and majored in both Spanish and International Studies. This idea immediately caught my attention. I loved Spanish and at the time I was thinking of diplomacy in a foreign country. He went on about the opportunities to study abroad, his time in Argentina, and the ability to double major and finish in two years at Hope. I was down! Fast Forward to freshman year at Hope, I was already talking with Amy Otis at the Center for Global Engagement. I knew that I wanted to go to Europe, preferably Spain or France. I kept this idea in my head for a while, but I honestly did not believe it was going to be possible. You know my background, poor black girl from a small town in Michigan and it’s only reference point is in relation to one of the nation’s biggest scandals. But to my surprise, the universe had something different aligned.

 

Let’s dwell in the past for a bit longer. Sophomore year, fall semester, I was highly encouraged to apply for the Art/History May term in Paris, France. I applied, and the scholarships came rolling in. By December I was sure that I was going. Then, I thought, I should truly make the best out if this opportunity. I’m still not sure that it’s possible for me to go abroad my junior year. Espera… there’s a way for me to do a cultural exchange in Spain. I decided to look for a Spanish family near a town where a summer friend of mine, Carmen, was going to school at the time. Long story short, it all worked out. I had the best four months of my life traveling across Europe.

Now you say, why am I so nervous? To be honest, as I think about how I get here, there is no reason for me to be nervous. I have beaten all the odds against me repeatedly, and I am not just talking about being the black girl from a poor community. My experience abroad gave me a new appreciation of the meaning to live life to the fullest. Confidence is a big part of living. And I am not talking about the egotistical kind. True confidence comes from the center of our desires and is nothing without faith. Confidence is just faith wrapped in a smile and laughs. It’s the willingness to be vulnerable and reveal your fears and desires. So here I am. Are you coming?

***Heads Up, Spanish in Future Blogs with English translation***