Blog

Finals Week

May someone please explain how it is already May? It’s officially finals week—finals week in more than the traditional college sense. Classes finished this week and the preparations for final exams, projects, and essays have begun. My friends at Hope are all moving home, starting summer jobs, and taking May terms. The weirdest feeling ever is that I will be home in just two weeks and be joining into that life, once again. It is the week of all the lasts in Ecuador, and it feels surreal.

The plan is to study a little, and spend lots of time walking and eating while exploring Quito one last time. Studying abroad is one of the experiences I wanted most out of my college career. It is something that I have been looking forward to since high school. As this chapter of my education is closing, it honestly just feels quite strange and I am not sure how I am going to process it yet. Pulling out the suitcase to begin to pack just doesn’t feel quite right. I thought that the time would never come when I would be getting ready to go back home. In January, May sounded impossibly far away. Then, what seemed like just a few weeks later, I woke up and May was already here.

This past week I began to say goodbye to the people that have had the most influential impact on me this semester. It just didn’t feel quite right, it felt too soon. My service-learning placement has been the highlight of my semester with Edwin and Lili, and Tuesday was my last day with them. They thanked me and celebrated the incredible semester we had together by driving me up to the top of Illaló, a mountain that overlooks Cumbayá, Lumbisí, and Tumbaco. It was a beautifully clear day, and the feeling of gratitude and utter awe of God’s goodness and faithfulness mutually filled our hearts. We took pictures, they laughed at my not so funny jokes, and I just smiled. It’s funny how our connection began with my decision to serve them, but ended with them serving me. God truly does create, transform, and love on people who are simply ready to open their hands and wait for His plan to unfold.

Next week is a week of continuing the lasts and saying goodbye. More than that, it is a week of smiles and laughter of the memories from the semester, and wonder of the God who led me from the fear of the unknown in January to the beauty of the most transformational experience in May. I am at a loss for adequate words as my emotions feel confused. The words I do have are thank you—thank you to all the people who have encouraged me and supported me here in Ecuador physically, but also to those from my community in West Michigan. Thank you to a God that surpasses my understanding and sees me wherever I am. Here’s to the final week in Ecuador—a country that has provided me with a life-changing transformation.

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/

Final Moments in the City

Three days! Three weeks have quickly become three days until the end of the semester. The end of my experience in the city. The end of nursing school.

The beginning of my *official* adult life. The beginning of a new start. The beginning of finally contributing to society in a larger way.

Don’t get me wrong, the last few years have been a perfect blend of sweet moments and wrestling to keep my head above water. The thought of going out into the world, where I feel I’ve been well-prepared, eases the anxiety of these new beginning stages of life. Despite my looming to-do list that continues to grow, I have been finding joy in the singular moments of peace and busyness during this last week. To be able to enjoy each second left in the city has been my goal these final days.

In the beginning of April, there was supposed to be an event with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but they went on strike. With the main performance being cancelled, I went to a lunch-break concert at the Chicago Temple. The sanctuary was so beautiful as a quartet performed some of the greatest composers: Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven. It was an excellent break in the day.

Chicago Temple

I was roughly three weeks from the end of the semester, and I still hadn’t visited the Lincoln Conservatory or Park Zoo. So, I decided to make a day adventure out of it. Since my apartment is only about 1.5 miles away from both, I decided to enjoy the warm day and walk there. While I had been to the Garfield Park Conservatory, I enjoyed the small, quiet spaces of Lincoln Park.


I love taking an entire day to sit with my own thoughts and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation around me. There is so much green space in the city, which surprised me. I’ve been trying to take advantage of it as much as I can. Not the best at directions, I wandered around the zoo for a couple of hours, just enjoying each of the exhibits. For the history buffs out there, the Lincoln Park Zoo has been around since 1868 thanks to Lincoln Park Commissioners. Since then, it has expanded its conservation efforts to a variety of exotic animals. As you might be able to tell from the picture, the weather was perfect for a visit. Others from the program had visited the zoo back in January and mentioned that not as many of the exhibits were open. So, I was thankful that I picked a warmer day to go.

The next weekend, I had been planning to go to Atlanta, Georgia for the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw University. The weekend was filled with thousands of students’ research projects of all different studies and disciplines. Among these thousands, Hope College sent nineteen. My research involved investigation of the relationship between a past medical history of psychiatric diagnoses and the incidence of delirium in an acute care non-intensive care unit. Throughout each presentation and poster that I visited, I could not help but be impressed at the work and diligence that the students had poured into each project. The culmination of their hard work reminded me of the unique contributions that diversity offers to exploration of the world. Being open enough to new ideas and perspectives is more and more evidently important to any field an individual may be pursing. At least, that is what I have found. In addition to listening and viewing others’ research, I went to a Braves vs. Mets game at the SunTrust Park (that’s baseball for the non-sports fans out there).

SunTrust Park

NCUR Hope College Group

Me and My Poster Presentation

One of the more structured parts of the weekend was a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Row, in downtown Atlanta. There is a street that holds his birth home, the church in which he grew up, and a memorial center that includes his and his wife’s, Cordelia Scott, burial tombs.

Memorial fountain with MLK Jr’s words inscribed
Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr’s father preached and he grew up in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was able to visit his birth home which was unique because his mother redecorated it, after the national parks organization bought and restored the house. While I could not snap any pictures, I definitely wouldn’t want to. In the generation of picture-perfect moments and Instagram, it is nice to be able to preserve a piece of history in one’s mind instead of a camera roll. While I had learned about MLK Jr. in middle and high school, it was good to understand a bit more deeply on the enormity of his social and civil justice work, and the hallmark events of his life. It’s in these moments that I can begin to feel as if I could never measure up to someone as great and influential as MLK Jr. To have done so much at such a young age, he seemed like a superhero. Yet, it is these “super human” ideals that can hinder one from reaching his or her full potential in life. It is here where I am constantly reminded of Paul’s thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. While we should absolutely take pride in the work we accomplish, we cannot forget Who bestowed to us these gifts of intellect, influence, and power. Additionally, it reminds me that even in all my shortcomings and faults, God is a sovereign King who uses my weakness for His glory and purpose.

On the academic front, it was a very exciting week when the nursing students all gathered for breakfast to commemorate their last (EVER!) nursing exam. How glorious and relieving it was to be done with it! Celebratory coffee and naps!

While we’re on the subject of food (again, I know. I’m such a foodie), I found a coffee shop while trying to find another place (yes, perpetually still getting lost, even at the end of the semester), called Dropshot. I snatched an iced coffee with lavender syrup. Oh boy was it tasty!
Another interesting restaurant that one of my roommates and I ventured out to is called Yassa, a Senegalese Restaurant. As part of the case study I was working on for my nursing seminar class, we had to visit a restaurant that was representative of the culture of the neighborhood of interest. For me, it was Bronzeville.

At 6 o’clock is a nem: a fried egg roll with ground beef, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables. At 2 o’clock is nataya, a spicy, deep fried salmon patty
Chicken Kebobs with Djolof Rice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many things I’ve consistently enjoyed throughout the semester is the ability to go to more ethnically diverse restaurants than I could’ve imagined. A piece of advice to students coming to Chicago, invest in your relationships with your coworkers. They are the ones who have lived in the city for most, if not all, of their lives. Three months is a long time to spend with people, and I enjoyed becoming part of the hospital family. In this, they shared their favorite restaurants, entertainment events, and neighborhood advice (that is, which ones to visit, and which ones to avoid). So, to visit a Senegalese restaurant was very cool for me (yes, it was recommended by one of my coworkers). Not only was the food delicious (and very spicy), but the waiters were so friendly. They offered their traditional drinks and talked about each’s cultural importance. Learning is a process I hope never ends.

Another famous place in Chicago for good eats is called Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders. They serve their 1.5 pound pizza pot pie steaming hot, chock-full of cheese and tomato goodness. As you can tell, I’ve been gorging myself on a ton of delicious foods and finding out culture via my stomach.

Mediterranean bread bigger than all four of our faces

Jerk Chicken with coconut rice and beans; Beef brisket with jerk mac and cheese. Both with po-boys and white bread
Lamb Shwarma with cucumber salad and hummus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In these last few months, it has been a good chance to reflect on what I have learned:

1) Becoming an active member of your community is not necessarily easy, but it is important. Understanding the exhausting daily grind of a full-time job, I have come to realize how much effort it will take to be involved in community events. Yet, there is something about giving more of yourself to the world that somehow, magically allows you to gain even more of yourself back. I included the picture of the blue ribbons because as I passed it on one of my many walks, I remembered my passions in life and why I chose the career I did.

2) Becoming a part of a work family was so incredibly special. While I was still a student, I couldn’t believe how welcoming the staff were at the hospital and how much I learned because of them. They offered their time, efforts, and a slower day to teach me how to become a better nurse. To make someone feel at home is a special kind of talent that cannot be measure in gold or any other monetary equivalent.

3) You don’t have to live in the city to like being in the city. During my time here, I learned more about myself: what kind of and how much alone time I needed, what areas I needed to grow in, and how much I love people. I consider myself to be a fairly reflective individual of my personal preferences, but I love that I can be continually learning about how to function in the world at my optimal performance. My intentions in the beginning of the semester was to consider staying in Chicago if I liked it, but I figured out quickly that the city life was not for me. I could’ve easily pitted myself to not enjoy the city, but I attempted to make the most of the experience and the opportunity. I feel as though I have succeeded. In this, I have taken away lessons that will apply to wherever I land after graduation. Do I have this whole “life” thing figured out? Absolutely not. But, I do see a beautiful journey ahead of me.

Blue ribbons representing the number of children who are victims of abuse

 

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!

 

About what just happened in Paris…

Monday, April 15, 2019.

I was stuck inside all day studying for one of my finals. After hours of reviewing, I decided I’d finally had enough and I ought to go for a walk to clear my head. I laced up my tennis shoes and headed into the metro without a specific destination in mind. I eventually landed at the Eiffel Tour and decided to walk along the Seine, maybe I’d end up at Place de la Concorde, maybe I’d walk further depending on how I was feeling.

I walked quite a way, just enjoying the sunny spring evening in Paris. The sky was a pristine blue and there was scarcely a cloud in it, except that one… that’s a really odd-looking cloud… no wait, that’s smoke!

7:11 PM

Normally I try to be really casual about weird things that happen in Paris because, well, it’s Paris and plenty of strange things happen here. However, this cloud of smoke caught my attention because it was huge! I followed the smoke which just happened to seem to be the direction of the river, in my head trying to figure out what it could be, an apartment building fire maybe? As I got near, I noticed that the stream of smoke seemed to be growing, something was not right.

7:16 PM

The river curved and so I followed it and I was struck with the oddest view. It looked like the smoke was coming from Ile-de-la-Cité right next to Notre Dame, Paris’ oldest and most well-known church. I kept walking, determined to see what it was, and I saw flames directly on top of the cathedral. If I wasn’t already stressing out and panicking, I was at this point. Notre Dame is on fire?! How could this happen? Notre Dame is made out of stone, how does stone burn? Why is the fire getting bigger?

7:19 PM

I was in shambles: tears wet my cheeks and my nose ran incessantly. What I felt could only be described as shock. This was a church I walked by at least three times a week and it was now in a complete state of distress. All I could do was stand by and watch as Notre Dame was ravaged by flames. A few minutes passed as I looked at the beautiful cathedral on one of her darkest days. I eventually came to my senses and realized that I didn’t know what caused this. It could have been an act of terrorism and there could have been more planned so I decided it was best that I return home to safety. I was also concerned about the metro as that was my only way home. I wondered if it would be closed as sometimes is the case when there are calamities in the city.

Thankfully, I made it home in one piece with no difficulties. As soon as I opened the door, I blurted out what I’d just witnessed to my host sister, Astrid, who is in her thirties. She was stunned and immediately turned on the radio which was already reporting of the fire raging on the roof of Notre Dame. The rest of the evening I struggled to concentrate on anything other than the fire. I scoured the internet for any kind of information I could find on how it started or if it could be put out. News outlets were predicting that the cause of the fire was in relation to the ongoing renovations happening on the roof, where the fire started, not due to terrorism which relieved me immensely. For a while, I switched between several livestreams to follow the advances of the fire and my heart nearly burst out of my chest as I watched the spire fall. Eventually, I fell asleep, but woke up every couple of hours to check any updates I could find.

A smoke-filled sky over Place de la Concorde 4/15/2019 7:29 PM

Finally, in the early morning, I saw that Paris firefighters had contained the fire and that the structure of the church was, by and large, saved. I breathed a sigh of relief; Notre Dame wouldn’t be completely destroyed. I proceeded with my morning routine and checked my phone to find that I had so many messages. I had messages from friends and family checking in to make sure that I was okay and expressing their condolences. I made sure to respond to them all and thank them for their concern.

I spent the morning in a daze and picked up a 20 Minute (free newspaper in the Paris metro) that displayed the title Le Drame de Notre-Dame and a photo of Notre Dame in flames. I couldn’t read it because I had a three hour exam that I had to study for during my commute. Thankfully, the exam wasn’t too terrible, and I then had the rest of the day to process through all that I’d seen. I read the article on Notre Dame on my way to see her for myself.

Once out of the metro, I was bombarded with people. Tourists, Parisians, and journalists alike had flooded any street with a view of the Cathedral, all anxious to catch a glimpse of what remained. I managed to push my way through the waves of people to find a place where I could see her well. I was surprised to see that she didn’t look as desolate and destroyed as I’d thought though, at the same time, she was somber. Notre Dame lost her spire and roof. To the untrained eye she looked a little rough, but not terrible. For those of us who’ve seen her more than a few times, you can tell by looking at her that something is different.

Notre Dame, 4/16/2019

Why does this matter?

Notre Dame is one of the most well-known churches in the world. It actually is the most-visited monument in the city, beating out the Eiffel Tower by nearly twice the number of visitors annually. With Notre Dame now closed to the general public, for at least the foreseeable future, there is going to be a swarm of visitors flocking to other various tourist locations around Paris so it will have a huge impact on crowds. Although, I’m certain they’ll make a point to see her from afar.

Also, there is the matter of preservation of history. Construction on the cathedral started in 1163 when the first stone was placed in the presence of the pope Alexander III. It wasn’t finished until nearly two-hundred years later, in 1345! Since then, plenty of updates have been made to Notre Dame including renovations to keep the building updated in the 850 years since its construction. Most recently, a 150-million-euro renovation was being done on the roof and spire as it had experienced some normal wear-and-tear. It was to be expected from a building that has been around since before the middle ages.

However, it isn’t simply a matter of Notre Dame being an incredibly old church that draws in tourists. After the fire, I saw a lot of posts on Instagram and twitter about how Notre Dame stood through two world wars. Yes, that’s true, she did, but that’s only in the last 100 years. But these posts didn’t even mention the fact that she stood through the French Revolution, the Black Plague, and was around long before most of our ancestors left Europe. A lot of people who haven’t really gotten to know France and the culture tend to think of Notre Dame as being merely a really old and really beautiful church. Maybe they think of it as a setting for a famous book or Disney movie, but for those of us who really knew what she meant to France know better than to simply attribute those titles to her. She survived through so much and continued to stand and represent France and the French people. As the literal center of Paris, Notre Dame embodied the heart of Paris and France as a whole, and to see that go up in flames was to see a piece of the identity of France turn to ash.

Whilst scrolling through all of those posts about the incredible loss of Notre Dame, I was bothered by a general lack of reverence and comprehension of the importance of this monument displayed. I would like to point out that when an event like this happens, it is so incredibly important to research and understand what something symbolizes before posting about it or don’t post at all. I don’t believe posting a family vacation photo in front of Notre Dame with a caption explaining how “lucky you were to see her before this accident” is appropriate to memorialize the monument given the weight of this terrible event.

 

What do the French think?

The French reaction to the fire at Notre Dame is fairly mixed. In my experience, a the people who were most affected were the adults, Catholic, and non-French. When I got back to my apartment, Astrid, whom I introduced earlier, was shocked and watched the news until late in the night to follow the updates at Notre Dame. Katherine was also heartbroken over the fire.

On the other hand, in one of my university classes at Diderot, the professor (a Russian woman) asked what we all thought about the Notre Dame fire. Most of the students (all in their first year at university) didn’t seem to care, yet these were people who’d lived in Paris their whole lives. My professor seemed much more affected, as were many of my friends in my study abroad program. I’ve also been in several Catholic churches since then and have seen signs up asking parishioners to pray for Notre Dame.

Essentially, I believe that the people who were most affected by the fire were those who were capable of understanding the importance of Notre Dame. My university classmates are so accustomed to having an old church on every street corner so I assume they viewed it as any other. The adults with whom I’ve spoken on the subject appear to be far more invested in what will come of this event.

 

What’s next?

In the 24 hours following the start of the fire, three billionaires donated a total of 600 million euros for the reconstruction of Notre Dame. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, declared that they would rebuild and later said that it would be done in 5 years’ time. This was actually quite a shocking statement given the immense amount of work that will have to be done in such a small time span so we’ll see whether that statement is followed up with action. Essentially, the entire roof and spire are completely destroyed so it will be rather precarious work given how high the ceilings are. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens next as we continue in this new chapter for Notre Dame.

Coffee Shop Week

After a semester of adventure, my weekend trips have come to a close and I am enjoying my last couple of weeks bouncing around between my hometown of Cumbayá and the capital city of Quito. I am so thankful for some extra time to relax and enjoy my favorite places in town! As I am walking around with my fellow international students each day, we are always thinking of our favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and walks that we can’t leave without doing, at least, one more time. Our list is getting quite large so it will be interesting to see how we attempt to fit everything in.

We are heading into our last week of classes at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito with a week of final exams to follow. This weekend will be one of wrapping up last assignments for the upcoming week, and continual reflection on the semester as a whole. Anyone who has been following my blog posts this semester knows how crucial my service learning placement has been for me over the past 4 months! The goodbyes begin on Tuesday, as it will be my last day there, and wow will that be tough one. I’ve realized what a blessing hard goodbyes, or rather see-you-laters, are because they represent the strength of the relationship that was formed! It is crazy that the weeks of all the “lasts” is already beginning.

You may not be surprised that college students in Ecuador love coffee shops, just like they do in West Michigan. It is the place where we can socialize with our friends and get some homework done at the same time (or at least attempt to). This past week has included lots of coffee shop time as everyone begins to feel the stress and time crunch at the end of the semester. Without the travel component, my weekends now feel a bit longer and I accomplish more academically, and in taking care of myself. I realize how content I feel to just rest, in these last few weeks, knowing that reverse culture shock may be just around the corner. This semester, rest has been such a blessing of healing that I was not able to recognize, arriving from a culture that is constantly busy being busy. Being intentional is going to be necessary to implement ways of changing my previous lifestyle at home to mold a life of increased personal connection with those around me, and to better care for myself.

Here’s to enjoying the calm, the relaxing, and the coffee shops. Here’s to learning how I can mesh the benefits of a very laid-back culture in Ecuador with the benefits busy of United States’ culture. Both cultures have positive and negative aspects. It is now my job to learn from them, and learn to implement them!

In One Weekend I Was Drained!

Justin made it very clear that he was going to help us get over our jet lag as soon as possible! We had an extremely packed weekend. We had arrived early on Friday, so after just a few hours of sleep, we all woke up early to get a tour of the city. Later that evening, Justin, his family, Jeff (the other associate director of our program), his family, and roughly 10 seminary students from Virginia all got to go on a dhow trip. A dhow is a traditional Omani boat that is completely constructed without any nails. However, our boat was slightly modernized with a motor and electric lights. We drank Omani spiced coffee and ate dates on our boat trip. Due to the timing of our trip, we were able to see the sunset over the ocean with silhouetted mountains in the background. Despite the relaxing nature of the boat ride, I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of it.

The next morning, our adventures continued as we all took a trip to the Grand Mosque. The mosque is open to visitors from 8 am to 11 am, Sunday through Thursday. It is truly one of the most magnificent, and well-thought-out architectural structures I have witnessed.  There were just so many details carefully considered during its construction 17 years ago. The entire mosque can accommodate a total of 20,000 worshipers in different praying areas! The Sultan’s goal for the mosque was that no matter the creed, race or nationality, anyone and everyone could find something that they identify with. We were greeted with an expansive English inspired garden. In the middle of the garden was a traditional Omani irrigation and water service system called a Falaj. The building itself was made from marble all harvested from the same quarry so it would age at the same rate. Inside the main prayer room, the rug was handwoven in Iran and finished as it was being laid in the mosque. There were 47 weavers who worked to make the rug a single piece; there is not a single seam in the rug that stretches several meters across the entire room. The amount of detail that went into this building was incredible, making the experience that much more enjoyable!

After touring the main mosque, we were able to go to the information center and converse with some Omani Muslim women about their faith, life, and other things. We were treated to dates and coffee again, and introduced to a new traditional sweet call halwa; it is made of flour, water, sweetener (I think dates) and spices. I loved getting to hear, firsthand, the experience of a Muslim woman in a majority Muslim country. The experience was so new and wonderful that I cannot wait to go back.

Later that same night, we were able to experience traditional Omani food, dress, and dance at the Muscat festival. The festival was originally created for Omani people to experience some traditions they may not have known or been as ‘in-touch’ with. Although not many foreigners go to the festival, those that do typically have some ties in Oman to even know about it.  When we were there, we got to taste traditional foods. There was a crepe-like flatbread that was filled with cheese, egg, and honey. Even though I did not try it, the response I heard from my classmates was nothing short of satisfied. I tried a fried, puffy bread drizzled with honey. It was phenomenal! We were also treated to fresh, hot halwa; I have to say it was much better than the room temperature one at the mosque.

After eating, we roamed around and looked at the different vending stands. I ended up buying some lotions and naturally scented oils. We also passed by some traditional dances performed by men, and a few women. We finished off the night by riding some camels and headed back home. All in all, it was a good weekend, filled with culture, good food, and battles with jet lag. If our first week began like this, I cannot wait for the remainder of the semester!

The main prayer room that can hold up to 6,500

The mihrab where the Imam leads prayers in the main prayer room

A courtyard that doubles as extra prayer space that can hold up to 8,000 people

Our array of Dhow snacks

A Greater Restoration Purpose

The whole concept of technology being a good or bad thing is controversial in today’s generation. Like most things, there are positive and negative aspects to consider, but I have to admit that technology has been a vital blessing for me this semester. One of the most challenging things to learn while being abroad is how to adapt to change. This is something I knew was coming before I left the States, but learning to adapt to change that is sustainable and fulfilling for a long period of time is really difficult. I have been following my family’s church at home, through the online sermons that they post weekly, as a way to stay rooted in scripture. I am out of town traveling most weekends, so being able to follow their weekly devotions and sermons whenever and wherever I am is a blessing!

Forgive me for jumping around a bit, but this past week was Holy Week—the most important week of the year in the Catholic Church. It began with Palm Sunday and led up to Easter Sunday, the most important holiday of the year for Christians. Ecuador is a primarily Catholic nation and I learned much through the cultural events that took place this past week.

Back to the blessing of technology this semester, I was listening to the Palm Sunday service from my church at home and realized how similarly I live to the Jews who were waving their palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” The palm branches are a symbol of pride and praise in celebration for a king the Jews thought was going to lead them into battle, and deliver them from the Romans. We now know how the story ends, and so did Jesus as he was riding through town on a donkey.

I really struggled at the beginning of the semester adapting to the constant change that happened during my first few weeks in Ecuador. I began to get frustrated that my original plans before I left weren’t the reality of what was happening when I arrived. If I’m being completely honest, I wanted to escape. I wanted a deliverance that seemed easy and would change my present circumstance. Like the Jews on Palm Sunday, I was gripping my palm branch so tightly and cheering so loudly for God to deliver me from the difficulty I was facing. In the sermon I listened to from this past week, the Pastor reminded me that I have to loosen my grip and stand with a posture of open hands to follow the Good Shepard. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Let go and let God.” This is true, but I’ve learned you actually have to let go… like completely let go. Trust me, God will shred the old parts of you to pieces.

By the example of Jesus, we know how the story ends. God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his plans are always for us and not against us. I was blind to my purpose in Ecuador when my plans went to ruins, but God powerfully made clear to my closest family members that I am here for a reason. I was encouraged and prayed for to stay in the good fight! God’s lessons are some of the most painful to learn sometimes, but they have the most beautiful endings. I think Jesus felt this way, as well, riding on the donkey, knowing he was on his way to the Cross. He asked God to take the present circumstance away from him, if it were His will, but God didn’t because He had a bigger purpose for Jesus to accomplish.

No one, not even Jesus, likes to face hard things. Unlike Jesus, I began my semester with closed palms. The Good Shepard will use anyone with open hands, and Jesus knew that and trusted God with His entire being. When I, with the help of my peers, chose to open my hands to the opportunity placed before me, God’s goodness began to unfold. I experienced a semester of old parts of me being shredded to pieces for God to make His Way in me.

In the weight of the darkness is where transformation, healing, and restoration begin. I celebrate that my will wasn’t accomplished this semester, but that His was being fulfilled. I celebrate Easter because the story doesn’t end at the Cross, it begins with the new life I am given because of the One who went through the darkest of all trials, recognizing that God’s ways have the bigger picture of Redemption in mind!

Pick a Favorite?

Every Monday, the classroom is filled with chatter about what everyone did the previous weekend.

“How did you like [insert city name here]?” “What did you do there?” “Oh, I loved/didn’t like that city” “What’s your favorite place you’ve been so far?”

Of course I participate in these pre-class discussions. How could I not? The problem, my answers tend to all be the same: I honestly loved all the places I traveled to. And pick my favorite city? How could I possibly do that? Every city was beautiful to me, each in their own ways.

Berlin, Germany

The first trip I went on. It wasn’t originally on my list of places to go when I was abroad, but I’m so glad we went. There’s so much history in Berlin, and it was cool being able to learn about a lot of it. For example, there’s a square in Berlin where there are two identical churches that face each other. The story behind it was that the two church communities (French and German) didn’t want to worship together, so they built two of the exact same churches in the same square.

The food in Germany was absolutely to die for. The pretzels, apple strudel, schnitzel, and currywurst…oh my goodness, we ate so much on that trip. We all tried new foods in Berlin. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, but now I want to go back and eat more!

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was on the top of my to-travel-to list. I’ve been dreaming of traveling to Spain since forever, and it was the first plane ticket that I bought.

One of the reasons why I was so excited to go to Barcelona was that I was able to see two of my friends from Hope who were also studying abroad in Europe. We planned to meet up there, and it was such a wonderful weekend.

We woke up early and went for a little run on the beach, followed by a delicious brunch (where my sandwich had a guacamole syringe in it)! Then we wandered around the city for hours, admiring the Gaudi architecture. La Sagrada Familia was even bigger and more impressive in person. After snapping many pictures, we found a small shop where we spent some time eating gelato and churros and enjoying the warm air.

The best part was by far getting to see Grant and Anna. It was wonderful getting to see familiar faces, and spend time with each other exploring a beautiful city.

Florence and Rome, Italy

Spring break in Italy? Yes, please! Oh, Italy was so sunny and warm–a nice contrast from the chilly February air in London.

In every city we traveled to (in and out of Italy) we always found something to climb that offered a view of the city. After filling ourselves up with pizza, we hiked up to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

463 steps to the top…so totally worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking. You could see the entirety of Florence. With the combination of the view and the warm afternoon sunshine, my friends and I spent close to an hour at the top of the Duomo.

Rome was also wonderful. It had history that I’d loved learning about since middle school, and sights that never seemed to end. But the best part of Rome was the pasta dish Gircia. A.k.a my new favorite pasta. It was pasta, pancetta, and percorino cheese. If only I’d taken a picture. Oh I could have eaten that pasta forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belfast, Northern Ireland

We had a very specific reason for traveling to Belfast: Game of Thrones tour. When we found out that many of the filming locations were in Northern Ireland, how could we pass up the chance to see them?

We went to the place where they filmed Winterfell, got to meet the dogs that played direwolf pups, and ate lunch at the hotel where the cast stayed while they were filming. It was a day filled with fangirling, costumes worn by extras, archery, and lots and lots of smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaga, Spain

Not going to lie, although I said I couldn’t pick a favorite, I loved Spain enough that I went back. This time to the south coast: Costa del Sol. Boy, did that name deliver. It was 70 degrees the entire weekend; warm enough to wear shorts (much to the locals dismay). We hiked up to the top of the fortress, went and experienced a flamenco show, and even took a day trip to Seville.

The Alcazar in Seville was stunning. The vibrant colors and smells that perfumed the air made the experience even better. I wanted to turn that scent into a candle so I could have it with me always.

On our last day, we spent the afternoon on the beach. I hadn’t been to the beach in so, so long. One of my favorite parts of going to the beach when I was younger was looking for shells. That’s exactly what I did.

So yeah, I can’t pick a favorite place. Each of these cities were beautiful in their own way. Honestly, they couldn’t compare to each other. It would be a shame to choose any of these over another.  I wish I could’ve spent weeks and months in these places, exploring every little nook and cranny and experiencing everything they have to offer. Maybe one day I’ll return…or I may be adventuring in a new city. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

The adventure begins…

The Adventure Begins…

Before I even left the country, trouble ensued. My mother and I were driving from our home in Grand Rapids to the Chicago O’Hare airport so I could catch my first flight to get to Oman.  Our drive began easily enough, but trust Michigan to throw a weather curveball when you most expect it, and least need it! We hit a wall of freezing rain and were stuck in traffic for roughly 90 minutes. Needless to say, I was not going to make my flight. Fortunately for me, the other student from Calvin had her GR to Chicago flight canceled, and the remaining four students from Northwestern college were also stranded. What had been a simple, interstate journey for all of us had developed to a full-blown winter disaster!

A day after we had initially planned, we were finally all in the Chicago airport ready for our semester together. The previous day’s weather may have thrown a wrench in our plans, but as I sat with my new classmates, housemates, and hopefully friends, I could tell that the delays had done nothing to our spirits! We were finally embarking on our three-month adventure together!

Our journey from then on was smooth and stress-free. We arrived in Oman safely, and effortlessly (at least as effortless as customs and immigration can get).  We were greeted and picked up by our program director Justin, and our program coordinators Lauren and Matias. Only at that point did it really start to click for me that I was actually in a different country and a completely different culture, and I was here for a while. However, pretty soon, that feeling of realization began to wear off. The new sounds, smells, and sights were so intriguing and different that it felt like a dream!

We finally arrived at the AL Amana center; our new home, classroom, and community space for the next few months. It was all so surreal. I was actually in Oman! Justin had a “quick” debriefing for the night (it lasted about an hour and a half), and sent us on our way to bed. We were all so excited and confused and overwhelmed that we didn’t even realize that the time was 2 AM when our meeting was over. Needless to say, we all went straight to bed; my roommate and I took quick, much-needed showers first. Despite the rocky start, it became clear that this semester was going to be a good one!