The tension

I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to believe that if I could do everything perfectly, then my problems would go away and the weight would lift off my back. But the thing with perfectionism is, it’s unattainable. The standard keeps rising and rising. You’re so nit-picky of everything and you draw your self worth out of your success, or, conversely, failure. To be a perfectionist you have to adapt an attitude of right or wrong; black or white; there is no grey. 
But life is full of grey. Almost everything, if not everything, is grey. I’m not talking grey as in sad, I’m talking grey as not an absolute; it’s a little of both. We see this in many areas of our lives or in any thing of which people can have varied opinions. 
I would love it if everything were black and white. My perfectionism would love it. But it’s not. 
I say recovering perfectionist because I am trying to get out of those ways. My life was infinitely more stressful as a full on perfectionist. Perfectionism tells you it will be easier if you’re perfect, but it’s actually harder; you’re never good enough because the mythical point of contentment is elusive (because it doesn’t actually exist).
As much as I have loosened my reign on perfectionism, (or vise versa?) there are still remnants. I’m not completely changed. In a lot of areas, I still get unreasonably frustrated at myself because I don’t think I’m doing well enough. Although I see more grey now, sometimes I default to black and white. That usually happens in areas that relate to my progress/mental health. 
I am leaving Charleston in four days for good. I am flooded with all kinds of emotions. As I’m starting to say my goodbyes, I am sad. I am grieving the end of a period of my life. I sad to leave, yet excited at the same time. I know that it’s good that I’m moving and I can’t stay here forever, but the sadness kind of tackles that line of reasoning. 
And I fall into the trap of black or white. Somewhere regarding this particular issue, I fell into the lie that I have to be either happy OR sad. Not both.
But life is complex. It is both. I can be both. Me leaving is happy and sad. I can grieve the transitioning of certain relationships and I can celebrate the start of a new period with new relationships. I think to feel both at the same time feels like betrayal. Or it’s just hard to feel both. I want to feel one or the other.
This is the tension. This is life. Life is so complex. 
This is the tension of this point in my life. I am grieving the changing or loss of relationships. But I know this is a good, healthy thing and I am excited. 
I hate tension. Tension just wants to be resolved, like a leading tone. But right now, it’s not resolving. It won’t for a while. And that’s okay
That’s life. Life is complicated. It’s grey. There’s tension. And hopefully, I can start seeing that as a good thing. 

This is my mushy reflective post about college

On Saturday night, I drove out to Neoga to go stargazing with a friend. I got back to Charleston around 1:15AM. As I entered town, the roads were empty so I looked around the town I will soon be leaving. I remember back to my childhood, when going to Charleston seemed like an exotic trip. I would be glued to the window as we entered town, looking at the “sights.” I would marvel at Old Main and all of the other college buildings. I loved being able to come here, as if Charleston were some bigger city than the one I lived in (or rather, near: i.e. Rockford). As I grew up, I lost that wonder. I might have had it on move-in day my freshman year. But I went to college here and got used to my surroundings. I wouldn’t even look out the window until we were at whatever residence hall I was staying in.

Life is a series of transitions. Soon I will have this wonder for another city–and a much bigger one: Lincoln, Nebraska. I already have that wonder; I had it when my dad and I visited in March. I wanted to see everything. And I’m sure, as my stay there will be much longer than my stay in Charleston, that I’ll lose my sense of wonder to my adaptation of the environment.

Graduation season is a time of reflection, and not only for the graduates. But, as I did graduate this year, I am reflective and sentimental as my time in Charleston nears its end. This town has been my home for the past four years, and a “second home” the years before college. But I can say that I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t attended EIU. EIU is a part of me. Before I get even more sentimental, I’ll start with a picture:


This was taken on August 18, 2011: move-in day for my freshman year of college. I’m sure anything I had in mind that I would experience in college was completely wrong. My four years at Eastern have been some of the most challenging, yet most rewarding in my life so far. And so comes the *reflective post* about it. There’s really no avoiding this cliche, so if you care to read about some of my college experiences and lessons learned, read on.

Although I decided to come to EIU because I have a (half) family history there and had gone to Eastern Music Camp every summer I could, what made my experience great was so much more than those two things. College is definitely about discovering yourself, as cliche as that sounds. It was my first *extended* time away from home, and though I wasn’t fully independent, I was still on my own. I made good choices, and I made bad choices. But here I am, alive.

I fully believe that my time at Eastern provided opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, although I can’t know that for certain. What I do know for certain is: the people I met, friends I made, community I shared, and professors I had all influenced my life and shaped it for the better. I believe that EIU’s size aided in this; I doubt I would have the opportunity to have a couple professors that I would call mentors if I were at a giant school like U of I, for example. I think my time at a small state school has been a great start, and has prepared me to “move up” to a bigger university for my graduate studies. I have loved my time at EIU, and I’m sure I’ll love my time at UNL as well.

I made a lot of choices while at EIU. Some have been very influential in shaping the person I am today. I’m not going to give you a chronology of my four years here, because for one my memory is not that good, and it’d probably bore you. And we both know that neither of us have time for that. These choices I made formed my path through college, so I’ll talk about them, and any advice I could give (*sarcasm* since I’m so wise at 22 years old).

Obviously, one of my choices was to come to EIU.

Another choice I made was to pursue a music minor. I came in knowing that I still wanted to be involved in music, but I didn’t want to major in it, so I picked up a music minor. That’s why I did it. I had to take three semesters of music theory (which I remember none of), one semester of music history (I chose the classical/romantic periods), one gen ed (I took Survey of American Music), four semesters of applied lessons and playing in an ensemble (which I exceeded because I was in lessons and orchestra my entire time here, except for when I was in Spain). I think my overall experience would have been extremely different if I hadn’t done my music minor.

I could write an entire research paper about the benefits of playing an instrument (and I did, in high school) and I won’t lecture the point to death, but I will say that I have seen the benefits of playing the oboe in my various ensembles throughout the years, and especially playing in the Eastern Symphony Orchestra (ESO). I have seen my own musicianship grow throughout my time in ESO, and it has been so wonderful to be a part of an ensemble that makes music out of notes on a page. I’ve loved being able to play some “big name” music–like Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, to name a few. In Spring 2013, the second semester of my sophomore year, we played Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (listen to O Fortuna for a few seconds). It’s a massive piece with 26 movements. The entire concert was just that piece, I believe. And the feeling I had when we finished and were greeted with a standing ovation was amazing. I was going through a dark period of depression that semester, and that concerts was one of the highlights, exemplifying why I love playing music.

There were some 200 of us on stage.

(photo credit)

I took oboe lessons every semester I was at Eastern even though I only had to take 4 semesters’ worth. It was one of the more rewarding things I’ve done at Eastern, because I learned a lot, and not just about music. I had the opportunity to form a close connection with my oboe teacher, Dr. Sullivan (shout out!). I’m not sure if a non-music major would even be able to take applied lessons at a bigger university, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I’m not even sure what I could say except that I love that I had the opportunity to connect with teachers that genuinely care about you. Even if that caring means that I spend half the lesson talking about whatever was going on in my life, or that I come to her office hours for advice about which grad school to pick, or just talking the entire lesson. She already knows how much I appreciate her, so I’ll just say that I’m really going to miss her! And that staying involved with oboe during my undergrad was one of the best choices I made.

Photo May 09, 1 59 51 PMAnother choice I made was to change my major to Spanish. Believe it or not, I was a journalism major coming into college with a concentration in photojournalism. I started taking pictures right away for the Daily Eastern News, but in October of my freshman year, I realized that I did photography for fun and didn’t like the pressure to get a perfect picture. I wasn’t sure what I should change to, and eventually I decided on Spanish. I talked with my Spanish teacher at the time, Dr. Routt, and she expressed confidence that I could be successful going into Spanish. So I decided to do it, just Spanish, no teacher certification or anything, unsure of what I would do after I graduated. But as I continued in my studies, I realized that I loved studying Hispanic literature.

One of the most important choices I made was to get help. I’ve struggled with depression since high school. I tried to manage it the best I could, but it wasn’t working. Spring of my sophomore year (2013) I started counseling, and about a month after that, I talked to my doctor about medication and started taking some. It’s been a long road, some semesters being harder than others, but if I hadn’t sought help I would have killed myself. That’s pretty heavy but it’s real. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to get help. It doesn’t make you weak; I think it actually makes you stronger. Depression is hard. I’ve had to do a lot of hard work to change negative thought patterns. But I am alive, and I’m so thankful. There were times where I didn’t think I would make it. But I had a good group of friends that helped me through and loved me even when I was a jerk to them. There is hope. Things will get better. It takes hard work, and it’s not immediate, but things do get better.

My choice to study abroad gave me clarity about what I was going to do after graduation. I had ruled studying abroad because I didn’t think I could afford it, but I figured out I could. So studying abroad was another influential choice, and I would say the most influential choice. I had never been out of the country, but I boarded a plane on July 31, 2013, and flew halfway across the world by myself. I know it’s so cliché, but studying abroad was the most amazing experience of my life (so far). Although I had some crappy things happen while I was in Spain, and things weren’t always easy, I can look back and say that still. I am really glad I went by myself, too. I think doing it by myself grew my independence. I went on trips by myself. I went to Madrid for four days by myself. It was amazing–I learned to rely on myself. When bad things happened, I handled it. It’s really just hard to describe my study abroad experience in a short paragraph, but if you look back on this blogs, I have posts that I wrote while I was in Spain.

I realized when I was in Spain that I loved Spanish: I loved the art, the history, the language, the culture, the literature. And I had a tiny thought in my brain: maybe I could go to grad school and get a MA and study Hispanic Literature. I loved talking about literature. The idea grew in my head as I thought about how I could teach Hispanic literature at the college level. I wasn’t sure, but when I said goodbye to my teachers in Spain, a few of them mentioned that I could do it and be successful. I came back to America with two ideas: I could possibly go to grad school and I should do Departmental Honors. A couple weeks after I got back, I went down to Charleston to visit, because I had some school-related things I needed to take care of. I stopped by Dr. Routt’s office and we chatted for a while. I told her about these ideas and she once again expressed confidence that I could do them and be successful at them. It finally felt like my life was piecing together, that I could see a future for myself.

Here is a picture of the book responsible for spurring these thoughts:
Photo May 24, 4 25 50 PMOne of my teachers, while I was in Spain, recommended this book. I went and bought it and read it and thought it was genius. I couldn’t stop talking about it. So this book was a catalyst for that.

My choice to do Departmental Honors was influential. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one with Dr. Routt, doing extra projects for a couple classes, and then I got to work with her on my thesis. My thesis was a beast. Throughout the semester, though, I didn’t think I would actually finish it. And it resulted that I had to work my butt off at the end of the semester, but I finished it. And I’m proud of that! It was a really fun project to do, and only served to reaffirm that I can be successful going into my post-graduate studies, but also that I’m going into the right field because doing research and reading literature for this project was really energizing. It was an amazing feeling, finishing that thesis. I also had the opportunity to present a section of it at NCUR, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Cheney, Washington, this past April.

Another really influential choice that I almost overlooked was getting a job with Panther Dining. Actually, today three years ago I found out that I got the job. It’s not a hard job to get, but it was my second “real” job. When I started working at Tower Dining, I did not think I would become a student manager. But I did! And my job both as a student worker and student manager have taught me skills that I’ll carry with me into my graduate career. The student manager job in particular has grown me a lot. I have gained valuable leadership skills. Not only that, but through this job I have met a bunch of people! Working at Tower Dining definitely shaped my time at EIU. In less than two months, I will finish working here, and I’m sad about that, because I honestly love this job.

Going to school at EIU has been an incredible experience. It’s starting to sink in that I will be leaving soon, and I’m getting really sad about that. But I know I’ll carry the memories I’ve made, the lessons I’ve learned, and the friendships I’ve made as I make my big move to Nebraska. This is what I would advise current college students: take risks! Be in community because relationships are important to your spiritual and emotional wellbeing; people need other people. College is what you make of it, so make it count!

And that has sounded sufficiently corny, so I’ll leave you with some pictures.

God is still good

How funny that my next post is also on a night that I am having to stay up all night. I should be working on my homework, but I need a break and needed to write here.

I’ll be honest, this semester has been rough. Winter tends to hit me harder–perhaps I have a seasonal component to depression, although I’m not completely sure. Last semester, for the most part, was really good. I was able to manage my stress well and I stayed pretty level in terms of my mood. I coped with my challenges in a healthy way. This semester has been different. At first, the semester was going alright, but in dealing with the stress of school and the additional stress of getting applications for grad school done and planning and writing my thesis, it was harder to cope in a healthy way. Winter sucks, and there was a period of probably a month and a half where depression hit me hard; the only motivation I had was to lay in bed and avoid homework and people. It wasn’t fun, although it was familiar; I saw myself act in ways that I hadn’t for a while.

I was taking a lower dose of my antidepressant until about a month ago when I switched back to the higher dose. This was a huge struggle for me. I had this plan of going off my medication completely this semester, and it felt like I was moving the opposite direction. Up to this point, I felt like I had this great story about how I had been depressed but got help, and people told me that my story was beautiful. I could see through my story how God has worked in me and it was a good feeling. Since I had this story, it was even harder for me to admit to others that I was struggling. Maybe that’s because I tend to fall into the line of thinking that I can conquer depression once and for all, and then I’ll never struggle with it again. But I know that I will deal with depression for the rest of my life.

When my counselor told me she thought it would be good for me to go back up to my higher dose, I was simultaneously relieved and depressed. I felt like a failure. I thought, this is the opposite direction that I had anticipated. But I was relieved because I knew that the past few months, I wasn’t me. I felt like a failure because as I mentioned before, I had this story that people admired, and would it be that anymore if I went in the opposite direction with my medication? I was perpetuating the stigma–the stigma that I hate so much–onto myself. I was frustrated at myself, that I couldn’t just get it together, believing that I shouldn’t need the medication, that needing it made me weak. But that was my mind being dumb, because none of that was true. As I had multiple friends tell me, medicine is just one tool that God has provided for me, and utilizing it doesn’t make me a failure. As much as I felt like a failure, I knew that switching to the higher dose would help.

And it has. I feel like myself again. It was only when I started to feel like myself that I realized that I had been so weighed down the past few months. Probably the one thing I’ve learned throughout all this is that God is still good. Even though my story has changed and I’ve lost some friends, God is still good. He still has plans for my life–not only that, but this is a part of his plan. He’s not looking at me thinking that I’m a failure for having to change my medication. I’m re-learning that it’s okay to struggle. And it’s good to open up and be honest with people about it, because they never respond the way I make myself think that they would. I think being open about our struggles makes us more authentic, something we desperately need in this day and age. A jar with broken pieces glued together lets the light out better than a perfectly in tact jar. God works through our weaknesses. Not only that, but being aware of our own weaknesses makes us more aware of how much we need God. My hope is not in some inspiring story, but in God, who will work all things for good, even if they’re bad things or things that I would prefer not happen.

So here I am, saying that even though my story has gone a different direction than I anticipated, that’s not bad, and it doesn’t make me a failure. Maybe my brain will always need this dosage to feel like myself. Even if I have to take it for the rest of my life, that’s okay with me, because not only does it help me feel like myself, but it reminds me that throughout it all, God is still good.

I heard this song by Jason Grey called The Best Days of my Life, and some lyrics hit this point home: “But if my heart hadn’t broke in two, I never would’ve run to you, where you loved me in my loneliness and I found I was never alone … But in my broken places I discovered how good your grace is, as you picked up the pieces, thank you Jesus for making me whole again.”


I should be working on final projects, but of course I’m not. I’m gonna write this blog. It’s something that’s been on my mind lately as I think about who I am and where I’m at in my process. Not too long ago, I took a look at some old journals. Sometimes it’s hilarious; other times it’s sobering. This particular time left me feeling quite blessed. I’m going to share some of a journal entry I wrote two years ago in hopes that it will encourage someone, whoever you are, that things can and do change.

November 20, 2012

I have no idea what I’m doing, Jesus. No clue. I’m not myself. Depression has come so easily. Suicidal thoughts and despair even easier. I look at all my thoughts and crap I’m dealing with and I wonder how I can go through the rest of my life dealing with this and I can’t, and I want to die, Jesus. I want to die, I hate myself…I don’t see anything worthy of love. I see how constantly I’m falling short of my standards…Jesus, I feel like I’m fucked up. Like I’ve fucked myself up. I’ve created all of these problems. I feel like I’m the problem, like I’ll never be okay, like there will always be something wrong with me. And that’s why I want to die…I am constantly falling short of my standards and goals, and everything is frustrating. I am not good enough for myself.

When I read that, I can feel the pain that I felt when I wrote it. I remember the desperation, and I especially remember feeling like nothing would change. Depression is that weight that oppresses you, sucks out all your hope, and tells you the biggest lie: nobody understands, nobody would care if you were gone. Somehow, by God’s grace, I mustered up the strength to take the first step towards the light, away from the many lies depression told me. I reached out and got help. At first it was just the thought that maybe I should try medicine since all the things I had been trying to do to get rid of this never-ending darkness weren’t working. And then one of my friends I talked to to get advice about this told me she had recently gotten in contact with a counselor for me.

So I started counseling. I started to work through my junk. A month in, we made the decision to try medicine. My doctor put me on a medicine, but the dose wasn’t right for me and had the opposite effect. That month and a half from Spring Break until the end of the semester was probably the darkest period of my life. I won’t lie, I was really suicidal. But when the semester ended, I saw my doctor again and he changed my dose, and that dose worked. And 16 months after starting the higher dose, this past September, I went back to my original dose. Next semester, I plan on going off my medication completely. That’s both scary and exciting. I think the scary part is obvious. The exciting part is that when I first started the medication, I had no intentions whatsoever of ever getting off of it. And here I am. I am alive, I am thriving, I have no desire to die, and I am no longer chained by the giant weight that is depression. Sure, I still deal with depression. That’s life. But I’ve done a lot of work to be at this place. I am okay.

So, I write this to say, there is hope. The darkness won’t last forever. And believe me, if I said that to the me of two years ago (and believe me, people did) I wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. And if someone had told the me of two years ago that two years later I would be applying to grad schools with the intent of getting a MA and PhD, I definitely wouldn’t believe you. When I was in that darkness, I couldn’t see a future at all for me. That happens when you’re suicidal. It’s just not there. Two years later, I am doing things I never imagined. More shockingly, living gives me joy. The future scares me, but that’s natural. The fear of the future I have now is way different than the fear in that entry: wondering how I could keep living with the weight that was on me.

Here’s what I will say. It’s really hard to live with depression. It seems harder to ask for help. But it’s worth it. I had to work through a lot of stuff (believe me) I’m so thankful God kept me alive long enough to do it. One of the things I’ve learned (and am stubborn to accept) is that it’s a process. It’s a really long process. But I’m glad I am still going through it.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. Find some safe people and tell them what you’re going through. Some people don’t understand what depression is like and may react negatively, but keep trying to find safe people. People who won’t judge you and will be there. I write this to help dispel some of the stigma surrounding depression. What is needed to fix this stigma is more understanding about depression, and I hope this post helps some of my friends understand it better. And I hope it also helps people to know that there is hope, things won’t always be this way and they will get better.

Un año después

«Una bolsa quiere?»

«Qué?» pensé a mi mismo. Quiero un monedero?  Esto fue mi primera experiencia comprando los abarrotes en España. La cajera tuvo que repitiese unas veces y señaló a una bolsa. Rápidamente, entendí y di «sí.» La palabra del vocabulario que he aprendido en la escuela también refiere a una bolsa en España.

Esto fue un ejemplo de la confusión que me sentí. Me había ido a España hace poco tiempo, y fui literalmente a través del océano desde todo lo que conocía. Me sentí como extranjera. Tropecé a través de mis palabras en las primeras semanas porque ha pasado tres meses desde que hablaba el castellano. La gente hablaba muy rápido y no podía entender. “Tres euros” sonaba como “trece.” Cuando pude descansar después de casi un día y medio de viajar, lloré. Estaba tan reprimida. Me preocupé de cómo sobreviviría cuatro meses en este país y tanta quería volver a los EEUU.

Hace un año hoy, abordé un avión y volé a medio camino del mundo por mí mismo. Es difícil creer que ha pasado tanto tiempo. No tenía ni idea de lo que sucedería. Pero ir a España me ha cambiado la vida. Cada día, lo echo de menos. Puedo decir que viví en una cultura extranjera con exito y navegué la vida allá por cuatro meses. Es una hazaña.

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Idas y vueltas
31 julio 2013  ||  23 noviembre 2013

Hace una semana y pico, puse una foto de Málaga con una descripción en Facebook y es probable que voy a repetir algunas cosas. Pero España me ha cambiado la vida, de verdad. La manera más obvia es que cuando estuve allá, me ha dado cuenta que me encanta la literatura española, y que quiero enseñarlo en un nivel universitario. Antes de ir a España, no sabía que quería hacer después de la universidad. También, ir a España me creció como una persona. Tuve dificultades, como tener alguien en mi familia española robar mi dinero, y cuando estuve en Madrid, alguien me ha robado mi iPhone. Pero estas cosas no me disuade de volver. Mi amiga Emily acaba de volver de Chile (puedes leer sobre su experiencia aquí) y estaba hablando con ella antes de que ella volvía, y ella descubrió algunas de mis sentimientos bien:

Cuando llegué, pensaba, «si esta experiencia está mala nunca querré viajar jamás» y incluso con las experiencias malas, es como soy adicta de la aventura y nuevas experiencias ahora…Me encanta vivir con menos cosas. Me encantar estar libre de ir a lugares. Me encanta sentirme independiente y capaz porque puedo navegar un pais extranjero razonablemente bien la mayor parte del tiempo debido a las lenguas que sé. He tenido algunas experiencias horribles aquí pero no cambia cómo me siento sobre todo…estas experiencias casi se hace sentir como un pato con agua que sale de su espalda tener estas “experiencias malas” que se supone de ser pesadillas de viajar, y sobrevivir de ellos más ileso de se pensaría. Y se da cuenta que las cosas desgraciados tal vez sucederán, pero no significa que es el fin del mundo.

Eso es como me siento…que a pesar de tener malas experiencias, y tener que aprender lecciones difíciles, me creció como una persona.

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Un poco antes de volver de España, estuve en un autobús y vi alguien tratando de comunicar con el chofer, pero esta persona no pudo comunicar bien porque él no pudo hablar el castellano bien. Me causó un poco de dolor de verlo, pero me dio perspectivo, porque me hizo pensar en mi primera experiencia hablar con un andaluz.

Fui a dos carruseles del equipaje del vuelo de Madrid, y no vi mi maleta. Tuve mucho estrés, pensé que mi maleta estuvo perdida, y un hombre me preguntó: “Hablas español?” Sólo entendí eso, él continuó hablando muy rápido. Repitió la palabra «maleta», pero pensé que maleta significaba boleto, entonces cojí mi pasaporte, que tuve la calcomanía del equipaje, le mostré y el me dirigió a los carruseles internacionales. Fui allí, y ya estuvo mi maleta.

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Me sorprendió que mis habilidades de hablar el español volvieron tan rápido. Dentro de una semana de vivir con mi familia española, estaba hablando mucho mejor que el primer día. Ser completamente inmerso en la lengua se ayuda mucho. Mi primera familia española no hablan inglés, y por eso tenía que mirar muchas palabras en el diccionario. La cosa que me encantó de quedarme con una familia que pasamos mucho tiempo hablando. Ellos me corrigieron, pero no en una manera antipática. Si se tema cometer errores cuando se habla, no se habla. Así que dije algunas cosas en una manera estúpida, aprendí de mis errores. Algunas de mis memorias favoritas en España fueron sentar con mi familia y hablar en español. La cosa que más echo de menos de España es hablar el castellano.

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¿Sabes cómo algunas canciones te recuerda de ciertos momentos de tu vida? (¿O tal vez yo soy la única persona?) Pues, eso me pasa. Algún día, al principio de mi tiempo en España, tomé una siesta. Las siestas no me ayudaron con el jetlag, pero ¿cuándo se está en España, se toma una siesta, no? Me acuerdo despertarme oyendo la canción “Wake Me Up” por Avicii muy fuerte a través del suelo. (hay un video con las letras en el enlace). Bajé las escaleras al ver mis padres españoles bailando. Ni de los dos hablan ingles, y me dijeron que le gusta cómo sonó.

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Cuando pienso en España, pienso en muchos recuerdos. Es difícil poner en palabras cómo ir a España me cambió, pero quizás ponerlo en palabras simplemente es la culminación de cuentitos como estos. España es una parte de mí. Es mi entusiasmo por la literatura española. Es mi afinidad por las corridas de toros. Es mi pasión de viajar que está aumentando. Está en la manera que es difícil para mí oír palabras españolas pronunciado con acento inglés. Es mis anhelos por la comida española. Es los sentimientos agridulces que tengo pensar en los recuerdos que fueron creados allá, y cuando miró las fotos.

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 “Cuando se ha viajado, el viaje nunca termina, pero se juega una y otra vez en las cámaras más tranquilas. La mente nunca puede separarse de la jornada. “-Pat Conroy

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Tuve suerte en estar en Málaga en el medio de agosto por su feria que ocurre cada año. Básicamente, es una fiesta en la calle que dura ocho días, que celebra la reconquista de la ciudad por Fernando y Isabel. La gente baila flamenco en las calles. Al fin del evento hay un desfile que conmemora la entrada de los reyes católicos. Las discotecas están abiertos todo el día, creo yo. Hay una atmósfera muy interesante, tan despreocupado.

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Calle Lairos, la foto atrás, es un destino popular. Lleno de tiendas y restaurantes, hay mucho que hacer. No se permite coches en esta calle. La calle cambió desde un lugar desconocido e interesante, a un lugar que echo de menos, para mí. El nombre completo es Calle Marqués de Lairos. El mayor de las calles están nombrados en la memoria de gente famosa. Viví en Avenida Pintor Joaquín Sorolla. Hay mucho que decir, pero creo que es una manera interesante de conmemorar gente.

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La Plaza de la Merced está en el centro de Málaga. Hay restaurantes cerca de ella. La casa natal de Picasso está en la esquina. El monumento en el medio de la plaza, en la foto arriba, rinde homenaje al general Torrijos y sus 48 soldados que fueron asesinados, cuyos restos están allá también. Me encanta la vida de la plaza en España en el verano. Está tan relajada. La gente come en los restaurantes y se sienta y charlar por unas horas. La gente se sienta en la plaza y los chicos juegan el fútbol. Es un lugar que echo de menos.

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Un parte de la feria en un pueblo es la corrida de toros. Normalmente, hay una corrida cada día durante la feria. No pude ir a una corrida en Málaga, pero fui a la última corrida de la feria en un pueblo que se llama Fuengirola. Es un evento muy impresionante, y la atmósfera es única. A pesar de la controversia en otros países, los españoles se encantan sus corridas de toros. Disfruté las dos corridas que fui, y me gustaría ir a más corridas.

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Hay un arte cuando el matador guía al toro; un baile con la muerte. Algunos de los matadores se mueren. Mucha gente se muere en la corrida de los toros en Pamplona durante San Fermín. Ya con cada pase el matador muestra su poder encima del toro.

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Esta foto es una de mis favoritas fotos de España, y creo que captura la esencia de la corrida de toros. Es un estimulante, agotador ordalías por la gente que lo hace. Se puede ver el agotamiento en la cara de este torrero. Un matador está considerado bueno cuando puede matar el toro con una zambullida de la espada. Un rejoneador que vi, puso la espada en el toro, desmontó del caballo, y esperó, levantado con sus manos arriba, tan confidente en la entrega, hasta que se hundió el toro. Fue una experiencia surrealista.

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Tambien, los matadores son guapos.

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Hay carteles como eso que están cerca de la ciudad durante la temporada, que son la forma sóla del anuncio. Los detalles son diferentes para cada corrida, pero todos los carteles tienen un aspecto distinto.

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Málaga es el hogar de Picasso. Estaba nacido allá. Esta escultura está en un banco en la Plaza de la Merced.

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Su casa natal fue impresionante, pero no se permite tomar fotos adentro.

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Es la escuela que asistí. Pues, esta parte es el alojamiento en que se quedan algunas estudiantes, pero conecta a la escuela, a la derecha. Me encantó mi tiempo allá y toda la gente extraordinaria que conocía. Todavia mantengo contacto con algunos de los profesores.

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Este restaurante fue uno que iba con frecuencia. Está muy cerca a la escuela, y arriba de la colina donde vivía. No tomó mucho tiempo para la camarera saber lo que pedía. Siempre una pizza pepperoni y una coca cola. Ojala que hablé a ella más, porque cuando la hablé, muy cerca a mi ida, ella me dijo que mi español ha mejorado. En mi última noche allá, cené en O Mamma Mia y ella me dio un tiramisu. Me preguntó si volvería, y mi respuesta fue lo mismo que está ahora: sí. No se cuándo, y no se cómo, pero volveré.

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Me encantó la plaza de toros.

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Mientras estaba allá, viajé a Granada y pude visitar la casa natal de Federico Garcia Lorca. Fue un poeta y dramaturgo, y un parte de que se llama la Generación del ’27. (1927). He leído algunas de sus poemas y obras de teatro. Fue impresionante para mí, para ver su casa natal, aunque fue una parada muy rápida.

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Unas de mis cosas favoritas fue las salidas y puestas del sol. Vi tantas salidas y puestas bonitas. Aquí, en los EEUU, nada compara con estas salidas y puestas, pero a veces hay unas salidas y puestas bonitas.

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Esto es sólo un parte de lo que España significa a mí. Estoy muy agradecida que podía pasar un semestre en el extranjero. Tengo un dolor en mi corazón para España que no descanse hasta que vuelvo. Aprendí muchas cosas en este viaje. Aprendí mucho de mi mismo. Aprendí que soy capaz de vivir y prosperar en una cultura extranjera. Soy capaz de mantener horas de conversaciones en español con la gente. Aprendí que tengo una perspectiva muy estrecho, y aunque no me considero una americana ‘típica,’ en algunas maneras, de verdad yo fui. Aprendí que todos somos etnocéntricos, pero es posible y tan beneficioso para dar un paso en los zapatos de otro cultura. Aprendí sobre la belleza de la vida española. Aprendí que, a veces, estar a través del océano de todo  se conoce del mundo se ayuda a arreglar problemas. Aprendí tanto y conocí tanta gente y le echo de menos. Es difícil poner España en palabras, o caberlo en una cajita ordenada. La experiencia y todo sobre ella está infusa en mí, es un parte de quien soy. No sabía que pasará hace un año cuando salí de los EEUU, pero me alegro que duré los sentimientos malos y aprendí como amar a España. Ojalá que habría tratado más cosas y comidas, pero  ya que he ido, que la próxima vez haré más esfuerzos para experimentar con cosas extranjeras a mí. Hay un bar de tapas en Chicago en que quiero asistir, y alguna vez, quiero tratar de hacer comida española. La primera comida que está en la carta es churros con chocolate. Hace un año, abordé un avión. Y todo sobre mi experiencia, todo lo que me pasó en España, me ha hecho la persona que ahora soy, y en mi opinion, una persona mejor. Pero ahora tengo que volver a leer The Sun Also Rises (en español, Fiesta) por Ernest Hemingway…tengo que conseguir me dosis de España!

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One year later

“Una bolsa quiere?”

“What?” I thought to myself. Do I want a purse? This was my first experience buying groceries in Spain. The employee had to repeat herself a couple times and then pointed at a plastic bag. I quickly understood and agreed. The vocabulary word I had learned as a purse in school also referred to a plastic shopping bag in Spain.

This was a little taste of the confusion I felt. I had recently gone to Spain, and was literally across the ocean from everything I knew. I felt like a foreigner. I stumbled across my words the first week or two because it had been months since I had spoken Spanish. The people talked fast and I couldn’t understand. “Tres euros” sounded like “trece“. When I finally got to rest after nearly a day and a half of traveling, I cried. I was so overwhelmed. I worried about how I would survive four months in this country and wanted to go back home.

A year ago today, I boarded a plane and flew halfway across the world by myself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. I had no idea what I was getting into. But going to Spain changed my life. I miss it every day. I can say that I successfully lived in a foreign culture and navigated life there for four months. And hey, that’s a feat.

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Departures and Arrivals
July 31, 2013  ||  November 23, 2013

A week or so ago, I posted a picture of Málaga with a description, and will probably repeat myself here. But Spain really did change my life. The most obvious way is that it made me realize how much I love Spanish literature and how I want to teach about it at the college level. Before I had gone to Spain, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But Spain grew me as a person, too. I went through some hard things, like getting money stollen from someone close to me (at that time) and getting my phone stolen in Madrid. But even those things wouldn’t deter me from going back. My friend Emily just got back from Chile (you can read about it here) and I was talking with her before she got back, and she articulated some of my feelings well:

When I first got here I was like, “if this is really bad I’ll never want to travel again” and even with the bad experiences it’s like I’m an addict for adventure and new experiences now…I love living with less stuff. I love being free to go places. I love feeling independent and capable because I can navigate a foreign country reasonably well most of the time due to the languages I know. I’ve had some horrible experiences here but they don’t change how I feel about everything…they almost make you feel a little more like a duck with water rolling off your back to have these “bad experiences” that are supposed to be travel nightmares, and coming through them more unscathed than you’d think. And you realize that unfortunate stuff might happen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world.

That’s how I feel…that despite having bad things taught to me and having to learn some hard lessons, it grew me as a person.

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Near the end of my time studying abroad, I was sitting on a bus and observed as someone tried to communicate with the driver but couldn’t because they couldn’t speak Spanish very well. it was kind of painful to watch, but offered some perspective, because it made me think of my first experience speaking with an andaluz.

I had gone to two different luggage carousels from the Madrid flight, and my luggage was nowhere to be seen. I was stressing out, thinking my luggage was lost somewhere, and an employee approached me and said, “Hablas español?” That was about the only thing that I understood as he proceeded to speak super fast. He kept saying maleta, which means suitcase, but I thought meant ticket at the time. I pulled out my passport and showed him the sticker on the back and he directed me to the international luggage carousels. I walked up and my luggage was right there.

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 It surprised me how fast my Spanish-speaking abilities picked back up. Within a week of living with my host family, I was speaking so much better than I had. There is something to be said about being completely immersed in the language. My first host family didn’t speak any english either, so I had to look up a fair amount of words in the dictionary. The thing I loved about staying with host families is that we would just talk, and they would correct me, but not in a mean way. If you’re afraid of making mistakes when you speak, you won’t speak. So even though I said some things stupidly, I just kept talking and learned from my mistakes. Some of my favorite memories in Spain were times I sat with my family and chatted in Spanish. The thing I miss the most about Spain is speaking Spanish.

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You know how certain songs remind you of certain times of your life? (Or maybe I’m the only one?) Well, that happened for me. This one day, early on in my time in Spain, I laid down for a nap. Naps probably didn’t help my jet lag, but hey, when in Spain, take a siesta, right? Anyway, I remember waking up to the song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii blasting through the floor. I go downstairs and my host parents are just kinda dancing around. Neither of them spoke English and told me that they just liked the way it sounded.

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When I think about Spain, I think of a bunch of random memories. It’s hard to put into words how going to Spain changed me, but perhaps putting it into words is just the culmination of little stories like these. Spain is a part of me. It’s my enthusiasm for Spanish literature. It’s my affinity for bullfighting. It’s my ever increasing wanderlust. It’s in the way I find it hard to hear Spanish words pronounced with an English accent. It’s my cravings for Spanish food. It’s the bittersweet feelings I have thinking about memories created there, and looking back on photos.

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“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” -Pat Conroy

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I was lucky to have been in Málaga in mid-August for their annual feria. It’s basically an 8 day long street party, celebrating the reconquest of the city by Ferdinand and Isabella. People dance flamenco in the streets. At the conclusion of the event is a parade commemorating the entrance of the monarchs. The discotecas are open all day round, I believe. It is an interesting atmosphere, so carefree.

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Calle Lairos, pictured above, is a popular destination. Full of stores and restaurants, there is plenty to do. No cars are allowed on this road. This street changed from an interesting, unfamiliar place, to a place I miss. The full name of the street is Calle Marqués de Lairos. Most of the streets are named after people. I lived on Avenida Pintor Joaquin Sorolla. They’re kind of mouthfuls, but I find it a nice way to commemorate people.

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La plaza de la merced sits in the center of Málaga. There are restaurants around it. Picasso’s birth house is on the corner. The monument in the middle of the plaza, pictured above, pays respect to General Torrijos and his 48 soldiers that were assassinated, whose remains are there as well. I love the plaza life in Spain in the summer. It’s so relaxed. People go out to eat and sit and chat for hours. People congregate around the plaza and little kids play soccer. It’s a site I miss.

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Part of a town’s feria is the corrida de toros. Usually they’ll have one every day during the fair. I didn’t get a chance to get to one in Málaga, but I went to the last corrida of the fair in a town called Fuengirola. It’s a really cool event, and the atmosphere is unique. Despite its controversy in other countries, the Spanish love their bullfights. I enjoyed the two bullfights I went to, and would like to go to more.

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There’s just such an artistry as the matador guides the bull; a brush with death. Some bullfighters get killed. Many get killed in the running of the bulls in Pamplona during San Fermín. Yet with each pass the matador proves his power over the bull.

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This is one of my favorite pictures from Spain, and I believe that it captures the essence of bullfighting. It is an exhilarating, exhausting ordeal for the people who do it. You can see exhaustion on this torerro’s face. A bullfighter is considered good when he can kill the bull with one plunge of the sword. One matador that I saw plunged the sword and then just waited, standing with his arms up, so confident in his delivery, until the bull collapsed. That was a pretty surreal experience.

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They’re pretty good looking, too.

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Posters like these are all around the city during the season, being really the sole form of advertisement. The details are different for each fight, but the posters all have a distinct look.

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Málaga is the home to Picasso. He was born there. This sculpture sits on a bench in La plaza de la merced.

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His birth house was pretty cool, but pictures aren’t allowed inside.

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This was the school I went to. Well, technically, this is the housing part that some students stay at, but it connects to the school, looping over to the right. I loved my stay here and all the amazing people I met. I still stay in touch with some of the teachers.

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This restaurant was one I frequented often. It’s very close to the school, and up the hill from where I lived. After a while the waitress knew my order without me having to say it. I wish I had tried to talk with her more, because when I did, near the end of my stay, she said that my Spanish had improved. On my last night, I had dinner there, and she gave me a tiramisu. She asked if I would come back, and my response was the same now as it was then: yes. I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but I’ll come back.

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I loved the bullring.

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While I was there, I took a trip to Granada and got to stop at the birth house of Federico García Lorca. He was a Spanish poet and playwright, part of what they call the Generation of ’27. (1927). I’ve read some of his poems and plays. It was really cool to see his birth house, though it was a quick stop.

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One of my favorite things about Spain was the sunrises and sunsets. I saw so many beautiful skies. Here, back in the USA, nothing really compares to that, but sometimes there are some nice ones.

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This is only a part of what Spain means to me. I am so grateful that I got to spend that semester abroad. I have an ache in my heart for Spain that won’t rest until I go back. I learned a lot of things on that trip. I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I am capable of living and thriving in a foreign culture. I am capable of carrying on hours of conversations in Spanish with people. I learned that I had such a narrow perspective, that though I don’t consider myself a ‘typical’ American, in some ways, I was. I learned that we’re all ethnocentric, but it is possible and so beneficial to step into another culture’s shoes. I learned about the beauty of the Spanish life. I learned that sometimes, being an ocean away from everything you know helps you to work out issues. I learned so much and met so many people and I miss them. It’s difficult to put Spain into words, or to fit it into a neat little box. The experience and everything about it is infused in me, it’s a part of who I am. I didn’t really know what I was getting into a year ago when I left, but I’m glad I stuck out the initial bad feelings and learned to love Spain. I wish I had branched out a little more and tried more foods, but I know that now that I have gone, that next time I will try harder to branch out. In the meantime, I’m trying to make up for it. I’ve got my eye on a Spanish tapas bar in Chicago that I want to go to, and at some point, I want to try to start making Spanish food. The first food on the menu is churros con chocolate. A year ago, I boarded a plane. And everything about my experience, everything that happened to me in Spain, has made me the person I am now, and, in my opinion, a better person. But now I’ve got to get back to reading The Sun Also Rises…gotta get my Spain fix!

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Sooo, in my Spanish class we were talking a little bit about how Latin America celebrates holy week, and my teacher showed some videos of the processions they do. It reminded me of a similar thing that happened while I was in Málaga, when the town was celebrating their patron saint. It’s kind of a hard thing to describe, but I took a couple videos of it. And today I was randomly going through videos and decided to upload all the videos I said I would upload later while I was in Spain but I never did. I won’t put them all in one post because there are a ton, and some of them aren’t done uploading yet. But I’ll try to go chronologically, zoo that means we’ll start with the feria! I wrote a blog post about it here, but basically, it’s a week long (I think 10 days, actually) festival to celebrate the Catholic monarchs’ entry into Málaga–taking the city back from the Moors (they’re muslims, but Moore refers to a specific ethnic group from Northern Africa, and they ruled Spain for 8 centuries.) Quick graphic that shows who ruled the land:

So they have a really long fiesta–Calle Lairos, one of the main downtown streets that has a ton of restaurants and shops, and doesn’t allow cars, only people, is packed to the brim. On a normal day (especially in summer) it’s pretty packed but this is packed. Here are some of the events that were going on.

It’s pretty cool. They also end la feria with a parade that serves as kind of a re-enactment of the monarchs’ entrance into the city. I got plenty of videos of that, too.

That is a lot of videos…whoops. Hope you enjoy!