Monthly Archives: September 2011

Es como…umm, tar.

If a Spaniard came to the U.S. and scrunched one eyebrow at the functionality of the electoral college, a liberal arts education, or the fact that I usually eat dinner at 5pm, I’d smile and say yep.


I’m just doing the same in reverse.  Some things are weird (a term I give with the sincerest of affections and love, not of condemnation.)

This so-called coffee is a thick, black, tar-like substance.  Imagine something like 4 shots of expresso in a mug the size your five-year-old neighbor’s tea cup.  Small, but oh, it’s strong, so strong.

If I keep the coffee, sugar ratio at something like 2:1 and drown it in milk, I can chug it, but that’s it.

That said, coffee is a functional drink, and since I can’t do midday runs to Weshop for a Starbucks Double-Shot and Mountain Dew doesn’t exist here, I have to drink it on days like today.

Wednesday are typically long, but due to a few rescheduled classes, today was looooonger.  My first class began at 9am (meaning I leave my house by 8 ) and the last ended at 8:15pm.  In the middle, there were six classes, 2 thirty minute breaks, and one hour and half break before the last lecture.

I made it through though, and with a positive attitude no less.  Without going into too much detail, there was plenty of opportunity to let some trivial distraction put me in a bad mood, but it didn’t.  I’m really looking to continue that kind of success throughout the rest of the week.

I had a masterful study schedule put together for the weekend (which for me begins today, no Thursday or Friday classes), but it looks as though my plan will be disrupted.  My eye has hurt all day, at dinner my sights starting going, and I’m now lying in bed with a pulsating headache.  -Exactly the same symptoms my host mom just got over.

So, for tomorrow, a whole day in bed it is, without coffee, but probably with a few more episodes of my Spanish version of Friday Nigh Lights.

It’s like magic

In Mrs. Simpson’s 8th grade Advanced Language Arts class, I read Flowers for Algernon.  I can’t say I remember a lot about it, other than the story has something to do with a mentally disabled man who undergoes surgery, becomes super smart, but then looses everything he gained and goes back to what he was like before.

I sort of feel like that, except I’ve not lost anything except the ability to edit my English writing (you should have seen what this blog post looked like to start with).

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I enjoyed watching a TV in Spanish, and more surprising, I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode today (though Friday Night Lights might be giving me a little bit of an American fix too, just maybe;)  Today, I went to a book store and almost bought an analysis of the greatest battles in world history.  I flipped through it, and instead of getting tripped up every other sentence over a grammar structure I don’t remember or a word I don’t know, I got sucked into the battlefield at Waterloo and read about Gettysburg while contemplating Lincoln’s legacy and Robert E. Lee’s character.

On Monday, I sat in my law class, and instead of getting lost in the meaning of words used to define terms, I was just trying to write definitions fast enough.  And a peculiar problem, I’m taking a History of Spain class.  It’s only for foreign students, and I placed in the class for students with lower language skills.  I have a hard time just sitting and listening through the hour and half lecture, but as I sat there on Monday, it dawned on me why.  I understood everything the professor was saying.  I was having a hard time focusing because he was talking too slow.

That’s some kind of new problem.


or forever hold your peace.

Yes, hold onto peace with everything you got, even if you have to fight for it.

In a world where salt is a side dish and fish and chips go without ketchup and tartar sauce, something new emerges…

When I first went to college, I said I was never going to study abroad.  I can remember deliberately tuning out every time the questions in a admissions Q&A turned again to foreign studies programs and telling myself how exciting it would be to go to the same school with the same people for a whole four years.

Man, that’s changed.

It was so random that I ended up here.  I know how I want to spend my retirement, where I want to work, what I want to name my kids, where I want to go to law school, and I’ve been planning my thesis since freshman year, but I broke out old grammar textbooks to dust my mental cobwebs and write a 300 word Madrid application essay two days before it was due.

Coming into Wes, I wanted roots and stability.  I wanted all my close relationships to last.  In retrospect, I don’t think that’s even possible in college.  It violates the basic nature structure of the educational system.  Wes is 13 hours from home.  I get four months there, one month in Indiana, four months back at Wes, four more months wherever I so choose (so far, DC and NYC), and even if I hadn’t up and left this semester, my friends still would have.

Yes, I finally have those close relationships I wanted.  I know everyone in my net of people who would drop everything and run if I needed him or her, but knowing that your loved doesn’t mean the people that love you are always around, like, I don’t know, when you skip the pond and temporarily move to another country.

Life is transitory, and sure, someday, soon enough, I’ll find George Bailey and let him lasso the moon, have 2.2 kids, and live in the same place for fifty years, but before I get there, I’m going to see everything I can.

Because I think there is something special about short-term transitory relationships too.  I think about the hundreds of people I’ve met in my four-month-long homes and wonder about the impact I am having on them.  Is it even existent?  What will they remember?  These questions aren’t coming from a narcissistic point of view.  I’m just wondering if who I really am is reflected to everyone, and if it’s not, what’s wrong with me.

I want people to see Jesus in me, and not in a preachy Jaimie in a pink sweater kind of way, but in a way that shows that I care more about them than myself.  That’s a lot to live up to, and a lot to show when you only have a short time with someone.

If I’m serious about living for the good of other people thing, it really ought to be obvious.  Daily life doesn’t seem like that big of deal, until I think about it in a bigger picture.  I know a lot of people who have literally never interacted with a real Christian before, which means my freaking out about missing class because I mistakenly went to the wrong classroom and then not not knowing how to gracefully excusing myslef, sat stuck for and hour and half look a little out of perspective.  My every reaction ought to be reflection of Christ.

I’m around so many people who really don’t care about God or acknowledge His existence, and I totally get that, but in the very least, I want them all to see how I serve them because of what is happening in me because of Him.

So, I’ll grip every moment I have, knowing that the difference between short term and long term relationships, is that now, in the short term, I’m never going to get another chance.

When listening becomes passive

Went on an Intervarsity-esque fall retreat this weekend at Pinos Reales in San Martin Valdeiglesias.

Toah Nipi – the lake + bigger mountains – the grass + giant rocks
Michindoh – the bonfire – childproof landscape + sand.  

If you haven’t been to either of these iconic American summertime campgrounds, go, but in the meantime let this photo furnish your imagination.

I have a lot to say about this weekend. I have probably have six blog posts worth of notes on my ipod.  With the inevitable disorder of this coming week, maybe one or two will actually make it up here.  I’m still surprised by things that are culture-transcending (as in absolutely exactly the same) and then others that I thought would be and absolutely are not.

Biggest note from the weekend: a lot of (concentrated) Spanish still kills.  Saturday afternoon was almost reminiscent of how I felt about a week and a half into life in Madrid when I started hating the sound of every word.

Except this time, instead of just wanting to shut up and retreat, I was dying to talk.  I didn’t want to give up anymore.  I was listening to conversation that I was way too tired to really understand, but it was on a topic that I had a lot to say about.  I wanted to stay in the moment, and the only way I could force my mind to stay in Spanish mode was to talk.

Listening for long periods of time is the hardest, but it is getting considerably better.  Other things are too.  I can tell a huge difference in the speed and quality of my speech, and every time I write an email I don’t need to spend forever editing my grammar before I send it.

I used to have to think to listen and understand, but now I’m beginning to just listen.

Of Scarves and Explorations

Yes, I recognize the scenery, and knew I’d been there before, but I never claimed to know exactly how to get back.

Yesterday, Veronica (student I met last week from Florida) and I went on a daylong excursion into the city, and I learned 1) knowing you’ve been there before is not sufficient directional knowledge.  Recognizing something doesn’t mean you know how to get back and 2) just ordering something because you don’t understand anything on the menu is not a good idea.* Disclaimer: I’ve seen English menus here were I still didn’t know what (almost) anything on it was.  I thought trying everything once was the way to go.  I just didn’t think picking a regular mid-range priced item could go so wrong.

Reality Check

I’ve never written any decent fictional story on paper and or any poetry worthy of anything beyond a three point shot to the wastebasket.  I don’t even read fiction.

Awkward realization I had during a recent conversation with a friend: I’ve only ever read fiction for the purposes that it relates to real life.  Jane Austin for references in pop culture and romance, Orwell for politics, Ms. Margaret Mitchell for an entertaining historical account of the Reconstruction Era and knowledge of what “Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn” actually means, etc.

But, nevertheless, I assure you, I could be a novelist, and I justify this claim on this basis.

I am a superb creator of almost reality.

Also known as Alcázar of Segovia, residence to Queen Isabella I, but the moat looked just like the one Mario swims in.

I don’t believe that this entirely bad.  Almost reality gave me enough strength to get through a grueling two hour shooting workout almost everyday (plus running time) for a couple years in high/middle school in order to attempt to compete with girls with more athleticism in their little fingers than I have in my whole body.  And you know what?  Almost worked out, because I shouldn’t have, but I was.

Almost changed “there’s no way I’m smart enough for this”  to study hours that began at 9am and ended at two in the morning.  Almost covered two walls of my room in color-coded index cards and converted thousands of pages of reading into highlighted, annotated, flagged, and bookmarked notes organized both chronologically and thematically.  That time almost never quite made it to reality, but it drove me a lot closer to what turned out to be an impossible goal.

But almost can be bad too.

Almost is dangerous when it should have been, but it’s most poisonous form is could be.  Now, I’m not talking about dreaming.  Obviously could be made me workout and study, but in both those instances, I was the only component.  No one else could stop me from learning any more than anyone else could do it for me.

But almost isn’t always like that, because most of the time it relies in some ways on other people and circumstances, which means I can’t make every almost happen just because I finally hit the magical quota of miles will make me fast.  Life’s not like that, and escaping from reality for what maybe could be will result in some fiction that only makes life harder to deal with.

I suppose if reality were easy, it would be much less exciting.  So until could be gets closer, I’ll use my almost to study for the LSAT, enjoy everything in Spain, and let the rest lie, or at least I’ll try.

Face palm [realizations]

Face palm- The act of slapping your forehead with the palm of your head in exasperation.  Ex. performed after: getting a joke 5 minutes later, obvious realizations, etc.

Some of my Spanish face palms have been funny, others a little pathetic, though most probably just fall under the category of “oh, that’s a little different.”  Most of the time they’re amusing, sometimes a little trying, but always educational.  So should you ever find yourself in the land of vosotros (Spanish verb tense not used in Latin America Spanish speaking countries), here’s what you can expect. Remember, it’s the little things that make the experience.

Spanish face palms:

1. Leaving (Salida)?  Don’t turn around.  The down arrow means go forward, even if the stairs go up.  

2. Judía verde is not Kosher food.  It’s green beans.

3. Subway floors slick like a 5-year-old playing with a Pledge can.

4. Mayonnaise is like ketchup.

5. PDA.  Big time, everywhere, and not just high school kids.

6. Business ads in the church bulletin?

7. The ear-cheek kiss greeting, with everyone, everywhere isn’t just a French thing.

8. Portions of meat so big it takes up 3/4 of the plate [definitely not complaining about this one!]

9. Freshly squeezed orange juice is weak.  Corollary: Orange Fanta has real orange juice in it.

7. I just stopped sweating at night.  My family is so cold they asked me if I needed to pull out a winter blanket.  The weather is very moderate.

8. Fitted sheets are an American thing?  The absence of elasticity explains why the beds are always made up just so.

Dead giveaway

that your an American? “Oh, hi nice to meet you.”  Then stick out your right hand.

I didn’t do it on purpose.  I was just trying to be polite, and I was, just not following local custom.  Everyone smiled, and said they knew where I was from.  I’m still not completely used to the European ear-cheek kiss thing as a greeting.

Friday night was by far the best night I’ve had in Spain so far.  I’ve been aching to really connect with some people here, and I did.  Shortly before I left the states, I scoured google for some proof of a Christian student group at Carlos III.  I ended up on the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship national website (I’m apart of IV at Wes), clicked on a link, and another link, dug a little bit, and found something called GBU that listed a contact person at my school here.  Score.

I sent an email, was added to something on facebook, and invited to some welcoming meeting.  I didn’t really have any idea what to expect.  I knew no one going to it or what exactly was going to be happening.  [fyi: For anyone worried about my safety here, I’d done enough research to know what I was going to was legit.]

I met someone at the metro station, so there would be no getting lost (this time at least!).  There had to be something like 40 students in the room from universities all over the city.  It was a little hard to understand everything because the acoustics weren’t the best, but I picked up enough to follow.

I met a bunch of Spaniards, which was amazing.  So far, I’ve had classes where I didn’t really talk to anyone and conversations with other lost foreigners, but that’s about it.  I’d never been a social setting with locals before.  AMAZING.

Other amazing thing, the foreigners that were there.  I’ve spent a lot time with folks in my program and some folks from Boston and the UC system, but it was really cool to hang out with other internationals with so many interests similar to mine.

The girl I mistakenly greeted with a handshake and I ended up talking a lot and grabbing dinner after the meeting.  It was great, and equally hilarious.  Some things you just can’t learn in grammar book, like how to tell when your waiter is hitting on you.  We got that lesson now.  It got a little awkward at the end as we were paying for our meal, but it was still funny.

Truly, the best night so far in Spain, and I think part of what made it so great was not just because I smiled more than I have in the last 4 weeks or laughed harder, I think it was so great because of what I know I have ahead of me because of it.


Madrid in the Fall

Though I suffered a minor setback this morning (apparently you can’t actually study in the National Library), today turned out great.  My quest for the perfect study spot took me all around the city on foot.  I spent a good portion of the morning reading at a beautiful, huge park, found lunch, more places to read, and ultimately a Starbucks with an outlet for my computer.  Can’t say I’ve found my study nook yet, but the search has been fun so far.

It felt really good to just sit down with a book in front of me, my laptop up, word open, and my fingers tap dancing on the keys.  The familiar beat and reading about something I love so comforting, and so are leaves moving like fire in the trees.


I was eating lunch, looked up, saw this image and laughed.  That was probably as close as I am going to get to a typical American fall, but hey, the important thing is I’ll be back in the spring in time for March Madness.


I’m going to be a lawyer.

I don’t know what type of lawyer, but a lawyer nonetheless.  Whatever type I am, I’m going to help people, and not just clients.  I’m going to let the way I interact with everyone I meet in the workplace be a reflection of my character.   I’m going to recognize that how I respond to problems of all kinds be more important than whatever hiccup is disrupting my day.

And, someday, all this, here in Spain, is going to mean a lot.  Because someday, when I’m a bilingual lawyer, I’m going to be able to help somebody who otherwise wouldn’t have anyone.

to getting there...


I have the best family ever (both real and host)!