Category Archives: Experiences

Spanish, Service & Switching Places

301645_10150425046621215_890517333_nA few years ago, when I lived in Spain, I went on a weekend trip to Extremadura, which is basically a lot of desert and a few Roman ruins.  It was a school-sponsored trip, so our accommodations were classed-up considerably from the cheapest (safe) hostel we could find online, which is what we usually went for, to a formal hotel.

I don’t remember the exact problem or what caused it, but I had some kind of trouble with my room key.  Because of it, I couldn’t get in my room.  Exhasperated, tired, and hungry, I complained to the guys from my school who were hanging out in the hallway.  One of them cut me off and impatiently told me to go down to the front desk, “You’re not shy, and you speak Spanish fine.  What’s the problem?”

could speak Spanish, but I only liked to use it around people I knew well.  I knew I didn’t speak it flawlessly, and I was afraid of sounding stupid–especially at the concierge’s desk in a fancy hotel.  I hated that I couldn’t get my thoughts and ideas out exactly right, so most of the time, I didn’t even try.

I’ve barely used the language at all since I returned to the US in the winter of 2011.

But Spanish has been on my mind lately.  I’ve taken to reading el mundo at lunch and started mentally walking through what a phone conversation would be like if a Spanish-speaking person called the church.

To that end, I’ve been waiting, hoping, thinking, planning, praying, but only sortof expecting to use it.

Today, I was talking to a woman at a big, annual church work day in apartment complex that needs some love.  I walked up to her because she was alone, and I like helping people feel part of the group.

We had a comfortable back-and-forth conversation, and eventually she told me about how she usually doesn’t like speaking in English.  She’s afraid she’ll mess up.  I thanked her for her willingness to converse with me, even though it was hard for her.

Then BOOM.  No fear.  No nerves.  No hesitancy.

I started talking to her in Spanish.

My new friend and I talked a little more about our families, and then we went our ways.  But while I was walking away, I realized that what had just happened was really, really good.  I’d voluntarily swapped places with someone who was uncomfortable by putting myself in the vulnerable position.

It was a discovery that became my MO for the rest of the day.  I asked a group of shy, little girls who would barely talk to me to help me with my Spanish, and by the end of the day, I had a long shadow that followed me everywhere.  All we talked about was Disney princesses and jump rope, but sometimes what you talk about matters a lot less than the time you spend together.

I grew-up doing the work day thing.  I know how to get work done, start a party with a bunch of kids, introduce myself to their parents, help make people feel comfortable, and seek Kingdom breakthrough with people who think that God would never do anything here.  It was awesome today, just like it always is.

But doing it in Spanish–woah, that’s new.

As an added appendice to this story–I so seriously should have gotten in an accident on the way home.  I didn’t see past Shirley’s head in the passenger seat and attempted turn directly into an oncoming car, but even though I was still pushing the gas pedal, the car didn’t get any faster.  In that split-second moment of “what just happened?,” I looked down at my dashboard.  The car had slipped into neutral (??!??); major, major accident averted.

Yeah, awesome day.


500 Seats, 175 for students?

a small part of the line

On Thursday, March 8th, Wesleyan University will host U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

I sat down as the 12th person in the line for Justice Scalia tickets at 8:03am, three minutes after Usdan officially opens.  Within 20 minutes, we were pushed against the wall, and by 9:00am the line extended beyond the Usdan doors by Fayerweather and folded back toward the black couches.

Obviously, student anticipation for this year’s Hugo L. Black lecture is high.  However, as the line and anxious students counting the people in front of them indicates, the number of seats available to students (175 of 500) is a concern.

After it was announced that Justice Scalia would be this year’s speaker President Roth commented, “I think it’s really important for Wesleyan to bring speakers to campus who don’t just preach to the choir, who don’t necessarily fit into what people think Wesleyan students think.”  I agree with him.  I just wish that more students had an opportunity to actually hear Justice Scalia, in person, when he comes.

(Author’s note: A portion of this blog post was submitted as a WesSpeak to the Wesleyan Argus, and will hopefully run in this Friday’s paper.) 

By Starbucks and Christmas lights

It’s how I finally learned these darn streets (and found my way home last night). I figure it’s finally about time I got a grip on the landscape here.

I’m officially almost 12 hours away from my 36 hour journey home.  It will commence in the morning with a trip to the airport, waiting at the airport, an 8 hour flight to New York, a 22 hour layover in New York (which will include a truly restful night’s sleep on a hard chair somewhere inside JFK airport), a flight to Chicago, another layover, and at last a short flight to Fort Wayne.

I’m ready.

Spain has been uneasily laced with an abundance of challenging frustrations, but at the end of the day, of course it was a great experience.  I think I’m a little too close to the situation to have any kind of an objective perspective though.

Right now, my heart is heavy with home and the ineptitudes of the educational system.  I’m remembering all the lonely nights and times that just weren’t quite everything I had hoped they would be.  But I think I only feel that way because I’m tired and thoroughly burnt out.

But even exhaustion can’t ever take away the magic week where I suddenly understood everything going on around me, what it was like to learn Paris all by myself in the middle of the night, or even what it was like in that taxi ride from the airport in Morocco.

My frame of mind is quickly transitioning to what I’m going to do next summer, where I’m going to live next year, my thesis, how I’m going to pay off school, and who’s going to hire me.  I think there’s something about going forward that will make looking back and recognizing everything I have because of this trip much more obvious.  Actually, I’m sure there is.

And I am truly thankful that I will have this blog as a record to go back and remember exactly what it was like, because, good and bad, it was all a learning experience.

In the coming months, there will be no spontaneous last minute cancelled trips to Ireland or tales of Moroccan orange juice.  So for the time being, the travel commentary has pretty much dried up (along with my bank account), but that doesn’t mean this blog is going anywhere.

I like to think that by writing things down, I’m not merely recanting inane facts from my day, but actually expressing what I’m thinking and learning along the way.  As such, I almost feel that converting the regular everyday to thoughtful text has more value.  A racing mind on a CSS Thursday night is truly magical, and coping with all the crazy stuff that goes down at Wes often takes all the energy I have.  Committing those experiences to text gives a whole new kind of long-term prospective.

All this traveling has convinced me that it in the end, it really is all the same.   As such, living someplace long enough to call it a real home  has got to really mean something.

So stay tuned, because I’m not going anywhere.  I’m just coming home.


wordpress officially stinks because it is not letting me upload the lovely photo I took of my host family last night.

Formal break-up letter

Universidad de Carlos III,

I would address my letter to you with a “Dear,” but somehow that seems deeply inappropriate.  Because even with the most formal of kind regards, I do not believe I could honestly greet you with such affection.

Now, let me be clear, I do not write you out of spite.  Neither do I deny that you house many a kindred spirit.   However, I do believe it is my duty to convey the magnitude of unkindness I felt on your grounds, with the hopes that you will welcome the new group much more warmly.   I do recognize that you will be cycling a whole new round of foreigners next semester, and I sincerely wish that you get along better with them.

I have attended 10 schools in my life, and I must say, you are indeed the crème de la crème in terms of un-welcomness, even worse than high school.  I repeatedly put myself out there for you.  I asked questions, took initiative, and even went so far as to order complete mystery foods from your ticketed vending machines, yet you continued to ignore me as yet another ignorant non-native speaker.

In very few cases do I believe you actually meant to be giving me the cold shoulder, but unfortunately good intentions only go so far.  See Carlos, you never even bothered to even learn my name, or where I was from, or what I liked.

I understand that we have cultural differences, so you might show your affection a little differently,  But even bearing those in mind, you just seemed to prefer to stay within your own groups and ignore the foreigners, many of whom were just desperately trying to make our way through you.

I do believe this phenomenon is best exemplified by our interaction today.  I was walking up from the basement where I had hoped to use the computer lab, you know, where the professor gave me a dirty look and yelled at me because I mistakenly walked in an open door (generally means the lab is free to use) while she was teaching a small class.   Anyways, I was almost up the stairs when I fell, very hard.

My knee and foot have been throbbing for an hour and half now.  I sat on those ugly old stairs, clutching my leg, wondering if I would be able to walk without help, and cried out in pain.  And not a soul came by to give me a hand.

Carlos, next time lend a hand.  It’s too late for us, but remember who’ll be arriving in January.   Please do try to do better.


With hopes for a better future,




Don’t bother calling.

I thought deserts were hot (Morocco: Part III)

Saturday was full of all kinds of adventures, but the morning started early, quite mistakenly.  Turns out Morocco is in a different time zone.  We figured that out at about 5:30am.

The guy from the Sahara Expeditions tour came knocking on the door of our hostel at ten after seven and walked us to the 15 passenger vans we would be going out in.

I was quiet disappointed that we didn’t get to go around with the folks we had met in our hostel that morning, but because our expedition was only one day instead of two or three, we were in a different group.

As far as people that you spend the entire day with in a freezing bus with, we really could have lucked out better.

In our larger group of about a dozen folks, there was a smaller group of about five late-20 to early-30 year old guys that were really obnoxious.  They spoke loudly, and their conversation seemlessly flowed between German, Spanish, and English in a way that you just knew that they were changing languages so certain people wouldn’t be able to understand them.  

The trip started out with the long drive up the Atlas Mountains.  We stopped several times to take photos, but it was so foggy that we couldn’t see much.  That is until we reached the crest of the mountains, where small mounds of snow surrounded us.

I found the situation mildly comical and was convinced that our not knowing French or Arabic had caused a mix up.  Surely this cold trip wasn’t what we signed up for when we said we wanted to go to the Sahara.   Poor Veronica was really, really freezing.

Worse yet, was how many turns you have to make to drive up and down a mountain.  I spent a good portion of the morning with my eyes closed and my head pressed tightly against the seat in front of me, because it alleviated the motion sickness.  Some time later, I sat up and was delighted to discover that we were at last surrounded by earthen, orange dust.

And I must say, it looked nothing like the smooth mounds of sand I had imagined.  It was rocky and bumpy and not nearly as pretty as I’d thought it’d be.  Of course, part of that was just the part of the Sahara we were in.

Some time later, our van stopped in a small village on the side of a small mountain.  Veronica and I both bought the kinds of scarfs you wrap around and over your head to keep the sand from getting in your face.   As a result of that experience, I can now officially say that while I can’t tie a tie, I can indeed tie a turban.

We had a little bit of a nerve-wracking encounter with a merchant who tried to get us to walk into his empty restaurant a little bit away from the rest of the group, but Veronica and I backed out right away and it all worked out well.

The next stop was a rural village that has been the site of many films set in the dessert.  I’d provide you with a complete list, but the guy was speaking French, so all I can tell you is that Lawrence of Arabia was taped there, but so were many other movies.

By this point, some major culture shock was setting in, but after eating (albeit a terrible, terrible meal) with a couple in our group from France, I felt much better.

A few hours later, we finally made it back to Marrakesh, just in time to catch the credits to the film rolling in the market square as a part of the city’s 11th annual film festival.

It is difficult to describe the intensity of the chaos going on around us.  Motorcycles weaved between massive groups of people walking in every direction.  While crossing the street on the way to dinner, I was hit in the leg by a biker who didn’t see me.

We heard probably almost as much Spanish in Morocco as we did English.  In fact, we ordered our food in Spanish, because our waiter had a better grip on the language.

After a final glass of fresh orange juice and a short stroll in front of the shops, we headed back to the hostel to call it a night.  I spent my last hour at Marrakesh the next morning on the roof watching the sunrise over the city.

The trip was short, but it ended perfectly.


I just finalized my plans for my final European trip.  Next week, I’m going to Dublin!

Movie moments (Morocco: Part II)

Lest you get the wrong idea from my last post, Morocco was amazing.

Sometimes you have those moments, the kind that are like snapshots from a movie.  I had a day full of those moments on one magical summer day while I was at LI two summers ago and in Paris last October.   One awful night a year ago, I learned that the knee-shaking, nerves thing is legit too.

Friday night was one of those movie moments too.  It was like the opening sequence with credits.  With an inconspicuously dropped jaw and my head bouncing off the roof of the taxi (it was bumpy ride), my eyes darted back and forth at the sights in front of me.  Motorcycles with what looked like big bicycle tires weaved in and out of traffic on the crowded street.  On those little bikes were entire families, with little babies tucked between mom’s chest and dad’s back.

The cab driver tried to speak English, but it was very garbled and I didn’t actually understand anything he said.  But he was still sweet, because he was trying to point out all the sights to us.  The big mosque, the park (which was funny because I thought he was saying the police needed to check out passports), and a few other places.

It was like seeing Notre Dame for the first time, except every direction was a new sight.   You realize that it actually does look like all the photos you’ve seen, because despite all the logic and facts you know, somewhere deep inside of you, that you didn’t even knew existed, it was like you didn’t ever believe that it was really real.

And it is, oh so real.

The nice Moroccan guy with really good English, picked Veronica and I up on the street and walked us to the hostel, which was amazing.  It was all bright and colorful and full of all kinds of travelers.  Between the hostel, the airport, people in the Sahara, the market, and everyplace else we went, we met folks from Britain, Croatia, Hong Kong, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, and the Czech Republic (I think this list is accurate, can’t recall exactly)

Once in the hostel, we were greeted with fresh Moroccan mint tea.  And I must say, for a girl who’s had tea from seemingly every corner of the planet, I’ve only been able to sallow one type.  That is until I tried Moroccan tea.  It was actually amazing.  Now, I like two teas.

That night, Veronica and I ventured out to the market, which was quite literally almost right outside our door.  I’ve haggled with the best of them down on Canal Street (albeit poorly, but that’s besides the point).  But I’d never been in a market as aggressive as the one in Marrakesh.  Between the vendors, hagglers, merchants, beggars, children, and cat-callers we had to have been harassed by no less than 30 people (though maybe just 15 or so were actually trying to sell us stuff) just that night.

The children and the women would go so far as to come up and physically touch our hands and pull on our shirts.  Men who probably knew no more than 300 English words, certainly had adequate grip on how to insult women.

There’s just something about two tall, pale skinned women walking around the Marrakesh nightlife that just doesn’t blend in.  Can’t beat the couscous or fresh orange juice though.  Our dinner was wonderful.

We had a little scare finding our way back after dinner, but about half a dozen or so 10-year-old little boys helped us find our way.  Thank goodness I had thought to write our address on my hand before I left.

I was a little nervous about the whole hostel experience, just because I’d never been in one before.  But it all worked out wonderfully.  The roof of the building had the most incredible view of the city.  I went up there on the first night and just sat in silence for a few, precious moments.  I gazed at the stars, laid down on the chair, and said a quiet prayer, but the kind without words.

Warning in reverse (Morocco: Part I)

Author’s Note: All proceeding text is based on a 36 trip to Morocco, which though a wonderful experience I do recognize that it was most assuredly the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  

(Apologies to Dad, Mom, Oma, Papa, and whoever else who loves and cares about me and will freak out as they read about my African travels.)  

Let me tell you a secret.

Okay, it’s not a secret, but it’s deeply sentimental.  My family went to Disney World several times when I was a little girl, then we moved to Florida and got season passes.  Then we went all the time.

One of our favorite restaurants was the one in at Epcot…in the World Showcase…in the back…on the left, Restaurant Marrakesh.  It was kind of hidden, and as such, it was often relatively empty.  Several times, my family was literally the only people there, which made it like our special place.  It was where I first ate couscous and Mychelle danced with the belly dancer.

Flash forward 10-15 years to last fall.  I was looking at map and studying the relative position of Spain to the rest of the world, and low and behold, it sat directly atop this country I held such amazing, albeit artificial because I was never really there, memories as a child. I never dreamed I’d be able to actually go there, but here I was in Spain, and it seemed a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity.

Plus, I just wanted to say that I’d been to Africa.

And that was it.  I said I was going and talked Veronica into joining me (not that she needed any convincing).  Morocco was so exotic and foreign and Ryanair flights were about the same as they would be to any Western European country.

Though no one harmed me and I returned to Spain safely with my Moroccan desert scarf in hand, I did put myself in several dangerous situations.  Ones that I would recommend no one else follow my lead on.

Mistake #1 Somewhere along the way (between finals and just generally incoherent schedules), my plan to bring along more people,  failed.    

Mistake #2. The greatest error wasn’t really just in going with one other person, it was in going to an Islamic country…without a male.

The first two mistakes are made doubly important by error number three.

Mistake #3 I did not study the political situation before arriving.  If I had, I would never have gone.  As a result of Moroccan protests connected to the Arab Spring, King Mohammad IV moved up parliamentary elections from 2012 to six days before we arrived.   Additionally, last April, 15 people died in a terrorist attack in Jema El Fna, the busy market square 1 minute away from the hostel I stayed in.

According to the British government, the city of Marrakesh is under a general threat of terrorism and the region I traveled to in the Sahara is under a high threat of terrorism.  A few days before we arrived, two Spaniards and an Italian were kidnapped (although not in the regions I visited).

Thankfully, none of that happened.  Other things did though.  Good things.

lower region of the Atlas Mountains