Archive for October, 2011

Halloween in Tana… aka pre-departure jitters

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Happy Halloween everyone!  They don’t really celebrate it here though…  but we arrived in Tana last night, after a very long day in taxi-brousses.  And everyone was on edge and snapping at everyone—my guess is because of the lack of gouter, and dehydration, plus some stress about starting ISP.  But nevertheless, it wasn’t the best long car ride.  I was pretty relaxed, though—I had had a good night where I felt close to my host siblings, my sister especially—she and I wandered around together and I met her best friend.  So anyways, yesterday was mostly in the car, listening to music and watching some beautiful scenery.  But today… today was crazy.  And it’s only halfway over.  We spent last night in a hotel, and woke up this morning and came into the center to receive our stipends for the next month.  And let me tell you, that’s a thick wad of cash I just got!  Then we went to the taxi-brousse station to buy our tickets for tomorrow, which was possibly one of the most intense experiences of my life.  There were dozens of guys shouting destinations at us, trying to convince us to go with their company… one of my traveling companions gets carsick, so we had to go to several different companies to find one that had seats open in the front. We finally did, but we accidentally underpaid, and then had a huge misunderstanding complicated by the language barrier and the fact that we had been told by our super nice taxi driver to watch out for thieves, so we were paranoid and didn’t believe they weren’t trying to sneak an extra 10,000 Ar (about $5) from us.  I can’t even describe how insane this place was, but I know that after being able to cope well with that and negotiate a better price in that environment, nothing in the US could ever faze me.

I think though that while I wasn’t super stressed at the station, it did stress me out, and when I got left behind during the hotel switch, without really any money and all my bags, trying to find this other hotel in a very nice part of town that I don’t know at all, with a companion who was complaining a lot (although she bailed me out money-wise, so I’m glad she was there), and trying to text my host mom in French to tell her I’m not going to be there tonight, I just got super tense and stressed.  Although if I’m honest with myself it’s probably really about going off to do this research project that I feel underprepared for, even if I am excited, and knowing I’m going to be essentially on my own for the next month—one of my closest friends in the program will be there with me, but I’m going to be in a village by myself for two weeks, but more than that it’s being completely on my own academically—I have this big project I want to do, and I know what I want it to turn out into, but it’s up to me to make it happen, without much of the support I’m used to having on big projects like this.  I know it’s going to be a great experience, and one that will make me a phenomenally better researcher, but it’s scary all the same.  But I’m excited, too, and that has been my predominant emotion for the past two weeks about ISP, so I guess it’s ok that right now I’m freaking out.  It’s to be expected, really, the day before.  And I’m doing much better now, actually doing some preparations for it (largely involving shopping… but I won’t have access to a lot of the things there are here in Tana when I’m in Manakara).  Anyways, I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have in the next couple of days/weeks, so updates might be a bit spotty… but that’s life right now!

My new Craic addiction

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Well, after five amazing days in Dublin, I’m back for another let-me-brag-about-all-the-things-I’m-doing-post! This time I traipsed around Ireland for a bit.

4.Explore Ireland

14.Dance a jig with the Irish
And of course, two more crossed off the bucket list. We (me and a fellow ASE-er, Natalie) flew into Dublin early Friday morning. Our hostel was in the Temple Bar district, the city’s heart and the absolute center for the pubs and such. The hostel was an experience in itself—literally the same building as the infamous Temple Bar itself. Don’t stay there if you expect little luxuries like sleep—you don’t go to Dublin to sleep, that’s just insane. We had different roomies every night—stayed in a 4 person room with 2 bunkbeds. First, two French boys named Jean and Sophie (yes, not making that up), second an older married French couple, and third from Sunday to Wednesday two American boys studying abroad in Italy.

We went on a pub crawl both Friday and Saturday nights. It goes without saying the Irish reputation of fondness for the drink dominates the nightlife (although I did just saying), although they were so welcoming and cheerful! Pubs full of dancing, smiling faces, cheeky remarks about my American accent and endless “Slainte!” (Irish version of saying “cheers,”).We also did accidentally set off a fire alarm at a club….Dublin is on fire. What can I say.

The Old Storehouse off Dame St

OH! After all the dark Guinness (which is much better in Ireland than the crap we get shipped to us in the states), I went to the bar and asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Cape Cod (fruity refreshing drink, I assure you). He said no,  I said vodka and cranberry? To which the reply was “Well just fockin say THAT then, wot tha feck is that Yankee shoite?” Of course you have to laugh at that….and I went back the very next night and asked the same bartender the same thing with a cheeky grin. Got a new nickname because of it: Princess. :)

I saw Dublin Castle, Christ Church and its vaults, City Hall, the GPO, Trinity and the Book of Kells, the Viking Museum, the Archaeology Museum, the Jameson Distillery, St. Michans (where they let us touch ACTUAL mummified bodies..), and my personal favorite Kilmainham Gaol, which is the prison where all the rebel leaders were held and executed.

The spot where the rebel leaders in the 20s (Patrick Pearse among them) were lined up and shot

 

Mummies in the vaults! Touching his hand is good luck

 

Apart from Dublin, we also made two day trips.

1) Wicklow and Glendalough

We picked a great day for it (insert sarcasm here). Record breaking rain hit the area….and guess who trusted the online forecast and went out in Chucks and a leather jacket. Woooops. BUT, Wicklow is riddled with mountains, and famous recluse Daniel Day Lewis lives there. The countryside is filled with peat moss, which gave the hills a sweeping goldish-brown color.

Oh hi mountain, how are you?

2) Cliffs of Moher and Galway

Without a doubt, the most beautiful countryside I’ve ever seen. Also, the best seafood I’ve ever had.

Cliffs of Moher

It was simply stunning! Also, since this blog is supposed to be semi-educational, I did see the Occupy Dame Street movement, akin with the Wall Street mess going on right now. People were camped out about a block or two from our hostel, rallying at all hours (although funny enough, not on Saturdays. I guess protesting is only do-able when it’s not 3 Euro Guinness night, eh?).

Occupy Dame Street

 

I heard more accents and languages within 5 days in Dublin than I have my entire time in England so far. I had no idea Dublin was such a diverse city! And the things you see in Dublin on a Saturday night….to put it delicately let’s just say I’ll never forget the Irish people in Temple Bar haha I highly recommend Dublin to anybody looking for a vibrant, exciting nightlife!

Chungnam Bound and Yesan Proud

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As much as I love my new school I do miss my old one, which is why I’ll be heading to Yesan on Thursday night, immediately after school! I have no school on Friday due to testing, so I’m going to go to Sapgyo High School on Friday and shadow this year’s conversational teacher as well as just loiter, then hang out with my host family for a little bit on Saturday. It’ll be good to be back in Chungnam^^.

Bel Air

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

So… this is my view as I write this paper, drinking my pastis (anise flavored liqueur) that cost a whole 50 cents. Life is pretty good right now… although the late 80s/early 90s angsty love songs playing are getting a bit old. But who am I to complain? Also, the paper is going pretty well. It’s on Vazimba, and there is all kinds of cool analysis to do that I hardly knew where to start. The interesting thing I found out is that they learn this sort of myth/oral history thing in school, which is interesting because it was only part of certain ethnic groups (the Merina, mainly, who have been dominant in a lot of ways for a long time, causing all sorts of tensions and resentments—the main ethnic divide is highlands vs. coastal), and now everyone learns it as Malagasy culture in school. Just everything here is so fascinating, I don’t know how I’m ever going to begin to sum it up when I get home. Last night I was chatting with a friend from home online, and he said I needed to have crazy stories to tell when I get home. Though I have the kind he meant, I realized that just a typical day here would count as a crazy story… But it just seems like it’s normal, now. Life in the US seems a bit like a dream—there are showers with hot water? Not just a bucket? How bizarre… that used to be the only thing I would use! I don’t mix three languages on a daily basis in conversations with everyone from shopkeepers to my friends? Why on earth not, when there are great words like kamo or mora mora or misy or aiza that just mix so well (lazy, slowly, il y a, and where, respectively)? And my favorite and least favorite, you mean I’m not a movie star in real life? People don’t stop and stare when I walk by? But I do love it here, something fierce. I’m looking forward to ISP—a month doing research on a topic I love (theoretically interesting as well as should be really fun—diviners all seem like they’re going to be quite some characters to hang around with, plus I’ll get my fortune told a bunch!) in one of the most beautiful places on earth (near the ocean!), with one of my closest friends on the program nearby. It should be great. Anyways, should get back to the paper I guess…

Beaches, beaches, and more beaches!

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Hello everyone :)

Today is shaping up to be another beautiful day in Bilbao! I hope you are all experiencing nice fall weather by now. Thanks to Pais Vasco, today is a local holiday and, again, we don’t have class! However, this week is midterm week, so I will be doing at least a little bit of studying today.

I feel like I am still coming down off the high of this past weekend. I can’t even begin to describe to you in words some of the beautiful places I saw right here around Bilbao and not too far away in Southern France! On Friday, our program took a day trip to San Juan de Luz and Biarritz, France. These two places are cute coastal towns with absolutely beautiful beaches and views (my kind of places). There were little surf shops, coffee shops, and places to pick up little chocolates or croissants! Language was a little bit of an issue haha, but the people were still really happy and friendly. How could you not be when you live in a town like that?!

Biarritz, France

After we returned home from France, a couple friends and I were invited over my friend Clara’s house to celebrate her sister’s birthday. It is so cool to have friends here that are locals! We had an amazing tortilla, muscles (yes, I eat muscles now lol), and of course, no meal is complete without vino tinto or callimocho. Her friends were so nice and welcoming. We actually met a guy named David who lives in another nearby coastal town called Santander who offered to show us around! I’m starting to really appreciate the fact that I chose to come to a city located really close to the water!!

Celebrating Lucia's birthday with local friends!

We took David up on the offer, and on Sunday, we took yet another day trip. (It’s so easy to catch the bus here to take daytrips to nearby towns, I love it!!) He picked us up from the station and drove us to all the places a typical tourist would want to see. We went to a beach that also doubled as a small aquarium with penguins, sea otters, manatees, and more! However, it was not your typical aquarium with big tanks and dirty looking water. The animals enjoyed natural sea water from the ocean that flowed into these small sanctuaries created for them in between stone and rocks. At the top of the walk through the aquarium, there was a huge castle that used to be home to the royalty of the town and, of course, a breathtaking view out across the ocean. Later, we went to a site with a lighthouse where we were able to walk out along a narrow peninsula-like cliff that extended into the ocean. Although I have seen turquoise and aqua waters in the Caribbean, I have never seen an ocean so blue in my life. At times, it almost resembled a deep purple. It was literally heaven! I am so thankful that we met David, and he was nice enough to take the time to show us around :)

A cliff that looked out over the ocean in Santander!

Back to Saturday for a minute, forgot to mention that I went to lunch with my entire host family—there were 22 people there in all, including all of Rosi’s brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, etc. They were all so warm and welcoming, and again, it makes me realize what a great decision I made in choosing to live with a family here. Not to mention, the food was absolutely delicious!! On Saturday evening, I volunteered at the school in San Francisco again. The girls from last weekend were anxiously awaiting my arrival. I did some arts and crafts with them, and they showed me a fashion game they like to play on the computer. I am continually amazed by their positive energy, despite their family situations. They love asking me how to say certain things in English. One of them told me she wants to be a lawyer when she gets older so she can help other families like her own. Although they are sometimes not the most disciplined or well-behaved kids, they still really want to learn and help others, which I find inspiring.

Alright, well I better get my mind off the beaches in Santander and get to work now. The weekend coming up is a long weekend, and my friends and I are going to Ireland and London. We booked the trip way back in early September, so I can’t believe it is already here! I am ecstatic!!!

Enjoy the rest of your week, and talk to you soon!

Love, Jen

No hablo frances

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

I think I’m setting a record here on the amount of time between posts recently – less than a week! Score hahaha. Saturday was just too completely awesome not write about right away. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s talk french first. No not, in French but about France… there we go!

Friday, the CIDE group that I’ve come to know and love oh so much and two of our fabulous professors took a quick trip across the french border, marking the end of my perception that Europe may possibly only exist of Spain – it doesn’t, no worries!! Our first stop was Saint Juan de la luz an adorable basque town full of typical white and red basque style buildings and tons of local character that literally looked like the inspiration for the setting of Beauty and the Beast. My friends and I wandered the adorable pastry shop lined streets just waiting for Belle to pop out of no where reading her book… well not really but we could totally envision it happening! What we actually did was head towards the beach, admire the beautiful bay of biscay from this side of the border, shiver in the chilly 50 degree air while we took some pictures, explore a pretty awesome little church, and buy some pastries. I can now attest that French croissants are absolutely that 100Xs better than any other croissant that everyone promises you they will be – especially if yours happens to be stuffed with chocolate, yeah I died a little of happiness!! This experience also prompted my first use of french bascially ever and I do believe my reading off of the little sign and pronunciation of “merci” were spectacular.

Post Saint Juan we made our way just a tad further into France and arrived at Biarritz, a slightly larger town with a little less charm and a little more international appeal. Known for its summer visitors thanks to its absolutely beautiful coastline, the town seemed almost eerily quiet, but a trip down the road to the local market proved otherwise. Inside we found local produce of all kinds – wine, veggies, fruits, spices. My personal favorite = le fromage which Elana, Neia, and I somehow managed to sample 5 free slices of… shhhh. Listening intently to my professor’s wise words that sweets are best in France I also bought a small slice of a local almond and fig candy-like substance. Wow, that description makes it sound kind of awful but as Elana would tell you, it seriously tasted like fall – great purchase! Unfortunately for my self esteem though, this french speaking experience went a little less smoothly. Cue me trying to converse with the adorable french guy behind the counter (who informed me he know un peu de English) by telling him that the amount he had selected was “muy bien”… with the worst part being that I tried it in a french accent – gen parfait. Oh well, made for some good laughs as we continued our walk towards a remarkable coastal overlook where the perfectly blue-green ocean flawlessly crashed around us. True beauty.

After winding our way back into the city, we were whisked away by our bus to a nice, late, long lunch in a winery back in Spain. Fortunately, we’re finally getting used to these affairs so there was far less complaining than in the past and we happily filled ourselves with bread, mystery paella, the typically chicken and fries, and coffee. We may or may not, however, have played with the flan instead of eating it. Five Years Old, yes. When lunch ended we set forth to Loyola, the birth place of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. The architecture of this place was remarkable, with the interior of the house being dedicated to depicting Ignatius’ journey to sainthood. After some words about the formation of the copula in the cathedral, we were Bilbao bound again and thus ended our to southern tip of France and a northern part of Spain.

Now for Saturday night! Background info first – last monday, like 8 days ago, I was looking through the weekly Spain activities e-mail sent out by CIDE and saw amongst the normal theater and cine postings a message about a Bilbao Night Marathon. Intrigued by the prospect of a race in a country where everyone looks at you funny when you go for a run, I clicked on the link thinking maybe I would convince some friends to be downtown when this was going down so we could watch part of it only to discover that in addition to the marathon race happening October 22nd at 9:30pm there was also a half marathon and a 7.5km. No way could I possibly dream of running the marathon (although it’s def on the bucket list!! whose joining me in the future???) but the last one was right up my alley and I immediately decided it had to be done. I don’t really know what to thank this spontaneity to, I mean I had never signed up for a race before even in the US. I love running, but I do it on my own or with a few friends along a path that I pick out for however long I feel like going, you know all within my comfort zone. But regardless, I messaged a few friends and before long three of us had signed up.

Wow, what a wonderful decision!! There is nothing that can compare to the atmosphere that we found surrounding the Guggenheim in downtown Bilbao Saturday night. Thousands of people were crowded around waiting for the races. The marathon and half marathon started 10 minutes before our nice little short race so we were able to take in everything from the fireworks along the bridge that leads to our university to the announcer counting down to the start of race in Spanish. So much fun. When it was our turn, Cathy, Elana, and I packed ourselves into the starting area, excitedly noticing that Christie and Kelsey were there to cheer us on. We tried to join in on what we thought was going to be another spanish count down only to find out this time they were speaking basque, oops, and then we were off. I will never be able to accurately describe the feeling of racing down the streets of Bilbao that I’m just beginning to feel familiar with, seeing traffic stopped in all directions to let us through, and hearing the cheers of hundreds of spaniards who were lining the street to simply cheer us on. Since most girls really don’t run in Spain, we were the recipients of several encouraging shouts such as “venga chicas” and “anima”. But the best part by far was the little children waiting with their hands out for high-fives whose faces lit up the second you extended yours. Made my night. During the race, I felt so surrounded by the joyfulness of these people, who to my surprise were still completely full of energy at 10:00 at night – only in Spain! 42 minutes later, Elana, Cathy, and I happily crossed the finish line (where people still stood clapping and cheering – what patience they have!!) totally and completely content with our ability to say that we completed a race in Spain and feeling more in touch with the city than ever before. Thanks for your love Bilbao!!

This week is going to be a short but busy one. I had two classes Monday and today’s a holiday so two classes Wednesday and two classes Thursday are all that stand between me and Ireland. Say what? Dream country here I come.

Nothing new

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Not much new to add, just felt like I hadn’t blogged in a while… still quite happy. Working a lot on ISP plans and this paper on the Vazimba (the people who were there before the Malagasy… it’s crazy fascinating!) so really just very happy in a lot of ways right now. But… yeah. not much else to say.

My brushes with Royalty

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

What a wonderful two days… yesterday morning we went to a doany, which is a traditional religious site. This one was the seat of a branch of the Sakalava kingdom (the socio-politico-religious aspects of that are fascinating…), and it contains relics of the four founding ancestors. I read an ethnography about the stuff that goes on there—there are mediums that are possessed by tromba, which are the spirits of deceased Sakalava kings. It sounds like such a cool thing. We went on a Wednesday, though, when it’s not active, but at least you can go there– Tuesdays and Thursdays are taboo for both working the land and for going to the doany (but not for working in an office… isn’t that interesting? That’s what my independent study project is going to be on). We met the Prince of this branch, who was this wonderful guy with beautiful French who answered lots of questions. I’m going to keep this short, but if you’re interested in how it all works, send me an email and I’ll tell you what I know, because it’s a fascinating situation. It’s also a village, with people living there, but they have to respect a bunch of taboos—like we couldn’t have any ties in our hair, and we had to have lambas on over our pants. Anyways, I shook a prince’s hand! And then in the afternoon, we went to the beach. Seriously guys, this is school. I can’t believe it sometimes, but then I think about how much I’m learning, even if it’s not in class. It’s just a different thing altogether than school—rather than reading books, I’m talking to people, or learning by doing what they’re doing. I’ve realized that I’ve become a lot more discerning in telling stories as to where I learned something—whether I read it in an academic source, whether someone (Malagasy, usually) told me it, or whether I’ve seen it myself. Because seeing the culture for myself, I’m coming to realize that a lot of times, I don’t agree with the simple facts of say an ethnography, or especially with an interpretation, and that sometimes I find that “informants” are lying to me, or simply don’t know. At any rate, the beach was fantastic. Majunga is on the Mozambique channel, so there aren’t strong waves—it’s really a lovely beach. That was just a fantastic day.
Thursday a fortune-teller came to visit us, and as he deals with vintana (destiny), which is my ISP topic, it was really awesome. He talks about it as a traditional form of healing, using these seeds and divination to diagnose medical problems. And he was a character… which I think most of the guys that do vintana are, which makes me excited. He read my destiny: I get headaches occasionally (because the head is my key—he talked about three keys to the body, the head, heart, and stomach), there’s a guy out there who wants to marry me (any takers?), that two kids will be enough for me, in my marriage I’ll be strong like a man, that I had a cough recently (although he might have heard me cough during his presentation earlier) and that I’ll be good at commerce (not so sure about that one…). Overall, he says I have a very good destiny. Because I’m going to be hanging out with a lot of these guys, I’m going to compare their different readings, just as a side game for myself. In the afternoon, I just sort of wandered around, which was nice, as I don’t know this town very well (I live in the outskirts, in the same direction as the school, so I don’t pass through town on my way home).
Yesterday we went across the bay to a small town where there was a girl from the peace corps, who hung out with us all morning. It was cool to see what she was doing, and her projects. A lot of people in our group are interested in peace corps, not surprisingly, given that they’re doing an SIT program in Madagascar—it’s sort of the same demographic. And last night a bunch of us went and hung out on the boardwalk, which was gorgeous. Majunga is nice in that we can go out at night without worrying so much about security as in Tana, and the city comes alive after dark in a way Tana doesn’t (given that the entire city becomes a red zone for security after dark). Probably because it’s so hot during the day… and it becomes absolutely gorgeous after dark, with the breeze off the ocean. Today I’m doing some work here at home (it feels so weird to have work to do… for some reason Majunga doesn’t feel like school the same way Tana does. And unfortunately we have a lot of work to do here… ) and then will head to the beach this afternoon. It’s a hard life, I know.

A side of english please

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m giving English classes to two adorable spanish boys, right? Well, these two boys, Iñigo and Cosmic, ages seven and five, have certainly found their way into my heart!! I now eagerly look forward to Monday and Wednesday afternoons, wondering what little English phrase they will latch onto this time. So far we’ve had a huge attraction to octopus, one hundred, airplane, and butt… yeah, I tried to avoid that last one for as long as I could but I am dealing with little boys here and you know how they are. We’ve played uno and bingo to practice numbers, games with dice and random shapes to learn colors, and a connect-four game with fruits. My secret hope is that in addition to learning some basic English, they’ll pick up on my repetitive use of the word “awesome” in practically every sentence and start using it in everyday life : )

Ironically the 4 hours a week I spend at this spanish family’s house and in the local parks playing with these boys, using English words mind you, have given me the biggest insight into the Spanish culture of anything so far. I’ve watched interactions between Kristina (the mom) and their housekeeper (a typical addition to any spanish family with small children), heard stories about the dad who is always at work (even when I get ready to leave at 7:15pm), held the baby sister and seen her take her first steps, meet cousins and aunts and grandparents, and been invited to my first birthday party – mind you it’s over a month away but still super sweet. There is so much energy and happiness and maybe a little drama going on in this household that, although I know I am an outsider being paid to teach their children, the way they’ve accepted me with open arms, countless smiles, and lots of hugs makes me feel right at home. Furthermore, since Cosmic and Iñigo know very little English I must follow my english phrases with spanish ones => conversation practice at its best! If I string together a mess of spanish words in the wrong tenses or throw in some spanglish every now and then, these little fellows won’t simply infer or guess what I mean like Carmen or my teachers and friends. Instead, they give me these adorable looks of confusion followed by giddy retorts of ¿cómo? until I work out an answer in real spanish that is then happily received and responded to. Sometimes I think I might be getting more out of these lessons then they are, oops! Living with just a host mom yet having the opportunity to experience all of the excitement of a spanish family every once and a while = the best of both worlds!!

Moving on from my obsession for my little students… it appears that fall has finally arrived in Bilbao. Now how many times have I been told this before?? Several! Maybe I’ve even relayed that exact sentence to you in the past ??, I can’t quite remember. You see, northern Spain is known for its rainy and cool fall season bla bla bla and yet I can count on one hand the number of times it has rained since I got here. In fact, I can tell you explicitly that it has rained 4 times because I still remember the exact days during which I grumbled about the weather, obviously not having taken to heart the 247 times I’d been told that rain was typical in Spain. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good rainy day but there is just so much more you can do on a sunny one and I’ve certainly gotten used to those activities!

Take this weekend for example: Friday I went for a run along my favorite path by the sea, sat on a bench along the coast where I could hear the waves crashing while reading a book, and took a nighttime stroll around downtown Bilbao. Saturday I headed to that lovely bench again, this time with some post cards that need to be written and a little homework. Later two of my friends and I explored a park up a nice long set of stairs in Casco Viejo. And Sunday I joined the hiking club for what may have been the most beautiful trip ever. Cue an hour lunch on the top of Mount Urregarai – which did not take serious rock climbing to summit, mind you – and this girl was one happy camper. (After two distinctly different yet amazing trips, the basque mountain range may have also found a special place in my heart) Fortunately for me and my current sun-loving/anti-rainy season tendency, my recent perusal of weather.com has informed me that there are still some clear skied days ahead of me, arriving just in time for a quick day trip to France (tomorrow) and a nice 7.5KM race around Bilbao (Saturday).

Lovin life

 

A Weekend in Bilbao :)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Hello all!

Happy hump day! Today is kind of a dreary here day, but we haven’t had any rain yet, so I can’t complain. Plus, it is supposed to clear up just in time for our weekend! It is definitely getting a little chillier here, so fall is definitely in the air. I do miss all the fall/ Halloween decorations we have in the US, as they do not really make a big fuss over Halloween here. Oh well, my friends and I will surely celebrate in our own way!

We didn’t do any traveling this past weekend, but it was nice to spend some time in Bilbao. On Friday, two of my friends and I went to the part of town which is just on the other side of the river called Portugalete and Santurtzi. In order to get there we had to cross the Puente Colgante in a cart that hangs like a pendulum below the bridge. It was pretty neat! Both towns were quaint, with parks and lots of little cafes. During the afternoon, we went to Casco Viejo to share a pitcher of Sangria. Life couldn’t get any better!! J

Saturday was my first day of volunteering for my Service Learning class. The class combines lecture about human rights and solidarity with an outside volunteer experience. We are doing our service project at a type of “after school” program in a poorer part of town called San Francisco. There are a lot of immigrants that live in this area, and there is also a high rate of crime, drugs, etc. The program we are participating in is designed to keep kids of the streets, where they could potentially get involved with the wrong crowd and be exposed to bad influences. Although I was a little unsure of what to expect at first, the kids were absolutely adorable! The girls loved all my jewelry and loved playing with my hair, especially because it “es rubia!” (blonde) and this is less common for them. One little girl asked me if I was famous in the United States, and another little boy asked me if I would be his girlfriend. All the kids truly did make me feel like a celebrity that day! They loved the fact that I was from “América,” and they were anxious to have me help them with their English. I cannot wait to volunteer again this weekend. The girls want me to paint their nails this time!    

Sunday was a “homework day” for me (yes, I do actually have homework over here, contrary to the popular belief that I only go out and travel all the time haha). I had to write two essays, and Rosi was sweet enough to help me edit some of the small grammar aspects in each paper. She was such a big help, and I am so thankful to have her as a host mom here. At the same time, I also love having Jon around. It cracks me up when he mocks Rosi or bickers with her just to push her buttons. He’ll look over at me and start laughing, so I can’t help but smile too. Interestingly enough, most of the time they remind me a lot of my own parents!!  

Speaking of my parents, I am so excited to be able to say that are officially coming to Bilbao to visit me November 2 to November 6! I am so excited and so thankful that they pulled strings and made sacrifices in order to come. I literally cannot wait to see them! 14 days!!! J

This Friday, my program is hosting an excursion to the border of Spain and southern France! We’ll be going to the towns of Saint Jean de Luz, Biarritz, and Loyola. I’ve heard these regions of Spain/France are absolutely beautiful, so I’m excited to see what’s in store!

I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of the week!
Love, Jen