Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's been GRAND . . .

Top of the mornin' to ya! That's the only phrase I really wanted to hear when traveling to Ireland during the weekend of December 6th - 9th (yep, I've been a wee bit lazy keeping up on posts), but apparently no one actually says it.  In order to not be "that tourist," I tried to control myself and not say this phrase to everyone I met.  "They're after m' lucky charms" was also avoided for obvious reasons.  Now just for the record, I've always been a fan of Ireland and the Irish culture, probably because I can claim at least 1/8 Irish heritage on m' mother's side.  Though my resemblance to an Irish person is about the same as The Office's Michael Scott being 2/15 Native American, something about being in Dublin and the Irish countryside ignited the Celtic fire inside of my soul.  While my trip in Ireland itself was fantastic and beyond words, getting there was another story.  I've told it so many times now (mostly in Spanish) that I've grown tired of the same old rhetoric, so prepare yourselves for an epic drama with hints of beat poetry as I recount how I missed my connection from Madrid to Dublin through Ryanair. (Pardon the present tense too; I think it sounds more exciting).

Crunch, crunch, lip smack, triple crunch goes the trail mix in my mouth as I await to board the next metal bird for the Emerald Isle.  "Oh Trader Joe's," I muse, "If your founder was indeed a real person, I hope he is in heaven serving this hearty snack to its citizens."  In my cashew-induced day dream, I am roused by the shuffling of luggage and slow movement of the crowd.  Yes! The moment has arrived, and I reach into my backpack to procure my golden ticket (boarding pass).  The employee reads mine, does a double take, and delivers the news that strikes terror into my very soul: "You don't have your stamp (which only applies to people outside the EU). If you don't get one soon, you can't board." Realizing that responding with "I've heard it both ways" would be ill-advised, I dash off in the opposite direction in the hope to find the elusive office of Ryanair, completely unaware of the coming challenge.  Left and right I ask whoever looks official if they know where, and vague yet somewhat helpful responses come my way.  With the suaveness of James Bond I sneak my way past the National Police passport check with ease . . . after asking their permission to do so.  "Not long now," I think to myself confidently as I assess my bearings.  Utter dismay hits me like an elephant when I realize the office lies beyond the exit of the airport.  With a deep breath, I dive into the great beyond and begin my merry chase again.  350.  The number of the office rings in my head like one of those creepy cat cuckoo clocks, but I pursue it nonetheless with a renewed effort.  Like a shark who's smelled blood in the water, there's nothing that will stop me now in my hunt . . . except the line when I get there.  Tick tock goes the imaginary sound of my digital watch as I mentally tell it to stop reminding me.  Procuring my stamp after what feels like an eternity, the employee tells me advice I knew from the beginning: RUN. Dodging idle passengers this way and that, I come to my final obstacle: the security check. Stripping off my belt, shoes, wallet, and other accessories like I'm on fire, I pass through the radiation machines relatively unscathed.  Here it is: the final sprint.  Boots clopping, backpack shuffling, heart pounding, and sweat dripping in literally every crevice of my body, I kick myself for never running long distance in college nor training for an Iron Man.  Nearing the place of my destiny I constantly tell myself I'm almost there and that I can die on the plane.  However, the unthinkable happens.  Much to my chagrin I see the aluminum eagle in its nest preparing to soar into the heavens and leave me in the dust to forge my own existence.  The Man has won, and I, one man, have lost.

Hope you enjoyed that little portion of monologue; I'm hoping to pitch it to Broadway and get the musical version started up real soon.  There's a bit of a happy ending in that I was still able to go to Ireland by booking a ticket with Aer Lingus for a flight that evening.  An expensive lesson, but definitely worth it after such a fun weekend in Dublin.  That being said, here's a list of highlights, in order of occurrence:
1) Getting directions from an older Irishman to the buses at the airport.  If I couldn't have Morgan Freeman narrate my life, I would definitely love this man's charming Irish brogue accompany me wherever I go.
2) Hanging out with Jenna and some of her friends! She was such a great tour guide and really knew her way around the best parts of Dublin.
3) Seeing the Book of Kells, one of the oldest and best preserved illuminated gospel books (800 AD)! Even though it's protected with strong glass, an employee from Trinity College turns a page of it every day. No pressure or anything.
4) Guiness Factory Tour! The best, and might I say most "academically enriching" part, was when we poured our perfect pints of Guiness and graduated from the factory's academy.  Much to Jenna's and my surprise, I liked Guiness and its uniqueness among cervezas.
5) Evensong in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
6) Authentic Irish food in O'Neil's (shepherd's pie + roasted chicken = mouth watering goodness).
7) James Joyce's play "The Dead" in the Abbey Theater.  Witty, great cast, a merry winter scene, and a final tragic scene making you wonder what you just saw.  Touche Joyce, touche . . .
8) Authentic Irish music back in O'Neil's! I could have done a jig :)
9) Hiking Bray Head, Greystones, saying hello to all the Irish people, ice cream, and trying to stay warm in an elevator with Jenna and my new friend Lily as we waited for the train! (Turns out the latter was unnecessary).
10) Mass on the Assumption of Our Lady in a PACKED Carmelite church! Weird to think that it was my first English-speaking Mass in months.
11) A literary pub crawl in which we learned about the various authors of Dublin and which drinking establishments they frequented.  Not to mention watching people participate in the self-named "12 Pubs of Christmas," a popular pastime in December.

As always, here's the link to some Snapfish photos and a few examples below if you don't have an account:

I am traveling to London this coming Monday (New Year's Eve) to spend a few days there before meeting up with some friends from Whitworth for their "Christianity in the British Isles" trip.  Please pray for me, as this will be my first time traveling/spending time in another country completely alone.  However, I'm really excited and can't wait to share the adventure with you all through a blog post that will hopefully come sooner than this one did. ¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

Hasta 2013,

Friday, November 23, 2012

Catch Me If You Can

¡Hola todos!
Hope you all are recovering from the post-Thanksgiving food coma and are relishing the fact that new cooking will not be necessary for the next week or two.  I guess Thanksgiving is never truly "over" until all of the leftovers are consumed.  Just an aside, for my Thanksgiving I went out for some tapas with some friends, and we did the classic "what are you thankful for" table discussion, specifically relating it to our studying abroad experience.  Although I could go on and on, I'll just mention one thing from my list which I hadn't thought about much until last night.  I realized that I'm thankful for the opportunity to view the world as a global family.  It seems like everyday I meet new people from all different areas of the globe, and it's so normal and comfortable for me now.  It is true that our respective countries have various cultural differences, but at the same time doesn't each family member bring something unique to the table? I'll extrapolate this a bit and say that meeting and befriending people from other countries is NECESSARY for peace and fellowship.  As I watched the images of the new Israeli-Gaza battle on the news and the ancient hatred that exists there, I thought to myself how things would be different if the powers behind those rockets had done a study abroad program together, taking a stroll in the park and doing karaoke in the evening.  How much more difficult it is to order the annihilation of a group of people knowing that one of your friends is there!  True, even in our families we have disagreements and may even be angry with each other for a time, but the mark of a loving family is one which is willing to fight the good fight to forgive one another.  Are we not all children of the same God, created and loved by He that is Love?  We must challenge ourselves to remember this constantly and think of countries as composed of human individuals, not as political entities.

Now, after that little tidbit, you may be wondering about the title of this post.  This may sound a bit odd, but thinking of titles is one of my favorite parts of writing this blog.  So, for those who have seen the movie "Catch Me If You Can" (highly recommended), the answer is No, the title does not imply that I am now an international criminal printing near perfect blank checks, forging identities, and eluding both the FBI and international police.  Rather, the "Me" refers to my trip to Fatima and Lisboa, Portugal last week and the "You" refers to me.  First off, it's important to note that I didn't really know anyone going on this trip, organized through the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Santiago.  I was especially interested in Fatima, and I figured Lisboa would be pretty cool, so I bought the tickets nonetheless.  After leaving very early from Santiago on Friday the 16th, we arrived in Fatima around 10 am or so and would only be there for 2 hours.  Soon after eating breakfast, we went to explore the sanctuary of Fatima, which was a lot more empty than I thought it would be (you can see what I mean in the pictures).  In that sense, Fatima does feel like a pilgrimage site since it appears people only come for religious reasons (i.e. not many tourists).  The church was absolutely gorgeous, and when we entered they were starting Mass in Portuguese.  Other people from the group just took a few pictures and left, but I decided to stick around and try to understand as much of Mass as possible.  I left at the beginning of the homily and started to make my way back to the buses, but lo and behold my "Psych-like" memory had failed me.  For whatever reason, I simply could NOT find the buses with the clock ticking, the heavy rain clouding my glasses (and lack of umbrella), and the sense of shame being lost since Fatima is really small.  Muchísimas gracias a Dios (Many thanks to God) that I found a man who pointed me in the right direction.  Upon entering the bus, I looked (and probably smelled) like a wet dog, but I just didn't care.  In retrospect, I guess being left behind at a very holy sanctuary wouldn't have been the worst thing. :) Also, if you want to learn more about the Miracle at Fatima, check out this video from EWTN:

After that incident at Fatima, I told myself I wouldn't get separated from the group again.  I even met three girls from the United States (two from Wisconsin, one from North Carolina), so I now had a safety net.  We checked into the hotel around 4 and immediately walked to el Castelo de Sao Jorge (the Castle of St. George), located on a hill above the city.  As you'll see in some of the pictures, the castle is incredibly well preserved, like many of the archaeological sites around Lisboa.  After about an hour or a little more at the castle, it looked like people were starting to leave, so I found myself close to the exit.  However, curiosity killed the cat, salted the snail (I've heard it both ways), and I wandered toward the back of the castle, taking a few pictures of an archaeological dig.  Surprise, surprise, that I had inadvertently lost the group once again, this time in the heart of Lisboa.  Despite being in such a large city by myself, I felt much better about being lost this time since I figured I could find my way back to the hotel (which I did, no big deal; on the way I even found a nice restaurant with great food and good prices).  In summary, for the first day of the trip I definitely felt like I was constantly trying to "catch" the group, but having had that experience, I now know I can overcome it in the future.

Just a few final comments about the trip before some pictures:
1) On Saturday, we visited a small town called Sintra, which was stunning for its views of the cities below, its cloud forest, zip-lining (which I think only operates in spring or summer), and many castles and palaces.  For some of the reasons stated above, it certainly reminded me of Costa Rica!
2) Pasteis de Belem (Pastries of Belem) were fantastic and a must have if you're in Lisboa.
3) On a more somber note, Lisboa is the first city I've seen here that has a serious poverty problem.  Outside one business on one block, I saw at least 10 people, maybe more, sleeping on the streets in proximity to one another.  Though I've seen many demonstrations (including the national strike on the 14th of November), the trip to Lisboa was the real eye-opening experience to what they call the "crisis" here in Spain and Portugal.  To say that the crisis is hurting people would be an understatement, clearly.  With poverty, I'm never sure what is the best way to help, but upon seeing this I will challenge myself to find what that way is.

Now, the link for the pictures and a few examples if you all don't have Snapfish:



Thanks again for reading! I wish you all the best as we conclude with our national holiday and begin to prepare for the preparation (Advent) for the universal celebration (Christmas).  ¡Ciao!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Street Smarts in Barcelona

¡Hola todos!I hope this blog post finds you in a state of peace of mind, perhaps eating some leftover Halloween candy, watching the leaves fall, and being utterly bewildered as to why some radio stations have started playing Christmas music.  A week ago, I traveled with my friend Jenna to quite possibly one of the liveliest and dynamic cities in Spain, the great herald of the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona.  It was everything I wanted and more for so many reasons.  I think the pictures I have linked to this post will show a lot more than I can write about, but I'll include some whimsical anecdotes to supplement nonetheless.  Here's the link below:
I just realized you have to have a Snapfish account to view the photos, so for those of you who don't have Snapfish nor Facebook, here's a few photos just to show how awesome the city was.

 Being a history major and someone generally concerned about current events, I thought I would share my impression of what is transpiring in Cataluña (the autonomy of which Barcelona is the capital), especially since I'm unaware if American news has covered any of it.  In recent months, there has been a growing political movement within Cataluña calling for the independence of the autonomy as a nation separate from España.  The president of the autonomy, Artur Más, has been the spokesperson of the movement, often emphasizing the differences between Cataluña and the rest of the country (though every autonomy has its own unique culture).  One set of events which sparked controversy was a move from Cataluña's government to try to force all the schools, from grade school to the university, to teach solely in catalán in place of a balance between the two languages (the other being español).  Just recently, Artur Más went to Russia to try to get support from the Kremlin because apparently when Russian tourists come to España, they most often go to Cataluña.  Notifications such as these appear in the various newspapers every day.  That being said, I'm unsure how serious the prospect of an independent Cataluña is.  When I've talked with native Spaniards around here, they more or less say that it's just a bunch of show.  Cataluña ALWAYS wants independence it seems.  From a more practical standpoint, the outlook for their cause seems bleak since the likelihood that the United Nations or the European Union would recognize it is indescribably low at this point.  In Barcelona, I saw a few independence flags and posters, but not more than I have seen in Santiago.  Vamos a ver.

Now, based on my experience in one of the greatest cities in Spain, I now present to you a "Barcelona Travel Guide: Do's & Do Not's" (but mostly Do's)
1) DO: Stay in Fabrizzio's Guesthouse Barcelona, a fun little hostel in an apartment with the perfect location for travel.  Our host, Roger, was incredibly hospitable, spoke English so both of us could understand, and provided us with some helpful advice to get around the city.  Also, there was all day continental breakfast, a fully furnished kitchen if you wanted to cook, and clean beds and immaculate bathrooms.  Needless to say, it rocked.
2) DO: Go visit Antoni Gaudí's "La Sagrada Familia." You will encounter a line that wraps around half of the cathedral no matter what time of day it is and will likely wait there for at least 2 hrs, but it's so worth it! As you'll see in the pictures, the architecture and symbolism are simply incredible, and it still blows my mind that it won't be done until the middle of this century.  Also, don't forget to go to the museum while you're there, which is included in the price of the ticket (we almost did).
3) DO: Buy a metro pass and be prepared to be the most efficient city traveler ever.  As I've probably said before, Barcelona is an incredibly large city and walking a lot, even for someone now accustomed to walking like me, is simply impractical.  It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Barcelona has one of the most sophisticated underground rail systems I've used (which includes those of Boston and Washington D.C).  The longest wait time was only 4 minutes, and that rarely happened to us.  Also, MUCH cheaper than using a taxi the whole time.
4) DO: Go to the Picasso museum and behold works of creative genius from all different periods in his life.  He is definitely one of those artists where you can't say that seeing one of his paintings is like seeing the rest.  His various interpretations of Velazquez's "Las Meninas" was especially interesting.
5) DO: Utilize the menú del día whenever and wherever possible.  For one usually reasonable price, you get two main dishes, a drink (water, beer, or wine), bread, and a dessert of your choice.  It was a little more difficult to find in Barcelona than in Santiago, but well worth the effort.
6) DO/DO NOT: If possible you should go to the open farmer's market off the street called Las Ramblas (which is famous for being a tourist district).  There is quite a variety of fruits, meats, and other products native to Cataluña to choose from, but be warned: the vendors themselves may as well be pickpockets.  What I mean by that is even if you say you're not interested, they will continue to ask how much you want.  When that happens, forget about manners and just run!
7) DO NOT: Leave your belongings unattended.  Roger told us that if you leave something for even a second, it will be picked up and you'll never see it again.  However, I utilized for the first time my heroic money belt, so I felt pretty secure and a little smug if I do say so myself.  In fact, DO use a money belt if possible.
8) DO NOT: Accept coconuts from a man with a pink basket on the beach near the Mediterranean sea.  Also, if he offers to take your photo, say no and walk away (the most important part).  We said we weren't interested in having a coconut (which appeared to be free, mind you) multiple times, but he just didn't leave.  We reluctantly took one just to make him happy, but then he made us pay for it! Obviously, we tried arguing the point to no avail, so to make him leave we paid 2 euros.  Case in point: never trust the prospect of free coconuts.
9) DO NOT: Spend the night in the Barcelona airport unless you have an air mattress and a parka.  Because our flight to Santiago was really early in the morning, we thought we would spend the night in the airport to save on the price of lodging and a taxi.  I've heard some airports are actually quite conducive to overnight stays but if Barcelona made that list I would laugh.  All of the benches before the security check had fixed armrests, so it was impossible to lay across.  Also, I'm pretty sure they shut the heat off during the night.  If you want a type of Bear Grylles' "Man vs. Wild" experience that is a little less intense, then this would be for you.

Thanks for reading once again, friends! Hope you enjoyed Halloween and more importantly All Saint's Day.  ¡Hasta luego!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Unexpected Journey (& A Commentary on Religious Freedom in the U.S.)

Here's what I imagine your thought process was when reading the title of this post (in a stream of conscious way, of course): "Okay, I like 'Unexpected Journey,' reminds me of how excited I am for The Hobbit coming out this December *reads further* Whooaa, hode up! Where did he pull THAT one out? What is this, CNN'S Belief Blog?!?" Well, as I've been writing these blogs I've noticed that I often include some personal musing specifically relating to something faith or society based.  Since I knew I would be an including a much more extensive commentary in this post, I decided to let my audience know ahead of time, since some people might grow weary of that aspect of my writing (it doesn't me if you don't read those parts; I'm just glad you're checking out the blog :).  Thus, the first part of this post will be dedicated to my trip to Salamanca from October 12-14, and the second half will be my commentary (which is a tangent from one of my observations of Spain).  Also, just as a heads up, the commentary will be less about the current issues of religious liberty we have seen in the past few months and more about a general observation of religious culture in the United States, though the first issue is quite important too.

My trip to Salamanca was not UNEXPECTED as I paid for it ahead of time through a group called "Galicia Sharing Galicia," but my reasons for that part of the title will soon become clear.  This was my maiden voyage with GSG, since I did nearly all my travels through ESN Santiago.  However, in general I was pleased with what GSG had to offer: a smaller travel group (only 2 busloads), fun, informative guides, and the option to take a day trip to Segovia and Avila on Saturday.  We left early (by early I mean 9 am, which for many of the folks of Santiago feels like the crack of dawn) on Friday the 12th since there were no classes for the celebration of Hispanidad.  After a stop of about an hour and a half at some hot springs in Ourense (I regrettably forgot my swimsuit) and another 15-20 min break at a rest stop, we finally arrived in Salamanca at about 5 pm or so.  Though it might sound odd, it surprised me how all of the street signs were in castellano (which is standard Spanish).  Most of the signs in Santiago and other parts of Galicia are in gallego, so to have it different in Salamanca, though it is the Spanish I know, kind of threw me for a loop initially.  After dropping off our luggage at our hostel, we took a guided tour to some of the main locations of interest in the old town such as the Plaza Mayor, la Catedral Vieja y la Catedral Nueva, and parts of the university.  La Universidad de Salamanca is actually the oldest university still in operation in Spain.  Initially founded in 1134 and given a royal charter in 1218 by el Rey Alfonso IX, this institution of higher learning was the first to have the designation of "university" among European schools.  In the evening, the group went to a discoteca for some bebidas y bailes, but being "Cllaaaasssiiccc" me, I spent at least the first hour or so outside the bar with my friend Ivan and my new friend Monika from Poland.  Monika tried teaching Ivan and I some phrases in Polish, but it was a fruitless effort as Polish is an extremely hard language to learn, at least as far as the pronunciation goes.

Saturday the 13th was the day scheduled for the trip to Segovia and Avila.  I didn't have exact change on the bus the day before to pay, so the spaces filled up quickly and I couldn't go.  Thus, I had a free day to explore a city I knew next to nothing about, hence "Unexpected" in the title.  But, much to my surprise and great delight, the day turned out to be one of my best travel days in awhile! First, I spent about an hour and a half inside la Catedral Nueva, which was a somewhat surreal experience.  The two best adjectives to describe la Catedral are massive and gorgeous, which sounds weird but expresses truth.  Next, I spent about an hour and half in a small museum about La Guerra Civil Española (Spanish Civil War 1936-1939).  Inside was propaganda, personal possessions of soldiers, news articles, and a section dedicated to the Free Masons, as Franco apparently persecuted them heavily during and after the war.  Though I had studied some of la Guerra Civil in school, the museum made the event feel much more real and helped me understand the profound effect it and its consequences had on Spain and its people.  Right next store was another museum dedicated to the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements.  Much of the collection consisted of small sculptures, pottery, figurines, and even dolls, though I tried to spend as little time in that section as many of the dolls gave me the heebee jeebees.  Most of the artists were unknown to me, though I did see a few pieces of Peter Carl Fabergé, including one of his famous eggs.  I spent at least 2.5 hours at this museum, ate a great meal for a decent price, took a stroll across the river Tormes, and was on my way back to the hostel when I stumbled upon my first Spanish religious procession!  I guess had the inkling that something would happen that day because I saw a group of hombres creating a rosary out of salt outside el Convento de San Esteban in the morning.  The fiesta was called "Nuestra Virgen del Rosario," and I followed the procession for nearly 3 hrs from its beginning at el convento until its end at la Catedral Nueva.  Check out the following link to my Snapfish account to get a real picture (no pun intended) of what I saw.  FYI, this is my first time using Snapfish, so if it doesn't work please let me know:

   Though it was amazing to see the traditional attire, listen to traditional Spanish hymns, and think how heavy the float must of been, one peculiarity stood out to me and made me think about the free practice of religion in the United States: the police escort in dress uniform, which to me represented the state condoning the free practice of religion.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that something like this would be nearly unheard of in the States.  After looking at the pictures, can any of us truly imagine something like this happening on Division (Spokane), Commercial (Salem), or California Street (San Francisco)?  If you're the same as me, the idea seems absurd . . . but then we have to ask why, don't we?  We could take the easy route and say that Spain only does these processions out of tradition, and since the religious history of the United States is much shorter, there is no precedent to do so.  However, traditions have to start somewhere, and for some reason, in the cultural climate of the U.S., starting those type of traditions seems almost impossible. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as such: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  As an aside, it seems to me people often think of "separation of church and state" as being part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but the phrase actually comes from a letter of President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.  Returning to the Constitution, I think the First Amendment is worded beautifully to allow all religions and their followers to flourish, but this flourishing seems to be rather absent in much of contemporary America.  Why? Well, for starters, our American culture operates mainly on the idea of "freedom of worship," but not necessarily "freedom of religion." What's the difference, you ask? "Freedom of worship" indicates the idea that you're free to worship wherever you choose and to whomever you choose, but only in a private setting.  Once your worship is taken out into the public square, you're seen as "forcing your religion onto other people" (if I had a euro every time I heard that, I could bail out Spain's economy).  Though this idea could easily be applied to contemporary politics (meaning from the last 60 yrs or so to the present), I'd like to explore this phenomenon more from a cultural standpoint, which appears stronger than any governmental stance.  Even among many believers (and I use that word to mean any religion), I think there is this mindset that anyone who publicly expresses his/her religious belief is immediately chastised for doing so.  Basically, the argument from the other side, whoever that is, says: "How dare you express your religious beliefs in the public sphere! You think everyone is like you? We're a culture of tolerance." That's the issue at question, isn't it?  Two simple definitions of tolerance are "the act of allowing something" and "sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own."  I think we've taken these definitions to the point of ridiculousness when it comes to the practice of religion.  "Tolerance" in that sense means keeping your religious claims to yourself and your church, synagogue, mosque, etc since doing otherwise in the public sphere makes you "intolerant" of other worldviews.  Let me explain with some very simple secular examples.  Democrats and Republicans tolerate each other in that they allow each other to exist (no gang wars) and they respect each other as human beings (we hope).  However, have you heard of a moment when they weren't trying to convince the other side that their political philosophy is better? We, as a nation, acknowledge that they are different and allow them to express their beliefs publicly without concern of being "intolerant."  Similarly, *we hope* environmentalists and big business owners respect each other as fellow Americans and human beings, but to imagine them sitting aside twiddling their thumbs as each group went along its merry way is absurd.  Why should it be any different when discussing religion in the public sphere? Disagreements are normal and should be discussed and, dare I say, ARGUED with convincing supports.  Speaking now as a Catholic-Christian, one of the principal tenets of the Gospel is to make "disciples of all nations."  That charge is more than a little difficult when apologetics (the reasons & defenses of faith) are seen as "intolerant" when brought up in the public sphere, generally.  To me, it seems like our culture, in many but not all regards, "prohibits the free exercise thereof," when there is in fact a Constitutional protection that says otherwise!

Wow, that was a doozy, but well worth the time.  It's amazing how small experiences here in Spain raise some big questions, but I think that's one of the goals of a study abroad.  If you made it to the end of this one, KUDOS.  I'm surprised I did! Again, feel free to leave comments, especially if you have anything to affirm or deny in my argument.  Though we RESPECT each other and TOLERATE our mutual existences, that doesn't mean we can't have a debate :) ¡Buenas noches!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Porto Pictures (As promised)

A Cog in a Clock

First off, I can't believe it's been more than 2 WEEKS since my last post! I really don't want to get lazy in writing this, as I truly enjoy creative writing.  I'm hoping this post will help me get back into the groove of things.  That being said, many, many exciting developments have happened in the past two weeks that I'm blessed to share with you all today!  I chose my title as such because certain recent developments, as you will see below, have made me feel more like a regular member of the community in the beautiful grandfather clock that is Santiago de Compostela.  To cover everything, I will have to use, you guessed it, a numbering system! I'm feeling very Latin today after seeing an ancient Roman wall in Lugo, Galicia, so let's use some Roman numerals, shall we?

I.  On Saturday September 22, I went with the Erasmus Student Network to las Islas Cies, a stunning archipelago just off the coast of Vigo, Galicia.  Part of the island is a wildlife refuge, so obviously my inner, conservationist Oregonian self leaped for joy when I heard that.  It started off quite sunny that day, but the weather changed very quickly, so for the greater part of the day we were fighting gale force winds (no joke: probably at least 25-30 mph) as we ascended to a lighthouse on the top of one of the islands.  Despite the sand in the eyes, the resulting tears, and the subsequent explanation that you weren't crying because you were sad or emotionally drained, the trip was really fun and presented some great photo opportunities, speaking of which . . .

II.  You know that saying, "God works in mysterious ways?" Well, I think the opposite is true as well.  Sometimes the Lord works in an overtly obvious manner which just puts a smile on your face since you don't have to guess if something is divinely ordained.  One day while I was checking my Facebook, one of my Brazilian friends Rafael (who up to this point was just a "friend" on the social network; I hadn't talked to him in person) started chatting with me and asked if I was Catholic.  He then invited me to join him and one of my other friends from Brazil to go to a Charismatic Catholic service on Monday, the 24th.  It's funny to think that only a few years ago, I would have been extremely uncomfortable participating in something like this.  Thank God (literally) that my attitude has changed! The service was really interesting and moving, and the group that ran it is made up of vibrant, welcoming Catholics, mostly university students.  On Wednesday the 26th, the group held an incredibly joy-filled Mass with seven priests celebrating and lots of upbeat hymns in the university chapel, which is very close to my dorm.  Afterward, we were all invited to the House of Spiritual Exercises for an opening reception (with lots of delicious Spanish food) of the year.  Every Monday there is the Charismatic service, every Wednesday Mass, and I believe there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Friday.  Needless to say, God has delivered in so many ways, and I'm so excited to see how my faith grows and develops with this group!

III. Turns out bringing my new vintage (oxymoron?) alto saxophone with me to Spain wasn't such a bad idea after all! In my first few weeks here, I spent many a time perusing the advertisements posted in the various academic buildings around campus, and one caught my eye in particular.  It was called "Drops: Escuela de Música Creativa," and I became increasingly excited when I saw saxophones as one of the instruments listed.  So, about three weeks ago I stopped by the business and talked with the director about details and such, and lo and behold I'm now participating in a jazz combo that meets once a week for an hour on Mondays.  It's cool for three main reasons: 1) Playing in a group is much better than playing by yourself. 2) The director studied music in the United States, so if I'm having a really hard time understanding he's there to help. 3) I'm the youngest member in the group; all the others are adults who play very well.  Our guitarist is actually a professor who teaches medieval Spanish literature.  We'll have a concert in one of the open plazas in the old town around Christmas time, so I can once again label myself as an international performer!

IV. Last weekend, I added another country to my list of travels: Portugal! A large group of us internationals went with the Erasmus Student Network to the city of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisboa (Lisbon).  Being in Portugal was a unique and humbling experience for many reasons: 1) Because many of the words look similar to Spanish, it should be easy to communicate, right? WRONG! I felt somewhat incompetent and embarrassed only being able to say thank you (Obrigado) and flailing my arms in weird gestures just to order a pastry.  2) In the two nights we walked around the city trying different discotecas, it was interesting to see the mix of people.  In Santiago, most people out during the night are under the age of 30, but in Porto, the young, middle-aged, and ancient all came together to dance the night away, albeit in different styles.  Because of the large size of these pictures, I'll include some in a separate post.

V. At the end of the month, I'm going to Barcelona with one of my longtime friends, Jenna Ahn.  She studies at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana but is doing a studying abroad program right now in Dublin.  Obviously, I'm so freakin' excited!!! Although I've enjoyed the organized trips through ESN, I'm stoked to organize for myself for a change and see a very, very different part of Spain.  One more thing: I'm going to get the opportunity to visit Jenna again in Dublin (going back to the Irish roots on my mother's side of the family) in December! With all of this traveling, feel free to call me the male version of Carmen Sandiego (without all the crime, of course).

Okay, I think that gets us caught up on the major events going on.  Classes are going well considering the system is still a little foreign to me (pun intended).  In the history department, we've started practical classes in which we present material we've researched or work in groups in class.  Crash course in talking like you know what you're doing in front of tons of native speakers! Random request: be sure to be an intelligent voter and participate in the democratic system! My ballot is on its way to the States as we speak.  As always, feel free to comment and check back often :)

Dios os bendiga,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stealth Mode? Hit the Jackal Switch!

I guess I should apologize for having a title to a post which I'm sure 90% of my reading audience won't understand.  Surprise, surprise, but it's a reference to the TV show "Psych," and I've provided the YouTube clip below for kicks and giggles.  Even out of context it's nothing short of hilarious.

Now, you may still be wondering, why the title choice? I think one of the goals of a study abroad program is to become less and less foreign in your host culture and attempt to be as "stealthy" as possible.  However, there have been some comical moments this past week where I certainly did NOT "hit the jackal switch," so I thought I would share these with you.

1) This past weekend on the 15th of September was Independence Day for México, and there were many celebrations in Santiago because of the large amount of Mexican exchange students.  Around midnight, I went out with some friends to "Central Perk," a bar quite popular with students and sporting a name you would expect from a "Friends" (or "Amigos") episode.  Though I had been to this bar before, I had never seen it as packed as it was that night.  Needless to say, the night for my group ended almost as fast as it began due to the large crowds.  However, as we were standing on the sidewalk, I was talking to my Mexican friend Ivan about the celebrations that would be happening in México.  Consequently, he asked about what we do in the United States, and I confidently answered that we celebrate with lots of "bombas." He had a confused look on his face, so I tried to explain with a different word: "bomberos." The first word I used, "bombas," probably made a little more sense since it can be translated as bombs, though I'm sure not in the celebratory sense.  However, I didn't realize until this past Tuesday of the meaning of the other word, "bomberos."  Apparently, the United States loves to celebrate its Independence Day with lots and lots of "firefighters."

2) On Monday afternoon, I was somewhat anxious because I had just had my first history class (Guerra, Violencia y Memoria del siglo XX), and it was taught in gallego.  It threw me for a loop at the beginning, but the languages are more similar than I thought, so I think it should be okay.  More on that in a later post.  After this two hour class, I immediately had Arqueología 1, which also was taught in gallego.  During one of the breaks, I clarified some details of the class with the professor, which soothed my anxiety quite a bit.  To top it all off, I was taking lots of notes and understanding the gist of what was going on.  After reviewing the schedule in the history building the next day, I found out that the class I had attended was in fact "Prehistoria 1" instead of "Arqueología."  For the entire time I was sitting in class (two hours), it didn't cross my mind that the class wasn't what I thought it was.  In fairness to me, we started taking notes about arqueología, so maybe it was easy to make the mistake.  Everyone gets one, right?

3) As I was reading the schedule board, an older, British gentleman came up to me and asked where the library was, in English.  I had been thinking my ambiguous ethnic appearance would make me look more like a Spaniard, but perhaps not.  I was also wearing my Beatles shirt, so that could have been a giveaway (but doesn't everyone like the Fab Four?).

This upcoming weekend I'll be traveling with the Erasmus Student Network Santiago branch to las Islas Cies, so I'll hopefully have some more pictures to share in the next few days.  Thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here ye, Here ye: the Academics Cometh!

When you first arrive in a foreign country for a study abroad program, you tend to forget the key word: "study."  However, as attractive as traveling for traveling's sake is, I was relieved to finally have some regularity in my new life here through the onset of classes.  Before I delve into the rich nuances of the Spanish university system, I should probably provide some background information about the registration process, which was an adventure in itself.

About a month before I left for Spain, I had to submit what was called a "Learning Agreement" to USC.  This consisted of classes I would have taken at Whitworth and classes I hoped to take at Santiago de Compostela.  After obtaining the necessary signatures from Whitworth faculty (God bless Dr. Soden, Professor Peterson, and Sue Jackson), I submitted the learning agreement, so it was out of sight, out of mind . . . until this past week.  On Monday, I met with my academic coordinator in the History Department, Prof. Carmen Rodriguez González, who signed the agreement after I adjusted some of the classes on the list due to schedule conflicts.  I guess now would be the appropriate time to talk about scheduling, which was somewhat difficult for me.  Many a time, I simply could not figure out USC's website and the way it listed class schedules (it still confounds me to a certain extent: challenge accepted!)  Yet, I finally figured it out, and if I'm able to handle all the classes (i.e. if they're not taught in gallego or are simply ridiculous), then my current schedule gives me a four day week with no classes on Fridays.  Can I get a "Huzzah?"  Anyway, after many signatures, photocopies, borrowing of pens, and confused expressions, I turned in my documents to the registration office, and they're processing them as we speak.  Hopefully the processing ends soon, as I will not be able to access wireless internet until I receive credentials from the registrar's office.  Unfortunately, this has put a bit of a damper on Skyping with family and friends, but at least I can still remain in contact through the computer lab for the time being.

My three classes in la Facultad de Geografía e Historia do not begin until this Monday, so the only class I had this week was "Literatura Hispanoamericana hasta el siglo XIX."  It should discuss, in essence, the various literary works in the Americas from Columbus's encounter with the "New World" in 1492 up until the beginning of the 19th century.  The class size wasn't as large as I was expecting (maybe 30-35 students?), but there aren't enough desks for everyone, so one of the days I sat on the stairs.  No big deal, at least I'm enrolled in the course.  I'll admit firsthand that I was quite nervous going into the course for two reasons: 1) I didn't know if the class would be taught in castellano or gallego 2) I thought I would have NO idea what the professor was talking about if he had as thick an accent or spoke as rapidly as some people around here.  Luckily, my expectations of fear were not realized, and I was able to understand the majority of what he said, despite him speaking in a very soft voice.  That being said, I'm still trying to understand the Spanish university system since I've heard we're supposed to spend the whole semester basically preparing for the final exam and reading the material at our own pace.  One thing at a time. Hakuna Matata.  Poco a poco.

Now for some numbering since I'm being a windbag again:

1) I met with my ISEP academic coordinator on Monday as well, Profesora Susana Jiménez.  In my opinion, her personality consists of the enthusiasm of Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus bundled with the compassion and care of Mary Poppins.  In other words, she's AWESOME and really excited to help us with anything academic.

2)  While walking through the park with some of my international friends one evening, we passed some nuns taking a candlelight stroll, wearing full habits and rosaries.  They were absolutely delightful and greeted us with warm smiles and salutations, which I reciprocated as well.  After we passed them, I thought I heard someone in our group remark that he had expected the nuns to be very cold and ignore us.  This made me realize a few key things, so now we need some numbers within the numbers (Inception!).
       i. During the summer, I became quite enthralled with watching and listening to EWTN, the main U.S. Catholic television network, and Word on Fire, a series of YouTube videos by Father Robert Barron.  In one of his segments, Father Barron commented on Cardinal Timothy Dolan's approach to evangelization, with the first step being the expression of pure joy in living the Christian life.  These consecrated sisters to the Lord and His Church demonstrated this so clearly and beautifully!
       ii. If you identify yourself as a Christian person, you know that we're all called to evangelize, something which many, including myself, view as a daunting and often uncomfortable task.  However, my encounter with the nuns shows how the performance of simple actions as a result of God's grace can start to evangelize the culture anew.  In fact, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that ordinary people will be more receptive to a smile, hug, and sympathetic ear than a discourse on St. John's Apocalypse.  That being said, once this joy is experienced, people will WANT to know more and grow in the knowledge of the Lord and His Teachings.
       iii. At least in the United States, the media continually labels Christians as ignorant, intolerant, self-righteous, foolish, and the list goes on.  This could be, at least in part, due to the fact that certain people who seem to fit some of these stereotypes get the most time on the air.  Nevertheless, it's apparent that if we make mistakes as mistakes as Christians (which we certainly do since we're human), the media makes us wallow in our errors and never permits us to move on even after repentance.  How can we meet this challenge more effectively than we have?  Answer by living a life of love and joy that only God provides. This doesn't mean painting your life to be something it's not, as we will all suffer at some point.  Yet, suffering forces us to rely on God more, which is a comforting and joyful thought.  When you show people that Christianity is actually not a conglomeration of negative stereotypes, they will more than likely take your views on a moral, God-oriented society much more seriously and considerately.

Now, I know that was completely different than anything I've written before, but since this is a personal blog I think I have the liberty to share my personal thoughts on lots of issues as they arise.  For time's sake, I'll get off my soapbox.  Again, congratulations if you made it to the end of this monster, and thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 9, 2012

¡Vamos a la playa! (Oh oh oh oh oh)

Enjoy the link above for some great, 80s pump up music and a lesson in having fun in Spain (even though I believe the two singers are Italian).  I did, in fact, go to the playa yesterday and witnessed the great beauty on this side of the Atlantic. More to come on that.

It's been awhile since I wrote my last post, and needless to say a lot has happened in my immersion experience.  So, I'll try to organize my stream of consciousness and go from there.

1) Academic experiences: Surprisingly, they haven't happened yet per se! The registration process (or matriculación) has been interesting to say the least.  I attempted to meet with my academic coordinator in la Facultad de Geografía e Historia this past week to finalize my learning agreement, which is a plan of classes I made earlier in the summer which I hope to take here.  Unfortunately, she won't arrive until tomorrow, the 10th, so I've been in a state of academic limbo.  Apparently, most history classes don't begin until the 17th anyway! Though I'm at a place where, if I was in the US, I would possibly be pulling my hair out, I understand, especially here, that there's no benefit to that.  The international office has told me not to worry, and frankly all you can do is trust it will work out.  I guess it's another reflection of the "Hakuna Matata" atmosphere I wrote about last week. As Michael Scott so famously said, "You have to play to win, but sometimes, you have to win to play" . . . Not really sure how that applies here, but such is life.  Confession: I'm anxious to get classes started so I can start planning trips around Spain and Europe based on my class schedule!

2) One step forward, a half step back: my roommate, se llama Alejandro, arrived on Thursday, and before you think this will be a rant based on the title, let me clarify and say that Alejandro (who seems to go by Alej, which sounds like Alex) is very nice and I think we'll be very good roommates together.  Up to his arrival, I had been feeling pretty good about my coming proficiency with Spanish. I could communicate with the other international students just fine, ask questions at reception, and order food at restaurants.  However, when Alejandro and his dad first starting talking to me, they may as well have been speaking French.  I think I gave them more blank stares than the American populace did to Ark Music Factory after Rebecca Black's "Friday" was released.  Basically, both Alejandro and his father spoke very fast with thick accents, which made it very hard for me to respond in an intelligent manner.  That said, I know living with Alejandro (who is from Vigo, Galicia: 40 minutes from Santiago) for the year will make my Spanish fluency skyrocket by the end.

3) On Saturday the 8th, I went on an excursion along with more than 150 international students to northern Galicia, provided by ESN (Erasmus Student Network) Santiago.  Galicia is truly beautiful in its natural landscapes and architecture, even when the fog rolls in (which it did).  We visited two faros (lighthouses) and also went to the playa (beach) for a few hours. Though many of the students said it was too cold, it felt almost like bathwater to me compared to the Pacific coast!

I've posted quite a few pictures on Facebook, but here are some of my favorites to give you an idea:

Now for some random fun facts before I sign off:

  • Constant cannon fire means there's some sort of festival going on just outside Santiago. I guess it's similar to fireworks!
  • The Cathedral of Santiago is amazing! Today I went to Mass in one of its chapels (where there aren't pilgrims and tourists milling about :) and I think I got a taste of what Mass would have been like for the early Christians: very small congregation, no additional instrumentation besides God's gift of voice, and worshipping within ancient stone.  I think I'll have to memorize the liturgy and Mass parts on my own because missals don't seem to exist here. Challenge Accepted!
  • The dining hall in my dormitory is both similar and different to Whitworth. Similarity: the machines used to purchase your food say "Sodexo" on the side.  Difference: there is a section of the dining hall where you can buy alcohol, whether that's wine, beer, or something else.  I haven't purchased alcohol from the cafeteria yet, but if it's as good as the food here, I think I'll be in for a treat!
If you made it to the end of this post, Congratulations! I hope to write more frequently this week, but only time will tell.  Thanks for reading and commenting!

Dios os bendiga,