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,

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hakuna Matata

¡Hola Todos!

Because I tend to write much more freely on this blog than in professional writing, I'll attempt to be more concise so reading this does not seem so daunting.  Thank you, Roman numerals!

I. In the late afternoon/early evening of Saturday night, I got in contact with Ethan Tufford, another student in the ISEP program from eastern Canada.  So you all do not think I'm arrogant in referring to myself in the third person constantly, for writing's sake we'll just call him "Canadian Ethan" (or CE if I get really lazy).  I thought I overheard some of my Brazilian friends in the kitchen, so I went up to Canadian Ethan's room to let him know.  However, it got awkward pretty fast when we went down and saw that it wasn't the Brazilians . . . so we just sat in the lounge reading newspapers for awhile.  Eventually, we got up the courage just to go to the kitchen anyway, and thank the Lord we did.  We ended up talking with two Peruvian students, one from Marruecos, and another from Turkey for at least an hour, and then CE, the Peruvians, the Turkish fellow, and I all went out to the downtown area (the one from Marruecos lived in a different dorm, so she needed to get back).  The night life continues to fascinate me in Spain; people are up to the wee hours of the morning (I think I got to bed at 4:15 am) but I'd say the majority of people are not out to "party" in the American sense of the word.  I had one beer (which was muy deliciosa by the way) along with my friends, and we just talked and talked about various things, both silly and serious.  We noticed a few people who had had way too much to drink, but it was not NEARLY as much as I'd expect considering the time of night and the amount of people on the streets. That could have been my perception, or I'm just a wishful thinker :)

II. Because it had been such a late night, I decided to wake up to go to a 1 pm Mass at a parish called San Fernando, but unfortunately the Mass times I researched did not correspond with what the parish posted. Luckily, the cathedral had 1:15 pm Mass which I was able to attend.  I've been hesistant to go to Mass at the main cathedral since it is incredibly popular with tourists, but I swallowed my reservations and knew that Mass is where the Lord is, despite what else is going on.  That said, even though the staff at the cathedral does a great job trying to keep the Masses as intimate and sacred as possible, there were still people walking around the perimeter of the sanctuary, sometimes whispering just enough to catch bits of conversation.  However, I noticed a powerful thing during Mass: as the priest recited the words of consecration and lifted up the newly transformed Body and Blood of Christ, the entire population of the cathedral, believer and nonbeliever alike, fell as silent as possible.  It's almost as if whether you believe, don't believe, aren't sure, or just don't care, SOMETHING beyond you moves you at that moment.  That definitely got the Catholic juices flowing!

III. Even with my fancy numerals, this is getting longer than I expected so I'll try to wrap it up for vosotros (you all).  I went to apply for la Tarjeta de Identidad para Extranjeros (Identity Card for Foreigners), which all visitors for an extended period of time must have.  When I got there, I was given a number for my place in line . . . needless to say, I wasn't excited because that moment reminded me of the Department of Motor Vehicles (no offense to anyone who works there, but you must know what I'm talking about).  Luckily, the gentlemen who helped me did not meet any of my nightmarish DMV expectations, so the process was fairly quick and pain free. The only unfortunate thing, in fact, is that the wait time could be up to 45 days! But, I've got time :D

IV. I titled this post Hakuna Matata for a few reasons. First, who doesn't like the Lion King (El Rey León)? Second, people in Santiago de Compostela seem to focus more on the journey than the destination, if you're smelling what I'm stepping in.  Finally, though I've definitely encountered a few hiccups along the way, I'm really not worried much about the days ahead, even with the advent of opening a bank account, starting classes, and living with a Spanish roommate.

Thanks for reading as always. I'm really enjoying writing this regularly and I hope you're enjoying it too! If you're not finding pleasure in this fine literature . . . keep it to yourself ;)