Wednesday, December 30, 2009

this is it.

Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. --Mother Theresa
This was taken by me a few minutes from my house on the Mediterranean coast of Alicante. It is the most beautiful thing I have seen in awhile, maybe ever.
Take a moment to appreciate your surroundings. Your soul will be better for it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Christmas here was tranquil, family oriented, and enjoyable. Although I missed my family immensely during the days of celebration, I also grew closer to my Spanish family members here. My first out of eighteen years away from home, and though it was different, it was great. I felt like a part of the family, completely. "Noche Buena", or Christmas Eve, we went to eat dinner and exchange gifts with my host mom´s family. She has 7 sisters, and all but one have children, so it was quite a big party. The numerous people alone made me feel at home. The kids everywhere and laughter were soothing. As was the need to nearly yell to hear the person next to me, I just loved the quantity of people surrounding me. And, of course, the food was delicious. We had lots of small dishes like shrimp, salad, ham, cheese, chips, etc. and the main dish was amazing roast beef my grandma made. The night was incredible.
We drove to the neighbor city of my host dad´s parents after dinner, about midnight, and spent the night there, in his parents´house. My host dad is an only child so this was quite different than the night before. We exchanged gifts yet again and the next morning had a light breakfast then started preparing the lunch, which was great. We all relaxed and just enjoyed the company of family for the rest of the day, then drove home after some rain subsided and I´d taken a siesta.
Well, that´s a little glimpse of my Navidad, more to come and more to recollect with New Year´s and the Three Kings holidays coming.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Shift your focus from what your life lacks and dwell on the abundance that is present. Too many times I have decided to, instead of be grateful, mope around in some type of self-pity, when all the while all around me are so many blessings. They go unnoticed far too much, and the sad thing is, it´s so easy to just change you thinking to up your mood.
With that being said, I want to list some things I am grateful for. Since it is one of the best exercises for mood-upping. And it is also Thanksgiving.
I have the most amazing parents in the world. They work so hard at everything they do, without complaining, without fail, with unconditional love. They are my heroes. My mother has the qualities I hope to have soon, and my father is the model of a man I will be looking to marry someday.
ve been blessed with the opportunity to be away this year, to be put in difficult situations, fun situations, and just strange situations.
Scenery is incredible. There´s not much grass here, but I sure can see the sea and sky.
Music is alive. And it enchants me.
The sun always shines here.
My host dad makes me laugh.
My brother is fighting for American freedom, in this very moment.
I´m halfway to being bilingual.
I´m never going to view my world the same.
I´ll always laugh at myself when I mess up. I´ll get back up and try again.
And I´m completely happy with that.
Nothing but gratitude. And love.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lady in Spain

Gratitude is the memory of the heart. Jean Baptiste Massieu

Spain is where I am. It is my home this year, and now I am really starting to feel it. My days are normal and I go about my life pretty comfortably. I can speak to more people in my host language, I can understand far more that is said in school, and I can read bits and pieces of magazines.
Alicante is my city. I don´t get lost any more, I give strangers directions. I don´t mind walking anymore, as it provides me with endless places to see. You cannot take the car out on the rocks and cliffs on the Mediterranean, you must walk. It is fantastic. I have been here nearly 2 1/2 months, and life is good. I have such an appreciation for life, more than I ever imagined I would have. I thought I was observant before, but now it seems as though I notice every little thing. The world is so much bigger, I don´t think I will ever stop saying that. And I think more than I ever have (now in Spanish and English), about EVERYTHING. My brain is processing much, as is my heart and my spirit. Every situation I go through is a learning process. I laugh, I stress, I cry, I breath, I grow.
And this life is my life that I love.

Monday, November 2, 2009

don´t worry, be happy.

It really is hard for me to grasp that the month on the calendar actually is November. Sunny with a high of 7osomething isn´t exactly what I expected for this time of year. But no complaints here. So next week I will have been here two whole months, with approximately 8 more left. Crazy. Still cannot believe I´m living my dream.

Casi dos meses y he aprendido mucho. Me encanta Alicante.

I feel as though every week marks some sort of improvement. While I cannot always see the improvement in my Spanish speaking, I do always notice something, like my relationship with my host family growing or I seem to be fitting in better at school, or a general boost of confidence--always something. I am nothing but grateful. I´ve noticed I smile more lately. Life here is beginning to feel almost normal. The routine is becoming quite natural, and easier than before.

So the my Physical Education class here actually is the real deal. At my old school we would do a lot of walking and maybe some basketball, but here we run. Corriendo. Lunes-15 minutos. Martes-25 minutos. Jueves-35. Viernes-todo tiempo en clase. Mas o menos 45-50 minutos. Thus, my calves are beasts. We run a lot. And I also swim a few days a week. Planning on being in pristine shape upon my return to the states. Or just to compensate for all of the eating I am doing here..
There are some little quotes I have either read, heard from friends or family, or come up with which have helped me a lot lately. When I need to get on track and focus on my task at hand, or just chill out and de-stress, there are some things I like to dwell on:
"doubt restricts dreams from becoming reality",
"take advantage of your opportunities",
"imagine a life brimming with spontaneity",
"always be true to yourself", and
"live one day at a time".
And my favorite, spoken from a true Spaniard, in purest form (strong accent which makes me laugh always): "don´t worry, be happy". Happiness in Spanish is a completely new feeling. Laughter is universal, but takes new form and provides new feeling when another language spoken evokes it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

50 days

i have been here in spain for 50 days today. i figured it was time to jot down some thoughts.
well, i have found my favorite spot in my neighborhood. it´s basically a beach outlet, but i guess its more like the side of a mountain, and like a quarry; it is a large opening with mostly mountainside and trees but also beach and big rocks that the water crashes against with absolute beauty and natural power. After soaking in that part of the scenery, i discovered the INCREDIBLE "puesta del sol", or sunset, which is the most amazing thing i have ever experienced. looking out into the mediterranean sea and against the coast jutting out to the right, one can view the intricate colors and the natural beauty. so pictures very soon.
and school is getting easier. the first month many of my classmates were hesitant to speak to me, which makes sense, because my spanish was terrible and their english obviously not as fluent as mine is. so the language barrier has been an issue, but as of late more classmates talk to me and that directly leads to me experiencing better days and learning much more spanish, as i´m practicing much more.
i have been living here for 50 days. i still cant get that through my head. it has flown by, it has inched by, it been the the best of times, and the most difficult, but everything well worth it.
i am thinking since it is the beginning of the day, i might just have more to say later on. for now, i want to recognize and document how absolutely blessed i am to be here experiencing life in spain. it feels like a dream, and thankfully i dont have to wake from this dream for another 8 months or so..

Friday, October 16, 2009


Last weekend my host family and I visited the southern city of Córdoba, a city full of tourists, pubs, and more importantly history. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Córdoba was originally a Moorish Mosque, but was converted into a Gothic style cathedral during the Spanish Reconquista. The mixture of cultures provides for an absolutely magnificent monument. The building began around 600 AD, which absolutely blows my mind. The place is breathtaking. It was incredible to be in the presence of something so ancient and so beautiful.
The old streets of Córdoba are so small ad lovely. And although there is not much room for trees or plants, many homes have patios or gardens in the middle, providing the beauty of nature in an area where there is no room for yards or lawns, unless you are royalty. In windows of the three-story buildings are hanging plants and planters, filled with fragrant flowers and sometimes herbs. You can almost reach across from one house to the other.
While there, I overheard Muslims, Brits, other Americans, and many, many Spanish speakers. It was interesting for me to hear the differences in dialects, as my host family is from the Valencian community on the east coast and we were in Andalucia, the southernmost autonomous community.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank goodness for humor.

So, yesterday after almuerzo, my host sister Marta asked me if I wanted any postre, or dessert. And I replied in lovely Spanish that I wanted "mantequilla". Well, that's not actually the correct word for the cupcake-like dessert. I the word I said was butter. So, for dessert, I wanted butter. Marta will not let me forget it and I also enjoy the laughs it brings.
And now, another language misunderstanding.. My host father made a statement last night and I asked him to repeat it. He was inquiring if I was "constipado". From the sound of it, I assumed it meant constipated, as the two words sound very similar. But in actuality, the word means to have a cold. He was worried that I was coming down with an illness, and not prodding my private bowel issues. At first I was slightly embarrassed by his remark about me, then after Marta said that he meant "ill", I had to laugh at myself. I quickly looked up the word and read the full definition. It had nothing to do with the "constipation" I know. Rather, nasal or respiratory congestion..
Okay, I feel better now. Had to share my funny moments with others.
And as far as humiliation or embarrassment;
no pasa nada.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Well, it´s the 27th of September, and another day for learning. I love how every single day I notice something new, face a new challenge, and learn more and more about this place. Meanwhile I am learning more about myself. I know I am changing, but only for good. I am growing.
I have only been here for 16 days or so, but I feel like it has been longer. Yes, it is sill very difficult to communicate with people here. I do have a handful of friends who speak English, but that´s not something I must look for as a crutch, as I will not learn if I always rely on the comfort and security of my native language. That´s not what I am here for. Rather, the polar opposite. I can always say I have experienced a challenge on any given day, but in return I ALWAYS have a moment when I hit an emotional high, which is the greatest feeling in the world. Whether I go through a dinner with my host family and understand(generally)all of what they are talking about, or something funny happens and we all start laughing uncontrollably, or Marta and I have a moment of bonding.. I hit a high and I cannot help but keep a smile or laugh. Last night at the table I reached to get a vegetable from the plate in the middle of the table and on the way back to my plate it slipped off of my fork and into my glass of water, bringing all of us to laughter. Or there is the more frequent joke from my host father Manolo, whether he is picking at his wife or attempting to pronounce a new English word he´s learned.. he truly is the comic relief, much like my father in the States.
Friday night my family and I went to the first Rotary meeting, which I was not prepared for. All we knew was that we were meeting with the other two exchange students t Spain from the U.S., and with our host "tutor", or counselor, for dinner. However, much to my surprise, it was a formal dinner at a 5 star hotel in my host city, where the Rotary meetings take place. And, similar to my host club in Florida, many of the city´s elite are Rotarians. This was the fanciest dinner I´d ever attended, ever. There was a party taking place in another part of the hotel, and all of the people looked like they came out of a movie, dripping with elegance and wealth. So, as our Rotary meeting came about, the three Americans were asked to speak, in Spanish. And we were not exactly prepared. So as Will, Anna, and I attempted to quickly introduce ourselves and thank Rotary, we felt the pressure of these seemingly "elitists" eyes. Later, we were asked about our host clubs in the States and what they did.. this was yet another thing we were not prepared for but tried to explain in our minimal Spanish anyways. We received some laughs and applause for our efforts, meanwhile embarrassed and glad the talking was over. Really though, the host club of Alicante was fabulous and very welcoming, and the dinner was spectacular. I was introduced to so many people and had a wonderful time, despite the humiliating "speech" I made, which I suppose I should have prepared for, hmm, months ago? All I can do is laugh a myself and be more prepared next time. It is all a part of the learning process.
Something I don´t think I mentioned in any previous blogs; everyone keeps their shoes on in the house, or has nice house slippers to always have on no matter what. So I wear my Brazilian Havaianas flip-flops that I got from Dóroty at all times.
Well, I suppose for now that is all. It is a new day, and time to learn some more. I will be calling my mother in an hour and 20 minutes, something I am looking forward to. And later, if the rain stops, the beach.
I hope everyone is doing well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Week two.

There are some things I consider funny or interesting which I would now like to point out regarding my stay in Spain thus far.
-First, in my house here, there is so bathtub. We have three bathrooms and only showers inside. I find this very interesting, I think it has to do with water conservation.
-Also, the hot water only lasts about five minutes. Yet another conservation scheme? Possibly.
-The luxury of having a drink with ice very seldom occurs here. I believe I´ve had maybe two drinks total that had ice in them since I have been here, and both had but one cube in each.
-It only rains in September and October, the rest of the year is extremely dry. This past week this part of Spain has gotten so much rain, I think it surpassed some record. I feel like I brought the Florida rains with me, most definitely.
-Today I had a lovely dinner consisting of broiled fish and steamed shrimp, both with their heads still remaining. Quite common here, but for me, something to get used to..
-The other night I was eating dinner with Marta and my host mom Carmen and we were talking about laundry and then suddenly went to the question: "isn´t that a bad word?". I had said "sheet". Very funny moment. It is difficult to explain how absolutely funny it was, but this might help: they had me say both "shit" and "sheet" to help them understand the differences between the two. Such a good night; I do appreciate the funny moments, oh so much.
-I never realized how incredibly fast the Spanish speak. And read. And eat. I am a turtle compared to these marvelous people.
-At my school, and other public bathrooms, the toilet paper is either: not in the stalls OR entire bathroom, or located outside of the stalls, where one must get some paper BEFORE they go in and lock the door. Thankfully I had some napkins in my purse when I almost learned the hard way. Sometimes, I find that things here are far more convenient. Other times, not so much..

Ah, something I am in love with here: the beach. In Florida, the sand is usually nice, the water is okay, and the sky has nice colors, sure. But here, the Mediterranean has so many different hues of blue and green that are breathtaking. And the water is so very clear, and cold and amazing. Also, the view. The mountains line the beach in the distance, and after seeing the beauty of the water, the sky scape will just about make you faint. I really ought to post some pictures soon. Although they cannot and will not do it any justice. The beauty is something I´ve never witnessed before. Majestic, phenomenal, words really cannot describe.. sorry I know it is yet very difficult to imagine, so I shall very soon put up a nice photo.
Another thing I want to blog about, my friendship with Anna. Anna and I talked for a good two hours at the beach today (one has so much to talk about after hearing and attempting to speak español for almost 2 weeks!) and we totally vented and compared feelings thus far. It is so nice to know that there is someone else who is experiencing similar feelings and similar circumstances. As we walked the beach, trying not to gawk at the numerous topless women, we shared stories and talked about the great adventure we are just starting. I am so blessed to have her, as she lives only 5 minutes walk from my house (and her house is just feet from the beach!).
Now, my favorite, the food. I eat so much seafood, salad, and bread here, I love it! Also, fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful. I just love how they always keep the fridge stocked! No wonder everyone here is so slim, everyone walks EVERYWHERE and the food is SO organic and obviouslthy. Everything is cooked with e.v.o.o, bread and salad with every meal, the only thing I ever drink with meals is water. And milk with dessert, sometimes.
Well, all of the sudden I am preoccupied with chat alerts, so, adiós..
maria en españa :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

otros dias..

9 September

difficult day. i´ve heard from others that the first few days are hell. yet they are also incredible. crazy how both feelings come at once. it really takes a toll on the emotions. i must live with the realization that it all gets better as you go along.. so, Marta is wonderful. she feels it is her responsibility to make me feel welcome. and her parents are so sweet.
Alicante is gorgeous. when we got to the beach earlier i felt as though i was in a dream. and actually it still feels like one. going through the airports of Munich and Madrid i felt like i was really experiencing the world, in bite sized pieces. i loved it. it scared me. and still, it gave me a feeling of liberation.
well, jet lag is killing me, buenas noches.

10 September
Manolo is my comic relief. He reminds me of my father more every time he cracks a joke. marta is, as always, my savior in the socializing and language departments.
A weakness of mine is that I shut down whenever I feel uncomfortable. I must try my hardest to work against such a tendency as that will only make things far more difficult. I have to try to use my minimal Spanish skills as much as possible, and particularly when I feel uneasy. This is my greatest challenge.
Later in the day.. Day before Madrid. Met both of the other exchange students from the US to Alicante, went to the beach, then later went out with Marta, her boyfriend(novio), her amiga Marina, her novio. We ate at a small restaurant in Alicane, and I enjoyed myself (although generally speaking I had no clue what they were ever talking about. Oh well, soon..

15 September
Ah, lets jump forward to today, my first day at the school. IES Cap dehuerta is a small school, even smaller than my Florida high school in Callahan. lots of people introduced themselves, and honestly i can only remember about 3 names total. it was very loud before school and trying to understand how to pronounce names and remember them (through such heavy valencian accents) is very difficult. But many people want to speak english to me, since many of them have studied it for most of their lives. I, on the other hand, have my two years of high school spanish and struggle through my nervousness to just say "hola, soy estudiante del intercambio" or "soy de estados unidos" or "me llamo maria". but the first days are always the most difficult. I was quite relieved, however, when the teacher started speaking to the class en ingles.. he happens to be one of the english teachers, thank goodness. I had (and still have)some confusion regarding my classes, but he reassured me that it would all get figured out and told me to relax. So, after all of this I searched for my neighbor Javier and we walked home with his two friends (about 10-15 minutes). and now I am here, alone with the dog, passing the time until the rest of the family gets here and we eat and possibly take a siesta :)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Some more..

Well, the last was short and I feel like I left out a lot. My host family lives in a very nice neighborhood surrounded by other similar homes, mostly 3 story homes with small balconies on the top floor and on the second floor a lovely patio. They have a tiny garage thet Manolo manages to park his small SUV in everyday, by carefully making his 8-point turns until he is perfectly inside the garage.

The house is just 5 minutes walk from the beach, something I like most about the area. The house is very different from my Florida home, as they do not use air conditioner or have ANY fans. Yet, the house is never too warm. Windows are always open, unless it is raining. And because of the hight I believe the wind circulates evenly and is quite cooling and relaxing. All of the floors in the house are a type of marble or something, which helps keep cool as well. I feel like I am writing some kind of essay for school or something, working hard to help the reader visualize what exactly I am living. Well, I want to try and make this more personal, more like a journal than anything else.

I feel like life is simpler here. People do not stay as busy it seems, and family and friends are very important. I am by no means trying to say that Americans are too busy and not family-oriented, just noticing differences and really unable to completely explain them.

Right now I am in the Universidad Marta attends. I am on a computer next to her boyfriend Alex, waiting for her class to get out. I have so much thought and so much experience bottled up inside, and I really need to get it out. It is so theraputic for me to write, as my mouth is normally not so fluid when it comes to words, explaining my feelings, etc.

Well, about this weekend, about Madrid: the train ride there was extremely boring, but mind clearing and fresh. I took the 4-hour train ride with Anna and Will, my other exchangers, but my seat was at the very front of the train. They, however, were located in the very back. So I was pretty much alone. But, after the extremely-long train excursion through much of Spain, we reached Madrid-Atocha, a major train station in the beautiful city Madrid. It was much like an airport, with so many people and bags and chaos. It took the three of us about 30 minutes to find (or be found by) some Rotex (teens who went abroad last year, from Spain). Then, we waited to find some more, and waited some more. Then we all got on a bus, full of mostly American exchange students to Spain this year. We were all strangers, yet we all had so much in common. So naturally the bus was very loud, everyone asking "what state are you from?" and "where in spain are you staying?" and so on. We rode the bus to what I believe was North Madrid, to a University where we were staying for the weekend. Thankfully, due to the majority of us being English-speaking, the entire weekend was stress-free.
....more later. Siesta time!

España. First journal.

So, I have such a long story to tell but not near enough time to tell it. I must condense. My journey to Spain started in the airport in Jacksonville. From there to Charlotte, NC, then Munich, Germany. The airport in Germany was massive. And the people very nice (many english speakers, to my advantage). That flight was 8 1/2 hours. The two meals were pretty decent considering it was airline food. But the plane was very nice, humongous to say the least. Sat by a guy from Bulgaria who had lived in Dallas, TX for 10 years. Weautifule swapped stories. Then, when we landed in Madrid, I had a 3 hour layover and slept for most of the time. Madrid was chaotic, but beautifully so. I finally got a window seat on my flight from Madrid to beloved Alicante, so I was able to see my new country and all of it´s glory. Much of Spain is dry and has scattered mountainous terrain. Then upon reaching Alicante, I saw many a Spainish-style roof like in CSI Miami (haha tourist perspective i know, i know). The feeling of finally being in my new city was fabulous, and scary. But far more positive than anything else. It took a little extra time to get ahold of my luggage once in the small Alicant aeropuerto, due to the fact that it went through 5 airports total. But, once I got my two 40-something-pound-bags, I turned the corner, walked down the ramp, and saw my host mother for the first time. I had never actually seen Carmen in picture or anything, yet I knew it was her somehow. Must have been her big smile. I did recognize Marta, my host sister, moments later and following I saw Manolo, my host father.
Well, quickly I found out that generally Europeans drive very small cars and manage their automobiles in a quick and somewhat dangerous fashion. They drive fast. Corners and speed bumps are regarded as just another straight-away, I think. And horns are honked regularly. Sometimes I think only to say hello, as I don´t notice anything to honk at. But, yet another mystery of the Spanish.
My first visit a la playa was great. We did not go to the beach in the heat of the day but rather at 5 in the evening. Marta and I met up with the two other exchange students (like me) to Spain, Anna and Will. The relief I felt upon meeting them was fenomenal. "You speak english?" "Oh thank God!" Yeah, it went something like that. The beach is encredible here, along the coast you can see the mountains and majestic skyscape of Alicante. And the Mediterranean is the prettiest color of blue. Interesting, however, are the amount of topless sun-bathers. One woman casually approached the group and asked if any of us had a light. It was quite awkward for a moment, but I have come to accept things that before were "strange" to me. Now they are simply things that are "new" or "different" and are a part of people´s lives. I am now the stranger, working to adapt to the norm of Alicante.
Well, more to come later, Madrid and more about my host family.
Love to all. Thanks for all of the support.
Mariah (Maria en España)