By Kent Truckor - Guest blogger studying in Valencia, Spain
Something that I have realized even more in the past couple of weeks is that the great thing of studying abroad in a school such as this is that not only are you provided to learn about the culture and the people of Spain - but also your classmates who hail from other parts of the world.
At first, I wanted to close myself off to anything that wasn't Spanish because that is what I came here to do. However, I realize that that is being very close-minded and that is not what this is all about. This time is for experiencing what I come across and learning on a multi dimensional level - not just what I hope to facilitate.
Friends of mine, that I have made, hale from Turkey and China. All though they are not Spanish, they can teach me much about people who come from these countries and subsequently people different than me.
This might be the greatest gift I take from my time here - maybe even greater than the language.
This past weekend I was greeted with the hospitality of my Turkish friends for dinner. It was terrific and delicious too, but what made it even better is the conversation that accompanied the dinner. It is refreshing at times and other times painful to discuss global issues with people from other parts of the world. However, I would not trade this opportunity for anything for this is how one learns. I came here not only to learn the language but also to further develop myself as a person. Whether this is in the form of a language or a different way to approach things is entirely connected.
Tomorrow we have a festival in Spain and have no class and a lot of the business around the city will be closed. Something I have learned about Spain is that they seem to live a counter life to that of the United States where it seems like nothing ever stops. Although this provides convenience to some, I wonder if it is better. Yes, I cannot deny that I will be miffed when I realize tomorrow that there was something I forgot to buy at the grocery store and the grocery store is closed. However, is it such a bad thing that the people here take time off to be with families and friends? I don't think so.
By Bradley Rehak- Guest Blogger studying in Quito, Ecuador
Having grown up and lived most of my life in Iowa, I'm used to going about my business without really thinking about the scenery in the background. In Iowa, the scenery that exists—the parks, hills and prairies—are all quite distant from the cities, at the very least in the cities that have been home to me. Quito, of all of the places I have lived outside of the States, is by far the most beautiful to walk around. I'll demonstrate by describing the simplest of things: my walk to school everyday.
I exit the small apartment building in which I live and turn left, walking along the edges of the Parque Metropolitana, which is the largest undisturbed forest/green space in Quito. The clouds usually hang low in the early morning, giving the clouds a rather misty look. I cross the street to another park that sits on a hill that makes up the eastern half of Quito. It's quite a steep drop-off that is occupied by a series of steps. Standing at the top I directly face Volcan Guagua Pinchincha, which is the largest of the numerous volcanoes and mountains that directly border Quito. I can see the western half of Quito's houses and buildings climbing partway up the sides of the volcano, eventually giving way to undisturbed forest and grassland on the mountainside and then a summit shrouded in clouds. At the bottom of the steps and the park I turn south.
Now facing the Panecillo, a hill that separates northern and southern Quito, I walk down a major street named after a national hero, Aloy Alfaro. On sunny days a statue of the virgin is visible at the top of the hill. It is an image taken from the Book of Revelation: a 50-meter tall Mary stands on top of a chained and defeated serpent. On a incredible visible day, Volcan Cotopaxi, the second highest mountain in the country and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world, hangs in the background.
I finally come to the most important street in Quito, Avenida 6 de Diciembre, and turn right to finish the short walk to the school watching the sun passing between the tall office buildings that line the street. I finally arrive having seen more natural beauty in 20 minutes than I do at home in a month.
By Kent Truckor - Guest Blogger studying in Valencia, Spain
Today I completed my 6th week of classes. Next week we have our examen for level A1. I am pretty happy with what I have learned in A1 and what I have learned so far. I realize I still have a long way to go, but I am excited with the progress so far and what I will learn in the weeks to come. I think the major push of students is about over as next week will be the third week of August and many colleges are beginning to start classes in the United States. This means less chaos in the school, which is a good thing.
This weekend there is a festival in the small pueblo of Puich, which is just outside of Valencia. Many of the small pueblos around the city of Valencia have festivals this time of year in August and I would like to catch a few of them. I figure there will be good food, music, and bulls somewhere - there are bulls everywhere in Spain.
The weekend looks to be rather tranquil I believe. Come next Tuesday there is some sort of holiday in Spain and therefore the city of Valencia will just about shut down. They take there holidays very serious around here :)
With the recent turn of events in London, it has led me to think more about traveling and my return home. It wasn't to long ago when I made the flight across the Atlantic and it is something very sobering to think that there are people trying to destroy life in the same route that I have taken in the past. However, I realize that there is not much I can do about things I don't know or don't understand. Therefore, I have to keep living my life just as I would have the day before. I am incredibly grateful to the people who worked to bust those trying to commit such an atrocity.
In the weeks gone by, I have learned that there is a great amount that I do not know about the world. This makes me want to learn more and more. This trip was not the first time I have felt this way, but it has definitely reinforced the feeling. Language is one of the assets that I seek to gain, but I also hope to gain a greater ability to accept things that are different from my past and what I know. One can go through life with blinders on, but there is a whole world they are missing in doing so. I aim to be different.
By Bradley Rehak - Guest blogger studying in Quito, Ecuador
Everyone needs a break from (slightly) organized writing, right? This way I can share a few items that wouldn't merit an entire blog.
Machismo: I don't think it's surprising for foreigners, particularly women, who travel to Latin countries to find themselves the object of whistles, snickers, animal sounds, and—if they understand enough Spanish—somewhat vulgar suggestions. Surprisingly, most of the girls that I know are entirely oblivious to most of them, as I quite often am the only one to notice the things listed above being directed at them. Having been myself the object of catcalls—was taken for an Australian and some Ecuadorian girls kept saying "good day", among other things in Spanish—I must say that noticing it makes one extremely uncomfortable, therefore it is my recommendation to be as oblivious as possible in South America if you're a blond girl. Judgment: opposed.
Traveling Drinking Tours: Holidays such as Carnival are often celebrated by young people in the form of a traveling drinking tour, wherein a large, old bus or even an empty dump truck is packed full of people, decorated with florescent lights, equipped with crates of beer or liquor, and is then driven around town for hours to the rhythms of thumping techno music. Judgment: in favor.
Hopscotch Injuries: While visiting Ambato in became involved in a heated contest of hopscotch. Either my memory doesn't serve me well, or as a child I played the game entirely wrong. Either way, I lost in the most embarrassing fashion by twisting my ankle while trying to make a long jump against my skilled Ecuadorian rivals, who apparently had not been playing for the first time. Judgment: opposed.
Rafting: The rafting that I participated in near Mindo consisted of ten or so truck tires lashed together with twine and a belt, filled with gringos, and then set afloat down a quite shallow and incredibly rocky river with a nine-year-old and a fourteen-year-old as guides. No one fell out and no one was hurt, despite my firm belief that it was only a moment away. Unfortunately, considering the danger, the "rapids" were quite small, but not small enough that we could drink beer during the ride. Judgment: in favor, but with some hesitations.
By Bradley Rehak - Guest blogger studying in Quito, Ecuador
Somewhat to the northwest of Quito is a small town called Mindo that is surrounded by cloud forest and is known among tourists—mostly Ecuadorians—as a sort of adventure spot. It was in Mindo that I went "rafting" as previously mentioned. However, there are other interesting things about Mindo.
Cost, for example, is one of the highlights. One can obtain lodging in a hostel that includes private bathrooms (for a shared room), hot water, and breakfast for between five dollars and eight dollars. Many of the hostels are quite unique: ours, for example, had an open walled attic from which to view sunrises and sunsets and for smoking, a thatch-covered resting area with half a dozen hammocks, and another large covered area outdoors with tables and a fireplace for hanging out at night. The owner even brought out a CD player for us and put in traditional Ecuadorian music. It was five bucks for a two-person room and breakfast.
The highlight of the town for my group of friends was the Canopy, which is a series of ten zip lines that run from hilltop to hilltop over the cloudy valleys. We happened to go on a rather rainy, cold day, but that didn't stop us from enjoying it one bit. The final zip line was 400 meters long and 80 meters high. When we started across it was so cloudy that you couldn't even see to the midpoint. My friend and I lucked out and got to do it connected together in a row with the guide, who did all of the braking, at the end. By the time we reached the other end I didn't think there was any way we could avoid hitting a building because we were going so fast, but the guide proved to be quite efficient and we stopped abruptly before the terminus.
The locals in the town were quite used to talking to foreigners, there being maybe only a thousand of them in comparison to ten or so hostels. It was therefore quite easy to strike up a conversation, even in broken Spanish. Doing so was also a sure invitation to pound shots, of which I will not admit to having taken part. We also were more than welcome to play the Ecuadorian version of volleyball, which consisted in using a soccer ball, a net that was almost fifteen feet high, and being very lenient in one's definition of setting the ball. Unfortunately, we were no match for the locals, and soon gave up to make our way towards the ice cream shop like true gringos.