Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Return / la vuelta

"You have changed my life here in Seville." 
These words were spoken to me nearly three years ago by a dear blonde-haired, blue-eyed Spanish girl. As far as I can remember, up until that moment, I have not had someone verbalize to me that I have changed their life. What's more is, I don't think I have ever profoundly changed or altered the course of anyone's life by my own words or actions. At least no one has explicitly said that I have. Anyway, when I heard those words I was sitting in the back seat of her parents' car with two other friends. We had just left a going away party that had been thrown in our honor. When I think back on this moment and the words she spoke to me, I realized what struck me the most was that she said them to me in English, my native language. The fact that she did that (whether on purpose or not) made this moment that much more special. Having someone make the effort to get to know you in your native language is a precious, precious thing. I can't explain it.

I didn't know that at that moment in time, a mere week before I was set to leave Spain, that that would be the last time I would see her in person in Spain. Thankfully, though, through our many video chat sessions over the past three years, we would "see" each other again almost weekly. If we (or any of the other friends I made there) had met during any other point in time, the goodbyes we shared in person would truly be the last time we would see each other until our paths physically crossed again. Sure, we could send letters to each other, maybe include photos in those letters but how long would it take for those letters to arrive at their destinations? And what if something new happened right after one of us had sent the other the "latest news"? It's thoughts like these that make me very grateful for the instant and advanced technologies we are so blessed to have today.

Have you ever wanted something so badly you could almost taste it? I tasted salty tears the morning I departed by bus from the most beautiful city in all of Europe: Sevilla, España When the tears dried after I shed them again on the airplane leaving Madrid, the only thing I wanted to taste again was the hearty Spanish cuisine and fellowship. And maybe some churros con chocolate. It probably sounds like I am over-romanticizing my experience living in Spain. I won't deny that I had a love-hate relationship with the country in the beginning, (if you can't believe that check out my study abroad blog) but overall I had a wonderful time there. The desire to return to Spain in the future was something that I was sure of. The problem: How am I going to do it? 

Will I ever have this much time on my hands again? Will I ever be this able bodied to travel? Will I ever be this young and unattached? Will I not have the money to come back? These questions have swirled around in my head for months after my trip. I didn't know the answer to any of them (especially the last one) and it scared me. Instead of letting worry and fear overtake me, I decided to focus on the goals before me (college, graduation, finding a job and place to live, making loan payments) and maintaining my friendships both nationally and abroad. Everything would work itself out if I just gave it to God and gave it time.

And you know what? It's finally working out. I am returning to Spain this May for a nice visit with friends. And to see some very important sites that I was not able to see the first time I was there! (El Alhambra y Toledo anyone? haha) What's more is this: I will be traveling to and from Spain by myself but I won't be the only Willats going over there. This time, my brother Nathan will be there too! He is doing a two week study abroad program in and around Madrid with his university. But, he will be spending an extra week in Spain to visit me in Sevilla! It's all that I could ask for in a return trip and more. I imagined going back by myself in the past couple years after graduation but I never thought a family member, a very close one at that, would be able to join me! :-) In my mind I am already there seeing the familiar sights and hanging out with wonderful people. Now when we both are in Sevilla, my brother will get to step inside my head and see the city through my eyes. I'll point out my favorite sights, buildings and statues but I will also get to add some running commentary. We will literally be taking a walk down [my] memory lane and I couldn't be more thrilled.

I hope you are ready to fill your nostrils with the smell of orange blossoms, your stomach with lots of delicious Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine, your ears with the ultra-smooth sounds of the Spanish guitar and your eyes with some of the most captivating Moorish architecture in Spain, Nathan! And not to mention, you will be privileged enough to daily hear the best language in the world: el castellano! :)

Come quickly May!

Never Goin' Back

I'm currently reading Al Roker's (yes, the used-to-be fat, jolly weatherman as seen on the Today Show) book recounting his personal weight loss journey. Wait, what? Now, before you reach for your phone or something to try to contact me, keep reading. :) I promise you that I am not trying to loss a massive amount of weight and put my heath in danger in the process. I am actually reading it voluntarily, hoping to still take away pieces of advice from him. I'm also reading it because back in February I heard about it on the Today Show (ironically-haha) and saw it displayed on a shelf in the library a few days after that.

I was watching and taping an interview with Nicholas Sparks on Valentine's Day, as his new movie was set to premiere that very same day. The theme of that particular show was largely about V-Day but it had a couple of non-love related segments on there too. One of them was Al Roker talking briefly about his new book. At that moment, I realized he had lost a significant amount of weight. He looked great! Though I am not on a personal weight loss journey myself, I was interested in how and why he decided to get rid of his excess weight.

I don't have a whole lot of time on my hands to just sit down to read but I still have been able to get through a large portion of it. It kind of helps that I use public transportation here. If I didn't, I can't say whether or not I would make myself sit down and read a book sad as that sounds. I have always been an avid reader. I take after my dad's mom who has worked in her local library in Nebraska for many years. (Enough said, right? haha) However, in the last few years, it has been hard to pick up a real book. I have tried both e-books and audio books in the past two years. While I have grown to love audio books, nothing beat a hard or paperback book in my opinion. The smell, the feel, the weight of it. To turn a real page with your own finger rather than click or scroll down on a screen with a mouse or stylus. Nothing beats real books.

Well, now that I took you down that rabbit trail, let me steer you back to the topic at hand. While Al Roker's book does not speak to me in regards to weight loss, extreme eating habits or being addicted to food, it speaks to me on a more broad level: my self-image. Though I have been blessed with a very high metabolism and have never had to go on a diet or weight loss program in my life, I have struggled with the opposite things that Roker faced in his life. Things like he struggle to gain weight and looking both my age and like a real woman. I have since conquered that mindset and changed my thinking, but there are some days where I still struggle with self-image and self-esteem. I think if I didn't, though, I wouldn't be human! And when I feel like I'm slipping back into my old mind-set, I need to be encouraged and brought back to reality. This particular excerpt early on in the book did just that for me:

"To create a new habit, you have to change your old one. Your body may not want to cooperate, but your mind can alter it.The mind is a very powerful machine capable of believing whatever it is we tell it. It doesn't have the ability to differentiate between a real or an imagined thought. That's why negative mind chatter can be so debilitating. We've all been there. We tell ourselves we're not good enough, thin enough, attractive enough and we believe it! It' not easy but with the right frame of mind, you can change things up.
Thankfully I have a new mind-set that makes it a lot harder for me to let myself go. Once you make up your mind that living healthy is something you're doing for yourself ad you alone, it doesn't really matter what anyone else says or does. You will stay with your program come hell or high water. You have to get to a place where you believe that no matter what, you are important enough to stay the course. That's what I had to rely on now to get myself back on track. I'd always heard the saying "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." I finally understand what that means. When you finally feel great and look great, you'll never want to go back to the old you."

Some things to think about! / Algunas cosas para pensar!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Have an Accent (And So Do You)

I wish I could say that in this post I will discuss my accent in American English. If you have been following my blog, you should realize by now that while I may write the majority of my posts here in English. . .my mind is always fixed on other languages. Like Spanish, Portuguese and most recently Arabic.

Jacksonville University - Where my biggest successes and biggest struggles took place.

So, what accent could I possibly be talking about? Glad you asked. My accent while speaking Spanish to be exact! I used to think every other American around me, who I know speaks Spanish, has a very noticeable accent. You know the blatantly obvious "Hi, I'm an American!" accent. No offense if you happen to have this particular accent. What matters is that you're trying to speak in another language -whether it's Spanish or not - and that's cool! (But, the next time you talk to me, ask me to do my impression of that accent. I'm surprisingly very good at imitating it--and blowing it out of proportion--haha.)

Over the course of studying Spanish for nearly 10 years, I have experienced my fair share of ups and downs with the language. Well, there have mostly been "ups" but that's besides the point. I've been very blessed to have had the immersion type experiences I have had with Spanish. I've had exposure to it as a child and throughout middle school. I studied it in high school and I also went on two long mission trips to Mexico before the age of 19. I studied it all throughout college, made friends with native speakers, listened to literally hundreds of hours of Latin/Caribbean/Spanish music, watched movies, read and listened to the news or TV and had the fantastic opportunity of studying in Spain at age 21 where I spoke and heard Spanish everyday for 4 months. You would think I developed a more "native" accent after all of these years of studying, listening, speaking, reading and writing Spanish. Yes and no. They say that you are your toughest critic and I would have to agree. Even when it comes to one of the most important things in my life, the Spanish language (and languages in general).

In the last year, I have still gotten compliments on my spoken Spanish and at certain restaurants the servers can tell almost right away that my accent sounds closest to Spain Spanish. (I'm not complaining there ;) One compliment that has stuck out to me in particular was this one: "Tienes acento pero no se nota." [You have an accent but it's not noticeable.] I mulled this comment over in my head for most of the summer. For almost all of my college years, my professors complimented me on my pronunciation in Spanish and practically raved over it. This started from day one in a particular professor's class and I felt very honored to receive that compliment. I still feel honored.

However, the lady who told me that I did have an accent wasn't wrong. I never got into the habit of recording myself when speaking or reading Spanish but I sometimes read parts of articles or books out loud. I hadn't done that consistently in years and decided to pick up an old book I had last summer. As I read a couple pages out loud, I didn't notice much difference in my accent. (Note: I also must be biased of course.) It wasn't until I decided one day to record my voice as I read a short paragraph out loud.

For the first time in my experience with Spanish, I realized that I could hear my American accent quite strongly to my ears while speaking it. I knew that I didn't have a perfect accent in Spanish but I thought I was close. You know the "near native" type of close? It didn't throw me for a huge loop but I couldn't get that discovery out of my mind.

The closest thing I can relate this realization to is the sound of a breaking mirror. For the longest time, regardless of the length of that time period, you believe you are one thing and then one day you see yourself or talent through someone else's eyes...and you can't return to how you once saw yourself. That's when the mirror shatters.

Realizing that I have a slightly thick accent while speaking Spanish hasn't broken me or made me question my self-worth. I'm still secure in my skills and thankful to God that He has blessed me with this talent. However, I guess you could just say I'm more aware of my weaknesses than ever before. I've been out of college for about 15 months now. It's not a long time but it's long enough to realize my life is much different now. I don't have the advantage of going to a class or extracurricular activity to speak and practice my Spanish. I typically do talk to a friend in Spain about once a week or two. I also started meeting with a new friend here and we (try) to speak Spanish with each other for about an hour at a cafe. She also studied in Spain and will soon be marrying into a Puerto Rican family (fun, fun! haha). I love meeting with her and talking to all of my friends. ...But, if I want to immerse myself outside of my normal routine it's up to me. I listen to music in Spanish nearly every day but I don't always get to read articles or practice translating from Spanish to English. Or I might tape a movie on our DVR but not get around to it til much later.

The point is this: If I want to continue building up my skills in Spanish, I have to make the effort. There is no one in my life assigning me homework or papers. Or telling me to watch this movie or that or come to the weekly Mesa Latina to chat. It's all up to me. The last 15 months of being out of college has taught me a lot. Most importantly it has taught me to consistently stay connected to the things I love: God, family, friends, Spanish, Spain, social issues, learning and so much more. I could let my attention on any of those things slip and lose the relationships or skills that I have spent years upon years cultivating and building up. As I look towards the future, it's not worth it lose focus. That's why I keep on keeping on -even when I make tons of mistakes in Spanish (okay, maybe at most 5-haha) or forget to call my mom back. It always pays off to invest my time into the things that are good and positive for me.

Don't worry if you have the worst accent in the world while speaking another language or can't run in perfect form to save your life. Over time enough practice can nearly correct that. If something is important to you, you will find a way to continue doing it. Don't give up!