Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monthly Update: April 2014

April Updates!

I've now been in Dayton, Ohio for a month and a lot has happened within this short period of time. From re-connecting with old friends to making new ones, to attending an Easter sunrise service with my family (first time in 7 years), to re-adjusting to living at home to sunny days, cloudy days and one snowy day to getting involved with an international student ministry, I've been keeping quite busy up here!

Spring has sprung in my neighborhood! (Beavercreek)
I've been especially thankful to be experiencing a real spring after many years of being away from this area. The flowers and trees have started to bloom or have already bloomed. Birds are chirping earlier and earlier in the morning welcoming the warmer weather and sharing their songs with us. It has been a rainier April than what I got used to in Florida (March is a much rainier month there) but I am oh-so thankful for the lack of humidity, cooler nights and slightly weaker yet infrequent rays of the sun. But, most of all, I'm thankful to have quite a bit of stress off me and my family much closer than before. At times I can't believe I'm living back in Ohio, in Dayton nonetheless, but here I am. I'm starting to figure out the reason why I'm here such a time as this but I'll explain why later on in this post.

1. Spending Easter Sunday with my family


Collage of photos taken on April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday)

We didn't get a family photo taken this Easter (due to waking up so early -6 AM- for the sunrise service but I at least got a picture in our church's small courtyard in the back. It was a brilliantly sunny yet cool day that Easter. I should've worn a coat actually but I knew I would warm up later in the morning when we went to have breakfast with the congregation in our fellowship hall. I was also just enjoying a cool morning in late April which practically doesn't exist in any part of Florida.

It was a little bit mind boggling that I hadn't been home for Easter in 7 years. I was a completely different person the last time I was in Ohio for Easter (a shy HS senior, stressed about graduating and anticipating my upcoming trip away to college) but that's okay. Now I'm much more confident in myself and personality, I have direction (somewhat) in my life and I'm done with college. I'm not done learning but I am done with the technical side of college. Thankfully. :)

The thing is, when you go South for college and where you live is a pretty much a Spring Break destination, there's really no need to spend extra money to fly home to Ohio where it's probably still cold and there's a chance of rain or snow on or around Easter. And unlike high school, I didn't attend a Christian institution so we only got one spring break vacation and it didn't coincide with Easter. I am thankful for the opportunities I had during my spring breaks and for the privilege to worship with another church family and spend a couple Easters with good friends from church and their families. I went on two week long mission trips in 2008 and 2011 (Miami, FL and New Orleans, LA), participated in spring training on the JU Rowing Team (2009), experienced Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain in 2010, Easter with Jamie's family in 2012 and an Easter afternoon at Jacksonville Beach in 2013. So, it's not like I didn't have anything to do for Easter since I was away from home and I won't be home for it in 2015, but it's okay. Being home just enhanced the experience for me this time.

2. Volunteering with IFI (International Friendship Institute) and meeting people from around the world in my own backyard!


Big turn out for their Graduation Night for the class of 2014 (added May 2014).
Photo credit: Enoch Jayasundara
My friend Abby (pictured to the left and in the front of the above picture in blue) has talked about all the opportunities she's had in the past couple of years to meet and interact with international people (besides Latinos) in the Dayton area. She invited me to an international dinner event at a church around here back in May 2012 and I attended. I was home for a quick surprise visit for Mother's Day. However, looking back on it, it must have been a combined Dayton and Columbus IFI event as I met people who were either going to school somewhere in those two cities. There was one girl that we both met who was studying at Wright State University (WSU) but was from China (pictured to the left of Abby). I didn't think that I would see her let alone any of the couple of other people I met from the Dayton area again but little did I know where I would be two years later! I was under the impression for years that a lot of international people did not come to the Dayton area but instead went to other bigger and more populated cities in the US. I was still sort of under that same impression when I moved back up here but I quickly learned that I was wrong. Sooo wrong, haha.

I was really wondering what my social life would be like up here as many people I knew in HS have moved away from this area or have other responsibilities in their lives (spouses, kids, pets, extended family, etc). I didn't know more than just a couple of people who are at the same place in life as I am (single and working) and wondered where I would fit in. It was like being the new kid at school again except this time school was not in the equation. I felt welcomed into the group at IFI almost immediately the first night I attended (April 4th). I quickly learned how to navigate explaining my unique situation and tried not to talk about how I had left beautiful sunny Florida for cloudy, moody, rainy Ohio at the beginning of April. If you want to make a bunch of Midwesterners mad, talk about what living in paradise was like when it's not even springtime! haha I kid, though. I did my best to focus on explaining my connections to other cultures, the languages I speak and my plans to teach English in the fall. I met Americans who had been overseas as well as Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Saudi and Hispanic students all studying or working somewhere in the Dayton area. I even met one person from Spain and he's actually the first person I've met from Spain in Dayton.

If life had gone as I had planned -or as it would have if no students went and studied abroad-, I should have met people like Abby in Ohio and JD in Spain at some point. But, no, God has a sense of humor and likes to take us by surprise sometimes. Abby told me about this International Bible Study (IFI) she had been going to a couple of times before I moved back home but she didn't mention it was IFI related until just a couple of weeks before. I had also not told her until I replied to her email that I was hoping to receive an early placement into the Spanish government program to teach English and go live in Galicia (Northern Spain). She writes back and says, oh, hey, there is a student from Spain attending the IFI Bible Studies and he's from Galicia. She suggested I meet him when I come up and get settled. She said he loves to talk about his region and how great it is and that I would enjoy getting to know him.

I thought that I would too but I still I laughed when I read the email. Why? Because that just sounded not only coincidental but very convenient! There's a Spaniard (a gallego at that!) around my age in Ohio for another month who could answer any questions I might have and regale me with his stories of living in the enchanted region of Galicia. It sounded too good to be true but it was! I figured he probably knew a lot of good places to travel to and see and suggestions on what to eat too. (That part is especially important as, like Ana says, food is the first problem, haha). I made a note to have Abby introduce us when I got up there but I put that in the back of my mind. I was busy selling my furniture, packing, coordinating the trip for my dad and brother to easily come down (at the tail end of a snowstorm of course, ugh, haha) to think about daydreaming about what I'd do in Galicia were I to be placed there. I didn't even look up any of the people she told me about on Facebook because, besides the lack of time, I figured it would be more fun to meet them in person. 

It turns out, a lot of people attend IFI's Bible Studies (between 40-60 people most nights!) and there is more to them than just a Bible Study. There was dinner for one thing, a short time of worship, a couple of games (international style with maps and trivia questions about other cultures) and then finally a Bible study and a time of prayer. A lot of students who attend the Bible studies are open to listening to the Word of God and who Jesus is but many of them do not call themselves Christians. That just makes IFI's mission even more important and powerful. They strive to bridge the gap between cultures by befriending the foreigner, whether they are a student (primarily) or a young professional in the area. Some students attend Cedarville University (a small private Christian university) but many people attend Wright State University (a huge public university). JD, the Spanish student, attends Cedarville University. He told me later that month that he first heard about Cedarville from a friend in Barcelona (who's married to a Cedarville grad) and just decided he'd go there for college. (Well, I'm sure there was more factored into his decision than that...) What a strange way to find out about a tiny Christian college in nowheresville Ohio! haha He also, like many other students I met, speaks multiple languages. In fact, he speaks the number of languages that I want to speak fluently [Five] in my lifetime now and he's younger than me! There are other students just like him who speak at least 3 languages and I am just astounded! It just goes to show me that I better speed things up if I want to catch up to these language whizzes some day. 

All in all, I have been overjoyed and pleasantly surprised by the people I've met and the topics, countries, foods, customs I've learned about in the past month. I was really spoiled in Florida with all of the opportunities I had to meet Latinos from all over the Caribbean, Central and South America but I sorely neglected Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It wasn't on purpose, of course. I just didn't have as many chances to meet a non-Latino person until I came back up to Dayton. I would say I am comfortable around Hispanics but God doesn't want us to be comfortable. If you're starting to get comfortable where you are, it's highly likely that something in your life is about to change. I am grateful for this challenge and change of pace. I think I know now that I simply love interacting with and getting to know people from all cultures and languages. I feel like I fit in better with Latinos and Spaniards but I miss out on a lot when I'm just sitting there in my own comfort zone speaking all of the Spanish I want, haha. I just never realized how many opportunities there are to meet internationals in Dayton and they have helped change my opinion of my hometown. In a very positive way. :)

That is just a small part of my experience with IFI. I'm planning on writing a more in-depth post comparing the Dayton I'm familiar with (boring) to the Dayton I've been newly introduced to (a vibrant one!) soon. I have so many observations but I first need to list them and then elaborate on the most important ones. 




3. Re-connecting with old friends



Arielle, Abby and I on April 28th, 2014


I still have a lot of friends down in Jacksonville (who I miss a lot!) but I have quite a few special friends who live in the Dayton area too. One family (not pictured) in particular and mine have been friends for 20 years this year. They are like family to me and we have all been a part of each other's lives during the big milestones and through the bad times. I'm thrilled to have them just a few streets away instead of 800+ miles away. God has certainly been good to me when it comes to having caring, godly friends in my life.

The two ladies in the above photo are two of those friends. We all have a unique life story but we also all have a unique story of how we met. Abby and I met through a suggestion from a mutual friend who was going to Spain the same time we were in 2010 (little did I know, they met on their plane ride over to Madrid! haha) and with the help of social media, primarily Facebook, haha. I messaged her, introduced myself and suggested we meet somewhere in Sevilla (a flamenco bar) in March 2010. Later on that month or in the month of April, I met Arielle (pictured in the middle) who was also a student (for the semester) at Cedarville. I reconnected with Arielle for the first time in the States this month as it just hadn't worked out for us to see each other before now.

Plus, had Arielle and I not gone away to college and left the Dayton area and stayed like Abby did, the story of how we all met would be much different. It would probably be a lot less exciting than our meetings were in Spain but we will never know. Sometimes God likes to throw curve balls and bring people together in an exciting and memorable way. Sometimes He doesn't but the important thing to keep in mind is the people you meet and what purpose they will serve in your life and vice versa. These two women are definitely friends I want to have in my life for a long, long time! And...if they can manage it, they should come visit me in Galicia some time in the next year! ;-P


Lastly, I'd like to share some prayer requests and praises. These will likely change a little (or a lot) in the upcoming months. Your prayers are greatly appreciated and I covet them! Please let me know how I can pray for you by reaching out to me via a phone call, text, email or Facebook message. I would love to unite with you in prayer and pray for the important things in your life.

Praises

-We fit everything I own into the *tiny* SUV we were given to rent (Chevy Equinox) and financially the move back up here did not break the bank for me.
-I am getting involved as a volunteer with a great ministry that has a heart for international students (IFI).
-One of my freelance clients will be paying me not one but two commission checks in the coming months for the lead generation I've been doing for her business on LinkedIn. A big blessing!
-I have access to a car on a more regular basis and I only have to use public transportation if I really want to (I no longer depend on it).
-I've gotten to enjoy a really nice, albeit strange (ie: snow on April 15th!), Ohio spring and Easter!


Prayer requests

-I'm still adjusting to living at home with my family all under the same roof but running into a lot of conflicts with my mom. We operate very differently now in terms of how things should be done in the house and it is hard not to say something or want to change something. I'm learning to keep quiet at times but it is hard.

-For my expected budget for Spain (Visa, background check and start-up costs, plane ticket, potential deposit on an apartment). I am expecting there to be setbacks or challenges as I try to earn the suggest amount I budgeted for but I just pray that I can get to half of what I need by mid to end of July.

-For an early placement hopefully in the northeast region of Spain (Galicia) and a school placement with little to no commute. A lot of people who have gone over to Spain to teach English end up getting placed in a small town to teach but live in a bigger city about an hour away. It would be awesome, but not necessary, if I were to be placed in the same city where I live. We'll see!

-For a fairly easy and routine experience with the Spanish Consulate when I go to apply for my visa. I hope to start this process as soon as possible but I cannot do anything now until I get my signed letter of appointment (carta de nombramiento).

-For more opportunities to use Spanish both in spoken and written forms. I'm primarily working in the fields of marketing and copywriting now but I really want to build up my translation portfolio while I've got some time. I also am just looking for odd jobs and anything that will bring in extra money for me on a short-term basis.


If you've made it all the way down to the very bottom of this post, bien hecho [good job]! If there are any improvements or suggestions you have or things you'd like me to talk about in my upcoming updates, let me know in the comments! These update posts are not really just for me to tell you what's going on in my life but also how you can be praying for me in this transition. Even if you just take the time to read the updates to see what I've been up to, I greatly appreciate your time and investment in my life!

Gracias por leer y hasta la próxima! (Thanks for reading and until next time!)

Besos,
Sarah


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