Sunday, December 20, 2015

[Week 5] Galego Word of the Week: Brétema

A Coruña at dusk
I'll let you in on a little secret this week. The word I'm going to discuss isn't the word I listed above. It is...but it's not in the language I know it in. The word is actually bruma and while both words have virtually the same meaning, bruma holds a different connotation for me personally. I'll explain later on.

At the beginning of 2015, I renewed with the Auxiliar de Conversación program and chose to stay in the autonomous region of Galicia for another year. However, I received a new placement at a primary school in the capital of the region, Santiago de Compostela. Though I had mixed feelings about my placement in the very beginning, a couple of friends helped me put it in perspective and through their encouragement, I began to get excited about the upcoming school year on my own. I already loved the city center of Santiago and knew that it had a much more youthful feel to it than any other city in the region. I loved those things about the city but the reason why I was reluctant to leave my old city, A Coruña, was because of one giant reason: the ocean.

I'm happiest when I am by the seaside - in rain or shine...but mostly shine.

I grew up in the landlocked yet beautiful state of Ohio in the United States. It's a state that's full of creeks, parks, hiking and cycling trails not to mention a huge body of water in the form of Lake Erie and the well-known Ohio River which forms part of the bottom of the state's line in between Ohio and Kentucky. However, there is no ocean. The closest one is the Atlantic and it's a good 8-10 hour drive away.

And while my family has taken vacations to California every once in a while to visit our extended family who live there, we never took a family vacation to the beach. Looking back on that part of my childhood, I don't regret that we didn't do a beach vacation. Deep down, I always felt that visiting a beach and spending time on it was something that I should do alone. On my own and without my family. I've felt a deep and elusive connection to the ocean for as long as I could remember. I would always listen intently to my mom or other friends tell me what the ocean was like or how the sand felt on their feet as they strolled down a beach barefoot. We even had a clock with built-in sounds from nature and I would always want to change it to the waves only to get a small peek into what it must like to hear the ocean waves crash onto the shore at night. For the longest time, all I had was my imagination, the Internet to find images of beaches and a vision in my mind to go on before I saw an ocean with my own two eyes. I never gave up hope that I would one day see and experience the ocean and the beach in person. If anything, I grew more hopeful with every passing year.

It's much easier to find farmland than it is to find large bodies of water  in Ohio
(minus Lake Erie).

Finally, when I was 17, I went on a mission trip to Mexico with a group of students from my high school and we flew from Dayton (with a connection in Denver, Colorado) to San Diego, California. I may have even swapped seats with someone on our team to have a window seat because it would have been my very first time seeing the ocean. After flying almost 6 hours across the country, the time had come. The moment my eyes laid on this huge blue colored landscape, I was filled with such joy. The Pacific Ocean was bluer than I had ever imagined it to be or had seen in photographs. And even as I write and reflect about that moment now, that same feeling of joy is welling up inside my chest. That experience -and the many thousands of experiences at oceans around the country and world that would follow - is one of the highlights of my life. There are a lot of things, places and people who make me happy but one of my favorite places of all time now is the ocean. I dream about it, I crave its company and I physically ache when I don't see it often.

The second time I saw the San Diego coastline - the first time was
taken with a disposable camera in 2006!

So, with all that being said, (and having spent 6 years prior to this living near a beach in Florida) you can see why I was hesitant to leave that city by the sea for a new city nestled in the mountains and a good thirty minutes to one hour drive away from the Atlantic Ocean. (Especially since I lived only 15 minutes on foot from the beach in A Coruña). However, in retrospect, I'm much happier and better off here in Santiago without the ocean -gasp- but I do try to visit it as often as I can.

I love the ocean in all seasons and in all its moods.

One of the things I love about Galicia overall is the niebla (fog) that you can see in all types of weather. Rain or shine. The high percentage of humidity here also influences the thickness of the fog and often times it's too thick to see your own two hands stretched out in front of you. Nevertheless, I love it as I feel it paints a magical or mystical glow on the landscape before you.

I especially love having been able to see a special type of fog called sea mist or brétema in the Galician language. I had read about it and seen pictures of places like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California covered in a thick blanket of fog but I had never seen any of those places in person. It wasn't until I arrived here in mid-autumn and saw the fog from the window of a bus, that realized just how much I wanted to see a verdant landscape or rocky coast blanketed in fog. And what's more, I had only wanted to experience this in the last couple of years and not all of my life like with the ocean. This new goal literally came out of thin air you could say.

We saw brétema that afternoon on the beach but it was hard to capture it on camera.
And I did need to wear a sweater that day because the air was crisp and it was very windy! (June 2015)

However, once you see this sea mist (or any other type of fog) in person, you develop a desire to see it again and again. It stays in your mind and you begin to think about or plan the next time you will see it. At least this is how it is for me.

Though, I prefer the sun over the rain, I have a fun love-hate relationship with the weather here. Part of me hates how unpredictable it is but then the other half loves it because you never know what to expect here. Some days can get pretty dreary and dark outside but it's sort of exciting to live somewhere that pours down rain in the middle of a sunny fall day or blasts hail at you on your walk home in the dead of winter. You can certainly get cabin fever after putting up with so many rainy days in a row but you come out of the experience more capable of handling all kinds of weather. Now how's that for a skill to add to your resume? haha

The meaning of the word brétema isn't as deep or elusive as the other words I've written about so far in this series. It's an exception to the rule simply because it means something special to me. The words to describe rain and other types of weather in Galicia are numerous as there are more than 70 words in the Galician language to describe rain in all forms and strengths. If you don't believe me take a look at the article and you will quickly realize how clever the Galician people are and how rain affects almost every area of their lives.

Well, on the contrary, the word bruma has been adopted into my daily interactions with people I know. The reason being that I see Bruma every day and sometimes it's not so happy to see me. Sometimes it's ecstatic and won't leave my side. It also lives inside my flat (apartment) which, if you think about it, is hard to do given its natural state. It goes from room to room to visit everyone who lives there. And, in fact. I don't mind its company most days (and it doesn't get our already wet laundry even wetter, haha) so it's fine by me if it wants to hang around.

In fact, Bruma  has helped made my transition to this new city quite smooth. Even though I was hesitant to move to a place that had so much of it as I have been without the presence of something like it for over a year, I'm so glad I did. Have you figured out what this type of bruma is yet? If not, this photo below should clear up any confusion you may have.

To me, Bruma is a kitty! And one of my flatmates is her owner - er, rather Bruma owns her,
as she is queen of the flat after all. ;)
So, there you have it. The type of Bruma that I like best comes in the form of a small cat with massive tufts of gray and black fur and piercing gold-tinted eyes. She would rather be out in her natural habitat running around a farm and chasing any creature she can get her paws on...but, I'm glad she's decided to spend her most of her days in a tiny yet cozy flat in Santiago with me and two of the most wonderful Galician girls I've ever met. :)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Musings of A Temporary Commuter

Last year, I lived in A Coruña, Spain for nine months and though I did my fair share of commuting around town on foot and by bus, nothing compares to the commuter-like life I have been living as of late. I moved about 75 kilometers south of Coruña to Santiago de Compostela, the capital city of the autonomous region of Galicia. Luckily for me (and thousands of locals and tourists alike), there is a high speed railway system that connects the two cities and puts you in one city or the other in less than a half hour. How nice is that? I also happen to live just a short 10 minute walk from Santiago's train station so the temptation to hop on said high speed train at any given hour and hang out with some friends is a thought that's always present in my mind.

However, I'm starting to rethink it and resist the temptation a little bit more each time I do a commute - no matter how long the distance - as I realize how taxing it can be on a person physically, not to mention financially, too. In the end it's all worth it and it's an experience that stretches and grows you. I'd like to say that being a commuter definitely forces you to be more punctual and whips you into shape as far being on time goes but in my case, it just brings out the risk-taker in you. The one who thinks, "I can make it on that train in two minutes." (You'd like to THINK you can every time but I've only successfully managed to do that once, haha.)

Some of the oddest thoughts go through your mind as you commute from one city to another and I decided to write them all down.

Time is usually your worst enemy but it can also become your greatest asset.

Here are some thoughts and observations that I've had over the course of 6 weeks of off and on travel via planes, trains, buses and metro systems:

1. Some days I feel like I can conquer the underground rail world but other days I feel like I can't put one foot in front of the other let alone catch a train or make a correct transfer.

2. Sometimes it feels cool and mysterious to be on a high speed or metro train going to a new location. You remind yourself that you never know who you'll meet or who you'll sit next to today. Other days you wish you had one of your friends or siblings along with you so that you could both giggle or laugh at a magazine picture or a silly ad like the pair of best friends to your left are doing. (Quick: listen to a favorite song and turn up the volume before you make yourself homesick and sad! :/)

3. Though you are around dozens of other people doing the exact same thing you are, you are essentially alone. You either grow to love your own company or hate it. (My advice: learn to love it as it will be better for you in the long-run!)

4. Sleeping on a plane/train/bus gets easier the more times you do it. Though, it does depend on the day, your mood and who is or isn't falling asleep in the seat next to you. (yawn)

Other times sleeping on the train is the whole point of the ride. (My "goody" bag from Renfe on my train hotel
from A Coruña to Barcelona Sants in June)

5. Eventually, the more times you commute, the easier it is to pack your work or school bag. And pretty soon, you have it all down to a T when it comes to what you put inside it.

6. After so many days of commuting, you learn which seats are the best to sit in (or which ones in which cars are closer to the exits) and you start to pick the same seat each time you commute.

7. Making plans on what to do to help the 30 minutes to 1 hour on the train pass becomes less burdensome over time and you start to look forward to this time and what you can accomplish during it.

And little by little you amass a collection of train tickets before you decide to go paperless
and load tickets on your smartphone.

8. Planning what to do on the train leads to creating a time of the day where you can study and practice a new language. And after a couple weeks of doing this each time you're on the train, you start to become conditioned and naturally begin pulling out your books or signing into Duolingo and studying the language each time you're on the train. (At least this is my current situation.)

9. Daydreaming that you accidentally chose a seat next to a cute guy and struck up a great conversation has happened at least once, haha.

10. One time you sat in the seat assigned for your return train and not your departing train! (That happened to me very recently. Oops.)

11. You realize sooner or later that paying attention to the tiny details of the people and events around you (even when you're sleepy) is very crucial to your success as a commuter.

And there you have it!

If you're lucky, your commute can sometimes come with an incredible view like this one. (Spoiler alert:
Ocean views sold separately in Galicia during the fall or winter, haha)

Are you a commuter or were you a commuter in the past? Where was your commute to and from? Do you have any pearls of wisdom or observations about your commute to add above? Tell me about them in the comments below! :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

11 Ways Living in A Rainy Climate Changes You

Sunset over the Saint Johns River in the Historic San Marco district (Jax, FL)

A little over a year and a half ago I traded my beautiful, sunny Floridan skies and beach days for rainy, gray skies and mountainous landscapes of Northern Spain.

I didn't just make a rash and sudden decision to move thousands of miles away from my home country. I agonized over the decision for a few months prior and researched every facet of life in a Spanish speaking country. One of the most surprising things during my college years in Northeast Florida was that paradise could get boring after awhile. Maybe the blistering hot and sweltering three and a half summers  influenced my opinion of paradise. Maybe it was the lack of cold fronts (if any!) and seasonal changes. Or maybe it's the Midwesterner in me who deep down loves season changes, cozy sweaters and hot soups and beverages (and the occasional snow storm thrown in there, too) in both the fall and winter seasons. Truth be told, missing all of those things influenced my decision to return to a place that had all 4 seasons and boasted some of the most unpredictable weather in the world. Except I wasn't returning to this place. I was setting foot here for the first time last fall and had no idea what I would be getting myself into, weather wise or otherwise.

The lush green landscapes just outside of A Coruña (Galicia)

The autonomous region of Galicia first beckoned to me in the summer of 2013 when my brother was traveling around Spain with a small group of students from his university's ambassador program. He went as far north as Ponferrada but didn't quite make it to Galicia. I was following his travels via his social media accounts but I also took the liberty of mapping out his whole trip on Google Maps. When he arrived in Ponferrada, I swiped my fingers to the left to see the part of northwestern Spain that he was missing: Galicia. I was intrigued by all of the names of the cities and towns and remarked at how green the map said it was there compared to the dry and arid part of Spain I was visiting at the same time: Andalusia. I didn't have plans to travel farther north than Madrid that year but Northern Spain started to speak to me softly. It wanted me to consider a trip there, even though the trip was TBD (to be determined). It was okay, though, because Spain would always be there and the northern part of the country would patiently for me to come visit it.

A little over a year later, with a work letter as an English language assistant in one hand and my passport in the other, I arrived in "rainy" Galicia on a cloudless day with abundant sunshine. Not everyone who arrives here both for short-term or long-term stays experiences luck quite like this. Most likely you and everything you own get rained on and put through the wringer when it comes to the rain.

Don't worry, though, the rain did eventually come and it rained like cats and dogs! Some days I just wanted to crawl underneath my covers and hide from the world and other days I wanted to dress in a ton of layers to go explore the city in the misty rain and try to catch a glimpse of fog on the nearby hills or see it rolling in from the sea. I can't explain it but the fog in any city in Galicia captivates me and I love to stare at it for as long as I can. It's mystifying.

And so are the patterns and ways of life you adjust to when dwelling in a rainy climate for almost a year. The longer you live in this type of climate, the more you get to know the culture on a deeper level and also see what you yourself are capable of.

So, without further ado, here are 11 ways living in a rainy climate changes you. They are subject to my own experiences and bias, of course, but you should be able to get an idea of what climates do to our mindsets and how we can be influenced by them,  even during a short period of time. I'll come back and expound on the items on this list later on this week but for now I will get them all down on digital paper.

The sun becomes your best and most cherished long distance friend.

1. You never think of the sun the same way again. (Read: It becomes the friend who only wants to see you on their terms and nothing more.)

2. If there is even a peak of sun or a whole full day of it, that only means two things: 1) You must wash your clothes NOW and 2) go outside in it NOW before the clouds and come and cover it up for another week.

3. If it's only sprinkling rain or misting, chances are you won't pull your hood over your head or reach for your umbrella. Mist no longer bothers you. It's normal. Embrace it and walk in it without an umbrella. It's fun!

4. You nearly want to rip your hair out when you walk outside or look out the window and see a sun shower taking place (ie: rain coming down for a brief period of time on a sunny day). No? Oh, maybe that's just me? haha

There should be three types of weather: sunny, sunny and sunny. ha.
5. Your umbrella becomes the child you never had and you are constantly being vigilant over it. And you don't let it out of your sight when you place it in a public umbrella stand (in a library or any other public place). It may not be there when you go to leave! (True story)

6. If you have to dry your clothes outside, you will do everything in your power to ensure they don't get rained on while hanging up! Which may mean waking up in the middle of the night to take clothes off the clothesline because you *thought* you heard rain start to come down. Better safe than sorry!

Motivational quotes and sayings don't hurt either.

7. Any time you hear an upbeat song, you mentally add it to your growing list of songs for the perfect "mood booster" playlist the next time it rains cats and dogs for a week straight.

8. You don't fully comprehend that the weather can go from sunny to rainy and then back again until you walk down a street and find that was side of it was sunny and  the other rainy.

9. Getting rained on is only worth crying about if you are transporting luggage or carrying important irreplaceable documents or lesson plans with you. Any other situation is a normal weekday, haha. Get used to being rained on from now on.

10. You would rather fall into a black hole than have to put up with the "How on earth is she just wearing a rain jacket in this weather?" or "No umbrella? Has she gone absolutely crazy?" stares from everyone to little children to older people on the streets.

11. Umbrella etiquette is a real thing and you should start paying attention how the locals deal with umbrellas in all types of situations. From how to pass a fellow umbrella holder on a narrow street to locking your umbrella up in an umbrella stand at the grocery store, these skills will come in handy both here and in any other rainy place you visit.

And some days, you are rewarded with a beautiful sunset and renewed strength
to face another day.

There you have it! Have you lived in a rainy climate before? Would you add any other tips or realities you face when living in a place where it rains cats and dogs? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaBloPoMo: 30 Days of Blog Posts and Why I Like a Good Challenge

I discovered a blogging challenge called, "National Blog Posting Month," through the website. "National Write a Novel Month" is more common and well-known but the blogging version of the challenge appealed to me more since I already have a blog and want to post more on it. Though I'm posting this first blog post a day late, I do plan to write a short blog post everyday for the whole month of November. If you've been following this blog for a longer period of time, you know that I tend to be long-winded. Well, rejoice! I am striving to write no more than 750 words per post. It will force me to be more to the point with my thoughts, story lines or descriptions but you will benefit more by having access to a blog post that you can read in one sitting. Yay!

I don't have all of the topics planned out for this week let alone the whole month but I can give you a rough idea of what each blog post will consist of on any given day.. I'll be sharing some memorable stories, cultural observations, frustrations, linguistic struggles and successes (and curiosities) and a whole lot more. To read all of posts and not miss a single one, subscribe to my blog over on the righthand side of this page! And you can also visit and read others' stories throughout the month of November. Hope you will follow me on this mini-journey one day at a time! :-)

Today I'm writing about challenges. It seems fitting as I am embarking on a new challenge while keeping up with a couple others at the same time.

A new month, means a fresh start and a clean slate

I've loved a good challenge ever since I was a little girl. A little competition? Even better.

I am the youngest of two siblings in my family and the youngest cousin on one side of the family. Over the years, my brother and my cousins would outperform me or physically leave me behind and I didn't like the feeling of being second best. Not to mention I've always been a very ambitious and focused person always making goals and working hard to achieve them. I had a natural desire to be the best at everything I set my mind to and to always strive for excellence. I still have this desire. Now, I would let a challenge go if I would most likely endanger my life or health but most of the time I would face any other type of challenge head on. I'm also pretty competitive even though you wouldn't guess that upon first meeting me. And often times you won't see me lose my cool or express a strong emotional reaction. Don't worry, I'm feeling it on the inside and that emotional charge is powering me through the challenge, especially physical ones.

One of my biggest downfalls with challenges and goal-setting is that I often times take on more than I can handle. I was thinking of adding two extra challenges in addition to the blogging challenge and the ones I'm currently juggling but I would be up to almost 10 goals/challenges! I can't have a social life let alone travel at least once a month with all of those things weighing on my shoulders now can I?

So, I've limited myself to five for the month (and year). Every challenge but the blogging challenge will be things I am working on throughout the year or the next few years and I can go at whatever pace I feel is best. I'm trying not to put pressure on myself with a certain one on the list in particular as I already have enough to deal with as it is some days. I'll let you figure out which one that might be later on in the post.

Here are the other challenges I'll be working on this month:

Replace Spanish with "Portuguese" and there's my dilemma

1. Teach myself Portuguese.

If you've heard me answer the question, "How many languages do you speak?", lately, you'll know that my answer for the past couple years has been two and a half, haha. I have a strong desire to make that answer "three languages" but I have lacked the direction and discipline to make desire become a reality. Last week I came to the realization that I can devote at least 1-2 hours a week to studying Portuguese. I am working in Santiago de Compostela this year but I have kept a quarter of my private English classes in A Coruña - where I worked last year. That means I have about an hour commute (round trip) on the train consistently once a week (and then other free time spread across the week at home).

Though I'm losing a little bit of money commuting to and from, I decided to make the train ride worth my while and force myself to study. I don't have the advantage of going to a language class once or twice a week but I do have this studious environment that I sit in twice a week so why not use it to study? I also now have a textbook for intermediate Portuguese (and resources at Hacking Portuguese) so I finally have a bit of structure too. I've been using a combination of Duolingo and listening to the radio and both Portuguese and Brazilian artists which has been fine. It's no longer enough as I'm not getting anywhere when it comes to speaking the language. I'm also going to push to find a conversation partner who will [kindly] force me to speak it. Hopefully by the end of the month, I will have found a native speaker to help me! More on that as I continue my search...

My long-term goal is to be tri-lingual by age 30 and seeing as that's just shy over 3 years from now, I have my work cut out for me. Pursuing a third language doesn't mean I'm finished (or satisfied) with Spanish -and definitely not English-. It means that I have become confident enough in my second language to move onto a third one. I have been doing this for the past two years but now I'm ready to take things to the next level! Finally.

2. Balance work and free time.

There's always time for a little desayuno and cafelito, haha.

This one is pretty self-explanatory and will be on-going for perhaps the rest of my life but it's an important one this month. Balance. Ever since I moved abroad and six to nine hours ahead of my family in the States, staying in touch consistently has proved to be quite the challenge for me. I recently got a great tip on talking to family back home from a new friend and I'm going to try to integrate it into my current routine. The tip was this: at least two mealtimes in the US and Spain line up with each other and that's the perfect time to call someone. Granted you may have to get used to hearing extra sounds on the phone or sharing each bite with someone over the webcam on your computer, that time of connecting with a family member or friend back home will be worth it. At least this what I'm telling myself in order to force myself to do this.

Work is another story and while language assistants in Spain don't work a ton of hours in the schools, we still have to commute and prepare presentations or activities. And you have to prepare yourself both physically and mentally as no two days will be the same with your students. This is both a good and a bad thing.

I'm a habitually late person, through and through. I plan and dream of being early to events and meetings (and my flights or trains, haha) but I often arrive at the last minute or extremely late. I deny this habit at times but I'm owning up to it now. And this year, the ironic thing is that I live twice as close to my new school as I did to my old one yet I STILL barely arrive on time each day. It honestly has nothing to do with when I wake up (though I could wake up 30 minutes earlier to actually eat breakfast) but everything to do with how I start classes at 9AM sharp every day, 4 days a week. I only worked one 9AM day last year on Mondays but now this year every day feels like Monday! :-( I know, I know, it could be worse. However, you try dealing with a classroom over 20 students under the age of 12 each and every day first thing in the morning and get back to me, haha.

My goal for this month is to be more on time to work and find a better balance between my work and free time. And to also make sure I eat breakfast every morning before leaving my flat.

3. Trying to find a community in a new city and trying to meet someone special.

New city, new opportunities and a whole lot of adventures and unknowns...

When moving to a new city, state or country, finding a place where you fit in automatically comes with the territory. Though I lived in this autonomous region of Spain last year and have friends a train ride away, I need friends who within walking distance of me. And as this city is a university city oozing with youthful faces and cultural events, I want to get to know as many interesting people as possible. And what's more is Santiago de Compostela is the final destination for travelers from all over the world who come to complete the many paths of the Camino de Santiago. Just as no two days at the school will be the same, no two days or nights in this city as a whole will be the same. There is so much to learn and discover here and so far I have only scratched the surface after being here a mere six weeks.

As much as I need a community of friends (apart from the wonderful flatmates I managed to find here), I have a strong desire for companionship and I initially came to Spain last year looking for love. I'm still on this quest but I have never felt more hopeful about it this year compared to years past. Towards the beginning of summer, I felt an urgency to "get ready." A couple months prior to that urging, I reached a place of contentment in my singleness where I was simply happy with the woman I had become and I enjoyed being in my own presence. I stopped trying to grab the attention of all the guys I'd see in passing and focused on the ones who were actually having conversations with me. I honestly just stopped paying attention to guys but I started to pay more attention to myself and whether or not I liked how I looked or reacted to any given situation. This was a huge turning point in my mindset towards guys and relationships and I am glad I have come to this place in my life.

Nothing is guaranteed that I will meet a special someone here in Santiago but I will say that I believe I have a better shot here than almost any other city in Spain, maybe even Europe. And as discouragement creeps in from time to time, I will continue reminding me that God has my best interests at heart and He will lead me to the right person at the right time. I have to do my part, though, and be interacting with people and making myself go to all sorts of events and activities to increase my exposure to society.

Keep your fingers crossed for me this year!

4. Improving my photography skills and hopefully buying a more advanced camera later on.

This one is also pretty self-explanatory but it's a goal I have for this year and many years to come. I find daily inspiration from viewing Young Adventuress's Instagram photos and getting various ideas from all of her amazing high quality photo posts. I want to upgrade to a higher quality camera as I've been using my iPhone to take most of my photos but my budget hasn't allowed me one. I'll be able to save a bit more money each month so hopefully I can buy a new camera and maybe an attachable lens this coming year.

The words "Santiago" and "sunny" don't usually go together in the same sentence but I
love it when they do!

In the meantime, I will work on improving my skills this month as photography is a big passion of mine. Santiago is also a wonderfully photographic city and I want to capture it in its various moods. However, most of those moods oscillate between rainy and dreary without many sunny days in between the two. We've been quite fortunate to have more sunny than rainy days this fall so I hope the streak will continue a little bit!

Christmas vacation is almost around the corner which means more opportunities to travel and document everything I see and experience. I am anxious for the vacation time but still unsure of where to spend my holiday season this year. I should have all the plans firmed up by the end of this month so stay tuned for that.

Soooo...I didn't quite keep my promise with this first post and ended up typing a fairly long post! Hopefully you didn't mind and made it to the end of the page. If not, well, I'm not sorry - I had a lot to say!

Be sure to follow along this month as I stick to writing one short (I promise this time!) blog a day for the next 30 days. What's your challenge or goal for the month of November? Share it with me in the discussion thread below!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

9 Things I Learned About Myself During 9 Months Abroad

Translation: Negative thoughts are not allowed here.

1. Words have a profound impact on me (emotionally, mentally and spiritually).

One word that I identified with the most this year was this one: writer. This was the year that I started calling myself a writer. Words of affirmation is my love language and they affect me deeply. Affectionate, passionate or anger-filled words affect me deep down to the core of my being and I will be pondering on them for days, even weeks sometimes. (I could also write a whole post on this one observation -which is how much of an impact words have on me- but I may save that for another time.)

2. A good, deep conversation energizes me and can sometimes keep me awake for hours.

Preferably over tapas and good wine... 

And a nice, steaming hot cup of tea helps too.
This was a brand-new discovery that really surprised the introvert in me. I'm still fairly introverted and introspective (and writing or thinking by myself helps me process things) but I get a small bit of energy from other people. It mainly had to do with what any given (small) group of friends and I discussed and the words that were spoken. I could discuss ideas, theories and life experiences for hours and doing so helps me process my thoughts and envision what future plans or events might be like.

3. Language and culture are inseparable for me.

Translation: You're not my soulmate (other half of the orange), you're my juicer (juice extractor). Ouch!

I didn't know just how much this was true until I traveled to Portugal last November and then France last Christmas. I've studied Portuguese on my own for a couple years but hadn't been back for two years. The doors to a country that was once closed off to me because of the language barrier were suddenly flung wide open the moment I realized I understood almost everything that the people around me were saying. I had the opposite experience in France as I didn't (and still don't) speak French so I felt more like an outcast and an outsider looking in on such an interesting and intriguing culture. I love getting to know people in their own language and being able to share experiences with them. It's one of the most beautiful gifts in the world, in my opinion.

4. Little things in life instantly brighten my day or turn an ordinary day into an absolutely extraordinary day.

Some of the roses in the rose garden at my school in A Coruña this spring

Some of the most wonderful days that I spent abroad were doing simple yet extraordinary things. Or seeing breathtaking sunsets at the beach or the mountains. Or when one of my students said the most honest or hilarious thing to me. I found that it doesn't take much to make me happy but that it is easy to take small pleasures for granted. I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the simple things in life because in the end, they are the things that matter the most.

5. Alone time doesn't have to be lonely (but it is necessary).

Especially if I can go somewhere with a view like this!

Even though I mentioned above that good, long conversations energize me, I have to prioritize alone time in order to write, process my thoughts and re-energize myself. I also need time to pray and read the Bible as those things are very important to me and my overall well-being. While in France last year, I spent a total of 12 hours by myself (with no one else around me - tourist or local) in the 14 days I was there. I thought that I was going to go completely crazy! As much as I love being around people and spending time with the ones I care about, being alone keeps me sane and allows me to continue interacting with the outside world. It's my saving grace in a way.

6. Getting to know people and having meaningful experiences are better than buying souvenirs.

With new friends and our new Galician friend, Moises
I have a huge postcard collection. I love collecting keychains and the occasional mug when I visit a new city. All those things are nice but, ever since I started my love affair with Spain 5 years ago, I've been focusing on collecting people, experiences and stories - not particularly in that order. I would much rather invest my time into getting to know someone from any given city or country rather than do a whirlwind trip and see a bunch of historical sights (aka places full of tourists) and buy a bunch of things I don't need. And the plus side is this: you will either have someone to go back and visit or if you meet in a new city you will be able to go visit your new friend(s) in their hometown or vice versa! Everyone is different and I believe that our differences help us (instead of hurt us) and can teach us valuable lessons about the world around us.

7. Versatility and adaptability can be learned over and over again.

I had almost no idea what I was going to be getting myself into when I arrived in Galicia (the rainiest region in all of Spain). Nor did I know what my school in A Coruña would be like on my first day last fall. I was already a fairly versatile person and could adapt to many different climates and living situations. I mean, I did move out of my parents house at age 18 to go away to a university some 800 miles away, after all). I ended up loving the region, getting used to my plans or classes changing at the last minute and even assisting one of the teachers to teach Art class in English to Spanish speaking 3rd graders! The most important thing I learned about being open to change and being versatile was that it's a must. You can't avoid it especially when you live somewhere that you're not familiar with but the challenges and tests will come in new forms. Just be ready and expect the unexpected!

8. Getting to know myself continues to be a lifelong journey and discovery.

Having something to guide your way through life is a great help

Being a 26 year old young woman, I've had a few life experiences thrown my way. I've lost friends and family members in the short span of time that is my life but I've always learned something from each person and experience. In general, I've learned how I process different life events and what not to do next time so to speak. I don't handle loss very well because I love deeply and with my whole heart. I did, however, think that I knew almost everything there was to know about myself and pictured this stint abroad being a journey of sharpening my strengths and building up my weaknesses. Well, thanks to the countless new experiences and new people that were thrown into my path during those 9 months, I learned brand-new things about myself.

One the big things was that I didn't ever think that I could become fully content with being single for as long as I have and loving myself for who I am (flaws, blemishes and all) but I came to that place of contentment this past spring. It was a very liberating time for me both emotionally and spiritually. I'm definitely still keeping my eyes out for a potential love interest to emerge but I'm not obsessed with finding him like I was a year ago. I'm focusing on living my life to the fullest, following my dreams and learning to grow in this new city where I've been planted.

9. I'm more adventurous and courageous than I ever thought I was (but I get scared too!)

Translation: Do everything with love. A simple yet challenging command.

I still have a comfort zone but it's becoming smaller and smaller as the years fly by. I've taken more risks, gone on more adventures, made a fool of myself in a few different languages and poured myself and my time into other people these last five years than I ever thought I would. Most of the time I am scared to death or as nervous as can be before setting off on a new adventure or even simply making small talk with a stranger. However, I still force myself to go. I make myself choose ride sharing options where it's likely that the driver doesn't speak English, I go up to both guys and girls, older men and women and either ask them how to get to the Love Lock bridge in Paris or simply shyly ask for their name (happens all the time with cute guys.) I interrupt people to ask them the meaning of a word they just said. I go to classes for traditional dances taught in languages I don't know, try out a free class for a sport I have never wanted to try (like fencing!) until that very day or moment. I go to places where I don't know a single soul. I travel by myself in order to get a more authentic experience and force myself to ask for help from the locals or get to know them over tapas or a drink.

I do all of the things in that paragraph above because I know that having those experiences will enrich my life and help me grow in ways that wouldn't be possible if I were in my home country. I don't always ask the right questions nor do I give the "correct" answer but I step out of my comfort zone and I take a risk. It's through these experiences that I grow into a more confident and capable woman with each passing day.

(Unless I'm sick in bed all day after having given myself food poisoning but that's a story for another day...which you can read all about it here if you want!)

Have you ever lived abroad? Where did you live and how long did you live there? Where do you live now? What is one major thing you learned about yourself while living abroad? Tell me your story in the comments below!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Photo Post: How to Visit the Cíes Islands in Spain

Read and follow these signs to get the most of out of your visit to the Islands

This past spring, a couple of friends and I awoke at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning -just days before we finished working at our respective schools as language assistants and university students- to go on a day trip to the Islas Cíes, a chain of three islands off the southern coast of Galicia. A few assistants went earlier that month and others went last fall before the school year was in full swing but we all wanted our chance to go and went when the weather was a bit warmer and likely to be sunny all day. A rarity in Spain's rainiest region.

With careful planning and important advice from a Renfe customer service representative at the local A Coruña train station, the three of us hopped on a train bound for Vigo at 8:00am in the morning and arrived with just enough time to walk from the main train station to the Port of Vigo to catch our 10:45am ferry boat to the Islands. Had we left any later, we would have missed our ferry and ruined our carefully planned day. Thankfully we did not and ended up having a great day thanks to preparations we made the day before. 

We came armed with snacks, lunches, drinks and sunscreen -some a little more than others, haha- and were ready to enjoy a day spending time on the beach, trying out the infamous icy turquoise waters and outsmarting the Galician seagulls who we knew would be after our sandwiches the moment we set foot on those white sandy beaches.

Have you been dreaming about visiting these islands yourself but don't know how to get there? Follow my tips below for a fantastic day at "one of the best beaches in the world," according to the Guardian.

1. Decide what day and what time you want to go

You'll first start out being very excited - if you're like me who loves to travel and plan new trips - but take time to do some realistic planning first. It's best to come up with a couple of dates or weekends that you (or you and your friends/family) would like to go to the Islands. The closer you are located to Vigo (and if you have access to a car), the easier and faster it will be for you to get there. 

A few things to remember: only 2,200 visitors are allowed on the Islands per day and visitor season runs from April to October (with an extra week of admittance during Holy Week). No inhabitants live on the Islands and it is registered as a national park which means that the land is protected and visitors are strongly encouraged not to litter or leave trash on the premises (though some sadly get away with this). Camping is allowed in the summer time only and tent rental is available for a fee. 

If you will be in the area for a while or plan to visit Spain a few times in the coming years, go visit the Cíes in different seasons and try to have a new experience each time. Go for the day one year and then the next visit go camping for the weekend! It's a great place to get in touch with nature and disconnect from the modern world.

2. Buy your ferry tickets online and buy them round-trip!

The Puerto de Vigo - where you will catch a short ferry to the Islands.
A kiosk where you will check-in and print your ferry boarding pass
(A ticket which you first bought online. We chose Mar de Ons.)
Once we settled on a day and saw that there were enough ferry tickets available at the time we all agreed to go, we bought our tickets online through a ferry company called Mar de Ons. It was easy to navigate and you can change it to the language of your choice such as English, Galician, Portuguese and French to make your booking process go a lot smoother.

I booked in the website's original Spanish language but I would only do this if you are also confident in your Spanish skills. Anyway, we left at 10:45am but arrived at the Port some 20 minutes before the ferry left. We walked into a small building with different kiosks and information desks and I saw the company my friends and I booked with. All you have to do is type in your confirmation number or last name onto the kiosk's touch screen, select your ticket departure and it will print both your departure and return tickets. 

If you are going in the off-peak season, make sure you book online AND select a return time that will line up with your return train ticket from Vigo. It will make things a whole lot easier and help you enjoy the day to the fullest without worrying about making your ferry or train in enough time. Or risk being stranded on the island or stuck in a city you didn't plan to spend the night in. 

 3. Buy your train or bus tickets to Vigo and don't miss your train!
The view out of the window of a train from A Coruña to Vigo
(your first stop before visiting the Cíes Islands)

My friends let me do the research for both the ferry and the train tickets but one of my friends came with me to buy the train tickets while our other friend had a class to attend. We had originally wanted to go on a Friday but ferries for that day filled up not even 2 days before the date. (It was a bummer because there was also a really good promotion going on that weekend in honor of Galicia's elections but we just had to let that go.) We decided that a late morning ferry ticket was best and then went to buy the train tickets. Had we left at 9am from Coruña as planned, we would've missed our ferry boat in Vigo! We owe a huge thanks to the lady who sold us our tickets -and I'm thanking myself for my habit of asking too many questions that came in handy this time!- and for her advice on the best way to get there. We had to leave at 8:00am but you can always sleep on the train. Which is what my friends did. :P

We booked our return tickets through the less popular train station in Vigo because it was faster and cheaper. We stayed at the Islands until 6:00pm and then caught our train that left around 7:30pm or so. We really had to walk fast after we arrived back at the Port but a 25 minute walk definitely gave us enough time to catch the train...and catch our breaths.

You will see a few signs and items covered in marketing posters and designs advertising the Cíes
on your walk to the Port from the train station.

4. Plan to have a picnic and an overall relaxed day enjoying nature

Due to the popularity of the Islands and the amount of tourism they receive each year, a restaurant was built and serves a few Galician dishes and tapas along with a selection of drinks and desserts. The restaurant prices are rather expensive which means it's best to bring your own food, snacks and drinks. 

Self-service food options at the Cíes restaurant

If you don't have time to bring them from the city where you're living or staying, make plans to stop at a supermarket in Vigo and buy a few inexpensive picnic items. Beware not to buy aluminum foil to wrap your freshly made sandwiches in for you will then taste the wrath of the hundreds of Galician seagulls that live on the Islands. These tough birds have become conditioned to seeing the shiny reflection of aluminum foil and making the connection that there is food inside those brightly light packages. A plastic sandwich bag should suffice when it comes to wrapping up your food but it will be your job to protect it from the seagulls! You've seriously been warned...

The seagulls may look cute and innocent but they are not to be messed with
when it comes to food!

My friends and I all brought food to share and had a fun time eating on the beach on our towels while gazing out at the clear blue waters in front of us. The instant we pulled out our sandwiches, though, a couple of seagulls flew down and tried to come near our towels. I threatened one with my orange and pretended to throw it but didn't. What was surprising was that the seagull didn't even attempt to move and it didn't even flinch! I'm probably not the first person who has threatened to throw something at a seagull and I certainly won't be the last. Those that live on the Islands won't be leaving them any time soon as they are also protected by living on the national park's grounds.

After we ate lunch early according to Spain's standards (around 11:30am or so!), we put sunscreen on and laid out on the beach. All three of us fell asleep not too long after that and one of my friends got very sunburned! I luckily had the bright idea to not take off my jeans and cover my face so that my body wouldn't get burned as much. My back and shoulders were not as fortunate...

After the cat nap on the beach, we walked down to the water and tried it out. We spent a bit of time doing that then dried ourselves off and started exploring the rest of the Islands and took a nice long walk down the beach before climbing on some rocks and hanging out there. 

5. Go beyond the beaches and turquoise waters and explore the rest of the Islands

After we spent some time on the rocks - which there are tons of rocks all over the Islands!-, we made our way to the hiking trails and explored more of the amazingly diverse topography that covers the archipelago. 

From sand dunes to pine trees to mossy rocks to long grass and steep hills, the Cíes Islands has so much to offer. You can camp under the stars there at their camp site in the summer, watch an amazing sunset or sunrise, hike all around the islands or simply read a nice book or chat with your friends as you tan on the beaches. 

I will let my pictures speak for themselves when it comes to giving you a virtual tour of these amazing islands. It may not be the world's best beach but it is certainly a very underrated gem off the Galician coast!

6. Test out the water temperature and see how long you can stay in the ocean

It's looks warm, doesn't it?!

The entire coast of Galicia is full of cold water. It's often compared to the Northern Pacific Ocean and the area itself looks a bit like Northern California and coastal Oregon and the comparison couldn't be more true. It's not much of a disappointment for me personally as I go to the beach to tan not to go swimming. On  the other hand, I do like walking along the edge of the shore and letting the gentle (or not so gentle!) motion of the waves sweep over my feet. 

If you're familiar with other Galician beaches, the water temperature around the Cíes shouldn't be as shocking to you but it is! However, I actually have the guts to say that it wasn't as cold as I was expecting it to be! (I'm from Ohio and have visited Nebraska during a winter or two so I have dealt with some very cold weather in my life.) In May, the water temperature was somewhere between 40-50F (lower than 12C) and though it cut into my skin like tiny but sharp icicles, my body got used to it after awhile and I was able to put up with it for a few minutes. It did help to walk around in the water to kind of let the shock wear off but getting in wasn't a big chore. 

The color of the water can be deceiving, yes, but that doesn't have to ruin your day at the beach on these islands. You may not have another opportunity to dip your toe into colder waters so go do it! You may one day think that temperature is refreshing if the thermometer reads a scorching 33C on a hot summer day in July or August.

7. Make plans to come back and visit them again!

And last, but not least: come visit the Islas Cíes again! If you didn't get to see everything you wanted to see or you didn't come during camping season, come back! I will definitely be paying these beautiful islands another visit in the next year as my friends and I only hiked around half of the islands in one day! We still have yet to see the lighthouse and climb to the highest peak on the archipelago.

I can almost guarantee that this year was the first of many visits to this island paradise! (Be mindful of the high winds, blowing sand and hungry seagulls, though. And don't say I didn't warn you! ;) )

**Note: I visited in late May 2015 so all of my pictures and experiences are based on what it was like pre-tourist season. Peak season is typically in July and August every year and ferries fill up fast! If you know the dates you wish to go, buy them way in advance and buy a group's worth at a time so that everyone you plan to go with can come along! You do not want to miss a visit to this tropical paradise hidden away in the northwestern corner of Spain. **

Have you visited the Cíes Islands before? What was your favorite thing about your visit? What tips would you add to my list? Add your comments and thoughts below!