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!