A Student Abroad

Last Week in Lüneburg

Posted by vjtaglio under Uncategorized

Guten Tag!

I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post; since my time in Berlin and my travels home, I have not had consistent Internet access to post my new experiences. And now my time in Lüneburg is over! At risk of sounding redundant, it went by extremely fast and it feels like I just got here! But before I go on about how much I already miss Germany, let me tell you about my last week in Lüneburg.

Miniatur Wunderland

Because this was my last week abroad, I tried my best to get out and about to see as much of Lüneburg as I could. Last Tuesday, there was a classical concert called Orgelsommer that was located at a local cathedral. Every Tuesday evening from May through August, classical music concerts are performed in the surrounding local cathedrals, and I finally was able to go this week! The concert was wonderful; it was performed on the old – but very large and magnificent – church organ and consisted of songs written by German composers. It was really fantastic, and I absolutely loved it!

Last Thursday, my friend Secilia and I took the train to Hamburg to explore more of its shops and attractions. We went shopping and had Asian for lunch, and it was really cool to see how German-Asian food compared to the US’s. It was actually really good and quite similar to what we have here in America. After lunch, I went to the Miniatur Wunderland (Miniature Wonderland) Museum, an exhibition full of scale models of scenic areas in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, America, and Japan! Secilia left Hamburg early, so finding the museum on my own

Miniatur Wunderland

was a great adventure. Once I got to the museum, a wonderful sense of achievement washed over me; not only because I found the museum, but because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Mini-Wunderland for 3 years! I never thought I would ever see it, so when I finally got there, it was really incredible. Not to mention, Mini-Wunderland is totally awesome. The detail incorporated into the scenes and the stories that that the little people were able to tell through their design was so cool, and it was awesome to see German culture expressed in such an artistic way.

During my last weekend in Lüneburg, the 32nd Annual Hansetag Festival took place, a festival designed to celebrate a renaissance-era European trading association called the Hanseatic League. The town normally occupied by 70,000 people was bombarded by over 100,000 more! The Hansetag Festival was particularly cool because it was a mix of a Renaissance Fair, a music festival, and a craft show. There were tons of people, plenty of great food, and lots of costumes and good music! It took place from Thursday through Sunday, so the entire weekend was busy and full of excitement. The festival expressed a great deal of European culture and history and it was really awesome to be able to

Hansetag Festival Swing Dancing

experience that with other Germans.

Also this past weekend, a few friends and I saw a ballet in Hamburg. It was so cool! We got all dressed up and went to a nice opera house to watch a ballet based on Frédéric Chopin’s musical compositions interpreted through dance. The first half of the show was a traditional, classical ballet while the second half was more humorous. Each dance told a story, and each one was a comic and light-hearted. I personally enjoyed the second half better, but the entire ballet was a great experience and it was so cool to be able to experience more aspects German culture.

The last thing I did in Lüneburg was explore a nearby mountain called Kalkberg. Kalkberg lies directly behind the city and is a beautiful – albeit very small – limestone mountain that has lots of trails surrounding it and a beautiful view of the city. It was very peaceful and it was nice to experience some of Germany’s natural sites after spending so much time in its cities. I absolutely loved hiking and exploring the mountain and it reminded me a lot of the outdoors in Michigan. I really wish I explored more of it earlier in my trip because I would have loved

Kalkberg - View of Lüneburg

spending more time there.

Now that I’m home, I’ve really come to understand more of myself and more about cultural diversity and acceptance. Studying abroad has been an absolutely invaluable experience for me and I would very much recommend to anyone who hasn’t been abroad to take advantage of the opportunity! In the working world, the opportunity to spend time abroad for an extended period of time is very rare, so this experience is not something to pass up! Taking this time abroad has opened my eyes to a lot of new and exciting things and I’m so thankful I was able to advantage of such a great opportunity.

5 LESSONS I LEARNED THIS WEEK:

1.) Don’t wait until the last minute to explore new things. There were so many incredible opportunities in Lüneburg that I didn’t discover until it was too late. If I had spent more time in the beginning seeking these out instead of just stumbling over them by chance, I would have been able to experience so many more cool and exciting things.

2.) Packing light is essential. On our way to Berlin from Lüneburg, there were a few transportation issues that we faced in reaching our final destination. Because of this, we had to lug all of our luggage across Berlin, which was not an easy feat since most of us were flying straight out of Berlin or out of another nearby city and had to bring everything that we acquired from Lüneburg with us! Sometimes you don’t realize how many things you can live without until you have to carry it all through three narrow train cars, through two different train stations, and up four flights of spiral staircases. Now that was an adventure!

3.) Take advantage of every opportunity. As you can see from Lesson #1, experiencing cool things early on is really important in taking full advantage of your opportunity abroad. But at the same time, it’s also important to not make yourself so busy that your time abroad is a blur. Part of studying abroad is experiencing what life is like for the average citizen, so it’s important to find the balance between experiencing every possible opportunity and experiencing life as a resident too.

4.) Fit as much as you can in your check-in bag. When I was heading out to the airport, I was really worried about exceeding the weight limit on my check-in bag because of all of the things I’d be bringing back with me, so I stuffed everything I could into my carry-on, which was a backpack. I thought this would be the best decision, but because of everything I was bringing home, my backpack ended up being close to the same weight as my check-in bag, and carrying that around on my back for 30+ hours of travelling was definitely not the wisest decision. After all that, I ended up having extra room in my check-in anyway!

5.) ALWAYS expect the unexpected. I found this to be the most useful lesson I learned while abroad. Things NEVER, EVER go as planned, and learning to not only to be flexible, but to expect that things won’t go as planned is the key to having an awesome time while abroad. This was a particularly difficult lesson for me to learn because I love order, structure, and predictability. I need to have a plan and stick to it. This trip taught me so much about flying at the seat of my pants and working around unexpected obstacles. Now I know that being prepared for things to go awry is not enough, but to anticipate something to go wrong makes adventures so much less stressful in the long run and makes everything way more exciting!

Thanks so much to all of you readers out there! I hope you enjoyed this blog and learned more about what it’s like to study abroad. Viel Glück mit allem!

Lebe Wohl,

Valerie

Dortmund and Köln

Posted by vjtaglio under Uncategorized

Guten Tag!

This week has been a crazy week! I only have one more week of classes and one more week in Lüneburg before I take a three-day tour of Berlin with USAC and then head home! It seems like I just got here, now I’m getting ready to take my final exams! It’s going by way too fast, and I’m not ready to leave.

Last weekend I took a field trip with my Expanded European Union class to the former border between East and West Germany near Schnackenburg, Germany. That was such an exciting, unique, and absolutely priceless experience. First we drove by a small town called Hitzacker to look deeper into the nuclear waste issue that Germany is having. The German government wants to dump its nuclear waste near this village, and people have been protesting this decision since the 60s. Yellow exes hang in the rooftops of people’s homes and even in the windows of small businesses and shops in protest to the “improper” disposal of the nuclear waste. These yellow exes also hang in Lüneburg and other cities too in support of the protest. After, we drove past an old bridge that once signified that border between East and West Germany. That was really cool! It’s not in use anymore, but seeing the history and significance that the bridge once held was amazing. After driving for a little longer we visited an old fortress. Albeit that this fortress didn’t have much to do with the former border, our instructors thought it would be important for us to see because it’s not every day that you get to see a 17th Century fortress! The fortress was beautiful and it was really cool to see how it was used and what it meant to the people living there at that time. There was a museum, and even an underground tunnel that was used and was open to visitors. After visiting the fortress, we finally drove over the former border of East and West Germany and visited a museum that was created by former guards of the border. The houses and buildings in the East looked way different than those of the West. Everything was made of concrete and was small and gray. They all looked the same. The museum we visited was really awesome. It was really small, but it had a lot of information on the former border and the measures the East took to keep its citizens within its borders. It was a bit frightening to see everything that happened, but it was really cool to actually see and somewhat experience this significant event in German history and see how it has shaped the country that Germany is today. After the museum, we visited an old watch tower that was built to keep watch of the border. A concrete path designated the route from the road to the tower because Eastern soldiers once placed landmines around the path to keep intruders out. These towers were stationed every 500 meters from each other and lined almost the entire border between East and West Germany. Back in its time, the watchtowers held 6 soldiers to keep watch of the border: two in the top, and four within the tower. It was a bit chilling to see it, but it was definitely worth the trip and really awesome to see for ourselves the history that we’ve learned to much about in school.

Last Wednesday, I got to play basketball with some girls that also go to Leuphana! That was so much fun! My language partner plays with them every week, and when she found out that I play basketball too, she invited me to play with them. It was so much fun to run around and play with these girls, and it was great to meet more German students. All the girls were so nice and welcoming, and they were really patient with my German. Some girls had even studied in the US for a while, so it was nice to speak English with them too! Unfortunately I have an exam next week at the time that they’re going to be playing, so I don’t think I will get to play with them again, but I loved meeting them all and it was a great experience.

This weekend, I took a trip to Dortmund to visit a friend of mine who also goes to Tech who’s currently studying at Dortmund University! That was so much fun! Dortmund is southwest from Lüneburg, and I had to take the train for six hours to get there. This was the first time that I traveled around Germany by myself, so I was really nervous. I had to change trains a few times to get there, so I was really anxious about getting on the wrong train, or having a delay and missing the next train that I needed to take. Thankfully, everything turned out fine! I was happy when I got there and I saw Nicole and knew that I ended up in the right place. It was so nice to see a familiar face and experience Germany with a friend. After I arrived, she showed me around her campus, which a lot bigger than Leuphana’s campus. Leuphana’s campus is about the same size at Tech’s with roughly the same amount of students, but Dortmund’s campus is huge and is designed for probably 3 times that amount! Dortmund itself is a really big city, housing over to 580,000 people. It’s a more modern and industrialized city than Lüneburg, so it was new to experience a city like this. Dortmund is a relatively new compared to Lüneburg, and most of its buildings are made of concrete. It’s more rundown because of its vast population and reminds me a lot of Detroit or New York. Although I was glad to see Dortmund and see how my friend, Nicole, experiences Germany, I’m glad I’m returning back to Lüneburg, my second home.

While I was still visiting her on Saturday, Nicole, her friend Genny, and I visited the city Köln, or more commonly known as Cologne. I was so excited to see this city because of its famous cathedral, the Kölner Dom. The Kölner Dom is one of the biggest cathedrals in Germany and took over 600 years to complete! It’s huge and beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to finally see it after learning about it for so many years. The Dom is right in front of the train station, so it was the first thing we saw when we arrived. We took lots of pictures and even went inside to look at the gorgeous architecture and artwork that’s within the cathedral. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do a guided tour, but it was so awesome to visit the cathedral and experience its beauty. We also toured around gift shops and clothing stores and visited the Rhein river, one of the largest rivers in Germany! Along the fences of the bridge running along the Rhein river stood “love locks” or key locks that couples lock on the fence to represent their everlasting love. I’ve seen these in a few other places in Germany, but not like this! There had to be thousands of these little locks place on the fences. It was really cool to see, and really romantic too.

Next weekend a few friends and I are going to visit Bremen and watch a ballet in Hamburg. I’m really excited to see more of Germany and experience more of its culture through the ballet! I can’t wait to see what other aspects of German culture I will be able to experience before I leave to go home.

5 LESSONS I LEARNED THIS WEEK:

1.) Always do your homework before you go on an adventure. I was planning on doing my homework on the train during my trip to Dortmund this weekend, since I would be travelling for so long to get there. But since I had so many layovers, the longest time I had on the train was an hour, and most of the trains were very crowded, so it wasn’t a great atmosphere for homework. Now I have to do it all Sunday evening after a long day of travelling!

2.) Always ask about souvenirs before you buy them. While I was buying a cuckoo clock for my mom this weekend in Köln, I asked the salesperson if the clock was made in Germany to make sure that I was buying an authentic keepsake. The salesperson wouldn’t even tell me where it was made, but he said it wasn’t made in Germany and it wasn’t even mechanical! The clock ran on batteries! He eventually pointed me in the right direction to a different souvenir shop that sold real, authentic German clocks that were mechanical and didn’t need batteries. So now I have a real cuckoo clock made from wood from the famous Schwarz Wald, or Black Forest!

3.) When you’re going on a trip, make sure you get a Fahrplan (travel card) with the gate number and excursion number. When taking my trip to Dortmund this weekend, I only wrote down the times of the trains that I needed to take instead of which gate they would be leaving from and the excursion number, thinking I would be able to look on the Departure screen to tell me where to go. But on the way there, I accidentally got on the wrong train! Luckily it was going to the same place I was trying to get to, so all in all it didn’t really matter. But if I had written down the excursion number, I would have known it was the wrong train. Luckily I made it safe and sound and in one piece.

4.) Germany is really diverse. The reason why visiting Dortmund was such a great experience for me was because of how different it is from Lüneburg. I couldn’t believe that these two cities were part of the same country and share the same history and culture! I couldn’t believe how truly assorted Germany really is. But visiting Dortmund gave me a better sense of what life is really like in Germany and taught a lot about German culture.

5.) Try not to worry and have fun! I spent a lot of my weekend either worrying about the train or stressing out about seeing everything Köln has to offer. If I just relaxed a little more, I would have had a lot more fun! My trip to Germany in general has been similar; I’ve been so worried about speaking perfect German and making everything just right that I’ve missed out on some opportunities that would have been a lot of fun. I’m glad that I’m learning this lesson and that I’m able to share it with you all!

Until next time, tschüss!

-Valerie

Half-Way Point: Lübeck, Fußball, and Speaking with Native Germans

Posted by vjtaglio under Uncategorized

Guten Tag!

It’s hard to believe that I’m half-way through my time abroad! My time here has been going by too fast! Although I’ve had a busy week with quizzes and exams, I was still able to enjoy Germany and explore some of its cities a little more.

Last week, a few friends and I went to a nearby city called Lübeck. It was only about an hour and a half train ride from Lüneburg, and it was definitely worth the trip! It has been by far my favorite city I’ve visited. Lübeck is a very old city and is kind of what I expect to be the stereotypical traditional German town (minus the Lederhosen and the alcohol). It has very large, absolutely beautiful buildings and cathedrals with windy, narrow cobblestone alleyways. It even has a castle-like structure right in the center of the city! It reminded me a lot of the beautiful Altstadt in Lüneburg, but Lübeck is a lot bigger! While we were there, we walked around the city, visited an absolutely gorgeous cathedral, and a Marzipan store. The cathedral we visited is called the Dom, and it was my favorite thing we did while we were there. The Dom is this huge, gorgeous, extremely old cathedral that is still a practicing church! The Dom had lots of ancient paintings, sculptures, and even memorials that date back to the 1300s. It had a somewhat creepy atmosphere however because you could see the caskets and gravestones of the people of the past actually laid to rest inside the church. I wasn’t a big fan of that. But the artwork and the overall beauty of the cathedral won me over in the end! The Marzipan store we visited afterward was unquestionably amazing! Marzipan is basically like gourmet almond-paste and is extremely popular here in Germany. The first floo¬¬r of the store was an actual gourmet candy store, filled with Marzipan chocolate, coffee, and plain old chunks of Marzipan. They even had Marzipan flavored alcohol, which was very surprising to see! All of the candy and Marzipan were decorated in themes, for example the chunks of Marzipan would be in the shape of a fish, or a soccer ball, and even little boats! The upstairs of the store was a Marzipan café, where they served Marzipan flavored coffee, hot chocolate, and even Marzipan flavored cake! I personally am not a big fan of Marzipan, but it was really cool to see all of the baked good and flavored beverages that the café had to offer.

I had a really long day of school on Monday after we returned. After my morning class, I met with my language partner, Nina. The language partner program is designed to partner visiting American students with German students so we can improve our language skills. It was really cool! First Nina and I spoke in German for a half hour so I could practice my German, then we would speak in English for an half an hour so Nina could practice her English! Her English was fantastic by the way, and I was jealous of how good she was! She told me that German students have to start learning English in the third grade, so that’s why her English was so good. She also told me that they have to choose another language to study in the seventh grade, and in the ninth grade they have to choose yet another language to study! So by the time they graduate high school, they are able to speak four languages! But Nina was really patient with my German and taught me a lot about speaking conversationally. It was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to meet with her again next week!

After my second class on Monday, I went to an old-folks home called the Geschwister-Scholl Haus to help the elderly learn English. That was really cool and a lot of fun! The Geschwister-Scholl Haus is named after Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were executed in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets at their University during World War II. At the Geschwister-Scholl Haus, the elderly asked a lot of questions about America, the town I’m from, the education system, and even rules and regulations about visas and green cards! I felt bad because I couldn’t answer all of their questions, and it was kind of difficult to speak slowly enough for them to understand me, but it was a great experience nonetheless. If they couldn’t understand my English, I tried to explain what I meant in German, and they were really patient, understanding, and encouraging when I spoke! It was a wonderful experience and I’m excited to go back and visit with them again next week.

There were also other college students volunteering at the Geschwister-Scholl Haus, and they had all spent time abroad in America learning English. After our session with the elderly, they invited me to watch the Fußball game with them that was showing on Wednesday. Soccer is huge here, especially in the European Championships. In America, it’s like the March Madness college basketball tournament with the hype of the Super-bowl. Wednesday’s game was Germany vs. The Netherlands, which was an especially exciting game because The Netherlands and Germany are rivals because of how close they are geographically. We went to a public showing near the Altstadt of Lüneburg, and it was really packed! Tons of crazy Germany-fans were there decked out in their soccer jerseys and face paint cheering loudly throughout the entire game. It was quite an experience! Germany ended up winning 2-1, so after the game, tons of cars raced down the streets with their windows rolled down while screaming fans waved their German flags, blew their horns, and cheered loudly in celebration of the victory. Apparently, this is very typical in Germany, even at 11:00 at night! It was a very unique and awesome experience.

Next weekend, I’m taking a field trip to the former German-German border that divided East and West Germany during the Cold-War. I’m really excited to learn more about Germany’s post-war history and more about Germany’s division. This is going to be really cool because the German-German border is somewhat overshadowed by the division of the Berlin Wall, so I’m excited to learn more about this overlooked piece of German history.

5 LESSONS I LEARNED THIS WEEK:

1.) No matter where you go, always bring your camera. In the rush to get to the train station on my way to Lübeck, I forgot to grab my camera! I didn’t realize until right before my bus stopped at the station, and I was really disappointed because Lübeck was so beautiful. Luckily, the friends I went with took plenty of pictures for me, so it’s almost like I didn’t forget it!

2.) If you want to do your laundry in Germany, take someone with you who already knows the system. Because my landlords own a Laundromat, I previously had brought my laundry to them, so they did it for me for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, they’ve been on vacation the last few weeks so I haven’t been able to bring them my laundry. I decided yesterday I would do it myself at a nearby Laundromat, and figured I would be able to figure out how to do it because hey, laundry is laundry right? Wrong. When I got there, I thought I was doing everything right, and when my machine didn’t start, this very kind German woman helped me figure out what to do. I must have done something wrong, though, because my machine still wouldn’t start. She eventually left, so after twenty minutes of it not working, I changed machines. When that one didn’t work, I changed machines again. Two hours later, I was 12 Euro poorer and still had dirty laundry! Luckily, my landlords are returning this week, so I just have to hold out for a few more days until I have clean laundry again!

3.) If you want to take a trip somewhere, buy train tickets early. Next week I’m taking a trip to see a fellow Michigan Tech student, Nicole, at her university in Dortmund. Dortmund is not in the state of Lower Saxony, so I had to buy a train ticket to see her instead of travelling for free with my student ID. Because we planned this trip weeks ago, I was able to buy my tickets in advance and saved 10 Euro on my purchase! That almost makes up for the money I lost trying to do laundry, so I’m very happy we planned this ahead of time!

4.) Always compare grocery store prices with the farmer’s market prices. I hadn’t realized until this week how different the grocery store prices are on produce compared to the farmer’s market prices on the same produce. When I went to the market last Wednesday, I realized that I saved over 2 Euro buying apples at the market rather than the grocery store, but spent double at the market on carrots!

5.) Don’t be afraid to speak German! Although I’ve been here for over three weeks already, I’ve still been nervous about speaking to native Germans. But after visiting with my language partner, the elderly, my friends from the Geschwister-Scholl Haus, and other Germans at the soccer game, I realized that most Germans are very patient with you and are just happy that you’re trying your best to speak their language, even if it’s terrible! Of course, they never tell you if you’re using terrible German, even if you apologize for your poor German skills. They’re all very kind and friendly, and are encouraging even if they can barely understand what you’re saying.

My time abroad here has been such an amazing experience so far, and I can’t wait to see what the second half will bring! Until next week, tschüss!

-Valerie

Hamburg and Hannover

Posted by vjtaglio under Uncategorized

Hallo!

My second full week here in Lüneburg is sadly coming to an end. My time

here is going by so fast! In some ways it seems like I just got here, but in other ways it feels like I’ve been here forever – but not in a bad sense. I’m finally getting used to the way things roll around here, and I’m starting to feel more like a resident rather than a visitor.

Other than last weekend, my week has been somewhat uneventful – filled with classes, exams, and homework. Last Friday, a group of my fellow USAC students and I went on a day-trip to Hannover, the capital of Lower Saxony (the state Lüneburg is in). This was my first trip to a town outside of Lüneburg! It’s about an hour and half train ride from where we live, which goes by fast when you’re with a chatty group of friends. Hannover turned out to be a lot different than I expected. As the train pulled into the station, the Hannover Altstadt (remember, “the old city,” consisting of traditional German architecture) lined the horizon, and because Lüneburg, which only consists of an Altstadt, had been the only city I’d seen in Germany, I was expecting an old, traditional German city splattered with historical and political themes. What I got instead was a modern, bubbly, industrialized city filled with street vendors, shoppers, and tourists! I was definitely surprised, but in no way disappointed.

The first thing we did in Hannover was get something to eat. It was cold, rainy, and windy, so we wanted to go somewhere inside, but we didn’t want to go to a sit down restaurant because in Germany, that would take hours! We found this quaint little restaurant that was similar to what I’d imagine a German fast food restaurant would be like, but there were no doors or walls on the front of the building separating it from the outside. It was like a cave, but it served food! So it fit our needs perfectly. After lunch, we went off exploring! Hannover is really cool because it has a red line running along the sidewalk that leads you to all the tourist attractions in the city, like statues, memorials, parks, old cathedrals, and the like. I’d never seen anything like that before, and it was really nice not having to scramble to try to find the places we wanted to see! My favorite part of our trip, by far, was the Rathaus (town hall). It was absolutely gorgeous! Everything about it was beautiful. It’s very old, and has become more of a tourist attraction rather than used for a governmental purpose. The visit to the Rathaus alone made the entire trip worthwhile.

On Saturday, as our last part of USAC Orientation, we went on a day-trip toHamburg! Hamburg is only a half hour train ride from here, so a lot of students had already gone to visit and explore prior to our trip that day. Hamburg was absolutely amazing. It’s a really big city that consists of both modern and longstanding buildings. History is a big theme in Hamburg, as the city has gone through a lot of disasters to become the wonder it is today. We went to Hamburg’s history museum, where we learned all about not only Germany’s history, but a lot about Hamburg’s too. It was quite astounding! It was really enjoyable. Hamburg is also on a river, so we had to take a ferry to get to another part of the city to do more sightseeing. There, we visited the ruins of the famous St. Nicholas Church that was destroyed in the Operation Gomorrah air raids of 1943. This was my favorite sight we that visited in Hamburg. It holds so much history and so much sorrow that it’s impossible not to love it. It was like seeing everything that I’ve learned about WWII come to life, to actually see and experience the repercussions of what happened. There’s a lift in the church that takes you to the top of its tower that has a beautiful view of the city. Unfortunately, the tower was under construction at the time of our visit and the view was tainted with tarps and scaffolding, but luckily I got some great pictures that don’t show the construction. After we visited the church, we continued to explore the city and learned a lot more about German culture and the German norms. I loved Hamburg and I’m hoping to visit there again soon to do some more exploring!

This weekend I’m hoping to go to a foreign film festival and want to visit Lübeck, a city just outside of Lüneburg, to explore some more of Germay! I will be sure to inform you of all of my adventures in next week’s blog. But before I conclude, let me enlighten you on what I’ve learned this week.

5 LESSONS I LEANRED THIS WEEK:

1.) No matter where you go or whatever the weather, always bring an umbrella. The weather here in Germany is very unpredictable, and even if it looks sunny out, or it’s just sprinkling a little bit, it will more than likely start pouring later on in the day.

2.) Be sure to buy groceries in small, frequent trips rather than in one large trip. Food here in Germany is a lot fresher than in the US and contains fewer preservatives, so your food doesn’t keep as long. Having to eat an entire pack of lunch meat in three days and throwing away a full carton of moldy strawberries isn’t something you should do!

3.) Beware of German candy! The candy here is so good – especially the chocolate – and if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up eating it every day and spending a fortune! And the candy here comes in huge bars, so eating it every day really is not good, no matter how delicious it may be!

4.) Always keep your apartment clean. Today, two USAC representatives came by to check out my apartment and take pictures of it for USAC Italy. I had no idea they were coming and was really happy that I picked up my apartment earlier that day! You never know who may drop by, so it’s good to be prepared!

5.) Don’t be afraid to look stupid. It’s really important not to think too much of yourself when you study in a foreign country. Even if you think you know the language pretty well, you’re going to be humbled greatly the very first time you encounter a native speaker, or you’re going to do something that’s normally tolerated in America but thought of as completely foolish in a different country. And this doesn’t go away! There’s always going to be something you don’t know, but the key is to do your best and to not get discouraged. Just keep trying. And keep going!

Until next week!

Tchüss!

-Valerie

My first week in Deutschland

Posted by vjtaglio under Uncategorized

Guten Tag!

Today marks the completion of the first week of my study abroad adventure to Lüneburg, Germany!  My journey began when my fellow USAC students and I stepped foot off of our shuttle that brought us from the Hamburg airport to die Altstadt (the old city) of Lüneburg. This is where all of Lüneburg’s old buildings are (hence the name), which are now filled with stores and restaurants, while the sidewalks are lined with tables from the cafes.  The sight was absolutely breathtaking! It was like looking at a life-size scale of a little toy city from the 1600s. It was a gorgeous view after traveling for over 28 hours.  Before I get too much farther into my expedition, though, let me introduce myself.

My name is Valerie and I’m a third year student at Michigan Tech.  I grew up in Houghton, Michigan, and have wanted to study abroad in Germany since I first started studying the language during my sophomore year of high school.  Now I’ve finally made it!  I will be studying here in Lüneburg for the next four weeks and will be taking classes at Leuphana Universität, the local university, that apply directly to my German International minor.  Although Lüneburg is a college town, it’s considered to be one of Germany’s smaller cities, as it only houses about 72,000 of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants.  But to me, this is huge!

Back to my adventure: When we got off our shuttle in die Altstadt, our German buddies were already waiting for us on the main stretch called Am Sande.  The German buddies are native Germans or current USAC students that are assigned to us to take us to our apartment, show us around, and help us adjust to the German culture during our stay here.  I was lucky to have found my buddy, Laura, right away, and we headed straight off to my apartment, where I will be staying for the duration of my time here.  After I got settled in, Laura took me grocery shopping.  This was quite an adventure, especially after a long day of traveling!  I looked around for foods that were somewhat familiar to me, like yogurt, produce, and rice, and Laura introduced me to some new foods too, like some jarred German chicken-wurst and Weichkäse – French soft cheese.  Grocery shopping in Germany is very different than in the US.  Checkout lines can be long, hectic, and disorganized, and there is no one there to bag your food for you.  They also don’t provide you with bags, so you have to either buy plastic bags from them or bring some from home.  I have to admit, it can be kind of stressful trying to bag your food yourself while digging your wallet out of your purse as a long line of people wait anxiously behind you.  But it was definitely a fun experience!

USAC Orientation began on the following day at Am Sande.  This was the first time I had to ride the bus by myself!  Although I was nervous, the venture was a success, as I made it there on time and in one piece.  After all of the students arrived, we were divided into groups and were assigned a current USAC student to lead us on a scavenger hunt around die Altstadt.  Our scavenger hunt was a blast!  We had two hours to solve riddles that led us to die Marktplatz (the market place), old cathedrals, and into different stores surrounding the area.  After the scavenger hunt, we all took a bus to the main campus at Leuphana and ate lunch in the Mensa, which is the cafeteria.  That was also a fun experience!  This was our first opportunity to try real, authentic German food.  Soon after began our five hour long student orientation.

Because last Monday was a holiday, our classes didn’t start until Tuesday which gave us all day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to do whatever our hearts desired!  A few friends and I took this opportunity to explore Lüneburg and its museums and attractions (not to mention its restaurants!).  One place we went to was the Wasserturm (water tower).  The view from the top was absolutely gorgeous!!  The inside of the Wasserturm was filled with what looked like high school art projects from the local students.  All of the art projects were themed around food.  We found this to be very peculiar, but interesting nonetheless!  Afterward, we explored he city a little more and ate dinner at a local restaurant.  The restaurant was located outside and was surrounded by trees, flowers, and other plants.  There was even a sandbox for children to play in while waiting for their food!  It was very beautiful and relaxing.  German restaurant service is much different than in America.  It’s much more laid back and relaxed than American restaurants.  Most German restaurants allow you to seat yourself, and it may be 10 minutes or so before a server comes to take your order.  After you’ve finished eating, the server won’t bring you the check unless you ask for it.  Also, the taxes and tip are already worked into the cost of the meal, so the price you see is the price you get!

Before classes started, we explored more attractions and discovered more of the city.  On Monday night I went to a classical concert, Rosenkranzsonaten, located at a beautiful local church called Klosterkirche.  It was a violin concert with a harpsichord accompaniment, and it was absolutely beautiful!  That was probably my favorite excursion so far.

Although my German is very, very far from perfect, I’m learning a lot!  My two classes, German Composition I and The Expanded European Union, are teaching me so much.  Although I’ve only had a few days of academics, here is what I’ve learned since I began my trip on May 23:

5 LESSONS I LEANRED THIS WEEK:

1.)    Never exchange currency at an airport.  I read earlier that you should never do this, but when I was at the airport this, sweet little old lady behind the exchange counter told me that I’d better exchange my money here where they won’t charge me fees.  Boy, was I wrong.  It cost me almost double to exchange it there than it did at an ATM here in Germany.

2.)    If you want water without carbonation, ask for stilles Wasser. All of the water here in Germany (except tap water) is sparkling water, even water labeled “natural mineral water”.  I made the mistake of ordering that instead of stilles Wasser (which means “still water”) and received a big bottle of heavily carbonated sparkling water instead, which isn’t helpful if you’re particularly dehydrated!

3.)    Bring a pocket sized German-English dictionary with you to Germany instead of your large, heavy, extended edition version.

4.)    Know garbage/recycling system before you throw food away.  I thought I knew the recycling system, but before I could confirm my knowledge with my roommate, I threw a bunch of stuff away in the wrong containers.  Let me tell you, sorting through two-day old garbage is not fun.

5.)    Just because you’re taking classes abroad doesn’t mean they’ll be easy!  I’ve only had one week of classes so far and have already been assigned a 10 page paper and half of a 20-minute presentation, not to mention regular homework assignments.  Studying abroad ≠ vacation!

Although I’ve learned a lot so far, I know I still have a long way to go!  But I can already tell that this summer is going to be an awesome experience that I’ll never forget!

Bis Später!

-Valerie

Videos from México

Posted by hannahs under Mexico

Mmmmmenudo

So… Menudo, a common Mexican soup made from the lining of a cow’s stomach.

George Lopez describes it as the “whole cow… sometimes still alive.”
“It’s an old Spanish word that means, yeah, throw that in. Nobody saw you drop it, throw it in!”

Possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten in my life, including a couple of dares in which my friends mixed random things like ketchup and orange juice. The pieces of “meat” have these strings that hang off… and it’s the greasiest substance you’ll ever digest.

Y Llegaste Tu

Daniel and me singing at his cousin’s wedding. The song, “Y Llegaste Tu,” or … something like “And Then Came You,” is originally by Yuri and Mijares (look it up, they’re better, of course, haha). We arrived at the wedding at the sound guys weren’t even sure they would have microphones for us, so please, bear with us as the sound is … crap.

I wish I had more videos, but as the ones I have from my camera are too large of files to put directly on the blog, and I don’t feel like spending hours uploading them to youtube, you’ll have to be satisfied with just 2 for now!

Hope you’ve enjoyed a little more insight into life in Mexico!

México-Tenochtitlan

Posted by hannahs under Mexico

Mexico City. Ciudad de México. Distrito Federal: el D. F. México. All are names for the capital of Mexico, situated in the state of Mexico, in the valley of Mexico, (too) near the active volcano Popocatépetl.

This past weekend was something called a “puente,” (literally translates to bridge) or a long weekend: 4 days because of “Semana Santa” or holy week… or Easter. So, after 4 hours of sleep on Wednesday night, I got in a car with Daniel and our friends Omar and Pau (siblings, from church) at 6 am to go to Mexico City (called, by most. the D.F.). Now, mind you, I’ve only heard the not great things about Mexico City: largest population in the world (not true), so dirty and smoggy you can’t see the buildings around you, you’ll get mugged, etc. However, after driving almost 6 hours–through Silao, Guanajuato; Querétaro; and a score of other places I can’t remember–we arrived in a city that, in its’ center, looks surprisingly similar to a mix of New York City. Sky scrapers, a national forest called Bosque de Tlalpan, a central park which is situated around the Castle Chapultepec, small side streets with cute homes and coffee shops, and a subway. In other ways, it’s a lot like Washington, D.C.: monuments to national heroes, lots of museums, art, and flowers. Still, it was smoggy enought hat you cuoldn’t see the mountains (or the active volcano).

On our way in, we got stopped by state police, just before entering the actual federal district where they couldn’t stop us anymore. Omar was saying that they stop cars with plates from outside because they know the passengers are coming as tourists and will have lots of money. Something very common here is for police to ask for a mordida or bite, which means asking for money in place of giving you a ticket. Because 2 people in the car didn’t have their seatbelts on (something that is not illegal unless it’s the driver), and because Omar’s license had expired, they had a legitimate–albeit weak, in Mexico–reason to give a ticket. Instead, they asked for 1000 pesos, but Daniel talked them into 200.

Posada Vienna

We drove away, entered the city, and, what seemed like almost a fairy tale of a main street, called Reforma. It begins in the forest, with art and statues lining the sides and median, and beautiful architecture, and ending in the castle: Maximiliano, from Austria, built the castle on the hill and then created Reforma as a main street leading right to his house. We drove through all this first, then got kind of lost (even with our trusty guide, Lucy, the GPS), but eventually found our way to the hotel, Posada Vienna, this cute little thing on a corner with the expected indigenously Mexican-themed decorations and a thiny elevator with a swinging-open door (kind of scary… we took the 4 flights of stairs instead). Omar and Daniel were in one room, and Pau and I down the hall. Soon after entering the room we discovered that our window led out to an open area with the guys’ window across the way, and Daniel serenaded us (jokingly)!

After checking in, we began our walking tour throughout the city. By “walking” I include subway. The subways were packed, and this being the “holy week,” many people travel out of Mexico City to other places, so I cannot even imagine what it would be like on a normal day.

Did I mention the subway only costs 3 pesos, approximately one quarter USD. At one point, Omar and Pau got into one of the cars and Daniel and I got shut out of it (the doors closed so quickly!) so we had to meet at the next stop. Finally, we got off in the center of the city, because we decided we wanted to first go to the main plaza… well, it wasn’t too interesting, actually, unlike most other cities I’ve been in here. It was a big open square with a giant Mexican flag, and across the street was Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María, one of the biggest cathedrals in Mexico. We went in, but it was PACKED. We had to keep with the crowd, like a river, going in only one direction. I think the coolest thing about the cathedral was the pipe organ that took up the entire middle of the cathedral.

After this, we continued walking down the street a while, came across an art museum (which had a line about 200 people long outside of the building, so we were content to just view the lovely statues outside). This time of the year, all the trees have beautiful flowers (especially the purple ones; Becky and I have decided they’re like Mexican versions of lilacs). Walking around, we saw so many interesting things, so there wasn’t an issue for any of us with not going into the museums;

new buildings with lots of modern architecture, old buildings that are starting to lean (noticeably) because Mexico City was built over a lake, long ago; people dressed up in all silver with paint, pretending to be statues…

Eventually we decided that being up since 4 am with only juice and coffee in our stomachs wasn’t a great idea; at about 2 pm we entered the first ever Sanborn’s Restaurant (Sanborns is a huge chain in Mexico, and there is at least one in every major city). This trip was a little difficult for all of us because the church we attend, from the beginning of this week, lasting for 3 weeks, announced a “Daniel’s Fast”, which comes from the book of Daniel, and everyone just eats fruits, vegetables, and legumes. So, I had a salad. However, I do have to say that it was one of my favorite salads, ever, with spinach, mango, walnuts, and some kind of a sweet vinaigrette. And it should be delicious; the food there was quite expensive, with the total coming to about 40 USD for the 4 of us, with no one really getting a very luxurious meal.

From Sanborns we continued on to the central park area and Castle Chapultepec. We arrived at the base of the hill of the castle at about 4:30, and, after an afternoon of walking all over the city, we had to run up the hill because we had heard the castle would close soon. The really neat thing when we got to the top was discovering that our student IDs would get us in free, and allowed us to bypass the line outside the gates! So, Castle Chapultepec was built by Maximiliano, from Austria, and he then built the street Reforma leading from downtown right to his castle. The castle is now a museum, with old carriages, clothing, and other artifacts from the 18th throughearly 20th centuries in Mexico City. Some rooms are also filled with newer artwork, depicting the revolution and other battles. This trip was really a neat experience because Omar knew a lot of information about Mexico City already, and I have been learning a lot about the things we saw in the castle, in my history class (19th Century Mexic0). One thing Daniel told me was that the main tower, at the very top of the castle, is quite infamous because the son of Maximiliano (as the story goes), jumped from said tower, using the Mexican flag as a cloak, to his

death, and this act kind of jump-started the Mexican revolution. Now, don’t quote me on that, because it’s not necessarily historic fact, but it is a legend that people discuss. I think we really spent more time outside the castle, viewing the city from above, than inside, however. From the castle you can see so much of the city, including a building that, at the top, has a restaurant, that each hour makes a revolution around the building.

After leaving Chapultepec and the surrounding garden (complete with pond and swans), we headed in the direction of some of the closer museums. The first we found was one of artifacts from all the pre-hispanic era tribes, like the Aztecs and the Mayans. We saw the Aztec sun stone, also called the Aztec calendar, which, according to many, is what predicts the “end of the world” on December 21, 2012… but those people would be wrong. If anything, it’s the Mayan “long count” (rather than circular) calendar that predicts this, but, according to most Mayan history scholars, this is untrue and unfitting of Mayan culture. The museum really was one of the fascinating parts about our trip, because each room in the museum had a different time period or group of indigenous people, and it was interesting to see how so many of the groups share similar stories (for instance, many were searching for an eagle atop a cactus, holding a snake, in the middle of a lake, as is depicted on the Mexican flag, and this would be their “promised land”).

After this museum, it was getting late and dark, and so we headed back in the direction of the hotel, seeing along the way things like the Calle (street) Reforma with statues of national heroes, ending in the famous Angel of Independence statue (which, funny enough, fell over in an earthquake about 50 years ago), and more of the architecture of the newer parts of the city (including the Mexican version of the New York Stock Exchange). Upon returning to the hotel, we all decided it was time for dinner, and we headed to a part of the city called Santa Fe, a district known specifically for its’ modern architechture, and tried to find (at almost 10 pm) an open restaurant that would serve us something we could eat (we were looking specifically for anything oriental or salads… that’s about all we could hope for). However, we ended up going to an italian restaurant, where I ordered a soup I thought I recognized as always being only vegetables… and yet it came with bacon. Oh, well, such is life when you don’t always understand what the menu says.

The next morning we awoke before 7 am so that we could arrive at the Teotihuacan before 8 am. On our way out of the DF, we noticed that we could actually see the volcano, and the snow that always sits atop it. My first volcano sighting!
We arrived at the pyramids almost before anyone else that morning, and once again, our student IDs helped us with free entry intothe park. Upon arrival, we saw 2 pyramids: one very small right at the entrance, and another down the road a ways. We assumed the small one in front of us was the pyramid of the moon, and so climbed up it, looked around it, and then realized that the other pyramid we saw was the moon pyramid… and the sun pyramid, the largest of them, had been hidden from our view at first by a group of large (and very close) trees. Making our way over to the pyramid of the sun, we glimpsed a group of hot air balloons rising from the mountain behind.

Climbing the pyramid of the sun was not the easiest thing any of us had ever done, because we had walked so much the day before, but it was by far worth it: the view from the top, and being able to say that I’ve been to the top of the pyramid of the sun, makes me feel so much like a world-traveler!

The Name Game

Posted by hannahs under Mexico

To begin, let’s just say that Hannah is not exactly a common name here. It’s a biblical name (1 Samuel), but in the Spanish Bible it’s changed to Ana. So, when I came in July and again in November, I did receive several nicknames: Ana, Anita, and, my personal favorite, Hannita. The “H” sounds really only comes, for spanish speakers, from a “J” or “G”, so for them, my name would make more sense as Janna. SOOOOooo many people struggle with the final “H” in my name, too; and when I think about it, it really does seem quite needless. However, it IS how it’s stated on all of my official documents, so it is particularly frustrating that the university made my credential (ID) say Hanna Marie Smith (something I’m now working on getting changed). Also, because Mexican tradition is to have about 4 names (first and second name, like our first and middle name, and paternal and maternal apellido, or last name). For instance, one of my friends in class is Angelica Paola Rengel Dena, and I would be, if I followed these rules, Hannah Marie Smith Madill. I kind of love that because I’ve always loved my mom’s maiden name, but unfortunately, it’s not like I can just change my name that easily.

Okay, so, moving on from MY name, some of the common names here are really interesting to me, and names that, to be quite honest, I guess Americans make fun of as very Mexican names. Such as: Alejandr@ (the @ symbol, from here on out, will be used as a/o), Fernanda, Jorge, María, etc. Then there are some more interesting and less heard of in the US, like Paulin(a), Lucero, Enriqueta, Monserrat, and a whole score of others. Some of the names I hear a lot: Selene, Guz, Isaias, Victor (there are 3), Earvin or Irving, Ruben, Daniel (there are 4), Carlos, and Raymundo, Mario, Denise, Karla, Dulce (which means sweet), Laura, Lula, Ricardo, and Raul. There’s also a guy named Steve, oddly enough. Some I’m not sure if it’s their first name, their second name, or one of their last names… people go by any of them.

Here’s the best part: the nicknames. Almost every common name has a nickname that goes with it. Eduardo becomes Lalo. María Fernanda: MaFer or Marifer. Fernanda: Fer. Alejandra: Ale. Guadalupe: Lupe or Lupita. Jesús is always Chuey. Daniel or Daniela, both become Dany. I have a friend named Georgina who is called Gina. My host sister is Margarita but goes by Magui (or Maggie). Jorge is Yorch (the “Mexican” pronunciation of George). Paulin or Paulina is shortened to Pau. One of my patients in the clinic is Enriqueta but we call her Queta. Lucero or Lucia, often known as Luz (which means light). Monserrat, from my Exercise Science classes, goes by Monse. Humberto or Roberto? You’ll be called Beto. Luis is called Güicho (the ü makes a w sound). Also, Jose María or Jose Manuel, both of which are common combinations of first names, go by Chema. For someone younger, or really just as an affectionate way to call someone, you can add “it@” at the end of the name (Lupe becomes Lupita, Ana: Anita, Marta: Martita). Any guy named Alejandro that I know is called Alex, oddly enough.

I’ve also noticed some odd ones in the mix. There are names of other countries or cities in other countries; the coordinator in my clinic is named Kenia (the spanish spelling of Kenya), one of my friends at church is named Grecia (Greece), and my host sister knows someone named Italia. Also, many people go by names of animals; I know 2 guys called Pato (duck) and one called Gato (cat).

Last, one other kind of interesting thing to me is that almost no one has their real name on facebook. In the US, it’s something we can use to promote ourselves in a career, however, here, they often don’t put their real name, where they’re from (many of my friends here in Aguascalientes say on facebook that they’re from places like Japan, Australia, or … Florida), or who their family is. So, many of my facebook friends (I swear, more than half of mine are spanish speaking) have names like Effe OOrtiizh (they like to double letters and use caps in weird places) or Flashito.

Just yesterday I was informed that for a very long time, the day you were born on would dictate your name: being that this is a very Catholic society, and that every single one of the 365 days is a saint’s day, you would get the name of the saint with whom you shared your day. Consequently, someone born on November 20 was named Día de la Rev. … because on the calendar instead of having the saint’s name for that day, it says that the day is one celebrating the Mexican Revolution. Talk about an interesting name!

I love all the exposure to different names, but let me tell you: it’s difficult remembering them all when you’re meeting so many new people!

Conversation Coma

Posted by hannahs under Mexico

About a month into being here, once I could actually understand the majority of what was being said in a conversation, if I tried, I began to notice an effect I like to call conversation coma. It happens often when I’m surrounded by lots of people speaking Spanish, none of whom try to talk to me directly (or if they do, it’s at random intervals that often have nothing to do with the larger conversation). Also, it helps if I don’t sleep well or if it is very late at night, or for a very long time that I am listening. Basically, what a conversation coma is when I am just absolutely done being mentally capable of listening to what every single person around me is saying, and trying to determine if I can add something intelligent to the conversation.
This happens sometimes in church, when, near the end of a 4 hour service, I just have to give up trying to understand everything the pastor says. This past Sunday, after spending 5 hours in church, we went to the birthday party of a friend, Denise, from church, and about 20 of the youth showed up. So, after that 5 hours of listening, I was blasted with another 3 or 4 hours of lots of people making jokes or repeating “inside” jokes, which makes it even harder to understand, or trying to ask me questions that I feel like I don’t understand, or… well, the list goes on and on. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever like being in a big group of spanish speaking people.
To get away from the continuous jabber, I went into the kitchen to help Denise’s mom with the food. She owns a carniceria, or a mini restaurant just for meat-based foods. Now, I’m a vegetarian in the US, but I have been trying all the foods I can here, including even meat. It was really cool to help her make the different kinds and learn a little about what is different about pork in “this” red sauce compared to the pork in that “other” red sauce. Don’t ask me to remember the names, it won’t happen.
Monday we had the day off because of the birthday of Benito Juárez, a president of Mexico in the 1800s (of whom I’ve learned much, because that is exactly the era we just finished learning in my 19th Century Mexican History class). A group of about 12 of us from the youth of the church decided to try to climb all of Cerro del Muerto (the mountain here that looks like a dead man). It was a crazy undertaking, and if I ever try it again I will certainly need to bring more water, but it definitely was a blast. The feet (where everyone usually begins, and doesn’t ever go father) were the hardest part, with some parts making it necessary to climb using our hands. The “knees” weren’t too bad, except that the dry weather made some of the dirt very dusty and impossible to really get a good foothold in. Half of our group stopped in the shade of a tree in about where I would call the “belly button”, and the rest of us continued on to the “hands.” However, once we reached the hands, we realized that 1) the majority of us didn’t have much water left, 2) it would be a very long hike to the nose if we really wanted to go all the way there, because we would have to climb down the sides of the very steep hands and climb back up a steep cliff to get to the “chest,” and 3) we didn’t want to leave the other group alone for sooooo long. So, we returned, only having made it to about the half-way point. In all, it was a delightful day, even if I did get a wicked sunburn on my neck because I forgot to re-apply my sunscreen. Coolest thing? I got to talk to a bunch of really awesome people (albeit mostly guys 4 years my junior) while getting some really great exercise, AND I didn’t hurt the next day, whereas every time I’ve climbed El Picacho before, my legs were killing me the next day. I really hope I get to go back and try to go all the way to the nose!

International Dinner and Weekend Travels

Posted by hannahs under Mexico

This past friday, Becky, Andrew, me from Michigan; 2 girls from Spain, María and Martta; and Márcia from Brazil all got together in the latter three’s apartment for dinner and english and spanish practice. It was quite an experience, for several reasons.
First, based on the directions I was given, I wasn’t entirely sure how to get there. Luckily, Daniel showed me where the apartment was (he works in a group with María in their civil engineering class and had picked her up before for a meeting), but I still didn’t know how to get in. I kept trying to call or text Becky or Martta but with little luck, as they were all still at the university (they had some miscommunication issues, too, and didn’t end up coming until a little later anyway).

I walked around the block several times and found what I thought was the entrance, but what was actually just a government office. I continued walking around, looking, but afraid to open any doors for fear of something like an alarm sounding. Instead, I went into some stores, including a nice little book store, where I found the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in spanish! I decided that I had to buy it for my host sister Magui because she wants to read the books but I only have them in english.

Anyway, I continued walking around. I decided, after almost 2 hours of this, that I needed to go home and rest, because I was definitely dehydrated and probably sunburned (90 degree weather will do that to you). Luck would have it, as soon as I got home I received a text from Becky saying they had arrived… but I needed a nap, and headed over after.

When I arrived around 5 pm, the group had already eaten, but that was okay because my dehydration made me not hungry anyway. I was a little sad I had missed some of the converation, however! Still, it continued for about another 2 hours, with Becky, Andrew, and me trying our best to speak in spanish, and Maria and Martta speaking what they could in english (which is surprisingly a lot), and us all getting along just fine. We actually discussed some pretty random concepts, as well, including the military, government, school costs, places we’ve all traveled, and some of the ways our respective countries are different.

I definitely left feeling like I was able to communicate better, and I enjoyed helping the girls from Spain with their english. Conversations like that help me remember that in general, people here are going to be thinking that it’s cool that I want to learn spanish, not what I generally think they’re thinking, which is, wow, she’s really awful.

Saturday I got to volunteer at Teleton again, and my niña this time, Gina, and I got along great! We went to a place called La Huerta, which is like a huge farm for vegetables and fruits and where they would package them, as well. The workers there taught the kids how to plant seeds, when to water them, what kinds of bugs were good for the plants, and they gave us free chaskas, too, which were delicious (for information on chaskas, see my first post). It was a great day, but not because of what we did; rather, because of who I was with. Gina is a wonderful girl, 14 years old so she reminds me a lot of my sister, and although she does have a disability, her speech isn’t effected, and she taught me a lot, and I got to teach her english, too!

Later Daniel took me to his favorite pizza place. I have to say it was weird going out specifically for pizza, but it was delicious. 4 cheese pizza, with cream cheese as one of the 4 cheeses… I’ve never seen it before, but you can bet that the next time I make pizza it will have a little bit on it!

Sunday was wonderful, as always. Church is always difficult because I have to work hard to understand anyone speaking, and pure listening for almost 5 hours becomes quite an effort. However, also like always, I really felt God’s Presence there and am so thankful for the people there who help me and teach me and just generally show an interest in me. The message was, at least in part, about the fruit of the Spirit, and it was cool to see what the fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) is in spanish.

After, Daniel, Magui, and I went to Calvillo, a near-by “municipio” or, what I would call a county. It really is quite small, with the most interesting things being the dams and lakes surrounding it. We ate chinese food (Mexican chinese food… well, it’s about the same as American chinese food), visited the dams, walked around in the center for a little bit, and returned. One cool thing was that when we were walking through the central garden, we encountered one of my classmates!

Other updates: still have not returned to the Migration Office to finish everything… Should probably get on that. I have next Monday off from classes for–get this–Benito Juárez’s birthday, a man who has been dead for more than 100 years. I am going to go cave exploring with some of my classmates in history this weekend in San Luis Potosi!

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