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Hola amigos,

Autumn is upon us and I am loving the colors of the leaves right now. I can feel the change in the air- the holiday festivities are just around the corner and it’s a time for comfort, family, and reflection. Next week is Thanksgiving, which is a very American tradition that isn’t celebrated in Spain. However, I am lucky enough to have my two friends from home, Jordyn and Jules, visiting me. I can’t wait!

This week I had my first private English tutoring session with three niños; two girls and one boy. Their names are Leire, Maria, and Dani and they are only four years old. It’s a big change from teaching English at my school because I can usually converse with my students at Juan Gris, but these little ones will give me that deer-in-headlights blank stare when I say anything in English. They are super adorable, but I’m going to have to get creative with filling our hour together. Besides work, I have made it a goal of mine to explore new places in my town so that I can feel more at home here. This Friday, my friend Elin and I went to this place called Freakafe. It is a quirky café that is decorated with pictures of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, anime, 80’s American heartthrobs, and more. I forgot to take pictures, but I think Elin and I are going to be regulars there so eventually you’ll see what it looks like. I had my first Spanish hot chocolate and it was so sweet, but almost too much chocolate. It’s essentially melted chocolate in a cup. Afterwards, we went to this 80’s rock bar called Kamakaze and listened to both American and Spanish rock music. It was interesting because I’ve never heard or seen Spanish rock music videos before. 

A strange coincidence also occurred this week…My good friend Megan from the U.S. connected me with her mom’s old friend from her college days. His name is Javier and he met Megan’s mom at a camp in Idaho back in the 80’s. He’s from Spain and he currently lives in Madrid with his four children. Their family is big into traveling and they all speak at least two languages, fortunately for me one of those languages is English. Yesterday we ate a traditional Spanish three course lunch at their house-salad, meatballs with rice, and pineapple. They’re very warm people and I hope to spend more time with them while I’m in Madrid. Later that evening I finally attended my first language exchange with my friends Elin and Renee at a disco bar. It was so cool to talk with people in English and Spanish from all over the world-France, China, Argentina, Costa Rica, the U.K., Algeria, Spain, and the U.S. All in one disco bar.

One of my favorite parts about being abroad is having good conversations with new people and getting to know each other through swapping life stories. This experience has made me realize the importance of human connection and the vastness of opportunities available to us. There is so much out there for us to experience-new places, new people, new cultures, new ways of being. The key to unlocking these treasures is to stay open and leave your comfort zone. I feel very motivated right now to stay open to all of life’s possibilities and have as many new life experiences as I can while I’m alive. I encourage you to try new things, to experiment, and to let those experiences crack you wide open and change you for the better. 

Wishing all the Americans a wonderful Thanksgiving next week! Savor the time with your loved ones and count your blessings. Un abrazo.

Love,

Manders

 

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Growing Pains

Hola amigos,

Being a teacher is an art. Since starting my job as an English Language Assistant, my appreciation for teachers and professors everywhere has grown tremendously. They wear a myriad of hats-from doctor, to mediator, to cheerleader, to entertainer, and they spend so much time outside of the classroom preparing lesson plans and grading materials. It truly is a labor of love. If you are reading this and are a teacher, THANK YOU for what you do. I am inspired and in awe of how you serve our society by elevating and expanding the consciousness of young people. I don’t understand why teachers aren’t paid more and given more respect in our society. What is more sacred and important than educating the future leaders of our society? 

I want to acknowledge the shooting that happened in Thousand Oaks, CA this past week. It scares me that these shootings have become almost “normal” in the U.S. It seems like every week there is a different location with innocent lives lost, leaving people wondering why this keeps happening. While I believe that we need to enforce stricter gun laws, I also think that these shootings have a deeper root that goes beyond simply changing our laws. To me, these shootings highlight the loneliness and isolation rampant in our modern society. These shooters are men who may suffer from mental health issues such as PTSD, but some of them are just men who fell through the cracks in our society and couldn’t find their way. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates that after our physiological and safety needs are met, we need love and belonging: friendship, family, a sense of connection. Without this sense of connection and community, what is the point of living? Whenever I hear about a shooting, I think about how the shooter was without love and belonging and what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. We need to change a lot of things to solve this issue of gun violence, but one of the ways we can start is by prioritizing a strong sense of community in our society. We can’t keep letting people fall through the cracks, instead we must come together and remember that we are all connected.

This week I feel like I had my initiation for becoming a teacher. I had to take over a classroom for one of the teachers who is on his honeymoon and it was chaos. Usually I am in the classroom with the teacher and they discipline the children when they get too talkative and disruptive, which happens a lot in Spain, but it was the first time I had to put my foot down and yell at the kids. I felt really bad, but it had to be done. 

Being abroad has been really eye-opening for me. I go back and forth between fighting myself and opening up and embracing the foreignness of everything. I love the freedom that comes with graduating college, but this blank canvas is daunting too. Most of the time I’m afraid to make a mistake, fail, color outside the lines, look stupid, or disappoint people. But I’m tired of living like this. Taking risks and embracing the unknown is new for me, but something that I want to continue exploring. This year in Madrid is all about Creation-exploration, discovery, courage, and figuring out what I want in life without the safety net of my home country, family, and routine. My focus from this point forward is to care less about what other people think, do my thing, and enjoy the ride! I hope you do the same.

 

 

Love,

Manders

“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Red Thread

 

Hola amigos,

This week marked the triple celebration of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day in Spain. Halloween isn’t quite as widespread in Spain as it is in the U.S., but some have adopted our tradition of dressing up and going trick or treating. I noticed that Spanish people have a slightly different take on dressing up though. In the U.S., people dress sexy, playful, or funny, but all the costumes I saw in Spain involved blood, scary masks, and horror. They really embrace the dark side of Halloween. On Halloween night I went to a Rosalía concert with my friend Elin in the city center of Madrid. It was a free, outdoor event sponsored by Red Bull in Plaza de Colón. I had no idea who this singer was beforehand, but she was incredible. I would describe her music as a blend of pop and the Spanish style of flamenco-emotional, expressive, and vibrant. Her stage presence resembled Beyoncé’s strong female aura and at one point she even rode a quad on stage. 

One thing that I feel really happy about this week is that I joined a gym. This might seem like a miniscule detail, but I have terribly missed exercising. Working out is part of my self-care routine and I really don’t feel the same without regular exercise and that cleansing feeling of sweating. In addition to the physical benefits, exercise is amazing for your mental and emotional wellbeing too. I look at it as a mental vacation from all the details of life and the endorphins aren’t bad either. Feeling healthy and strong translates to feeling more confident and capable in handling whatever life throws your way. Whatever form of exercise you enjoy, do it! 

I also had the pleasure of exploring the city of Alcalá de Henares this weekend. It is a charming university town and the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, who is the author of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Elin and I went to his house, which has now been turned into a museum. In typical Spanish fashion, we meandered through art galleries, beautiful plazas, churches, and convents. 

I have always been a very introspective and philosophical person, but there is something about graduating college that has stimulated my desire to understand my path and where I’m going in life. This week I came across this Chinese proverb called The Red Thread and it says that “an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.” I found this idea to be so beautiful and comforting- the people who come into our lives are meant to be, whether they be a friend, family member, or lover. Each person we meet, even if only for a brief moment in passing, is in our destiny for our utmost personal growth. There is a purpose for every encounter, experience, and person we meet along our journey. The red thread idea has inspired me to be more grateful for the people along my path, especially the difficult people who push my buttons. If you’re interested in learning more about this legend, I encourage you to check out the resources below. 

Love,

Manders

Sources:

https://loveagirlwhoreads.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/the-red-thread-of-fate/

http://www.faena.com/aleph/es/articles/la-leyenda-del-hilo-rojo-de-japon/

 

 

Riding the Wave

Hola amigos,

A lot has happened this week and I have been, once again, humbly brought to my knees and forced to hit the RESET button. Much to my frustration, I somehow managed to get sick for the second time this month. It’s probably a combination of my immune system adjusting to Spanish germs, working at a school with lots of children, the change of weather, and stress, but man I hope my immune system will adapt after this one. I went to the doctor and fortunately he said it was just a cold and recommended some medicine and lots of rest. Being healthy is something I often take for granted. If you have your health, you are way ahead of a lot of people around the world and it is something to celebrate and smile about!

Another fun role that I have at my school is that I am a Global Classrooms Language Assistant (GCLA) with Fullbright Madrid Mentors. Global Classrooms is a Model UN organization for third year high school students in Madrid and is taught in their English and History classes. We talk about global issues such as global warming, women’s rights, etc., and prepare the students for the Global Classrooms Conferences in January and February, where ten of our chosen students will compete against students from over ninety different schools in the Community of Madrid. The purpose of Global Classrooms is to improve students’ English speaking and research skills, get them to collaborate with others, and teach students about timely global issues through the perspectives of various countries across the globe. Students will prepare a formal research paper and opening speech for the chosen topic of this year, which is UNICEF: Juvenile Crime and Violence as an Effect of Socio-Economic Conditions and argue from the perspective of the five countries which they are given-Peru, Sweden, Russia, Egypt, and Iran. I honestly wish I could have done something like this in high school or college because it is such a phenomenal learning experience for everyone involved. I am super excited to help the students with this project because it will be just as enriching for me as it will be for them. 

“Riding the wave” is one of the many spiritual phrases that Joaquin, my college tennis coach used to repeat to us. Riding the wave is about embracing the highs and the lows, the twists and the turns, the curve balls of life. He would tell us this when we would be struggling in a match so that we wouldn’t get too attached to our current circumstances because things are constantly changing and in motion, in tennis and in life. In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn has this great quote “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” This quote is so striking to me because it’s exactly what I’m working towards and is relevant to where I’m at right now. There are many things that I’m struggling with right now, but one of them is being self-conscious about speaking Spanish and not being able to fully connect with native people because of the language barrier. I need to learn to be okay with the unknown, change, looking stupid, and making mistakes. I need to learn to ride the wave-to embrace the highs, the lows, the twists, the turns, the surprises, all of it, and love myself through it all. This is resilience-being able to adapt, adjust, and create in the face of adversity and change. 

I  miss connection. I miss being able to connect with people through my native language. I am really craving community in Móstoles. Working at Juan Gris is my paradise-I love the kids, the professors, teaching, and feeling like I am making a difference in these kids’ lives. But its been difficult for me to make friends with local Spanish people who are my age. I thought that joining the tennis group would be helpful, but that turned out to be a bust. Before practice, I would google questions to ask them in Spanish so that I could get the conversation going but that didn’t bear much fruit. One of the things I’ve heard and witnessed about Spanish social groups is that they’re very protective and skeptical of letting Americans/foreigners into their friend groups. Nevertheless, I will keep trying and hopefully find community outside the tennis courts.

Back home I now realize how much I would take for granted the people around me who spoke the same language. We have so much in common with others, so why do most of us choose to stay silent and mind our own business? I realize that as human beings, we are all connected, despite what language we speak or what country we come from, but man is it so much easier to connect with people when you speak the same language! 

I hope you are well and that you are riding your wave with lots of self-love and compassion! You got this!

Love,

Manders

P.S. I added a couple pictures of my parent’s visiting earlier this month. We tried churros con chocolate and toured a gorgeous monastery in San Lorenzo. Homesickness is exacerbated when you’re sick. Miss you two! 

 

Make it Yours

Hola amigos,

Something that I have had to adjust to in post grad life is deciding how I want to spend my time. This probably sounds ridiculous to you, but until I graduated this May my life revolved around school and tennis and I didn’t have the time to explore other passions. I followed a strict routine and didn’t have much say in my schedule. While the freedom has been refreshing, it has also felt overwhelming at times. The training wheels have officially come off and it’s like I’m living for the first time. What am I passionate about? What is my purpose in life? How do I want to spend my time? Where? And with whom? As difficult as it is to be away from home, I am grateful for the opportunity to contemplate these questions and explore who I want to be and how I want to live my life. 

Recently I have fallen in love with the mantra “Make it Yours”. I love this saying because I have come to realize that a lot of my unhappiness stems from comparing myself and my life experiences to other people. Sometimes I feel like I have to do x,y, and z like so and so did to really “live my life to the fullest”. But this is FAR from the truth. It’s so tempting to want to copy what other people are doing in life, who seemingly have it all together, so that you can be happy and fulfilled too. Everyone is on their own path and what makes me happy is probably different from what will make you happy, but that is okay! 2+2=4, but 1+3=4 too. For example, sometimes I find myself fighting with the cultural norms in Spain. Nightlife is a huge aspect of Spanish culture, especially in Madrid, but I don’t really fancy partying and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. My ideal evening consists of a nice dinner with friends, a stroll outside, maybe a movie or curling up to a good book, and in bed by 11pm. I realize that as a twenty-two year old this is odd but what can I say, I am an old soul with grandma-like tendencies. 

Furthermore, I think it’s so important that we respect that we’re all different and that we will all travel on different journeys in life. Celebrating our differences and what makes us unique goes against the norm in American culture, so I think that’s why many people, myself included, struggle with accepting themselves. However, when we choose to accept ourselves, we set an example and give other people permission to accept themselves too. My wish is that we all realize how awesome and exquisite we truly are and wholeheartedly embrace what makes us unique! Carpe diem and Make it Yours:)

Thank you for reading my blog and please feel free to ask me questions about anything, make requests, or comment on stuff. Your presence and feedback is much appreciated! 

Love,

Manders

P.S. Here is some freestyle writing that I wrote this week.

I want to fly free.

I want to go beyond.

High above the clouds.

High above these petty worries of mine.

Beyond the fear that has become the norm.

Beyond all the details and what ifs.

To a place of love, light, and peace.

To a place I can call home.

Segovia

Hola amigos,

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Segovia for the first time with my friends Vivien, Renee, and Jackie. It is located about an hour and twenty minutes north of the city center of Madrid by bus and it only cost 8.10 euros roundtrip! Segovia is known for their ancient Roman Aqueduct that was built during the first century A.D. under the rule of the Roman Empire. I was astounded at how well-preserved and magnificent this structure was. It’s amazing that such an advanced structure was built with such precision given the time period in which it was made. After seeing the Aqueduct, we went to the Catedral de Segovia before stopping for lunch in the main plaza. The cathedral was a piece of art in itself. We were in awe of the paintings, stained-glass windows, and intricate details in the ribbed vault design. Our last stop was wandering through the Alcázar de Segovia, which is an ancient castle. Apparently it was used as a prison before being used as a historical site, but I don’t see how that was feasible because it looked like the castle from Disneyland to me. 

One thing I must say that is trickier about being in Europe is that bathrooms and drinking water are not as easily accessible as in America. Back home there is usually a refillable water station or at least a drinking fountain, and you can ask for water for free at a restaurant, but that isn’t the case here. You either have to lug around a huge HydroFlask like I do or buy bottled water. Also, with the bathroom situation, they don’t have public restrooms and typically you have to order something to use the toilet in a restaurant. Often times those bathrooms don’t have soap or toilet paper too, so bringing wipes and/or hand sanitizer is a must. Oh how spoiled we are in America!

There is something to be said about how Spaniards view time. From my experience in the U.S., people typically try to do as many things possible in the least amount of time and often rush from one task to the next. In Spain, there is this term called “sobremesa” which involves people staying at the table after their meals and talking for hours. It can be annoying if you’re looking for a quick meal, but it’s normal for people to have a 2-3 hour lunch in Spain. There is something so heartwarming to me about how they do things more slowly: taking time to really be in a place, wandering through the streets, marveling at what there is to see, and spending quality time with loved ones just enjoying each other’s company. It’s very much about enjoying your time instead of being on a mission to knock out your To-Do list.

The weather has begun to cool down here and it’s starting to feel like autumn now. This week my feelings about Móstoles have improved slightly. I have thought about looking for another piso in the city center, but I’m going to give myself a little more time before deciding to give up my 10 minute walking commute to work and cheap rent. The best part of my day is being with the kids at Juan Gris, but sometimes I just feel so bored and lonely here. However, living here motivates me to go into the city on weekends and plan day trips with friends. If you’re uncomfortable wherever you are like me, I encourage you to stay hopeful and try to incorporate activities that you love doing, maybe running in the park, to make yourself feel more at home. Also, lean on your loved ones and talk about it. But being uncomfortable is good! We may not like it at first, but challenging situations build character and make you appreciate what’s important in life. 

Sending you lots of love and hope you are having a beautiful weekend!

Love,

Manders

 

Juan Gris

Hola amigos,

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How often do we wish we were doing something else?

I am guilty of doing this. Of mentally exiting where I am and dreaming about being somewhere else, doing something else, etc. I have been resisting my current reality in Móstoles and fantasizing about how my life would be better if this or that happened. Or how I would be happier if I were back home with my family. It’s such a trap to think that another circumstance or reality will make us happier than where we are right now in life. When we think that way, we fail to recognize the gifts and lessons we need to learn from our current reality. I’m not saying that it’s bad have dreams or envision yourself with the life you want. But rather to not neglect the opportunities available to us in the present moment. Maybe you don’t like where you are right now and it’s okay for you to want to change your circumstances. But I encourage you to look at your situation with a fresh pair of eyes. Can you learn something from this situation? Is this situation teaching you how to be more patient, or assertive, or loving, or forgiving, or whatever it may be for you? If we look closely, there is always something valuable that we can take away from any situation. It’s a matter of deciding how we want to experience life. I can choose to complain about how things are OR I could be grateful and excited for the opportunity to become a better version of myself.

So here’s to surrendering and embracing what’s in front of us…May we all see the beauty that lies in the present moment!

In other news, I have completed my first week teaching at Juan Gris! I was so nervous to start working here, but I absolutely love it so far and it has helped me feel more grounded in Móstoles and Spain in general. I feel like I have a sense of purpose now. I teach three different classes: English, Global Classrooms, and P.E. All the teachers I work with have been wonderful too and I have a mix of classes with kids of 12, 14, and 16-18 years old. I will say that Spanish kids are more rambunctious, noisy, and less disciplined than American kids. I love them nonetheless, but it’s so fascinating to see the differences in Spanish culture. There is definitely not as many shy kids in Spain because most of them are comfortable being loud and expressive. The older kids can speak pretty good English, but the younger ones try to speak Spanish with me because only a sprinkle of them know English. They’re very interested in American culture and asked me tons of questions about the U.S., my hometown, and what life is like there.

My parents also came to visit me this week in Madrid and it made me so happy! We walked around the city, ate delicious food, went to museums, Retiro Park, and did a day trip to San Lorenzo where they had the most beautiful monastery.

Sending you lots of love and hugs from Spain!

Love,

Manders

P.S. Thank you Mommy and Daddy for being my parents. The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am to be your daughter.