Saturday, July 30, 2011

So Long and On To The Next One

Writing to you from a small apartment in Skopje, Macedonia!  I officially left Spain Thursday afternoon.  I don't know how I did it, but I managed to fit all of my stuff plus what I bought while I was there in one large and one small suitcase.  I feel pretty proud of that accomplishment.  We'll see how I do on August 15. 
My last weeks in Spain felt like ages since I was definitely ready to move on.  The English classes got lazier as the month went on and my last week there they were almost non-existent.  My family planned a nice dinner party with the neighbors and some friends on my last night which was a really nice way to go out.  The highlight of the night was a quote from one of their friends, Lola, who was in love with my hair. 
"What is this called that I'm doing...planching?"
"No, braiding.."
"Ahh! Raping! I'm raping your hair!"
I was laughing so hysterically that it took me a minute or so to contain myself so that I could explain to her what she had said. 
Thursday morning, I woke up early unable to sleep and finished packing.  Before I walked out the door, I went into Patricia's room to say goodbye to her since she was still in bed.  I waved and said "I'm leaving!" and went to shake her hand.  She grabbed my hand and when I tried to walk away she wouldn't let go.  I felt for the first time like maybe I really did connect with her and that maybe she really did like me!  I decided to think of it that way instead of looking at it as she probably just wanted me to help pull her up out of bed since she had a tendency of doing that.

I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece just after 7:30 and found my friend Aleksandra happily waiting for me.  Her boyfriend, his brother, and the 2 of us went back over the border of Greece into Macedonia to stay the night at her boyfriend's family's small summer house, then yesterday we went back to Thessaloniki to spend the day.  I suppose when people hear you say "I'm going to Greece!" they imagine you walking along the beach all day long and taking pictures of houses built alongside the sea.  But Thessaloniki doesn't really look that way.  It is along the sea, but the beach was pretty far away and the houses are farther inland.  We spent the day walking around the city and going in shops.  It was a good taste of Greece for the first time and now I am definitely looking forward to the day when I can go back to see Athens and other typical Grecian cities. 
From Thessaloniki, we drove back to Skopje, Macedonia which is where Aleks is from.  She lives in a small apartment with her brother and grandma who does not speak any English.  I finally feel like I am experiencing something new since Spain didn't feel much different, at least not where I was living, and I was able to communicate in either Spanish or English with almost everyone I met.  I've been told that the whole apartment building will be talking about the fact that there is an American staying here and that when we go out in the city, people will probably stare at me. 
I'm really excited for the next couple of weeks but I am also very ready to be home again and to get back to my normal routine.  And as I write that I can already feel myself eating my words.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Dear Reader,
Here I am sitting outside, feet up, contemplating life. 

Don't I sound so philosophical.  But let's be honest :
I'm sitting outside because I feel extremely awkward in the house while the housekeeper is cleaning.
My feet are up because I'm elevating my fat cankle to try to keep the swelling down.
And I'm not so much contemplating life as I am staring at the white curtains over my head thinking that someone should clean off the bird shit.

I digress.

And I confess that this post will most likely not be as entertaining as others in the past.  I don't know if it's because I really don't have any stories or if it's because the mood I'm in isn't allowing me to think of any nor give them a funny twist.  So I guess, I'm about to get serious.

As the end of my time in Spain approaches like the Ave (a Spanish high speed train), I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I've learned/come to realize.

1) Those personality tests really don't lie
Freshman year I took a 1 credit "career exploration" course along with a bunch of other lost and undeclared UWEC newbies.  We took a lot of personality tests.  I didn't really need to take one to know that I am an extroverted person, but there was always one question that stuck out to me :
"Do you get energy from being around others?" (or some variation of that).  I never really knew how to answer it because I never considered where my energy came from.  But one thing I was certain of was that I wasn't particularly a fan of being alone.  But not until this summer did I really understand that my energy does in fact come from other people.  I have spent the majority of my days here very secluded from other people.  My human interaction has mostly consisted of 2 painful hours everyday of English lessons with 2 very spoiled teenagers.  Most days I have absolutely no energy or motivation to do anything, so it becomes a vicious cycle.  I need people to feel alive, but I spend so much time alone that I lack even the energy to go out and be with people, which is what I need!  Getting the picture?  I also realized that the reason the question was difficult to answer was because until now, I have never been without close friends and family nearby or without a group that would become my close family and friends (here's looking at you, CRSA 10). 

2) Host families are great...
...But I have outgrown them.  Maybe it's my American upbringing, but this summer it's been made very clear to me that I just simply cannot handle a lack of independence at any level.  Whether it's buying my own groceries, making my own meals, going where I want to go and not having to say that I'm going, or just the choice of not having my bed made everyday (well I don't make it, the housekeeper does).  I felt the same with the first host family go-round in Costa Rica, but I just thought it was due to the circumstance I was in, living alone with the abuelita.  But no.  I realize now that I was raised to be an independent person and it's not something that I can switch off.   Nor do I want to.

3) I am never having kids
Seriously.  I know I always joke about this, but now I really think it's official. 
Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.  These kids really aren't the worst that they could be.  However, they are disrespectful, unmotivated, and have no sense of responsibility.  Not to mention they are beyond spoiled....which I have already mentioned.  But whose fault is that?  The parenting here certainly leaves a lot to be desired.  Last weekend, I went to visit a famous city with some of the other tutors that are here on the same program.  We spent the majority of the time venting about our kids and comparing parenting tactics.  Empty disciplinary threats and disrespectful kids (from ages 5-18) were common themes of discussion.  So maybe I will have kids, though at this point it's seeming unlikely, but at least I have learned some things about how not to parent.

4) The importance of social skills
More specifically, how to talk to people that come from different places than you and who have different personalities.  I know that one of my weaknesses is that I struggle to respect the view points of other people when they are different than mine, especially on points such as gay rights, politics, and other issues surrounding social justice.  At the same time, I think one of my strengths is standing by what I believe in.  So finding the middle is something I have wanted to improve on for a while now.  Anyway, the reason I mention this is because on the weekend trip with the other tutors, I found it really interesting the group dynamic considering that we were all from different parts of the U.S.  The Midwest dominated (represent!) with 3 of the 7 of us being from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.  Two others live and work in South Dakota, but are originally from Minnesota as well.  Then we had both coasts with Massachusetts and California.  It was clear that our personalities were not all destined to click right off the bat, and it was also the first time many of us had met.  It was a good challenge to know how to act around each other, how to carry on conversations, and even how to make decisions.  Even though there were some times when you could cut the tension with a knife, I really enjoyed the weekend for the experience that it was.  I couldn't think of another time when I had been with that many people in differing stages of life from various parts of the country.

5) The future freaks me out
It didn't really sink in to me when school got out, but this is my last "official" summer.  I actually have to start to think about what I'm going to do after this school year, which I absolutely hate.  I am a here and now kind of person, so thinking into the future tends to give me anxiety.  I'm also not a fan of planning.  Basically, this situation is everything I dread in life.  So what next?  Good f....g question.

In 13 days, my bags will be packed, I will say farewell to the suburbs, and I will be on a plane heading to Thessaloniki, Greece.  From there it's 2 weeks in Macedonia and Bulgaria, visiting some very good friends.  This is the part of my trip that has given me something to look forward to and kept me going when those damn English classes make my hair fall out.
And despite this trip not being everything I had hoped and dreamed, I still love to travel and want to see the world, and I still am aspiring to be an expatriate (see Facebook profile, about me section).  There are a lot more things that I have learned here and there about myself, and I'm not done yet so I know there are more lessons to come in the last month I have away from home.