Serene Semana - Brenna Brutscher

For anyone who has ever missed a night’s sleep, my heart truly goes out to them. I’ve been fortunate enough during my time in Spain to have accomplished many feats of falling asleep. My first exhausting month in the new culture with the new schedule allowed me to fall asleep with the TV on down the hall and my bedroom light on. That takes skill, as far as I’m concerned…. or exhaustion. :)

The reason I bring up sleep is because my weeklong break in the program here in Spain consisted of a bus ride to Madrid during the night, where my friend Kristen and I flew to see some friends in Switzerland for about 5 days. The night bus should’ve offered a night of sleep to be ready on Tuesday morning for a day in the lovely Swiss nation, but my sleep came in increments of 20 minutes, interrupted by neck aches. I shouldn’t complain, though, because Switzerland offered enough rest for the week to set me straight.

My goal this trip was to see something new in the Geneva/Burtigny area, and spend time with Shelby and Sylvain, our hosts. The week began with a trip in to Geneva where Kristen and I saw St. Peter’s Cathedral (can’t get enough of that place, to be honest!), the Reformation Wall, and several shops littered throughout the city. A quick sidestep, though, takes me to a story from the Reformation wall. There are life sized chess sets that reside in the northern part of the park that houses the Wall. Kristen and I decided to try our hand at a game of chess, and started moving the plastic pieces to their proper locations. In the middle of the game, a few Albanians came and sat on a bench facing our chess board. How did I know that they were Albanians? Simple! They told us. Through a series of events, they ended up playing with us, one on Kristen’s team and one on mine. We had a good laugh about it all, thanked them, and then were on our way to find some lunch.

On the whole, my time in Switzerland was a pocket of gold during my Study Abroad experience. It was a good break to rest, be somewhere familiar, spend time with friends, and feel the liberty of communicating in English for the most part. Kristen and I were even blessed by a trip to France for a day, as we took the ferry across Lake Geneva to a city called Yvoire, which was filled with the scent of sweet wine and Christmas sweets. The city was beginning to show signs of the nearing holiday, which brought with it an unexplainable joy for me. We ate a couple of french crêpes and made our way back to Switzerland that afternoon, spending the last couple of days in Burtigny.

I believe it was Saturday, the second of November, that I was sitting up on what I call ‘my bench’ in Burtigny which honestly doesn’t belong to me in any way, shape or form, other than the fact that I’ve sat on it a few times over the past two years. I was gazing out at the mountains, praising God under my breath for such a wonderful creation, even though they were partly covered. As I sat on this knoll, I heard a distinct sound echoing around me, and realized that I recognized the sound as cowbells in a rather large number! It turns out that the cows were coming in from the hills, making their way to their winter home along with the many farmers guiding them along the street. I ran down to the main road that passes through Burtigny, blessed for the second time in my life by watching the cows come home. :)

Now that I’m back in Sevilla, it’s a nose-to-the-grindstone situation as we have just over a month left (well, at the time I’m posting this I have just UNDER a month) until returning home. Coming back to Spain after a break was very positive for me, since I could look at Spain with a new pair of eyes again, and appreciate the things I love about it, and recognize what is hard for me culturally. Although it’s still an uphill battle, I’ve had a few victory moments in Spanish, where I either understand things very well, or have the ability to communicate grammatically correct (more or less) what I’m thinking. It’s only by God’s grace, because I’ve had my fair share of “I give up” moments. Somehow, even though I still have to work at it, he gives me enough patience to do it one day at a time. I have such a new outlook on people who are speaking a second language that they had to learn. I’m so blessed to have this opportunity, and it felt good to come home after a week in a third language country (it’s true- I consider my shoddy French the beginning of a third language). Needless to say, it’s a race to the finish from here.

Until the cows come home,

El Sabor de Sevilla: Jenna H

I Love Rosa

I woke up this a hurry because Rosa wanted to go out for lunch! For anyone who knows me at all, you know this is my all time favorite activity. So I got dressed super fast and we went out.

We strolled until we got to the place Rosa had selected. She took us to her favorite tapas bar where her family always goes when they go out. We asked her what was good to eat, and she recommended her favorites.

We ate delicious food and then Rosa treated us again by ordering the specialty of the house for us. Little sandwiches with baby-sized eggs and ham! Allison and Rosa joked that I needed breakfast still, because I just woke up. Ha.

We offered to pay when we were done, and Rosa would not have that. At all. She almost yelled "PUT YOUR HANDS AWAY" when we reached for money. It is just so sweet that she wants to "treat" us because I feel like she treats us every day.

So then we went to have coffee! It's common here to have coffee after lunch, but I didn't expect another treat! We went to our favorite place, Las Palomas, and had wild berry cake and coffees. We ran into Seth and Elyse who were glad to meet our senora. I was so proud to show her off. :)

On our way home we stopped by the supermarket for groceries. I love that she took us with her because she usually doesn't. But we got to pick out what foods we wanted, including the JUMBO size jar of off-brand Nutella. It's way better than the real stuff, believe it or not. I also got some coffee to take home, to remind me of the coffee we have every morning here in Rosa's house.

We walked home and unpacked groceries, and now here I am writing this!

I can't really explain how happy Rosa makes me. I think it is the epitome of "blessed." She is like an angel sent to take care of me and make me feel at home. I literally love her.

Allison told me that her mom prayed every day that when we got to Spain we would be blessed with a senora who is great. I know my Mama prayed too, and let me say that the power of prayer sure works. God blessed us all three so much. Rosa always tells us how she loves us like children and can't bear to think of us leaving.

Holiday Party

Today Allison and I got a wee surprise. We went to a holiday party!!

Here's the story:

Allison and I were just sitting on the couch watching TV when Rosa came in. She looks at us and says, "Are you ready for a snack?" And of course we just smile and say, "SURE!"

She leaves the room, comes back in, sees us still sitting, and says (loudly) "VENGA!!" which means something along the lines of, "come on hurry up!!"

We were so confused.

It ends up that Rosa wanted to take us to eat at her sister's house! So we run into our room to change out of our pajamas and throw some makeup on. We literally run out the door in like 5 minutes and walk over to Rosa's sister, Conchi's, house.

We got to meet all the family and sit down and chat. We shared this delicious pound cake cream filled roll of golden goodness, coffee, tea, chocolates, and candies. Oh yum. So good!

We got to see the HUGE nativity scene that Conchi has set up. It's miniature, but it's three levels, complete with functioning built-in lighting. Wow.

We got to play with their dog that is so cute. It made me miss my puppy!!

Lastly, we took our group picture of the three of us. Rosa has pictures of all her students and her that she puts on her mantle. And today we took ours! I doubt I'll get a copy, but it will be cool to know that all her future girls will get to see us.

So overall it was a surprisingly fun day!!

A Semester of First Times: Megan Toombs

The joy that a person feels when they do something for the first time is hard to describe, but it is a joy that I hope everyone experiences at some point in their life.

This semester in Spain has been full of first times already, and we are only seven weeks into the semester. This is the first time I have spent a semester abroad. I have traveled in Europe before, I spent a month traveling to a number of different countries in the summer of 2009, but I have never spent 4 months in a foreign country.

Upon arrival I met my host family for the first time. What a shock! I walked into a house, filled with strangers who spoke a language I hardly understood. It was 10:00 pm at night, I had traveled for 36 hours, and I was so tired I could hardly walk a straight line. But, I managed to introduce myself, and have a small conversation before I went to bed. When I woke up for the first time in the room that was to be home for four months, I had no idea where I was. Across the room I heard someone say “hello,” I rolled over and there was my roommate, the first American I met in Sevilla, and my first friend.

Later that day, I walked around Sevilla for the first time, and realized that I love living in a city. Meeting new people is always a great first time experience, especially when you become good friends and can look back and say, “remember when we first met.” When I first met the professors, staff members, and other students of Acento, I’m pretty sure they would say of me, “remember when we first met and you were so jet lagged you looked like a zombie…” Yes, of course, there are first times being jet lagged.

There are those times when I tried to talk to my Señora, and never felt like we were communicating. And then there was that day when I realized that I had been having a conversation with her for the past 30 minutes, and never even realized it! There are those times when I went to church and couldn’t understand a word, and then a few weeks later I could understand almost everything going on.

There are the first times meeting new Spanish friends, and the first time going out with those friends and finding out that I am the only one who speaks English. This was somewhat of a scary first time experience, but when it was over, and I realized that I had just hung out with friends in a foreign country; in a foreign language….and I actually talked quite a bit during the evening, the feeling of accomplishment was exhilarating.

There are also the first times trying new foods, and ordering that food in Spanish. Specific times that come to mind are when I ordered hot chocolate and it was actually hot, melted, thick chocolate in a tiny mug. SOOOOO GOOD! Or the two times I ordered some type of dish with fish and the fish was raw, I definitely did not eat much of it, but I did try it. There is also the first time you eat fried fish and find out the bones and the head and the scales are all still there, or eat squid with eyes still attached. Or the first time your roommate orders something called Menudo and you find out its cow stomach. I am still a little nervous when I order food, but I’m guessing that won’t last long, and I will be so happy when I can say that I ordered food, and I am quite certain what it is.

Another accomplishment that made my roommate and I feel good about ourselves was when we conquered the bus system. We have our bus cards, and we know which bus gets us to wherever we need to go. Slightly more difficult than the local bus system, is buying bus tickets for a trip. The first time my roommate, our friend, and I did this we were quite thrilled with our accomplishment. It wasn’t just that we had bought bus tickets for a trip that we were looking forward to, it was that we had done it all in Spanish.

There was the first time I saw the Mediterranean Sea, and the first time I saw Spanish mountains. The first time we saw the countryside, and farms. The first time I gave directions in Spanish to a native Spaniard, and first time I returned to Sevilla from a weekend trip, and realized I was home.

There are many other first times that have happened and will happen while I and the rest of the Acento students are in Sevilla. Some of those first times may not be our favorites, and many of those first times will be incredibly fun, but hopefully through it all we will grow as people in our language capability, in our spiritual lives, and in our capability to handle any situation.

Tales from Toledo: by Linnea Luzzo

Toledo. Two days. One city. Many swords.

If I could think of one word to describe my experience in Toledo, it would definitely be: unexpected. Don’t get me wrong, I was extremely excited to go on yet another awesome excursion with the school, especially with the knowledge that we were traveling further north. But, after learning that we needed to be at the school at 6:20 am, and we needed to pack warmer clothes because of the colder climate, I wasn’t as enthused. But, as soon as I got a small nap in and awoke to the famous windmills of Don Quixote, I knew this wouldn’t just be an average trip.

When we arrived in Toledo, we were told by one of our fearless leaders, Carmen, that Toledo is famous for their sword-making. Swords? I was skeptical. But then, Carmen explained that the swords for movies like Lord of the Rings and Braveheart were made in Toledo. Like I said, unexpected. After we all checked in to our hotel, a bunch of us decided to check out said swords (they were impressive) and later met with the group to visit a church containing a painting by El Greco and a monastery.

Some of the guys showing off their skills as we anxiously wait to enter La Iglesia de Santo Tomé.

After our visits, we were given free time to explore the city. Most of the monuments had closed by the time we were finished, so it was up to us to be creative. As we walked around the city, we stumbled upon a monastery that sold desserts of mazapán (another one of Toledo’s claims to fame). We met a nice nun from India there and began to talk to another customer, Pedro, who we later learned was a Jehovah’s Witness. We began talking to both of them, and eventually we ended up having theological discussions. What word would I use to describe this experience? You guessed it…unexpected. Toledo was slowly becoming my favorite place. Where else could I have a conversation about the sanctity of Mary with a nun and Jehovah’s Witness…in Spanish?

Alissa and Jessica with our delectable, nun-crafted mazapán treats.

The remainder of our evening consisted of: a walk with Pedro, which included more discussion; a stop at the library to read random books on anatomy, landscapes, and world cultures (of course, in Spanish); my first taste of delicious paella; a stop for 1-euro “Cono Kit-Kats” at McDonald’s; and to end the night, a few rounds of “Mafia”.

The next day, we got up early to grab some breakfast and to head out to see Toledo’s cathedral. For the rest of the afternoon, we were given more free time to scope out the city. Some of us ended up walking along the river that surrounds the city, chatting and occasionally quoting Lord of the Rings (can you blame us? We felt like we were in the Shire, and the swords had inspired us.)

Not only was my time in Toledo filled with fascinating architecture and paintings (as all of Spain is), it was a time for us to continue building relationships with the members of our program. From the games played to pass the time on the bus to the late-night talks in the hotel, Toledo gave us all the opportunity to get to know each other, and to laugh a lot. This week, we are headed to Ronda, and I can’t wait to see what the city has in store for us. I’m not sure that anything can beat out my experience in Toledo, but who knows? Maybe my experience in Ronda will be just as unexpected.

The life of a Señora: As told by Nicole Reynolds

When I grow up, I wouldn’t mind to have the life of my senora.

Every morning she gets up and neatly sets out our breakfast of crackers , peanut butter and nutella on the table along with Alissa’s orange juice and a mug for me if I want to make some tea and then goes for a walk down the street to what she calls her second home, café Don Diego. No matter what time of the day she goes to Don Diego I’m sure there are at least 3 or 4 friends of her there whom she can sit and talk with while drinking her coffee and eating breakfast.

Being a senora and in charge of our meals for the day, she is always thinking about what “strong” lunch she can make for us and what would be good for our stomachs at dinner. So, after coffee she walks down to the carnicería, fruitería, panadería and the neighborhood supermarket to buy the necessary food for the day’s meals.

Never forgetting about her dog, Vita, she returns to her apartment to get Vita and together they go for a walk to get the newspaper and whatever the newsstand is giving away that day. All this takes up most of the morning because it seems to me that she knows everybody she passes so she of course stops and talks about the ever present and unusual bad weather, the anti smoking law that got passed in January, or whatever her new topic of the week is. By the time she gets back to her apartment, its time to get lunch ready for when my roommate and I get back around 2.

Lunch is a big part of the day for her, to her it is the most important meal so we spend about an hour eating and talking…mostly alissa and I practicing our listening and understanding skills, which I am happy to say, are improving! After the dishes are clean and her kitchen is put in order, the afternoon finds her once again at Don Diego, socializing and occasionally going out to the terrace to smoke (this part of her life I won’t include in my future plans). Don Diego is like one big family. She walks in and any one of the waiters, who know her all by name, are already getting ready to make her drink. She sits down at the bar (20 cents cheaper to sit at the bar!) and asks the man sitting next to her how his wife is doing and the lady beside him if she’s doing ok since her dog died, all this of course after giving out several besitos and hellos.

I don’t think my senora ever leaves the house without checking what fruit, bread or other food might be lacking, so on her way home she might visit a tienda or two, pop into the hairdresser to say hi or walk on over to Cortefiel to see if they got any new shirts she might want to buy.

Dinner is at 9, on the dot. Since she is the senora, she puts all the food on the table and Alissa and I go ahead and start eating while she finishes organizing or cooking the meal. I don’t know how, after talking all day with her various friends, but Blanca always has even more to say at dinner and usually that lasts for almost an hour also without a lull in the conversation. She likes to practice her English words she knows so my brain gets to work even harder trying to understand the Spanish and then make places for the random English that is almost harder to understand. The night is the one time my senora likes for herself and she likes to spend it in her “privado” (what she calls her extra room) watching tv, looking at facebook and tucked comfortably into one of their amazing heated tables.

I’m pretty sure Blanca lives her life in about 2 square blocks of her neighborhood, Triana. but from what I can tell that is pretty normal for life here in Seville. You don’t drive all the way across town to go to Wal-Mart; instead, why not just walk down the street to the local meat store where you’ve known the owner for years and his wife makes you special croquetas every once in a while? Or go ask your friend at the fruit store when you can start buying strawberries because as she told you yesterday, they’re not really good right now and too expensive so you wouldn’t be getting a good deal anyways. And, of course it makes sense that you spend your afternoon chatting with friends in the same café that you went 30 years ago on the day it opened.

Even though at times her house can be cold and uninviting, I get really tired and miss my bed, or I wish I could have one of my mom’s delicious dinners, my senora has taught me more just by living her daily life than I could learn in two years of school: how to be a Sevillian and love your life, even in the little things.

An Alumni Story: Fighting Windmills

When I think back to my time with Acento, one of my favorite memories that comes to mind is our trip to Toledo. Or rather, a brief stop we made while on the way to Toledo. Partway through the journey, we stopped in la Mancha, to see the famous windmills of Don Quixote.

Let me explain a bit, in case you aren’t familiar with the story of Don Quixote. Don Quixote is about a delusional old man who thinks that he is a knight, in an age long after knights were actually around. Probably the most famous scene from it is when he is riding on his horse and spots several windmills in the distance. Being the delusional person that he is, he immediately thinks that they are monsters and begins to attack them.

During the first week of class, I had heard from one of the professors that we would be visiting the windmills. I immediately became very excited and started planning for the trip right away. I went to one of the local stores a found a styrofoam sword. I got a few weird looks carrying it back to my apartment, but it was well worth it in the end.

The day of the trip, I brought the sword with me. When we arrived at the windmills, I had my roommate take several photos of me fighting the “monsters.” It wasn’t long before some of the other students realized what I was doing and started asking to have their pictures taken with “the gallant warrior.” I quickly became the most popular person on that particular trip. When we stopped in Toledo, I was able to purchase a real sword. I never got a chance to use the real one against the windmills (I doubt that much epicness could have been packed into one trip), but I still keep it in my room, as a reminder of that trip.

-Brett Meyer, Fall 2009, Northwestern College

Student Profile: Katie Waldner

Living in a European, Spanish-speaking city is about as far from normal as I could have gone. I attend Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN, where I major in Linguistics and Spanish, so I have some city experience, but my rural South Dakotan unbringing presents a pretty stark contrast to a place like Sevilla. However, I’ve found this city, its people and this program to be a wonderful place to learn, change, and stretch myself. I hope to work as an interpreter when I graduate this coming spring, and when I leave Sevilla in just under two months, I will have prepared myself for more than just a job.
I’d been preparing myself to go to Spain for over a year, trying to imagine what kinds of challenges I’d encounter, what sorts of places I’d see, and especially what kind of people I’d live and work with. Now that I’m here there’s so much to talk about (even though my time’s only half done), so I’ll try to share just a few of the key highlights.
I knew studying abroad would be hard, though full of great experiences, too. Everyone I talked to before I left was full of admiration, telling me how smart I was for planning this while I’m still young, how brave I was for being willing to live overseas, and how lucky I was to have such an opportunity. As the time got closer, however, I felt the opposite, because I was the one actually going. And then I got on the plane. I was right; studying abroad is hard. The highlight in all of that is that the staff, professors, and host families are willing to do so much to share that burden of difficulty. Yes, it’s hard to change cultures, but they offer themselves in order to lighten our loads, enabling us to better appreciate the great experiences. And no, I’m not trying to get brownie points. It’s true. A friend and I got stuck in Paris during the strike. Even though most of what went wrong was our fault, we had people at school making calls, asking questions that we couldn’t, and finding out what options we had. The staff is also always available to talk about anything that’s going on, whether it’s homesickness, school troubles, or anything else. They are always there to listen to help in any way they can. We are well taken care of. Without them, this program would be lacking.
Another big highlight for me has been just living in a city like Sevilla. The pace of life here is wonderful, so tranquil and relaxed. It drove me crazy for about a day, and then I decided to enjoy it. Since then, it’s been heaven. How often in my life will I have a scheduled naptime? Probably never again. The city itself is also full of history and great things to see and take in. I’ve been here over two months, and I’m still excited to keep learning more about where I live, to find the places that we learn about in class. And although we have to watch our backs for pickpockets, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this safe in a city. For as big as it is, it has a great small-town feeling that I don’t think many cities this size can boast. And personally, I think my neighborhood, Triana, is one of the best in Sevilla.
Finally, I’ve learned something important that has become a highlight for me. Like most new experiences, there’s a choice involved in living here: you can accept the changes and decide to like them, or you can fight them and settle for being miserable. It’s a good life lesson, and Sevilla gives everyone who visits the option to face it. Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.