Monday, September 28, 2009

Dear Friends,

So, here we are in Spain. As you can imagine, this is a great and truly rare opportunity that we’re very excited about. Now what if I told you that you could help us on this adventure? It’s true.

I’m working on getting a scholarship lined up through a nice organization called Crosslites. Each year they have an essay contest, with the top prize being a $2,000 scholarship award. But the Crosslites judges are only part of the process. Our friends’ and family’s votes also carry some weight in this process. In fact, they count for a lot. This particular part of the process counts for 90% of each entrant’s piece. Of course, this is where you all come in.

Please go to read my piece. (Don’t worry it’s short – only about 600 words long, is all.) You should see my name listed there. This is your chance to help a couple of students in a real way. Plus, my essay sums up a lot of Sarah’s and my experience in Indonesia and how it affected us. So maybe you can help us as we continue to make sense of that whole experience. You can vote as many times as you like too. And feel free to send us your comments. We’d appreciate them.

Thanks for your support in everything we’ve done. We look forward to hearing from you.

Vote early and vote often, because this time it's legal.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 26, 2009

Learning the language of Spain (that is, “Spanish”) is much easier than learning the language of Indonesia (that would be “Indonesian”). This might seem obvious. But really it’s not as obvious as it may seem, and it’s not obvious for the reasons we all might think.

First of all, picking up Spanish is easier because, if you reach back to what you learned in high school, it’s a Romantic language. Communication is comunicación, etc. So, yes. We English and Spanish speakers have a lot in common. However, Bahasa Indonesian is a new language (first taught in schools around 1945) and hasn’t gone through all the evolution and morphing that Spanish and English has. That should make it much easier to learn, because there’s not all that cryptic crap and slang mixed in yet.

Blah, blah, blah. Boring.

For me, the true reason that Spanish is easier to pick up than Indonesian is because people here are much more willing to teach you their language. If I could have another moment to reflect on Indonesia: It was somewhat frustrating to try and use what little of the language we had learned at the grocery or the café. That is to say, when whitey tries speaking Indonesian it’s almost always a hilarious event… especially to women, for some reason. I could hardly say anything without some giggling that was then followed by, “Apa?” (what?). An unstable and somewhat strange combination were we: funny and incomprehensible. In addition to being ill-at-ease with strange sounding foreigners, most people in a developing nation want to show off how much English they know, to practice. At least that was our experience. And often if we asked, how do you say it’s raining or what’s in that sauce, it was difficult to get a good answer. Often they just weren’t interested in talking about their language for some reason. Not always of course. But getting language questions answered was a privilege one had to earn with much time… even from other white people who knew the language.

Most of our housemates here speak at least some English and put us to shame with their knowledge of French, German, Italian and in one case Chinese. But that helps us goofy Americans out a lot. And we’re learning. But there’s so much farther we have to go. For instance, explaining to our beef-loving Argentinean housemate Guido (pronounced ghee-doh) why we haven’t eaten meat in over 10 years was pretty much a lost cause. Neither one of us had enough common language to discuss the many facets of that subject. So we gave up. He said I was still OK though. It’s also interesting to note that our Spanish residents make fun of Guido’s accent.

Another housemate, Isiduardo (or just Isi), told me I need to learn Spanish, “So you can be relationships,” he said Now, I’m not quite sure what Isi’s definition of relationships entails. So I let that one go. But I am proud to say I’ve acquired enough Spanish to communicate – both less incomprehensibly and less hilariously – about how our laundry would need to be done a different day to our housekeeper, who speaks zero English. (Pablo, another housemate, told me her name about three times and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t get it.) So… I’m improving. I guess.

Yet we do not just take from this culture. Oh no. We have made contributions to our housemate’s English lexicon as well. I’ve been able to settle some confusion over a few hip-hop terms – which I will not repeat here, for many reasons. I also was able help Pablo understand the somewhat subtle difference between snot and booger after he’d watched Revenge of the Nerds. (I thought he was talking about Revenge of the Nurse at first, of which I am unfamiliar.) Interestingly enough, I also taught an entire class the definition of booger in Indonesia. (“Mr. Peter, mucous sticky-sticky. What is like stone?”) It’s a popular English word, apparently. Maybe I don’t use it enough.


As always, we’ll keep you posted as to where we are as we crawl up this learning curve in Spain. I’ll also let you know what our housekeeper’s name is after I learn it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009

So, Sarah’s taking an ethics class. It seems she has us discussing ethical issues (or seemingly ethical issues) wherever we go…pondering questions like “What is cultural relativism? Should we make a comment when someone steals our bath soap? What if their culture doesn’t have the same beliefs about property as we do?” Etc.

People aren’t that much different here in Spain than they are in the States. The unemployment rate is high here too. Almost twice the U.S.’s actually. So when the weight of the world gets too heavy to bear, what’s a brother to do? That’s right. Take it out on the dog.

There aren’t any leash laws in Spain. (Nor do you have to clean up after your dogs, so watch where you’re stepping in Madrid.) The other day Sarah and I were walking back from the grocery, enjoying all Madrid had to offer, when a dog (boxer? lab?… I don’t know – they’re all mutts here) runs past us. Fido was then quickly followed by an older Spaniard, chasing him at a pretty impressive clip across a couple of lanes of traffic. He caught up with his dog about a half a block on in the middle of the parkway.

As we got closer, we realized this stressed out little man was beating the living crap out of his wayward dog. It went on and on – scolding him, backhanding him, slapping him, grabbing his jowls, then more scolding, backhanding, slapping and grabbing again and again… over and over. Finally, when he kicked Fido and the poor dog yipped, well, that was it. We’d both had enough. Even though we hadn’t been in Spain quite two weeks, Sarah and I both felt at home enough to yell at the guy. “Hey, leave him alone!” Sarah shouted. I told him to “Knock it off!” both of which I’m sure were lost somewhere in translation. We’re pretty sure he got the idea though.

And he did knock it off. I think he might’ve even got the hint that he went too far with his corrective canine measures. I’m sure he cared very much for his companion. But why this need to absolutely crush one who’s made a mistake under his righteous indignation? I could theorize, but let’s just leave it as it simply being a human reaction. I find myself kicking the dog sometimes too. But when I do, I hope you’ll be that brash American who will yell at me from across the street. I’ll get the idea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


We´re trying to be technologically savvy. Trying is the key word here.

As such, we´ve created a Flickr account where you can see pictures of our random travels.

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009

Ah… Madrid. It is truly amazing.

I arrived in Madrid and found the guy who was to take Peter and I to our new apartment. He was holding a sign which said “Peter Roth”. He kept saying something about manaña, and I kept telling him I couldn’t find my husband. He eventually found someone on the other end of his cell phone that spoke enough English to tell me Peter wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. Ok, I headed to our new home.

We share a house with people from Venezuela, Peru, Jamaica, Colombia, and Spain. It is a crazy, multicultural home. They are all very nice and somehow we all try to figure out what we’re saying to each other. All of us are students and attend at least 4 different colleges in Madrid.

And, if I thought that was “multicultural,” my experience with varying countries got more diverse as my first week progressed. In orientation, we were assigned to groups by the first letter of our last name. In my group of about 30 students, there were over 10 different countries represented. At lunch, I ate with students from Switzerland, Japan, China and New York. The school itself has students from over 65 different countries.

Multicultural experience was a part of my objective in going to school abroad. My living environment and school setting will offer great chances for me to get to learn about many different places and the people who live there. I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009

There goes the neighborhood.

Well, I made it here. I´m still wrapping my mind around the idea that I will be living and studying in Madrid for the next two or so years. For a while I wasn´t sure I would actually ever make it here.

A few of you might know that I was two days late arriving in Madrid. Yep. Two whole days. Sarah made it right on time though. You see, we came on separate flights. We were going to leave on the same day and arrive with a difference of only a couple of hours. That was the plan. It didn´t happen that way though.

The original plan was that since Sarah´s program started a month before mine (hers on Sept. 3rd and mine on Oct. 5th), I would join her around mid-September. Might as well earn a little extra cash instead of sitting around beautiful Madrid doing nothing but writing blogs and drinking coffee and Rioja. You know, do something productive. However, I couldn´t find any work at all in Fort Wayne, so I decided to come with Sarah. Problem was she´d already gotten her plane reservation, and I had to go on a different airline. I know this sounds weird, but it´s the way of the world in these troubled times.

I got held up by severe weather and missed my connector to Madrid by, literally, minutes. So I stayed the night in a crappy Best Western in Atlanta and ate dinner with a guy named Gabriel, who was in the Air Force and was trying to get back to base in Tampa. Next day, my flight was overbooked. I gave up my seat for 600 Delta-dollars, a free hotel and free food. I missed Sarah, but we were only going to be in orientation most of the time, right? And now, we got a free flight.

So I end up getting her finally. Obviously. I think my first words in the Admissions Office were, ¨Hi, I´m two days late.¨They were all waiting for me and were glad to see I made it. Now I have job prospects for tutoring English and will start working with undergrads in the Writing Center next week. And, by the way, all I missed the first day of orientation was a big talk about alcohol abuse and rape. Sarah filled me in, so now I know what to look out for. (She won´t pull any of that funny stuff on me.) Sarah´s into her fourth full day of classes as I write this and likes her profs so far. She mostly hangs out with the Masters students and sits at our table during lunch. She tells people she´s dating an upperclassman. She´s so cool and over the undergrad thing...