Sunday, October 21, 2012

A long overdue update

I can't believe it's been more than two months since I lasted updated this blog.  I don't know how I was on such a roll in Spain but once I got back to America--poof! there went my inspiration!  I'd like to blame the sudden onset of writer's block on the start of school but you'd think getting back into the routine of reading and writing like a madwoman would have actually jumpstarted my creative processes.  Anyway, I'm hoping to get back into the groove of updating, even if it's just a little note here and there.

The last month or so has been a series of attempts to figure out what I want to do once I graduate.  The final verdict I came to?  Graduate school.  I'm extremely excited by the idea of devoting another 4-6 years of study to further exploration of Spanish literature but I have to say, I'm incredibly intimidated by the application process alone.  After a few weeks of research regarding programs, I've narrowed it down to eight universities: University of Michigan, Brown, Yale, UT Austin, UCLA, Stanford, New York University (they offer a one-year MA program in Madrid of all places!) and UC Davis (MA).  I have some doubt as far as my chances of getting accepted into many of these programs but I've done well in my coursework here and I want to throw my hat in the ring and see what happens.  For each application, I'm required to submit a statement of purpose, a personal statement and a writing sample, among the standard supplementary materials (GRE scores, transcripts, etc.).  I'm a little bogged down by all that I'll need to have completed by the end of December/beginning of January but I made a schedule to help me think of the process of applying to graduate school as a series of steps.  One thing at a time, right?

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my classes and I can't believe that this is my last year here at Cal.  I don't think I ever anticipated my time as an undergraduate student to fly by so quickly.  Nevertheless, I'm anxious to see what the future holds (though not so anxious to dig into some of this work) and I can't wait to see where these applications take me!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yo ya no soy yo

A few days before my departure from Madrid I began composing an e-mail draft that I had meant to send along to my mom.  Instead, my update turned into an impromptu writing exercise:

Yo ya no soy yo.
Por lo menos no soy el mismo yo interior.
~ Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

  As my time in Madrid comes to a close, I find myself searching for a way to epitomize my stay here.  I could recount the multitude of experiences that I've had in the last month--the strolls through Sol, the sleepy-eyed passengers aboard the Metro, laughter echoing the streets on a late Saturday night--but somehow that isn't enough.  Simply retelling all that has happened here lacks a certain cohesiveness.  I could write and write, meticulously detailing every moment spent in this miraculous city, but a certain essence characteristic of Madrid remains incommunicable.  In four short weeks, I've fallen madly in love with Spain, a fondness I can only describe as an unfathomable warmth, a newfound affection for a life I've only dreamed of.  It's one thing to indulge in fleeting hours wishing for the fulfillment of a long-held dream--it's quite another to experience the transformation of an imagined journey into reality.

  Somehow being in Madrid has managed to satisfy the restless longing that has accompanied my daily existence for several years now.  It's as if a bed of embers buried deep within me has suddenly burst into blue flickering flames.  I'm alive in a way that I never was before.  I'm content with the adventure of experiential learning, finding new knowledge in the field, in contact, in communication.  I'm fulfilled in a way that I never knew I could be--I'm awake.  Spain has given me the most beautiful of gifts: a self-confidence long-lost, a satisfaction with my own being.

  I wish there was a better way for me to express what the last month has meant to me.  Grasping at words, these phrases that I hope in some way can make sense of my time here, what I write is not quite what I want to say.  What I can tell you is that if you have the chance to step outside your comfort zone in a way that challenges you to be a different version of yourself, do it.  Although my time abroad has not transformed me completely, I am assured that I am no longer the same person.  I am not me anymore.  I can't explain what is different--I can only say that something is.  Something significant.  Something in the way I see the things around me.

  A large part of me is reluctant to leave Spain.  I do not doubt that I will return here but I feel a certain melancholia at the uncertainty of when such a reunion will occur.  Someday soon, I hope (though Madrid has taught me to embrace any experience with the potential for personal growth, whether in Spain or otherwise).  Few things surprise me more than all that I have gained in coming here: unexpected friendships, a unique breed of independence and a willingness to step into the unknown without the paralytic force of fear.  I feel more qualified to seek out the things I want, more capable of claiming my own destiny.  After years of letting myself be held back by fear of change, my old life has crashed down around me to allow room for a new one.  For this experience to have any sort of lasting impact on me, frankly for this trip to happen at all, it was necessary that my world come crumbling down.  On the other side of the catastrophe I see a peculiar quality of life that I had not previously been open to--I need not wait for all that I dream of to crawl toward me as if rolling on the heels of a distant fog.  I can--and should--chase after my ambitions, not on a whim, but pulled by the magnet of my passion.

  In this state of limbo, I'm not sure that I have many concrete observations to offer.  These musings are just about all I have the capacity to produce at the moment yet they offer a certain clarity (at least in my own mind) that I did not have at the beginning of this trip.  I will miss Madrid terribly... somehow I already do and I have yet to leave it.  I'm grateful to all the powers that be that this experience in itself was even possible.  So many what if's arise only for me to thank my lucky stars that I found my way here in spite of every frustration and mishap that I've experienced in the last year.  I can openly declare that I'm happy in a way that I've never ever been before.  This feeling in itself is the ultimate souvenir, the perfect impression to take away from an experience that has been wholly positive and overwhelmingly enriching.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Home stretch

Who knew two weeks could go by so quickly!  A lot has gone on since I last updated (weekend trips, museum visits, excursions) so I'll do my best to keep things brief.  Where to start!  A few weeks ago, our group took a weekend trip to Salamanca, a community in Castilla y León about 50 miles away from Portugal.  Like the majority of what we've been able to see since arriving in Spain, Salamanca was beautiful with a very rich history.  It's incredible to think just how long some of these cities have been in existence and the sort of legacy they carry.  Salamanca, especially, has a fair amount to boast about as far as the gems the city has to offer: two large cathedrals each with an extremely intricate façade, one of the oldest universities in Europe and their very own Plaza Mayor.

In the last week or so, I was able to pass through a handful of museums, including the CaixaForum, Museo de América and Museo Reina Sofia.  It's incredible just how many treasures the city of Madrid holds.  Visiting Museo de América was a particularly amazing experience for the sheer age of many of the items inside.  There were pieces dating back to the 400s!  It's amazing to me that such objects have been found, yet alone preserved.  At the CaixaForum, I was able to see two exhibits: William Blake and Piranesi.  The Reina Sofia was probably my favorite museum out of the three.  I saw several of Dalí's paintings, as well as Picasso's extremely well-known piece, 'Guernica.'  I still find myself incredibly blown away by the fact that many of these pieces of art are so accessible to me here.  As a student, I also have the privilege of free admission to many of the museums in the area, another port of access to several extremely significant historical landmarks, artifacts and works of art.

We were also able to visit El Escorial, a historical residence of the King of Spain. It functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and school.

This past weekend a few of us were able to take a weekend trip to Barcelona.  I have no clue where to start as far as describing Barcelona goes simply because it is SO different than Madrid.  A cooler climate, closer to the coast, far more tourists and some extremely stunning architecture.  We took the RENFE (train) to the city--a trip which ended up to be about nine hours total--then took the Metro to our hotel.  Much like Madrid, the easiest way to get around Barcelona seemed to be the Metro!  During our time in Barcelona, we were able to walk through the city center, visit the Picasso museum, have tapas and sangria, go on a walking tour with pit stops at some of Gaudí's most well-known buildings and visit Barceloneta beach.  Despite a few bumps and frustrating moments, on the whole, the trip to Barcelona was extremely worthwhile and although it was a very short stay, we were able to see a fair amount!

Anyway, we've made it to our last week of the program and I'm already having a bit of separation anxiety as far as leaving Spain goes.  Being here has been such a positive experience and I feel like there is still so much for me to see and do here, just not enough time.  I do very much miss my family and friends though and will be happy to come home in two weeks after a pit stop in Norway to visit Claudia and Tony.  The next time I update I will most likely be in Bergen!  Thanks again everyone for all of your love and support.  This month has been truly amazing. xo

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A mitad de camino

Doing my best to update on a weekly basis so here you have it: my latest blog entry.  Since I last wrote, we made a visit to Segovia and somehow already managed to hit midterm exams.  Many of my friends from the program here spent last weekend in Pamplona for the running of the bulls but three of us stayed behind for the excursion to Segovia offered by our university.  Much like Toledo, Segovia very much had an antiquated feel to it, yet it was somehow like being caught somewhere between the Roman empire and a fairytale.  First of all, the city itself is absolutely gorgeous.  Much, much smaller than Madrid, Segovia only has about 60,000 inhabitants.  While there, we were able to visit the Aqueduct, the Alcázar (a castle!) and the cathedral, as well as la Iglesia de la Vera Cruz.  It was an incredibly surreal experience to pass through the castle, almost like being transported to another time period.  I'm very thankful that we've been able to explore provinces outside of the capital.  It's really amazing just how much there is to see and do here in Spain.

This week, we took a tour of the Palacio Real (The Royal Palace).  The palace itself is enormous and has 2800 rooms (we were only able to visit about thirty of them in our time there).  The interior is extremely intricate and is in itself a work of art with regards to the use of a multiplicity of construction materials and decorations, including paintings by Velázquez and Goya.  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the palace so I was limited to taking pictures of the view of the exterior and the courtyard.  You'll be able to see just what I mean as far as how enormous the palace is!

The hustle and bustle of class, weekly visits and excursions has been absolutely incredible, though I have to admit some of my favorite moments here have been ones I've spent alone, wandering, exploring and relaxing.  Yesterday I took the Metro to a neighborhood called La Latina to find a café-bar called Delic recommended by one of my guidebooks.  After about a 15-minute detour (I walked the opposite direction that I needed to coming out of the Metro station), I finally stumbled into la Plaza de la Paja and lo and behold, there it was!  The woman who helped me was extremely kind and when I asked for something sweet, she recommended una tarta de banania (banana and dulce de leche).  It was absolutely delicious!  I spent a good hour and a half at least sipping a café con leche and taking leisurely bites of what was very yummy cake.  Hoping to make another visit that way before leaving the city in two weeks.

This weekend, we're heading to Salamanca.  I have no idea what to expect but I'm very much looking forward to exploring a little bit more of Spain in the upcoming days.  Next weekend, I'm making a trip to Barcelona with a few friends from the program.  We've been debating for the last week or so whether or not to go and finally found transportation that was inexpensive enough to justify taking a weekend detour.  Again, I have no expectations so it'll be an adventure, that's for sure!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Victoria y celebración

I finally managed to come across some free alone time so I thought I'd take a few minutes to write out another update.  A week later, I can still say that I absolutely love it here in Madrid.  It's been a series of transitions, from getting used to new eating habits (Spaniards eat much later in the day) to navigating my way around the city, but I'm slowly but surely getting used to being here.  One thing that is more or less the same as home is the 90-100° F weather... I thought I'd left the heat behind in the States!

Anyway, it's been another busy couple of days for us but we've had the chance to do some of the most amazing things!  On Saturday, Spain and Italy faced off in the final match of the Eurocup and we were able to head out to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid plays there during their season) and watch the game on the big screens outside.  I have never experienced anything like the atmosphere of Bernabéu during the game.  There's a certain national pride and solidarity that I don't think is paralleled at all in the US.  So much spirit and high energy... it's obvious that the Spanish are not just passionate about the game but their country.  The enthusiasm displayed at the game was certainly amplified when it came time to celebrate the win.  On Monday evening, la selección española made its way through the city of Madrid and fans were gathered by the hundreds (the thousands, I'm sure) near Gran Vía and the Plaza de Cibeles to greet the players.  Here you can find an awesome photo that perfectly captures the madness of the evening--so cool!  I even managed to get a good look at Iker Casillas as the players passed through the Plaza for the celebration!  Needless to say, I was starstruck.

This week also marks the start of our classes for the summer.  We took a placement test on Monday morning so that the difficulty of our courses would correspond adequately with our skill level.  I was placed in B2 (avanzado) and will be taking a Spanish history course, as well as a class on the contemporary Spanish novel.  Lucky me, I was able to get into my first two choices!

Other than that, the last few days have been filled with lots of walking and exploring.  We've been able to make a lot of new friends through the residencia what with all of the different groups and organizations living here.  Two programs from Berkeley are actually staying here in the dorms with us so it's been really amazing to be able to meet so many people I probably never would have encountered on a campus as big as ours.  Having so many great new friends around has made being away from home much easier for me, although I do very much miss everyone back in the US.  I'm sure the next few weeks will go by terribly quick though so I'm trying to enjoy things while they last.

Till next time! xo

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Saludos desde Madrid

I could go on and on about the last few days but to sum it up, Madrid has been absolutely amazing so far!  Praise the Lord, the flight here wasn't bad at all and I made it to Barajas without any issues.  I've never flown this far so that in itself was an accomplishment for me (even in spite of the terrible jetlag!).

There are about ten of us here for the second summer session, most from the south or east coast.  Everyone has been really friendly and easy to talk to, something I appreciate greatly after not knowing what at all to expect from this program.  I can't say enough nice things about my roommates!  I live in a residencia (dorm) with two other girls, one from Texas, the other from Massachusetts. They're both so kind and have the greatest sense of humor--I'm very blessed.

The city itself is huge.  I wish I could put into words just how much there is here.  We've done a lot of walking and you'll be surprised just what you see.  There are stores, restaurants and shops of all shapes and sizes everywhere.  The metro offers access to even more.  We've spent a lot of time in an area called Puerta del Sol which is essentially the center of the city.  There you can find a lot of stores, bars and restaurants as I've mentioned, as well as the Plaza Mayor.

Today we took the train to Toledo.  Everything we saw there was absolutely breathtaking, including the cathedral.  We also saw El Greco's greatest masterpiece.  We weren't allowed to take photos there but you can find the painting here!  To say the least, the experience left me very overwhelmed (but in the best of ways, of course!)

We also spent some time this afternoon at Parque del Retiro, a huge park with a giant lake, lots of grass, trees and plentiful sunshine.  We sat on the grass for a while just chatting and joking around with each other and honestly, everything here has been just great.  It's so nice to feel so comfortable in a city so foreign to me and to feel like I have a group of friends that I can rely on, even after only a few days.

Tomorrow we're planning to trek out to Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to watch the Eurocup final on the big screens outside.  With Spain in the final match, the city has been crazy!  I can't even imagine what things will be like if the team comes out with another Euro win.  Will update soon--in the meantime enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

21 Things I've Learned Since My Last Birthday

I can hardly believe it but it's here: I'm 21 years old.  According to the United States government, I have acquired the personal responsibility necessary for purchasing alcohol and gambling.  (Little do they know I'm probably still too immature for that...)  I figured today would be as good of a day as ever to take some time to reflect on how valuable the last year has been as far as a stepping stone for the future.  After a bit of brainstorming, I put together a list of some of the most important things I've come to realize in the last year.

So here you have it, 21 things I've learned since my last birthday (in no particular order):

1.  Your confidence, and more importantly, your sense of self should not be determined by others.
Feeling comfortable in your own skin is a tricky thing and frankly, it's something I'm still slowly but surely learning how to do myself.  It's natural from time to time to look in the mirror and not necessarily be satisfied with what you see and we all have bad days when we start to wonder if the hurtful criticism we've heard from others is really true after all.  Here's the thing though: others can be just plain wrong.  Granted, constructive criticism should always be welcomed but don't lose sight of the importance of the individual, that is, the things about you that make you unique, as a result of the voice of others.  You're exactly who you are for a reason.  Embrace it!

2.  Sometimes it's okay to say 'no.'
My apologies for what I'm sure is an overdone joke but sometimes 'no' is a far better response than 'YOLO' (okay, sorry. Had to make the reference--now I'm done. The moment's passed).  Never underestimate the importance of that feeling in your gut that tells you 'yes, go for it' or 'no, you really shouldn't do that.'  Taking risks is fine, if done correctly, but don't compromise your values or what's really important to you for the sake of carpe diem.  I won't go into the specifics of the DARE 'just say no!' spiel that I'm sure you've heard over a dozen times since grade school but really, if you feel deeply uncomfortable about doing something, or a given path just doesn't feel right to you, abandon it.  You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.

3.  Never be ashamed to ask for help.
I will admit firsthand that I hate having to call on others for help.  I want the satisfaction of saying that I've accomplished things on my own and that I'm independent enough to see commitments through without falling back on outside resources.  That said, sometimes there's a point when you can't juggle everything on your own and the answers to those tough questions you have aren't presenting themselves on their own.  I'm going to be vulnerable for a moment here for the sake of how it may or may not help others and reveal that I took advantage of university counseling services this year.  The truth is that the conflicts I was struggling with were not something I could handle on my own anymore and I needed an objective voice to hear me out and help me find a course of action that I could feel comfortable with.  What can I say, it's the best thing I've done for myself in God knows how long.  I'm not saying everyone needs to run out to a shrink and tell them their life story but if you ever feel overwhelmed, seek out even a family member or a friend and ask them.  Anyone who truly cares about you will be more than happy to lend an ear at the very least.

4.  Whenever you think you're alone, you're not.
This lesson is very much related to the previous one in that sometimes it's helpful to recognize that the spectrum of human emotion is a shared experience for us all.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, once said, "[The beauty of all literature is that] you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong."  Although Fitzgerald was commenting on literature as an art form, I think his words are an adequate representation of human existence.  Anything you've ever felt has been at some point experienced by someone else.  You are not alone in anything that you feel and the acknowledgment of that truth will make the experience of suffering a much more bearable one.

5.  Never regret the things you have done for another person out of kindness.
One of my favorite pieces of literature is a prayer credited to Mother Teresa called "Do It Anyway."  In its essence, the prayer encourages the practice of forgiveness, kindness and sincerity, even in the face of contrary behavior from those we encounter.  The final lines of the prayer say, "It is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."  Whether you are a believer or not, the final message remains the same: never be afraid to show affection or perform good works.  Do not let yourself be held back by the negative response given by others.  You have been given a light worth sharing so give without reservation.

6.  Know when to reel back.
Another lesson connected to the former, it's very necessary to know your limits and to be able to identify when you are being taken advantage of by another person.  Of course, one should not do anything solely for the sake of what will be received in return, however, it is important to preserve yourself, at least to a certain extent, from hurt.  Know when a situation, relationship, etc. is no longer fruitful and take time periodically to reflect on the harm or good that comes from it.  As sad of a realization as it may seem, some people come into our lives for a brief yet meaningful purpose: to teach us the hard lessons we need to learn.  Be mindful of the growth that a particular situation is inspiring you to pursue but keep aware also of the potentially destructive effects as well.

7.  If you're not happy with your life, change it.
It's a classic but it rings true: if you're not happy with how things are going, it's time to make some changes.  Familiarity and fear can be two big obstacles in terms of attaining happiness but it's important when things aren't going so well to step back and try and understand why that is.  As scary as self-reflection can be, it's key for any sort of growth or change.  Don't settle simply because you're scared!  You deserve all of the happiness and joy the world can offer.  If you're not finding that, maybe it's time to do things differently.

8.  Plan ahead... but not so much that you would be devastated by an alternate outcome.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: I am a worrier.  When I was in high school, I had a detailed plan for my future:  I was going to graduate top of my class, head off to Stanford University, marry my high school sweetheart, graduate, get a job, have babies, you know, the whole shebang.  Flash-forward seven years and here you have me... a fourth year at UC Berkeley, single and surprisingly okay with it, studying Spanish of all things.  Believe it or not, I'm more than content that my little plan for myself did not at all follow through after all but truth be told, it took me quite some time to get there.  The most wonderful plan you have for yourself, guess what? God's got something in mind that will top it tenfold--just be patient.  The more you plan ahead without any anticipation of a few detours, the more likely you are to be disappointed or think you've failed in some way.  That's not it at all!  Take a deep breath, set out some goals for yourself but go with the flow!  Things will turn out.

9.  Honesty is underrated.
For some reason, there's a huge stigma in our culture of self-expression.  Often we are too afraid to express our true feelings to others or even to say something nice because there's just something taboo about it for some reason.  Why!?  If you've got something you need to share with someone, positive or negative, do it and do it truthfully.  Honesty is all-important in any interpersonal relationship.  Granted, one should tell the truth lovingly--don't dish it out in a hurtful way just for the sake of being 'truthful.'  By telling the truth upfront, you'll find yourself getting into far less trouble later down the road!  Remember: the truth always comes out... and I mean, always.

10.  Don't sell yourself short.
Doubt can be healthy in that it triggers a sort of personal evaluation.  That said, don't let your reservations keep you from taking action.  You're more able than you think!  Be realistic but don't let your fears damage your confidence.  Keep in mind your talents and your abilities and use them in a way that both brings you satisfaction and has a positive impact on others.

11.  It's okay to be scared but don't let your fears prevent you from pursuing the ambitions closest to your heart.
Fear can be paralytic.  If you get caught up in your thoughts just enough, you'll stay frozen in the same spot.  As I said about doubt, it's healthy to investigate your insecurities but remember: fear is a human reaction that protects us.  If you are too focused on your fears, you may find yourself running into a wall that you've created for yourself.  If you've got a goal that you've wanted to pursue or that you find yourself being called to go after (think about that 'gut' feeling I mentioned earlier), chase it.  If you don't, you may find yourself feeling unfulfilled and quite possibly, even filled with regret.

12.  Change is hard but ultimately it can have a positive outcome.
There's no hard and fast rule as far as how long it takes to build a habit but I think we can all agree from personal experience that it can take quite some time.  A change isn't going to stick unless it can deliver a reward that you actually enjoy and therein lies the conflict.  Change can inspire a series of benefits that we may not have been able to enjoy otherwise but it takes effort.  Think back to my seventh lesson: be aware of the aspects of your life that might in some sense be problematic for you and investigate ways in which you could do something about those conflicts.  Knowing doesn't necessarily make the process of change easy but it does make it easier.  Everyone struggles with making changes but once you understand where to start focusing, then you can learn about what steps to take next.  There is a place to start and once you start, you're on the path to success.

13.  Never tolerate more than you deserve simply for the sake of someone else's happiness.
I hope I'm not being contradictory here (maybe I should have grouped these lessons a bit better) but any personal relationship that you involve yourself in should ultimately be satisfying.  In my experience, relationships (whether romantic, friendly, familial, what have you) thrive best on the basis of reciprocity, that is, mutual exchange.  Compromise is necessary for these relationships to work, however, both parties have to be willing to take into consideration what is important to the other.  Do not think that you have to give up an essential part of who you are or tolerate openly hurtful behavior for the sake of pleasing the other person.  A person who cares for you will not subject you to anymore than you deserve and I cannot stress how firmly I believe that.  Be understanding but also know when to call it quits and cut your losses.

14.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
All humans seek happiness.  We want to be happy and we don't want that happiness to go away.  However, we also seek pleasure.  The problem with that is that pleasure is temporal, fleeting and can often be mistaken for true happiness.  Pleasure accompanies happiness but a distinction must be made: pleasure is not happiness.  If you abuse pleasure, you will not be happy.  Two of my greatest loves are sweets and television.  Cupcakes are great but if I eat too many, that's not a good thing for me, right?  Same with television.  If I spend the majority of my free time camped in front of the TV, am I really going to be happy (in a way that lasts)?  Take time to evaluate your excesses.

15.  Perspective is key.
I'm starting to see that many of these lessons are very much interconnected and here's another one for you!  The Dalai Lama states that shifting your perspective is not only a way to achieve happiness but it is also a way to overcome all of life's obstacles.  How you view a problem can affect how you approach it.  For example, looking at things from a wider view will make an apparent problem seem much smaller than it is.  In reverse, focusing on an issue or feeling can help discover solutions that you didn't know existed.  If you're struggling with something, try shifting your perspective.  If anything, a shift in perspective can help you become more aware of the blessings that surround you on a daily basis.

16.  There's power in numbers.
Another oldie but goodie, I saw this lesson acted out in full force through my involvement in St. Augustine Catholic Church of Oakland.  On the first Sunday of Lent, Fr. Mark surprised parishioners by inviting them to take home envelopes with cash.  Their mission was to multiply that gift to help raise funds to build a new dormitory for an orphanage in Kenya.  Ninety days later, at Pentecost, they returned considerably fatter envelopes.  As of June 5, the total raised--over and above the $12,100 distributed in the reverse collection--stood at $60,952.62.  Isn't that incredible!?  Parishioners tested their talents, pooled resources with people they didn't know well, and found themselves spreading the good news of their parish.  The point here is that your excitement has the potential to encourage others to participate.  Extend a hand and you may very well be surprised by the outcome of that invitation.

17.  Soulmates exist--they're just not always romantic.
I think there are certain people you will meet in your lifetime who you connect with more than anyone else.  Call it fate, divine intervention, what have you, you just know that the relationships you have with certain people are not typical.  You understand each other perfectly.  This person may not always be your 'significant other' or someone you connect with on a romantic level--it could be friend, a sibling, a parent, a teacher, whoever--but they will bring out the best in you and you will bring out the best in them.  I had the privilege in the last year to move in with a new roommate who I'm convinced is my kindred spirit.  I can be an idiot or express something in the most convoluted and complicated way but she'll get it and I thank God for bringing us together the way that he did it.  Be thankful for the people you encounter that you feel a connection with and do your best to keep those unions thriving.

18.  All will be well.
I know what you're thinking: it's easier said than done to accept the simple explanation that in the long run everything will turn out okay.  I hate to overuse clichés but for the sake of this lesson, I'm going to do it because frankly, I can't think of another way to stress the importance of this realization for me.  I'm sure you've heard the saying before: "Everything will be okay in the end.  If it's not okay, it's not the end."  Take that thought and internalize it.  Think of a difficult situation you've encountered in the past and realize that you got through it and you're standing in a different position now.  All of our struggles seem great when we're passing through them but once you've braved the storm, you will find yourself surprisingly empowered.  Practice resilience to the best of your abilities and have faith that your circumstances will always improve.  Hope will take you much further than your doubts.

19.  It's important from time to time to pause and be appreciative of where you are at this very moment.
Recently I went out for a drive and found myself, almost inexplicably, at a nearby park.  I parked, got out of the car, grabbed my iPod and locked the door.  I wandered over to the track lining the expanse of green grass in the center of the park and with only my music, decided to just walk.  I looked around, saw the assortment of trees, felt the breeze ruffle my hair, saw children running towards the play structure, and you know what, I found myself smiling for no reason other than the fact that I felt I was in the right place at the right time, exactly where I needed to be.  Sometimes it's difficult to see but you are where you are for a reason and there is always something to be gained from the circumstances in which you've found yourself.  Blessings surround you always, just take a moment to count them.  You just might be surprised by the length of your list.

20.  It can be terrifying to confront the parts of yourself that you dislike but it is the first step to lasting change.
I'm realizing that a common vein in this blog entry is the underlying importance of personal evaluation and change.  There's always something to be learned and personal betterment is always within your reach.  As a Catholic, I've been taught about the benefits of the sacrament of Reconciliation, a practice of the Church in which I am called to evaluate my conscience and quite literally confess the negative actions, behaviors and practices that have come to be a part of my way of life.  I'll be honest, Reconciliation is not a sacrament of the Church that I enjoy but I think that's because it calls me to investigate why it is that I am ashamed.  About four months ago, I went to Confession for the first time in over a year and a half and I put it all out on the table.  It was embarrassing and I felt deeply uncomfortable but something inside of me told me I needed to do it.  When I left, I felt completely elated, as if a massive weight had disappeared from my shoulders.  Frankly, I felt empowered and ready to change (I started counseling shortly after this experience).  As a Catholic, this was a helpful exercise for me but even in the secular world, so to speak, coming to terms with the things about yourself that you don't like can be overwhelmingly cathartic and a starting point for your own self-improvement.  It's scary as hell but the benefits are innumerable if done correctly.

I can feel all of the Parks and Recreation fans nodding vigorously with me on this one (and for God's sake, if you haven't started watching Parks at least watch this video so you at least know what I'm talking about!) and I just have to say, I think this lesson is quite possibly my favorite out of all that I've listed so far.  Sometimes the best way to handle tough times is to treat yourself.  You know what, sometimes even when things are good, you should treat yourself!  Think of it as a reward.  Just remember lesson fourteen--even Tom and Donna only practice 'treat yo' self' once annually ("It's the best day of the year!")

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Coming Up

It's been a good month since I last updated this blog so I figured it was due time to take a break to write a little.  Since my last entry I finished my third year at Cal, saw three of my favorite bands live in concert (Ozomatli, Maná and Coldplay), started planning for my upcoming trip to Europe and found out that I finished another semester of school with straight A's!  The last few months for me have been filled with blessings and I'm overwhelmed with joy at all of the opportunities coming my way in the future.  In less than a month I'll be leaving the United States to spend a month in Madrid where I'll be taking two courses, living in a residencia with other international students, as well as local Spaniards, and of course, exploring the city when the chance arises.  After I finish the program, I'll be flying to Bergen, Norway to spend a week with our family friend, Claudia, and her husband.  I haven't seen her since she moved nearly a year ago (how time flies!) and I'm very excited to see her new home and of course, finally meet her husband.  Naturally, I'm bogged down by a bit of anxiety but the encouragement of friends and family, as well as some of the orientation tools that the study abroad program has provided for me, have helped a lot to calm and alleviate my worry.

In the meantime, I have a few more weeks at home with few obligations which has been very nice (at times, almost too nice!).  I've been trying to sort out some of my goals for my experience abroad and give a little bit more thought to my future.  I'll be graduating this upcoming academic year so the thought of post-graduation plans is nagging at me a bit.  I'm looking into graduate school programs in Spanish literature and after a push from a few of my professors I feel a little more equipped to pursue graduate education.  I've lived in California my whole life and I love the state, my home, and of course, my family, but I'm giving more and more thought to programs out of state, including a few private schools on the east coast.  In the past, I've been held back in many ways by my own doubt of my capacity to succeed in graduate programs but I'm trying to be a little more optimistic and confident in my potential. I don't want to be constrained by fear but of course, I also don't want an overabundance of self-confidence to prevent me from trying my hardest and pushing myself a little further.  The next few months will definitely be a negotiation of priorities and attempting to figure out what exactly it is that I want to do and where I want to go.  That said, for now I'm trying to focus on one thing at a time, get through the summer, explore and enjoy my experience abroad and then I'll make time to do some soul-searching.

This school year, this last semester especially, has been very much an eye-opener for me, in many ways that I still haven't been able to find the words to express but I'm very happy and in large part, very fulfilled.  It's been such a joy to feel so invested in my schoolwork, to grow more confident in my own sense of self and to feel such support and overwhelming love from my family and friends at home, in Berkeley and in other parts of the state and country.  It's nice to no longer be weighed down by former concerns and to look at the future with anticipation, despite not knowing what exactly is in store for me there.

I look forward to spending the next few weeks organizing, reading, writing, spending time with my friends and family, and knowing me, doing an awful lot of TV-watching.  Hope this post finds you all well!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


A surprising silver lining to the cold that has left me more or less bedridden this week is that I finally have time to sit and write a long overdue blog update.  Since my last entry about our trip to the Mission District in San Francisco, I was able to enjoy a nice week away from school at home.  I almost wish I could say that it was an action-packed, adventure-filled spring break but it was actually very low-key.  In a way, I'm thankful that my week at home was not terribly eventful.  I had a chance to relax and indulge in my most favorite of pleasures (good 'ol TV) without the heavy guilt of procrastination.  I was able to start a new series that I've grown to love very much: Happy Endings. The series revolves around the lives of six friends living in Chicago: married yuppies Brad and Jane; Alex, Jane's ditzy sister; Dave, a food truck owner who used to be engaged to Alex; Dave's gay roommate, Max; and their chronically single friend, Penny. The series functions in a similar vein of ensemble comedies like Friends and How I Met Your Mother and is definitely a must-watch for anyone with an affinity for such shows.  If you're interested in watching, Sidereel provides links to stream episodes from the show's two seasons.

On a far more exciting note, I also received some great news during the break regarding my summer plans: I was accepted to study abroad in Madrid, Spain!  My very first trip overseas, I'll be flying out June 26 and spending a month (mostly likely with a host family) in Madrid while taking two courses at la Universidad de Antonio de Nebrija.  It's a dream come true to be able to go and I'm very grateful to both God for providing the opportunity and my mom for working so hard to make ends meet so that I can go after all.  I've been wanting to take a trip to Madrid since beginning to learn Spanish about five or six years ago and it's just incredible to be able to see such things come to fruition.  I'm nervous and frankly a little scared but my excitement at being able to go outweighs any and all fear that I have.  It's all happening so fast--in less than three months, I'll be in the city of my dreams!  Prayers and positive thoughts are much appreciated both as I prepare to go overseas and in my time abroad.  It looks like I'll also be able to make a trip to Norway after finishing the program at the end of July to spend a week or so with my good friend, Claudia, and her husband.  She moved to Bergen in July of this last year so it'll be wonderful to be able to see her and to be able to meet her beau!  I'm incredibly blessed to have such opportunities.

Other than that, I'm doing my best to prepare for the semester's end and the surge of due dates slowly but steadily approaching.  I was able to sign up for three out of four of my classes for next semester (the first of my senior year of college, crazy!).  I'll be taking a class on Spanish-American colonial texts, a survey of Spanish literature, pre-1800, and an English seminar on utopian/dystopian books and movies.  So much to be excited about in the next year!  God is good!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Una tarde en el Distrito de la Misión

It gives me great joy to proclaim that spring break is finally here!  After over a month away from home (my personal record even after two and a half years as a university student), I'm home for the week and very much enjoying the vacation.  My roommate, Kim, and I took the weekend to celebrate our brief respite from school, braving the rainy Sunday afternoon to make a trip to the Mission District in San Francisco.  I've never had a chance to visit the Mission District so it was a much welcome adventure.  The neighborhood is heavily Hispanic and the culture is deeply embedded in the area, from the language you hear spoken on the streets to the various Latin American tiendas and restaurants that line the sidewalks.

Although it was raining for the majority of the afternoon, Kim and I took our time wandering down 24th street, where you will find an abundance of very colorful and amazingly detailed murals.  We trekked back up to Guerrero Street to attend Saturday vigil Mass at St. James Catholic Church--it was a beautiful service.  After another trip down the hill, we decided to grab dinner to-go from La Palma Mexicatessen.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves hankering for some delicious Mexican food in the Mission District!

Here are some of my favorite photos from our day out.  Enjoy!