Thursday, March 3, 2011

20/20 Hindsight: A Personal Reflection

Summary of Travel Experiences
            While studying abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay, I learned many things beyond the book through traveling among the continent of South America.  From spending three weekends throughout smaller cities in Uruguay; five days in Buenos Aires, Argentina; five days in Iguazu Falls, Brazil; and ten days in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, I was able to broaden my understandings of other cultures in both a general and a specific way.  I learned that peoples' environments, such as the bright and tropical parts Brazil or the flashy area of Argentina, affect the different societies’ way of functioning and processing because the different socioeconomic statuses, national and traditional pride.  Not only did I gain new awareness but I also acquired many fun experiences with friends.  The travel experiences that were journeyed upon by the study abroad group in Montevideo, Uruguay, magnified the cultural exposure of the entire encounter.
Two Greatest Adjustments or Challenges
            The first biggest adjustment for me was language.  Since we were in South America, the dominating languages were Spanish and Portuguese.  Initially we were thrown into the large ocean of the Spanish language.  Since I had only taken two years of high school Spanish, I was still in beginning Spanish.  The course required a total of eleven hours of Spanish class a week as a means to accustom us to the language more easily.  I remember the first outing we had; reading the menu at the restaurant was one of the most frustrating things because I could hardly understand anything.  The first several weeks my brain was very tired as well.  I could literally feel my brain hurting from trying to think so hard and deep in another language.  By the end of each day my head was exhausted.  I remember sleeping extremely well the first month because of the mental exhaustion.  This was certainly the first greatest adjustment I had to overcome.  My brain had never physically hurt before, nor had I ever needed another language to survive in a community.  Not having the luxury to go into “auto pilot” mentally, thus, having to constantly strain my head to think of just simple phrases to say was difficult.  I constantly worked through this difficulty by having determination in my Spanish class and by regularly conversing with native Spanish speakers.  At the beginning of our time in South America, I had a pressing desire to learn the language as a means to connect with the people of the region.  However, as the semester continued, I began to sink into culture shock.  I greatly desired to be able to speak my own language all the time; I did not want to have to talk to anybody who did not speak English.  Because I had no strength or desire of my own and I knew it was necessary to have these in order to enjoy the latter half of the study abroad trip, I did the only thing I knew to do; I prayed.  God proved Himself faithful, as always, and He renewed my desire to learn the language as well as blessed me with His strength to endure the pressing culture shock.  Speaking in Spanish was the first great challenge I encountered, and it lasted all the way throughout the trip.  With God’s strength though, there is no challenge too big to overcome.
            My second greatest adjustment was revealed after some time of being way from my usual social life in the United States.  I usually hang out with many different groups of people and somewhat “float” around.  I have a core group of girl friends, but I enjoy having a diversity of other friends.  After about a month of being around the same nine students, I started to feel the affects of not having this diversity in my life.  Though I tried to talk to different people over the Internet, nothing satisfied because no one on the other end of the line used the Internet as a “necessity to social survival.”  I felt that I was not being myself because I was cooping myself in my room since I was trying to socialize “elsewhere.”  Normally I constantly hang out with people but not the same people all the time.  I started to long for other people, but I knew this would not be possible.  As my struggle with this continued, one of my friends messaged me a simple yet striking message, “You are around these people for a limited amount of time.  You have a purpose being in their company, and they need your presence in the room.”  His encouraging words, along with much prayer, helped me to break through this challenge and to adjust my social life to being around only a few people.  Having a limited amount of people in which to interact was my second greatest challenge, but it was endured.
What I Learned about Living in the Mini-ACU Community
            Since our group was so small, there was not a great variety of people with which to hang out.  Since there were only ten students and one ACU professor, we all became very close.   Being in this small ACU community made me realize how important relationships should be valued above material things.  I struggled with balancing hanging out with people and working on my studies.  Since I am a “Type A” personality, I am very particular about being on top of my studies before socializing.  However, being in the close-knit community, showed me how other students in the group make a priority of the people rather than glorifying an A grade.  As I worked to find a balance between socializing, studying, and having alone time, I grew in multiple ways in our little community.  I grew as a person; I grew as a friend to those around me, and I grew intellectually through my studies.  Living in the ACU community was an encouragement to me through providing areas of growth and rich fellowship with fellow believers in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
What I Learned about Living in Uruguay
            Before hearing about Study Abroad, I had never heard about Uruguay.  As my interest in studying abroad increased, I gained a little bit of knowledge about the country, but not very much.  Since I knew very little before entering into it, I had a wide, open void of space to learn.  I learned about its history, art, literature, politics, and people.  However, learning facts did not nearly compare to learning about the life style of Uruguayans.  There are many things in Uruguay that contrast to things in the United States.  From the infrastructure of transportation to the absence of religion, living in Uruguay proved to be very different from living in the United States.  I learned that one does not have to have a car to survive, which is counter to my upbringing in the States; busses and walking are fine methods of transit.  I also learned how to apply my faith differently through living in Uruguay.  The country is the most unreligious country of South America; it is marked with sin as every human development, and it lacks hope when it comes to death.  I learned how to apply my faith by not taking part in the cultures “major sins” such as drunkenness and sexual immorality.  I learned how to see God in different aspects through the different society, and I learned how crucial the hope of Christ is in my life.
What I Learned about Myself
            While studying abroad in different societies and cultures of various countries, I had many hours, even days, to think and reflect on what I observed.  In doing so, I learned several things about myself.  One, I learned that though I function most comfortably with a wide variety of friends, with many luxuries, and with the ease of having my own car, I am fine without them too.  I also learned that when I am outside of my comfort zones, such as speaking a second language or making new friends of different backgrounds, God stretches me and opens my eyes to new perspectives.  As I gained perspectives through learning about other cultures, I learned many things about myself as well.  I saw how I have had a wrong view on people’s “faults” and unhappy attitudes.  I saw how I have not been as welcoming to foreigners as I should be.  Finally, I saw how plugging myself into a close community is very beneficial to having a foundation of accountability and encouragement.  Studying abroad taught me both about myself as a person and how to become a better person.
What I Learned about God
            In my study abroad experience I gained new insights into the creativity, love, and greatness of God.  Through traveling, I saw many new and exciting sights, all of which reflected the creativity of our Creator through the diversity in the world such as: different people, animals, vegetation, and landscape.  As we encountered different people ranging from those in the church in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to the our cook at Casa ACU in Montevideo, Uruguay, I observed how open they held their arms to us.  This gave me an insight as to how God invites all of us no matter how different we are into His wide spread arms.  I also learned in a new way, how great is our God!  As we visited the raging water falls of Iguazu, my fear yet love for our God increased through seeing the mighty works of His hands.  If the creation is so great, how much greater must its Creator be?  Study abroad opened my eyes to new aspects and perspectives of our wonderful and loving God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Beach Weekend

Visiting an artist's house in Punta del Este

Some of his work
The view from the artist's balcony.
His artistic architecture "fight against the line"
South American heart loving the beach!
Boat ride to the Ombu Forest
Ombu Tree!
Our day hostel in Cabo Polonio

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Goodness of Study Abroad

          Most university students spend the weekend before finals studying like crazy.  While studying abroad, however, we had a beach vacation without books or any other form of study the weekend before final projects and exams.  With the amount of study and exertion given before and after our weekend break, we had worked rigorously for the break... pause... breath... relaxation.... Then the swells of schoolwork woke up again and caused jostling currents of climaxing classes. But for the time of rest, it was a wonderful time of refreshment.
          For our mini travel, we went to the place of our first free weekend: La Paloma and Cabo Polonio.  Before arriving, I was curious as to if this time would mirror our first experience.  I came to learn that when staying in opposite sides of town, in different levels of expense lodging, with varying people, and in contrasting seasons, a whole new experience can be had.  It was a good remembrance of change while glorifying the beauty of new opportunities despite repetitive circumstances.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in South America!

In Uruguay, Thanksgiving is not celebrated, obviously because it is a holiday of the United States.  Since we are a large group of "United Statesians," we decided to do a grand feast, inviting all of our friends and teachers; around fifty people came to the celebration. We had the traditional turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, random jellos, and fruit desserts. It was an evening of feasting, fun with friends, community, and sharing of cultures.  For the first time, I felt that I was able to share my culture with others as opposed to them sharing their culture with me. Most of the attending Uruguayans had never had turkey before, even as sandwich meat, because it is not imported into Uruguay as a common industry. [We had to go through the US embassy to get our turkey imported with the ones they imported for themselves for Thanksgiving].  The day was not a typical Thanksgiving day: homework in the morning, class, more homework, eating with people other than my family, not going around saying what everyone was thankful for, and going out with friends afterward. It was a new experience, different than I am used to, but well worth the adventure of the blending and learning of cultures. Thank you Jesus for all of His rich giving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turning Tables

This past Thursday, a small group of us, the beginning Spanish speakers, were all invited into our professor's home when the zoo field trip fell through. We met her family, which included her husband. The very next day, we received news that we would not be having Spanish class because our professor's husband was in a coma.  The man that we saw and interacted with the very day before, who gave us nectarines from the tree, who played with the dogs, who interacted with everyone in the house, was now in a coma. Only two days later, Monday morning, we received news that he passed away Sunday night. My how the tables had turned. This was a penetrating and eye opening experience. To think that you are THE last person someone met. To think that you are one of the last people someone spoke to. To think that you were conversing with a person not even a week ago, but now he is dead. My mind could barely fathom it all. It made me deeply reflect how much we take for granted the time we have with people: the interactions we have with newly made friends and the conversations we hold with loved ones. My eyes have been opened to the importance of the present. While holding fast to the hope of the future in the Lord, the present moment may be someone's last, may be our last. Praise Jesus that He knows what tables will turn before they do, so that we may trust in Him with our every day and every moment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Perfect Montevidean Weekend

          Saturday started off right. After 11 hours of sleep, I woke up to go run the "One World Run" 5K.  The 5K always takes a lot of mental determination and discipline to finish though, but it felt so wonderful to have accomplished the feat in 28 minutes.  Not only were in inner endorphins pumping and feeling great, but the visual stimulus of the beach and palm tree surroundings were also invigorating.  After our group finished through, we all were treated to ice cream! Nothing like a refreshing lemon and raspberry sherbet to cool off with! After our bus ride back to Casa, a group of us went to our favorite burger joint, Lucas.  We figured after running, we deserved to treat ourselves, ice cream then hamburgers! Great food after a run! My roommate and I went looking around the outdoor market for a soccer jersey because the next thing on our agenda for the day was FUTBOL!!! Words just cannot describe what South American futbol games entail. The wild crowds, the enthused spirit, and the lively atmosphere are all so enjoyable.  After the game, came time for dinner at a local Pizzaria, mmmmmm, so good. It was a lovely Saturday back in the Montevidean culture.
          Sunday morning started off right at well. After being spiritually fed by a podcast and worship music and a bit of productive homework time, hitting the fresh air was wonderful.  Lunch with new visitors and walking around at the out door market was a nice remembrance of the culture around me.  Though, seeing a peacock, an owl, and many little parrot chicks all caged uncomfortable pricked my heart. However, getting to pet the puppies and kittens gave a little joy. Buying gifts both at the market and the store was another bit of joy. I won't lie, buying myself some things too was enjoyable, as usual.  While going about the market, the couple of us were talked to in different ways than usual. Usually people can tell that we are American. This time we were mistaken once for being French, and another time for being Brazilian; it was worth a laugh. All in all, the weekend was one enormous blessing of being welcomed back into Montevideo's arms.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Zoo! -On Strike?

Our Spanish teacher has been loading us up with homework as a means to make up for the class time that we were going to miss today because of a field trip! The Zoo! While we were walking to it from the bus stop, our teacher was joking with us that we were going to just look from the sidewalk and not go inside.  When we arrived, the gates were closed, and there was a sign that said the workers were gone... on a strike! Our teacher's joke ironically became reality!  I cannot say that I have ever experienced the random "striking" that takes place here.  This has not been the first time either; their striking that randomly shuts down business or even the whole city [if the bus system goes on strike] is a frequent occurence.  When the people strike, they do not usually picket, they simply do not come to work.  I believe their reasoning is, "If I am not going to be working, why go and be out in the heat wasting energy if I can enjoy relaxation at home?"  I enjoy this different mentality; it is very opposite to that of an American mindset.

My Own Bed!

The past four nights, since being back in Montevideo, I have never appreciated my own bed and living space so much!  While we were in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we were staying at a hostel.  The room was tiny, had two triple level bunk beds with barely enough room for two people to squeeze by each other in the aisle space between the two bunks.  Six people in one itty-bity room made me appreciate how "large" the room is that I am sharing with only one person.  I also am appreciating having my own bed in which there is no person below to make my bed move every time he or she would turn over.  Having my own laptop and my own desk is fantastic in comparison to the community computers that lose internet signal ever 20 minutes and that are occupied 90% of the time.  It is also extremely comfortable to have my clothes in the easy access of a wardrobe as opposed to in a backpack that is crammed in a locker with multiple other bags thrown on top of it.  So many times I have taken for granted all of these things!  It was good to do without these luxuries because now I appreciate all the more than ever before!  So many things are a blessing for the Lord, but little have I realized it until I had to do without for a time. I thank Him that I am so blessed as to only have to do without for a short time, there are many less fortunate.  A time to give thanks in perfect timing for the theme of the season and holiday a week away, Thanksgiving.  I am giving thanks early this year, and hope to continue giving thanks to God as a pattern of life. THANK YOU JESUS!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

God With Us

For the latter portion of our adventures in Brazil, an ever present theme blatantly unveiled before our very eyes:
"God With Us"
I would say, "It all started when-" but that would be a false statememtn because God has continually been with us.  Thus, I will begin.
          We first began to notice it all when- we began to recount the details of our botanical garden outing.  The front desk at the hostel gave brief directions, "get on this bus and you will eventually see it."  The instant we reached the bus stop, Michelle, one of us fearless four, jumped on a bus and called us aboard.  We were very disoriented but Michelle's spotting skills had managed to be very accurate (and God with us).  Getting off the bus was another "coincidence"  (or God with us) as right when we were passing the gardens, Michelle went to ask the attendant and Jocelyn struck up a conversation with a local.  Both informing the girls "Get off NOW!" When our visit with the lovely flowers of Brazil ended, we had the task of finding the opposite bus stop.  Before we had reached the point of uneasiness, a kind, English speaking man on a bicycle with his little daughter in the front basked, approached us and asked what we were trying to find.  He pointed us up the road and rode away like a heaven sent angel (and again God with us).
          The next event of non-coincidence was one of the highlights of the trip: Sugar Loaf Mountain.  We again, talked to the front desk of the hostel for directions and information.  As our plan was supposed to go: bus to the site, hike the first hill to avoid additional tram costs, pay 22 Reais for the second tram, come back by bus.  Well, plans did not go as planned, as usual.  When we arrived off the bus, we found out that hiking was not available at dusk, so the price doubled to 44 Reais.   I had foolishly brought the exact amount that I had expected, so as the other girls were already scrounging for enough money to cover themselves, they also were trying to scrounge for me as well.  Some how, some way, we managed to have the perfect amount for 4 full way tickets on the tram, 4 bus rides back, and 4 Reais left over!  It was another obvious moment of "God with us."  As for the breath taking view that followed as we sat atop the city on sugar Loaf Mountain, we absorbed all of the sweetness of the sky turning dark and the glistening city lights slowly consuming the lovely city below.
          Another form of "God with us" was during our tour to the favela, the slum.  Yes, it sounds dangerous, yes there were men with gigantic guns strapped to them, yes we rode on motorcycle taxis, but I felt the most safe there then walking in Rio strangely enough.  The thrill was great and the message was deep.  Seeing the negative cycle of the favela's is hard to even begin to think of if it could ever get better.  However, the people in the favelas, though impoverished, are still people. They are so kind, lively, and enthusiastic.  Learning about others was just another stirring up of love and insight from the Lord.  While there, not knowing what to expect, but fully embracing the culture, I could richly feel the clothing of prayers around our group and the hand of God with us.
          The goodness of the Lord was ever present.  There was yet again, another obvious time of His presence with us.  We decided that we wanted to go to the island across the bay from Rio.  So as usual, we went to the front desk to ask for directions.  They said, get on the subway, get off here, and walk a bit and you will find it.  Well, when we got off, we started walking... walking... and not finding. It was not in clear sight at all.  We decided to ask someone, in our broken Spanish the Portuguese lady somehow figured out what we meant and happened to be going there herself, so she led the way! She was like another heaven sent angel, and again, God with us.
         God was so good to us the entire trip! So many fun stories and memories passed :) Praise Him for His fellowship, love, grace, and presence! :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brazil Day Four: Another Day Anew

Another day on the beach.  Another day of tanning.  Another day of drinking coconut milk.  Another day of eating a packed lunch.  Another day of reading.  Another day of views.  It all sounds so repetitive, yet the Lord always seems to bring new excitement and refreshment with every new and blessed day of life.  ~Running barefoot two miles where the water kisses the sandy beach.  ~Acquiring natural flip flops from a mixture of water, sand, and a jelly substance, which we later discovered to be fish eggs.  ~Finding colorfully striped souvenirs of the sea, sea shells.  ~Drawing pictures in the sand, building a sand castle, and having a sand [mud] fight.  ~Praising Jesus for His wonderful artwork: "The mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your name. I'll sing for joy at the work of Your hands, forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand. Nothing compares to the promise I have in You!" No matter how similar each day is, there are always new joys in every morning.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brazil Day Three: A Day of Adventure

          I do not even know where to begin with describing the events of today.  Bullet pointing it would be the most inaccurate summary, yet typing to describe each event would take up way too much paper space and still be ill equipt in painting it fully.
          Today was an adventure in itself in the grand adventure of life.  Unsure of what to expect from the tour, other than touristy places and great sights, we were swept into a van of excitement.  Many different languages and laughter buzzed from the voyagers of various points in life.  The most entertaining part was the comedy display put on by several young men, who sad in front of us.  Away we went.  Hiking through the Tajuka National Forest [the larest national forest within a city], visiting its waterfall, seeing Christ the Redeemer Statue [second largest statue in the world next to the Statue of Liberty], overlooking the entire city of Rio, spotting a monkey in the wild, running up the hundreds of gorgeously tiled Lapa Steps, photographing many spectacular and unique frames, and laughing in good company all the way.  The day did not nearly conclude there after.  It continued with a run along the beach in the fresh ocean air, sending a kiss to the hotel where Robert Pattinson [Edward] and the Jonas Brothers are staying, and watchin the sunset on the ocean view horizon.  The finishing touch of today's adventure was a calm gesture of Brazilian banana pizza and exotic fresh fruit juice in the wonderful company of my beautiful friends.

Brazil Day Two: Beach Bums

          Since the gorgeous beaches are only going to be around for too few days of our lives, we decided to take advantage of them.  We dedicated, today, our second day, to the beaches.  Hello sunshine and 75 degree weather! Yes, I am going to get a tan in November! Wohoo! The strip of beaches here is absolutely stunning.  It begins with mountains, then the line of skyscrapers follows the beach and it ends with a mountain again.  How feautiful is this earth that the Lord has created?!
          Laying on the beach for hours just tanning and reading relaxed my whole body.  Running barefoot along the water front in the sand set my spirit free.  Going into water and being swallowed by a vortex of water rushed my adrenalin.  Drinking the milk out of a coconut choped open right before my eyes and eating a fresh mango by carving into it with a spoon gave life to my sense of adventure and exotic excitement.  Walking along the board walk in our newly purchased skirt wraps welcomed us into the culture.  Finally, eating a classy dinner outside with an ocean view concluded a wonderfully blessed beach bum sort of day.

Brazil Day One: Good Fun on [Official] Day One

Though it has been cloudy and rainy all day, it has been extremely enjoyable.  We visited historical sites such as the National Library and Art Museum of Rio de Janiero.  We relaxed in the hostel while the rain poured down and eventually went out for frozen yogurt.  Learning the town through exploration, the subway system, and historical sites was the best thing for the first whole day.  Us girls had some good fun on day one!

Brazil Day Zero Too: Beginning Language Struggles

The four of us girls are very equipped with the second lanuae of Spanish.  However, entering the whole new world of Portuguese was a struggle riht off the bat.  Trying to figure out how much we owed our taxi driver was quite a challenge.  It was very comical though, and he was kind natured, so we all got a good laugh out of it.  Checking into our hostel was a breeze because the workers at the hostel speak English.  A bit of time settling passed, and we entered the place we wanted to eat, but had no idea how it worked!  A man gave us slips of paper and disappeared.  We eventually mozied over to a table still unaware, trying to catch onto what the few other people were doing.  A lady beside us spoke to us in Portuguese but motioned it out, so we somewhat understood: 1) go get a plate 2) fill it with what you want to eat 3) give it and the paper to the worker to weigh and record the weight of the food on the paper: check mark! Paying afterwords was a whole other thing, but after some writing on paper and hand motions, it was all figured out.  Next, off to find an ATM! Well, needless to say that that was a fail the first night either because we were hitting the wrong buttons or because they just would not accept our cards.  An issue to be solved for the following day since it was getting dark.  It is already an entry way into having compassion for people in the US who do not speak the main language.  I now [even more so than being in Uruguay] know what it feels like!

Brazil Day Zero: Arrival in Rio!!!!!!

After a two hour plane flight, we arrived in RIO DE JANEIRO!!! WHAT'S UP?!?!  Riding to our hostel and seeing the views from the taxicab window was amazing enough! It made me more than pumped to get to spend the next 8 days here!  There are mountains and hills everywhere.  The vegetation is so lush and tropical and bright. The variety of people walking around added to the already vivid scene. Hoy Rio!