Friday, May 21, 2010


hello, long-lost blog followers.

first off, a grand apology for flaking out on my blog this past 1.5 months.
i get overwhelmed by the thought of how much i had to write and then started writing entries but never finished them.
with that, I will do my best to complete those and put them up... so even though the timing is off, you will still get to hear about what i did in spain... so stay tuned over the summer, as i will write more. (and perhaps about my trip to oregon.)

secondly, as the title suggests, I am HOME! it was hard to leave Spain - my friends, family, the med... and upon arriving to chicago, the word was disillusionment. all the airport signs (and later on, road signs) were in english, and everything was big and gray and... not Spain.

But after being in line for a little while for at the airport, they showed this little video of "Welcome to America" showcasing some video highlights of the country... it could have come off as cheesy (and i suppose it is official governmental "propoganda"), but so much of it was full of big, open spaces, the wild west, deep green forests, you know... purple mountains majesty (and some amber waves of grain)... the part of the country where I am going in just 3 days! My upcoming trip to Oregon is what kept me going for that first hour back in the states. (oh - and the video was set to the same music as the fireworks show at Epcot in Disney World... and the sentimental sucker for disney in me did appreciate that musical touch.)

see that video here.

but getting off the (long, tiring, dizzying) van ride and seeing my family and a couple dear friends made it all worth it. familiar is the word of the moment... we went out for ice cream, I slept in my own bed - 2 great things. and this morning I went to Calvin to my dear GEO department and talked with a couple profs - 1 whom I'll be researching with this summer, and the other, with whom I'll be traveling to Oregon - and I am SO excited for both endeavors.

Right now, the little things that are making me happy:
- I woke up and out the window, all I could see were some fabulously green trees. beautiful!
- walking over carpeted floors in bare feet, eating my favorite cereal in milk that does not sit on cupboard shelves.
- running out to my car to get my cell phone, where I forgot it. (seems weird, but this is something that I do all the time... it's just familiar and makes me feel at home).
- one of my best friends is staying at my house until we leave for oregon on monday.
- Chipotle for lunch with my sister, cousin, and friend. the burrito was both huge and spicy - 'muricah, yes!
- sitting out on a humid warm evening, eating ice cream with family and friends...

So even though I am still a little bit conflicted on how I feel about being in the United States, it sure does feel great to be HOME.

until next time, (I promise there will be a next time)


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

bon voyage!

Tomorrow is the big day - I'm leaving for my college-student-rides-the-rails-through-europe-with-just-a-backpack trip! Regarding that, my sister sent me this funny picture from a hipster puppies tumblr:

"the summer after his senior year, mr. chow traveled europe by train for a month, and now aggravatingly insists that “it’s barthelona.” "


Though not for a month, I, too, will be traveling by train throughout europe...or a least a small slice of it. Here's the itinerary:

1.4 : Barcelona, Spain
2.4 - 5.4 : Marseille, France
5.4 - 8.4 : Paris, France
8.4 - 11.4 : Cinque Terre National Park, Italy

Should be a grand ol' time. I'll be taking trains for all of my transport, save a flight home from Milan to Alicante. And it is turning out to be the quintessential european vacation more and more by the day - Today, the Spanish rail system went on strike! They say it is just 24 hours... here's hoping, as my trip to Barcelona and then 2/3 of the way from there to Marseille is run by Renfe (the spanish rail line).... but hey - it wouldn't be a real european vacation without a strike or two, right?

I am really excited to see more of the world (oh how I love to travel.) Not only that, but I will get to visit some dear friends along the way.

Well I have to go - I still have a history exam standing between me and my vacation, and it's time to study.

until next time... ¡Adios! ¡Adeu! Au Revoir! and Arrivederci!

Friday, March 26, 2010

God in the salt water.

As of late, a few friends and I have developed the daily habit for going a walk after "la comida" (lunch) for 1.5 hours or so, and we usually go to one of the beaches to the north or south of Dénia (and often relax there for a while.)

Every time we get near the ocean and I catch that first whiff of saltwater spray in the air, it always causes me to pause, as I am instantly filled with a wave of joy. There's just something about that smell - many of the best memories of my life were on the coast in Maine, and when I smell saltwater, it hearkens back to fishing for mackerel on the dock with my Pop Pop, swiftly boating across the harbor for ice cream with my cousins, digging for clams in rolled up jeans (or one time, saving a jellyfish) on the pebbly beach while my cousin metal detects, and picking blueberries on the rocky hills right on the shore. What joy! I have always loved the ocean, and I really do feel like an east coast girl (I hope to live in New England in the future.)

But there's something else about that vast blue expanse, more than fond memories, that lifts my soul to God when I gaze upon it. It's far deeper and wider than I can imagine... kind of like looking up at mountains, (oh hey - we have one of those, too, in Denia), I love how it makes me feel small. Because I know that the God who created that colossal body of H2O (and filled it with all kinds of interesting creatures and life systems) is the same one who take cares of me.

So even all the way across the Atlantic (and through the straight of Gibraltar) from my home, I can look at the deep blue sea and smell the salt spray air and know right then that I'm in the hands of a good and great God.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Las Fallas muy locas …and there’s no place like home.

This past weekend, for 3 days, I was in Valencia, the big city nearby, which is the capital to my region of Spain, as well as the epicenter of the festival of “Las Fallas,” one of Spain’s craziest festivals that takes place throughout the region, but most of all in the city of Valencia. I had the privilege of staying with my host sister, Mireia, in her dorm room, which is right in the center of the historic city center. With that, I got see how Spaniards my age really experience this festival.

First, a brief explanation of what Las Fallas is. Fallas are large, colorful, ornate caricature-like statues that are built every year for this festival and are mounted in street intersections. Denia has 12, and Valencia has something like 300. They each are some sort of satirical expression – often political or social commentaries, featuring everything from Zapatero (the president) to the mayor of Denia to Elvis, and from la crisis (the economic crisis) to the tourism industry. They are put on show for one week, and then on 19 March, the last day of Las Fallas, they are burnt up in “la cremà,” all with the coordinated efforts of the region’s firefighters. It was crazy to be there for this – people get really excited about the burnings (understandably so), and then they taunt the firefighters, chanting insults at them, which provokes the response of firefighters spraying the firehoses at the crowd (which can be scary! Those things are powerful…) There were also events like the “nit de foc,” a grand fireworks show over the river, and the “mascletàs,” which are my favorite. During the middle of the day, everyone gathers at the town hall square to hear, see, and FEEL the hugest fireworks explosions you can imagine. They are timed so that the booming echoes off the surrounding tall buildings end up in really cool rhythms, and the energy of the crowd is contagious.

Basically, Las Fallas is a festival that is truly, truly Spanish – and to the extreme. Not only is there an unbelievable amount of people on the streets (and an extra 1 million descend upon Valencia for this festival), but they are all incredibly excited to burn things, set of explosions (non-stop, loud, and all around!), and party all night long. This can get a bit overwhelming! Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed Las Fallas – it was a great experience. I loved the atmosphere, and I love to experience the Spanish culture - there was so much energy in the air. But being there, immersed among Spanish college students and surrounded by millions of people all the time, all a bit overwhelming, contributed to my latest thinking that’s been hitting me:

There’s no place like home.

I’ve been here 2.5 months now – that is the longest I’d ever been without coming home before this semester. (But that was at Snow Mountain Ranch, and my parents came to visit in the middle – and it was in the United States!) But this intense 3-day dosage of Spanish culture and surroundings came to me at a point where it was easy to be overwhelmed by it all.

And truly, I am enjoying myself in Spain – it has seriously been a blast the whole way through. But I’m also realizing that there are some great things about my home and my culture, and that frankly, I miss quite a bit.

Of course, I miss all the normal things to miss – my family, my friends that understand me perfectly, and my classes that interest me.

I miss nature and hiking. (Even though I’ve hiked twice so far here in 2.5 months, two hikes was my average amount of hiking in 1 week at SMR this summer! I simply need the outdoors to thrive – I'm discovering that it’s an undeniable part of who I am).

I miss large cups of tea and coffee, and

going out to the symphony with my girlfriends, followed by a tranquil evening chatting in the hot tub.

Rocky Mountain Roastery Coffee! ^^ (the avalanche, obvi.)

I miss Costco Hummus.

I miss the more open latino culture which surrounded me in the US…. But Sunday, at least, I got a fantastic dose of it! Sunday afternoon, I got together with Cheri (a Calvin friend) and Shaale, a Cuban immigrant who we know from church. Shaale invited 2 of her friends, both immigrants – one from Ecuador and the other from Uruguay. It was such a blessing – we took a walk in the park, ate fruit with the thick hot chocolate that Shaale had prepared, as well as a table full of goodies that her mamá prepared for us, which were far, far, beyond what we had expected or asked of her. So generous! We laughed together, prayed together, and shared our dreams for the future. … oh, and not a single lisp was used in these lovely latinas’ conversation! ;)

I miss 3134 Blue Ridge Lodge.

I miss something that, you will see, reveals my nerdiness in all of this…. On my bus ride home from Valencia, I was looking out at one of the city parks covered in sand-ish dirt stuff, and I was thinking about how I miss Michigan’s verdant vegetation, soft grass, and lovely deciduous trees, and other such things… and how did I process this in my head? “I miss my biome.” (Yes, I am indeed a geography major.)

(And let’s be honest, the Mediterranean/Chaparral biome is one of the world’s most pleasant (if not the most pleasant in terms of climate) – but there’s just something about the Temperate Deciduous Forest – it’s my home! (Even this summer in beautiful Colorado, surrounded by coniferous trees, I missed deciduous trees. Nothing a good ol’ broad leaf to make me feel like I’m at home…))

But worry not, I am having fun, and will continue to do so. I’ll be on spring break in 2 weeks, visiting one of my dearest friends, and my parents and sister will be here in Denia in 4 weeks. And here in Denia, with every day, I will be enjoying more of the beach and less of my textbooks – these midterms, which went really well, made us all realize how we had been stressing too much over homework. These exams really do not require us to pressure ourselves so – we can still excel and be good students without stressing ourselves out – who knew?? :) And I’ll be continuing to enjoy building and making friendships with both my Calvin group and the Spaniards and immigrants here in Denia.

What I am realizing – and for this, I am thankful– is that America is actually a cool place, and Michigan is, indeed, awesome (though I never doubted the second part.) There are both positive and negative aspects to both the Spanish and the American cultures, and being here is helping me to see them a bit more clearly –whereas previously, I was more exclusively rosy toward the former and cynical towards the latter.

So from here on out, I will keep on learning, keep on enjoying Spain, and keep on growing to appreciate more and more every part (dare I say, every square inch) of God’s beautiful, complex, interesting, amazing world.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

1/2 way.

¡madre mía! today marks officially 1/2 way through my time in Spain.

I cannot believe it! Time has gone SOOOO fast. My life in spain has been wonderful and I cannot even bear to think about leaving my host family so soon!

Yet, I feel like I have so much life still to live - so much of this town (and country, and continent) to get to know - and so little time...

so I do have a resolution for this 2nd half:

simplify, simplify.

this would make more sense had I previously explained more of my life here.... which really has been wonderful, but I do have 1 problem... we all spend too much time with our noses in our textbooks. We really don't want to - I believe so much that in Spain, the way to learn is to interact with spaniards, not with spanish history books. But Calvin does not support that thesis... so.... now my goal is to try to rework the way I do things here. I'm not sure how... but I want to go to the beach, climb the mountain, watch the champion's league with my papá, go out for café con leche with my spanish friends.... and of course, still succeed in school....

but I know a little rest and simplicity could do us all good.

well, I oughta go... gotta keep studying for midterms. (I know - a horrid way to fulfill my resolution!) But I'm not wasting TOO much time on them, worry not... because next up, I'm going home to cook with my sister.

anyways, this is my struggle right now. Kind of a bummer of a post... but there will be many happy ones to come :)

thanks for your prayers!



Tuesday, February 23, 2010


buenas tardes,

First things first: my sincerest apologies for being AWFUL at keeping a blog. Know that I have been doing well, but also a bit overwhelmed, between a ton of schoolwork, family life, various activities, and travels galore. I say everytime that I'll try to do better at writing consistently... but I will say so again in hopes that this time I can keep that promise. :)

This post is one that I wrote 3.5 weeks ago already, and forgot to post it - OOPS! So take this as if it were in mid january....


so, these days I'm starting to really feel like I belong here in Denia - I'm finding my place. I started to really feel this a week and a half ago (which is when i intended to write this post)... It's due, really, to an aggregation of things:

- friends: It has been within the last two weeks that I've been making friends of my own, of my own accord. Some I have met at church, others are students we met at bars, and even my conversation partner. (Most of us from calvin signed up to have a converstation partner who is a senior at the local high school - we meet once a week and the idea is to do 1/2 hour in Spanish and 1/2 hour in English. But in Cristina's (my partner) and my first meeting, she told me that her mom is french, and so Cristina speaks french too. And since my french needs more work than my Spanish, I think we might do 20 minutes in french instead of Spanish!)

- getting involved: There are many things that I have always wanted to do but have never had the time in Grand Rapids. And incredibly enough, I am getting the chance to do them here in Denia! This week I am starting a class in "bailes de salón" which is literally ballroom dancing. It's through the town hall's studio "llunatics" - the equivalent of a parks and rec department class. We will be doing a little bit of things like waltz, but really, it's mostly going to be latin dancing - salsa, merengue, and bachata - my favorites! I also joined the youth Gospel Choir at our church. This is wonderful. Not only do I get to meet tons of cool people, but we get to praise God every sunday evening at our 1.5 hr rehearsals and our almost-every-sunday-morning performances. I've always enjoyed choir but never had time in high school because I was in band, orchestra, and 2 foreign languages. So here I am with this amazing opportunity! Also with the church, I am in a barca,which is a small group that meets for prayer on sunday mornings before church and thursday evenings for worship and bible study. The group is comprised of my Mamá, a few other middle aged to elderly (and very wise) ladies from the church, and approx. 8-10 german students. The germans, who are my age, are here doing a year of volunteer service at the church and its school. It is really fun to get to know them - who knew I'd be learning so much about German culture, too, in spain!? Some of them speak good spanish, but for the rest, English is our common language, which they all speak excellently.

- knowing the city: I realized the other day that as I'm walking around, I really know where I'm going. Instead of having to check my map or confirm directions from my padres, I can just head to where I need to go, provided I know the general area. And I also feel like I really live here, not just as a tourist - this week I brought my boots to the zapatero (the shoe repair place - not the president of spain) to get the heel fixed. I have rarely done such quotidian, ordinary things even in Grand Rapids. But it's funny how getting my shoes fixed make me feel like this town is really my home!


Well, all of that needs updating now, but there you have my entry from a few weeks back. I can tell you briefly that since then, I've grown in my sense of belonging, started a new semester, and been to Barcelona, Murcia, and Morocco. Needless to say, I have a lot to fill you in on!

Till then, take care, and if you feel so called, keep me in your prayers! I'm quite sick right now and it's wiping me out! I hope to feel better ASAP - and if not within the next 5 minutes, at least by this weekend when we're going to Benimaurell, a small village in the mountains where we'll be relaxing and hiking el cañón del diablo - the canyon of the devil!!! They say the hike is hard, but after Long's Peak, a 6-hour hike with (relatively) negligible elevation gain does not worry me. :)



Friday, January 22, 2010

fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Buenas tardes,

Sorry I haven't been writing much - this month has been so crazy! As it turns out, our interim class is quite demanding, and this week, I had my big presentation on a region of Spain. But it went well, and I ended up learning a bit about a really cool place. The region is Navarra - not only home of the running of the bulls, but also Europe's leader in renewable energy use (>70%!!!). Now we have our final essay and exam coming up. Uf! I can't wait for the regular semester.

All that school stuff aside, things have been GREAT here. We've done so many cool things, like day trips, fun nights out, and walks on the beach. But the everyday life is wonderful too. An average weekday for me looks like this:

8:15 -Get up, get ready, etc.
8:45 - Eat my breakfast (cereal! my favorite) and drink the orange juice that my Mamá squeezed while i was getting ready minutes prior. The oranges are grown by a family friend right outside of Denia.... it is the best orange juice ever. (How am I ever going to drink tropicana again?)
9:10 - walk to school (a good 15 minutes) along the south end of the city, looking at the mountain as I go.
9:30 - 11: Class on the regions of Spain with Prof. Bierling
11 - 11:30: break! I usually go outside and sit in the sun, eating a bocadillo (baguette sandwich, usually ham and/or cheese) that my Mamá makes for me.
11:30 - 1: Literature class (regional Spanish authors) with Prof. Zandstra
1 - 4: Home for our big meal of the day (2:00) with my Mamá and Papá (and my little sister on fridays). This food is AMAZING! My Mamá sure can cook. Oh - and I usually take a little siesta (nap) too.
4 - 8:30 Back to the UNED (our university) for some reason or another. Half of the days, we have a group errand, a movie showing for lit. class, a short excursion... But then I usually work on homework with friends at school or at a café.
8:30 onward: home again! We usually eat a light supper around 9:00, and then I finish up homework and try to get to bed between midnight and one. I'm getting more sleep than I have since elementary school - it's great - but I need it more than ever since then, too! My friends and I have all noticed that we end the days wiped out, but sleep really well. We can't handle our usual deficient (in my case, extremely deficient) college-student sleep schedules, because our brains have to work so much harder here to process speaking in and listening to Spanish all day.

By the end of the day, I've walked at least 1 hour, but it's great. Not only is it great exercise, but the route is beautiful, and it's wonderful not to need a car to get around. (But I do appreciate it when my papá picks me up in the evening on his way home from work!)

Ok, well I've gotta hit the books again. Hopefully I'll write again soon with more updates on all the fun things we've been doing.

grace and peace,


p.s. decided to add a few pics:

This is me on the porch outside my room:

On the 15th, we went to Jávea, just on the other side of Montgó, where they had a reception for us and we got to tour the old part of the city, too. The 2nd and 3rd picture are from on top of the cathedral.

We went to Valencia on the 16th, which is the nearby big city. It was amazing! The architecture is a beautiful mix of old and modern. And Europe's largest aquarium!

I had the priveledge of going back to Valencia already on the next Tuesday. My mamá and little sister, Raquel, and I went to visit my sister Mireia, who is 19 and studies Economics and German at the University of Valencia. Of course we hit up the rebajas (sales), which Spain has for the 2 months after Christmas.

This is on Friday the 22nd, when we toured Denia's castillo (castle).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

¡qué vida la mía!


well. I just had to post right now. I have lots to say about life lately (and maybe I'll post it later), but for now I just wanted to let you know what I'm up to at this moment.

It's the first warm, sunny, day we've had yet, and today was the first time I saw people eating at the tables outside of the cafés, on the sidewalks. So of course, I had to take advantage -- "aprovechar" -- of this beautiful day.

I'm sitting on my porch, looking out at the boats in the port, and beyond them to the deep blue mediterranean. Between me and the port lies but a pool and a lovely little plaza bedecked in greenery.

Here's a picture I snapped with my computer to give you an idea of what this looks like:

Well, I should go. It's time to eat the fresh fish that my mamá has been preparing, and in truth, my family thinks I'm crazy for sitting outside in short sleeves with all this wind. But with the sun, the view, and the salt sea air blowing in, how could I not? I'm here to aprovechar.

Friday, January 8, 2010

i'm in spain!

Wow. So, I knew I'd love Spain... but thus far my time here has exceeded my expectations. Yes, we had a difficult voyage with lost group members, lost baggage, and passing through security in 3 airports... but now we're all (but 1) here and I was fortunate enough to receive all of my luggage.

Truly, I am SO so incredibly happy here. My familia is amazing. They are kind, welcoming, and fun - and my mamá is a great cook :) Moreover, they are very dedicated Christians... I have had some really good talks with my mamá and I am learning so much from her! Who knew that I wouldn't just learn about spanish culture from my host family, but also about God's faithfulness - already on day 2 in Denia. Also, my mamá and I are kindred spirits about the environment and our role as Christians caring for creation. (We discovered this as she was showing me where they put their recycles and composting, yeah yeah.) I could go on for a long time about how great this family is... and we are only just getting to know eachother. I feel so blessed to be here in this casa. God is good.

The Calvin stuff is going well, too - we have a great group of people and the class this interim is going to be really interesting. It's on the regions of spain - about their culture, traditions, political issues, topography/climate, and other such things that I love to learn about. Essentially, it's the geography of Spain. How perfect! It's been cold here - cloudy and in the 40s and 30s (F) more or less. This happens rarely in Denia, though, and we could be seeing temps back up in the 60s next week - already today it's sunny, and for sure, we'll see lots more of the the sun... which will be lovely, especially since I can see (and smell) the Mediterranean from my porch just outside my room.

Well, it's time for some traditional spanish christmas candies and a cup of tea (my mamá and I both love rooibos) and a little siesta, and then I'm heading off to Alcoy with my mamá and my friend Becca. Alcoy is a lovely town in the mountains, and there we'll be seeing the Coro Blau (the joint gospel choir of the 3 baptist churches in the area), and visiting relatives.

It's been a great time so far - and I still have 4 and a half months :)



p.s. i'll be adding pictures in a little bit. so check back for those!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


So, after years of anticipation, I’m finally leaving for a semester in Spain – tomorrow!

My home for the next 5 months will be the beautiful little town of Dénia, located right on the eastern Mediterranean coast (I’ve always been an east coast girl…), at the base of a mountain. Its name isn’t on this map, but you can see its location on the tip that juts out between Valencia and Alicante.

“Aprovechar” is a spanish word that means “to make the most of, to take advantage of.” As I embark on this big adventure, this is something I aim to do – to make the most of everything Spain has to offer: the sights, sounds, and tastes; as well as the opportunities to make friends, learn a lot, and enjoy the beauty and diversity of God’s creation all the way across the pond.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have expected this, but I have no worries or reservations going into this semester (now that my suitcases are packed, at least.) I’ve been hoping to study in Spain for so long (since I fell in love with Spain on my school trip there in 2007) – and I’m thrilled that this dream is finally coming true. I know that I will certainly be stretched out of my comfort zone at times, but I know that God is going to use those times to teach me and grow me – and I’m eager to see how.

Tomorrow, we’re leaving Calvin at 7:30am, and hopefully arriving in Denia by noon on the 7th. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers for our travel to Spain as well as throughout this whole adventure.

Keep checking back for more on my adventures!

gracia y paz,