Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ultimo Dia

Today is my last day in Spain!
Its strange that I feel almost the exact same way that I did the day before I left, when I was in Arkansas packing my bags for four months. It feels like I am standing on the edge of the great unknown.. which is strange because I am going home.
I did not expect to feel so sad about leaving.
I have been doing a lot of reflection and I wanted to list some of my favorites from this semester!

Places I went this semester:

  • Alicante (duh)
  • Valencia
  • Benidorm
  • Elche
  • Granada
  • Barcelona
  • Madrid
  • Venice, Italy
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • London, England
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Galway, Ireland

  • Racing from the bathroom back to our seats with the Japanese girls last week when we saw Iron Man 3 at the movies (yes, we saw it before it came out in America. booya). We were full out running. Midori won.
  • Getting lost in an olive grove with my parents on the way to Granada.
  • Missing our bus to from Madrid back to Alicante.
  • Pepita trying to give Perlita (the dog) a bath.
  • Eating awful pancakes with new friends when Jo and I hosted a pancake night. We had accidentally bought a weird kind of flour.
  • The Mercadona song
  • Climbing up to the castle for the first time at sunset.
  • Surprising Johanna when Rusty came to visit.
  • Epic sleepover with Hayley at Jo and Brynn's apartment
  • Watching Les Mis, Silver Linings Playbook, and Iron Man 3 in Spanish at the movies!
  • Roaming through the Spanish countryside looking for the Fonts d'Algar
  • Trying to split a check at Valor
  • Finding authentic Mexican food in Madrid
  • Teaching Wendy and the Japanese girls American slang- What's up girrrrrl?.. Bummer!.. That's sketchy!
  •  Seeing the palace in Madrid for the first time
  • Watching Josh and Asaf grow in their understanding of the female mind
  • Having the Japanese girls cook real Japanese food for us!
  • Stumbling upon the San Martin parade with Brynn one night
  • Meeting up at the beach for the first time back in January when everyone from our group had arrived in Spain
  • Watching the Three Kings Parade back in January
  • Being completely creeped out during Semana Santa
  • Watching things explode and feeling like I was going to die at Las Fallas

Things I will miss about my life here in Spain:

  • Looking at the castle as I walk down the hill to the bus stop in the mornings
  • Walking and riding the bus
  • Exploring the city
  • Hearing Claire de Lune play somewhere in the city every morning at 9 AM
  • Constantly being surrounded by big beautiful rugged mountains
  • Going to the beach after school
  • Going to the market to buy fruit or bread and cheese for lunch
  • Valencian oranges
  • La Explanada in the afternoons- seeing all the old people sitting on the wooden chairs that they put out on the colorful tiled street
  • Never feeling stressed about school... or really anything.
  • Hopping on a train or a Ryanair flight whenever we want to travel somewhere crazy
  • Using "no pasa nada" for everything
  • Tapas bars
  • Having to speak Spanish all the time
  • Using the vosotros form and the Spanish "lisp"-- never thought I would like that, but I do now!
  • Eating gelato whenever we want it
  • Walking through the streets when there is a futbol game on and hearing the shouting coming from everywhere
  • Watching a game in a bar and yelling with everyone
  • Impromptu parades!
  • Kissing as a greeting... it was weird at first. Now I like it!
  • Not having to tip
  • No sales tax
  • Paella
  • Valor Chocolate
  • Meeting people from all over the world
  • No longer feeling like a tourist in Alicante
  • Spanish clothing stores-- Bershka, Zara, and Mango
  • The Spanish people's way of finding a reason to have a festival for EVERYTHING

Things I hate about Spain:
  • Pepita's three favorite shows- Mujeres y Hombres, Salvame, and Hay Una Cosa. Yelling and fighting is a major part of all three. They are Spanish. You can imagine the noise.
  • Tile
  • No ice in drinks
  • No split checks
  • Whistling men
  • The dollar is pretty wimpy compared to the euro
  • Limited amount of hot shower water
  • Leaving Spain 

People I hate leaving:
  • As crazy as she is... Pepita. We love her.
  • Wendy- our Belgian sister.
  • The Japanese girls: Miku, Midori, Manami, and Rie. We love them so much and my heart is breaking to be leaving them.
  • Brenna- A friend from Arizona who we met here. At least she is from the same country as us! It still will be sad to no longer see her all the time.
  • Sooji- Brynn and Johanna's Korean flatmate. She always keeps us laughing!
  • So many other friends I have met through school- Sarah, Julie, Iri, Tanya, Angie, Jolene, Elise, Danielle.. as well as the best Spanish professors ever- Carmen, Marina, Diego, MariCruz, and Natalia.

This semester:
  • I have spoken Spanish more than I ever have in my entire life.
  • I have developed quite a good ear for the language- I can almost understand everything now- and I can now enjoy books and movies in TWO different languages! (Knowing another language opens up a whole new world of information!)
  • I have learned a tiny bit of Japanese, French, and Chinese as well from all the friends I have made!
  • I have learned how to pack a backpack for weekend excursions to places I would normally take a whole suitcase for!
  • I have understood a little more of what Matthew 28:19 means for my life.
  • I have learned how to travel without grownup help.. (because I guess I'm a grown up now..?)
  • I have backpacked through the UK- a high school dream I had!
  • I have gone to 6 different castles/palaces from different cultures and countries.
  • I have consumed more olive oil than you probably have in your entire life.
  • I have gotten used to being a little stinky all the time- AKA not showering every day.
  • I have swam in the Mediterranean Sea!
  • I have been completely immersed in a different culture.
  • I have come to understand more deeply the meaning of the term Flexibility. (or maybe have come to grips with my lack of understanding!)
  • And I did it all with my friends.

Wow, what a semester it has been. I can't believe that it is over. I remember getting on that flight to Spain over 4 months ago and having no clue of what the semester would hold! Now the four months have passed and I have to go home! Time FLIES! 

I have said this before, but I will say again that I am so glad that I have had this experience. I feel like I have grown in every aspect of my life during these four months. If any of you out there are a student interested in studying abroad, I want to encourage you to do it. It has low points and high points, but I can tell you now that I do not think that there could be anyone who having completed four months abroad could say truthfully that they regretted that time. Though admittedly some days are hard, the experiences gained during a study abroad time are priceless. You're young, you're able, you get to come home after four months (its not like your'e stuck there forever!), so why not do it? Doing something hard is what grows us and shapes our character. So check it out.
Okay, that was my plug.

Its been a good run. Though it will be good to see family and friends, this whole leaving thing is feeling pretty bittersweet. A little harder than I thought it would be. I am interested to find out how reentry into America will be. I have heard reverse culture shock can be kind of a jerk. It will be interesting to see how my perspective has changed. 

I suppose this will be my last post about Spain. Again, I thank you for keeping up with my life as I have gone on this four month journey. It has been a good one. I really appreciate all the love and support I have been given during my time here. It has meant a lot. I look forward to reconnecting with so many good friends at OBU and at home and getting to tell all of you more about my adventures in PERSON!

As for my blog.. I have enjoyed keeping up with it this semester. We shall see if I keep writing on it or not.. maybe de vez en cuando.

Ha sido un semestre increible. No puedo esperar a veros!
Con mucho amor,


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Little Perspective

I leave Spain in six days. Its a weird feeling knowing that I have so little time left here. I am so used to thinking that I have all the time in the world.. now I can count the days on (almost) one hand. I don't think I have had these feelings since I graduated from high school and said bye to all those friends and that old life at home. That is sort of how I feel now. I never realized that I would make such good friends while I was here- friends from all over the world. Its really crazy to think that there is a good chance that I will never see them again. For the past four months I have been living in this crazy international world. I have been immersed in the Spanish culture, but through having classes with people from all over the globe I also feel like I have engaged with the entire world. I have learned Spanish alongside people who speak the language with a Russian accent or a Japanese or French accent. I have shared life with them. I have shared my culture with them and in return learned about their cultures. It has been the best four months of education that I have ever received- concerning both Spanish and just life lessons. I am really going to miss sitting in class with students from all over the world. I will miss being in a constant state of learning- even when not in class. 
I have made so many memories- like going to a Chinese restaurant with our friend and having him order mystery food for us in Chinese!
I have gained new perspective- like talking about the Cold War and the Boston bombings with Russian girls in our class or discussing the North Korea threats with our South Korean friends.
I have gotten used to being a novelty! What will I do when I return home and being American is not longer a topic of small talk or interest?
I have experienced what it is like to look at America from the outside. I have watched Spanish news reports covering Obama's speeches. I have discussed American politics, economy, and society in my classes. I have watched American movies at the theater dubbed over in Spanish-- Was that ever a crazy clash of cultures! It was strange to see America on the big screen, but hear everything the characters said in Spanish!
I have learned that there is a type of movie that is distinctly American- I had no idea! They are the movies that focus on one strong hero that saves the day- think about how many there are! Indiana Jones, Mission Impossible, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Ironman, Gladiator, Avatar, James Bond... All of them have one main character that the story rides on.

And through this new perspective, I think I have learned one big lesson-- people are all really the same. Cultures definitely come into play, but people just use culture to express the same emotions that all humans feel.
Did you know that in Spanish they have an expression for six-pack abs? Its tableta de chocolate-- meaning chocolate bar. Think of how a Hershey's bar looks. It makes sense right? I remember the Russian girls saying that they had an expression too, but I can't remember what it was! That phrase exists in the language because there is a need for it! Just like Americans, there are Russians, Spaniards, Chinese.. who all want those six-pack abs!
In Spanish there is also an expression that goes- Mucho chow chow y poco meow meow. It means A lot of chow chow [probably a cat noise] and a little meow meow. Know what that one means? "Little dog, big bark."
One more- A cada cerdo le llega su San Martin. It means- For every pig comes their day of Saint Martin. On Saint Martin's day in Spain, they sacrifice pigs. This phrase is basically a way to express "What goes around comes around".

In language, we all have a need to express the same things- we just express them differently. 

When taking pictures with the Japanese girls, we asked them why they kept holding their hands in the shape of peace signs against both cheeks. They told us that it was to make their face look slimmer in pictures! That made me think of how American girls pop a hip with a strategically placed arm on it in pictures in order to make themselves look slimmer in pictures.

These are little things we all do!

Through different cultures, these emotions, troubles, life events, rites of passage may be expressed in different ways than in our culture, but nevertheless they need expression! Underneath it all, there is a common bond of humanity. There is a common problem of sin, of need, of imperfection, of a desire to love and be fulfilled.

I used to be one who would go on a little week-long overseas trip and come back whining about how the country I went to was soo much better than America. I would swear that their culture had gotten it right and that America was so wrong.
But living overseas for four months has made me realized how ignorant I was! I think that Americans that travel think they (including me!) are so cultured- and maybe we are more so than others- but really, it is not until you really live somewhere for longer than even a month that the honeymoon stage ends and you start to see the faults of the other culture. 

For instance, some would say that the American culture is overcome with individualism. Americans like to have their own life- focus on their own success, do what they want, trample anyone who gets in their way. In Japan it is the opposite. People work together. They cooperate. They seek the advancement of the group- not the individual. Sounds pretty good, right? One week in Japan and you might return to America praising the glories of the humble culture of the Japanese.
But there is a problem. The Japanese are taught to conform. They are taught to groupthink. Students may not stand out. They do not raise their hand for a question in class, because that would be stepping out of line. They do not question what they are told or debate the opinion of others. Reputation and honor are driving forces. With this comes a desire for honor, and a fear of what others think. Did you know that Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rates? These are all things that I did not make up. They are faults that our Japanese friends pointed out to me about their own culture!

In America I have heard people say that we work too hard. We are too busy, too focused on the next thing. We don't live. In Spain, there is a law that requires that everyone have a month of vacation. Students only got to class for a total of about six months out of the year. Most people don't save their money- they live day to day. How is that for relaxed? When I told one of Pepita's friends how much I loved the relaxed culture here she laughed and said, "Ha, and have you noticed that we are in a crisis?"

These are all problems! On either side, you have two extremes! I think we need to realize that every country has their own set of problems. The U.S. is NOT perfect. But in somethings, we do not have it all the way wrong. Its so easy to go to another country, stay in a nice hotel, see the nice side of town, and leave before reality hits. Then forever in your photo albums you remember how perfect your stay was. What I have enjoyed most about this experience has been seeing dirty, passionate, hot, sunny, greasy, lazy Spain for what it really is. And realizing that the U.S. is just one country out of many that has faults and assets.

Now here is the thing-- I have only lived here for four months!! Who knows what my perspective would be like after staying here for a year.. two years.. three years! But I can say, that these four months have taught me so much and changed my perspective on so many things... And I have loved being immersed in the culture here. I feel as though I have really been able to interact with it and grasp it in a way that I never have before on any other trip I have been on, and I have absolutely loved it. How special it is to get to step outside your world and into another one to try it out for awhile.

What I do know is that I feel like less of an American and more like a citizen of the world now. I don't know if any of you have taken the missions course called Perspectives, but if you have, you will know what I mean when I say that I want to be a World Christian. That is how I feel. And I think the Lord has used this experience to show me what it means to be a World Christian.

What a special time of learning and growing it has been. Honestly, I feel a little nervous to go back to the States! I can't believe that this short season of my life is ending and that I am about to start a new adventure at home called SENIOR YEAR. The time here has gone by so fast and I am so grateful for this whole experience. I know that I will look back and count it as one of the developing factors in my story. 

Thank you for keeping up with my life for the past four months. I look forward to coming home, seeing friends and family and struggling not to kiss people on both cheeks as a greeting (as we have gotten used to doing here). That will be interesting.
Anyways, I will try to blog once more before coming home next MONDAY!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spring Break

A week ago, I returned from the most unforgettable spring break of my life.
Obviously I can't recount two and a half full weeks of traveling on here, but here are some high points.
(P.S.- Sorry there are no pictures in this post! My internet is being dumb. Check out my Facebook albums for pics of our adventures!)

My Parents Came

Getting on that bus to go pick my parents up at the airport and waiting for them at the gate.. I felt like I was going to pass out, I was so jittery. Then there they were! It felt so right to be with them, but so strange for them to be here in my world in Spain. For once, I was the one leading them around, translating, showing them things, helping them buy bus tickets, suggesting food for them to try.. It was different! Leading then around made me realize just how much time I have spent here and how I really have gotten the hang of living here. It was so fun to show them Alicante and really special for them to be able to see all the things that I had described to them on the phone for almost three months. After Alicante, we rented a car and drove to Granada and Barcelona. It was fun to travel just the three of us (though we did miss Will a lot!) and see all the crazy funny situations we got ourselves into! At one point, we found ourselves out in the middle of nowhere driving through someone's olive farm! We saw some pretty awesome scenery out the window as we drove-- the drive up and down the coast of Spain was a landscape that I had never seen before, with rugged mountains, olive, orange, and grape farms, terraced mountains, and cave houses built into the side of the mountains.
It was fun to experience new, incredible, old, smelly, breath-taking and sometimes scary things with my mom and dad.


Stayed at Hostel Lima
- if you ever go to Granada, get a room there. It was decorated in the Arab style- super cool. Also, Manolo, who runs it, is super nice and helpful.
Saw the Cathedral of Granada
Plaza Isabel la Catolica-- there is a statue in this plaza of Columbus asking Isabel to sponsor him to go to the New World
Saw Bib-Rambla
Alcaiceria-- the old Arab souks (marketplace).
Plaza Nueva
Darro River
Walked the Paseo de los Tristes-- the old funeral route
Went up to Albaycin-- the Arab quarter of Granada. This is where the Moors fled when the Catholics took back Spain and kicked out the Arabs, Gypseys, and Jews. White buildings. It is up on the hill and overlooks the rest of the city. Narrow, twisting streets. Arab looking tiles on the building walls.
Looked out from the Mirador de San Nicolas- Here is a perfect view of Alhambra
Toured Alhambra and the Generalife gardens- This was the old Arab palace where the sultan used to live when the Arabs controlled Spain. Absolutely incredible. It felt like we were in the Middle East.
Alcazaba- part of the Alhambra-- we climbed up huge towers to see incredible views of the city.
King Charles' Palace-- built directly facing Alhambra when the Catholics regained power- as if to say "in your face!"
Corral de Carbon
Saw Flamenco dancing in a traditional Cave restaurant-- Flamenco dancing is the traditional Spanish dancing that you think of when you think of Spain (snapping, stomping, red dresses, flower in the hair, ole!-- all those things) I never knew that Flamenco is a mix of Gypsy, Arab, and Jewish culture. It was created when the Catholics took over Spain and drove out all the Gypsys, Arabs, and Jews. The three cultures combined, and one of the products was flamenco! It is done in a cave, because that is where the gypsys escaped to when they were driven out! I LOVED seeing the dance! It was so passionate, often seeming like the dancer was either angry or on the verge of tears!

Granada was awesome because it was such a old city with such a heavy Arab influence. At one point, Spain was ruled by the Moors, so all of Andalucia (the region where Granada is located) is heavily influenced by the Moorish culture. Seeing the mix of Arab + European culture was a crazy concept! There were some parts of the city that made me feel like I had stepped into the Middle East, and other parts where I felt like I was in Northern Spain, close to the rest of Europe! It was probably one of my favorite cities I have ever visited.


Picasso Museum- Saw the progression of Picasso's work- from when he started as a boy to the end of his career. It was funny to see his work progress from extremely life-like and beautiful portraits (many of them done when he was a very young teenager) to cubism.
Sagrada Familia- Incredible modern cathedral designed by Gaudi. He never finished it in his lifetime (he died around 70 years ago) and it is currently still under construction. I have never seen a cathedral like it. Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature. The ceiling of the cathedral looked like a canopy of trees. Gaudi also designed the building to make the perfect amount of light enter the church.
Casa Mila- an apartment building that Gaudi also designed. Curvy walls, a funny, sloping, curving roof, round bedrooms, open spaces. I would love to live there.
La Rambla- fun, lively street where people go to shop, and hang out. It leads down to the sea.
Old Roman Gate- There were so many thousand year old ruins in the city. This one was a part of the huge old gate in the city.
Lots of Roman Ruins
Rick Steve's Walking Tour
The Port
Plaza de Catalunya

I was so glad we got to go Barcelona. It was a fun, sunny, happy coastal city, full of life and energy. It is located at the very top of the Spanish coast, whereas Granada is located at almost of the bottom of the Spanish coast (almost to Africa!) So of course, Barcelona was a COMPLETELY different place than Granada. Lots of French influence. It was also in the region of Catalunya, so people spoke Catalan as the regional dialect along with Spanish. It was fun to see another region of Spain!

After a full week with my parents, I got in a cab at 4 AM and headed for the Barcelona airport to start the second half of my spring break! I flew to London where I met Johanna, Karissa, and Brenna (a friend we met in Spain) for our UK backpacking adventure! This is something that Johanna and I had always dreamed of doing when we were in high school! I can't believe that we actually got to do it! It was quite an adventure, with new food, new friends, bad transportation systems, crazy hostels, and lots of charming (but mainly funny) accents.
As soon as I got in the cab by myself, it hit me that I was stepping away from my parents to be completely independent again.


I took a cheap Ryanair flight (22 euros- definitely going to miss Ryanair!) over to London and took a bus and then the tube to get to the area where our hostel was located. It was on the edge of the city- a smaller neighborhood called Willesden Green. After getting of the train, asking a few jolly english people for directions, and witnessing an armed robbery (yep, I was just a few feet away from a crazy guy with a gun), I finally got pointed in the right direction and met Jo and Brenna at the hostel.
We saw the main London Sights-
Buckinham Palace
Trafalgar Square
St. James Park
The National Gallery
The Portrait Gallery
The London Eye
The Tower Bridge-- got to go up in it!
The Tower of London-- Jo and I LOVED this! It was crazy to see the place where all those famous queens were beheaded as well as many other enemies of the state. We loved seeing the big black ravens and being guided by a funny Beefeater. Also saw the CROWN JEWELS!
Westminister Abbey
The Horse Guard
Kings Cross Station- Where we saw the Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter!
Almost died several times while crossing the street due to the fact that people drive ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD. That took some getting used to.
We also liked just chilling out at our cool hostel and meeting people. We met some girls from Italy and a girl from Canada!

After a few days in London, we got on a train and headed up north to Edinburgh, Scotland! After a few crazy mishaps with the transportation (all the lines to Edinburgh got blocked and for a few hours we had to wait in some town called Carlisle, England for a bus to come get us) we FINALLY arrived!


This place is one of the coolest cities I have ever been to. All the buildings were beautiful, and there were very few modern buildings in the city. I loved seeing all the funny street names, men in kilts, and fun pubs, not to mention the HUGE castle that towered above the city on a huge hill! It was also pretty amusing to try to speak English to people and hardly be able to understand what they said back! Some people had pretty thick accents! At times it seemed like we were speaking two different languages!
Stayed in the coolest hostel ever- It was called Castle Rock Hostel. Its name made sense- when you walked out the front door and looked up-- BOOM-- there was the castle. It was a huge hostel with several stories, tons of rooms, lots of cool lounges and common areas, a big kitchen, an internet room, and a common lounge ONLY for getting to know people (no cell phones or laptops were allowed inside!). The whole hostel was decorated like a castle!
Here, we made friends with a Canadian girl named Alison, who had been traveling the world for 6 months! It was fun hanging out with her and swapping stories from our travels!
Saw the Castle of Edinburgh- This was AWESOME! It has been fun to see castles from all different parts of Europe and compare them! This castle was one of my favorites! It was SO. OLD. It was neat to learn about how it has been used by different groups throughout its existence- from Scottish clansmen, to William Cromwell, to special government events in modern times. We also got to see the Scottish Crown Jewels!
Scottish National Gallery
Saw lots of men in kilts
Heard lots of Bagpipes
Saw many many tartans
Ate a roasted pig sandwhich
Went to the Elephant House- This is a cool cafe in the city that was where J.K. Rowling started writing Harry Potter! It was cool to sit in the room where she used to go to write and feel the atomosphere. The room overlooks the castle and it was pretty easy to see that she drew a lot of inspiration from the city. The whole city just felt magical!
Went to the Scottish Monument- this big tall pointy structure in a big park. Jo rolled her ankle here. We are convinced that the poor girl has set a goal to get hurt in every place we go!
Listened to fun live music at a Scottish pub! 
Climbed up to Arthur's Seat-- A dormant volcano with AMAZING views! I felt like we were on top of Scotland. On the way down, we walked past the ruins of a church built in the 1300s!

One morning as I was sitting in the hostel kitchen eating a breakfast of peanut butter on bread with several strangers, I looked down at what I was eating and it hit me: I. AM. POOR! Just a few days earlier I had been enjoying a huge breakfast with my parents every morning and basically anything I wanted to eat whenever I got hungry. As I sat there comparing my first week of spring break with my second, I got pretty tickled! The two were COMPLETELY different! It made me feel very grateful to have such generous parents! But at the same time, it felt kind of good to know that I was on my own, I was a little hungry, a little tired, and a little uncomfortable, but I was having the time of my life without the comfort of a fancy hotel or an expensive meal. Taking the back roads, the noisy hostels, the pb&j dinners, hunting for student discounts.. All those things made the week an adventure- the best trip I have been on!

At the end of three days in Edinburgh, we got on a plane headed to Dublin, Ireland! Words cannot express the excitement we felt during that short plane ride!


Ireland was the destination we are all the most excited for! Throughout the total nine days of the trip we would randomly burst into a rousing rendition of "Galway Girl!" As soon as we got off the plane, we saw signs in Gaelic- the Irish national language! That was pretty cool. Every person we came in contact with in Ireland was SO warm and friendly. We waited in line for customs (since we had left the United Kingdom and were back in the European Union!) and met two other American girls in line behind us. One of the girls had been studying in Edinburgh and she and her friend were taking a trip to Ireland too! Finally we stepped up to get our passports stamped and had a funny conversation with the main in the check booth! There is no other word to describe him other than "jolly." I also think that of all the versions of English we heard on our trip, the Irish accent was the easiest to understand- although they had some pretty funny slang! We all agreed that pretty much every stereotype we have ever heard about Ireland is true. The people were happy, funny, and nice! The scenery was BEAUTIFUL! There are no words to express how beautiful it was.. There was music every where.. Musicians in the streets, in restaurants, pubs.. Everywhere! And it rained- every single day. Oh and there were sheep everywhere! Also, everything was green! As in, signs, printed words, decorations.. so much green! I also thought it was interesting that people used the word "Ye!"
We stayed at the best Bed and Breakfast-- Apparently B&Bs are a big thing in Ireland, or at least in Galway. There were everywhere! Very popular. We stayed at the sweetest little house outside the city, in the country. Mary was the name of the lady who owned it. She built it on her family's farmland (which has been in their family for 300 years-- no big deal, right?). Mary loved on us so much- giving us full rein of the downstairs of the house, fixing us ginormous breakfasts, giving us rides into town, bringing in a hot water bottle to put in bed with us after we had come back soaking wet after a rainy day in the country side. She was amazing. Being in her house felt like a taste of home. She spoke English, so we could always communicate effectively with her! We had big, white, clean beds (I love Pepita, but her beds are not big, nor white, and honestly, not always clean!), we ate a good meal in the morning that was very similar to an American breakfast, took showers with never ending hot water, enjoying a clean house (honestly, there is nothing really clean about Spanish houses..) big bedrooms.. It just felt really homey. Not to mention, we were out in the country in a field with stone walls and cows and sheep surrounding us! There were no buzzing mopeds or honking horns.. it was just quiet and peaceful.
The first day we got there, we tried to walk into town.. within five minutes there was a huge down pour of rain, and laughing we decided to turn back and call a cab! We got drenched, but that's Ireland for you!
The next day, we went on a bus tour of the surrounding area of Galway. We saw so much of the countryside and were amazed to see things used for hundred years that were just sitting there by the side of the road! For example, we saw animal corrals that were built into the ground. Hundreds of years ago, they had built up a circular wall of dirt, making a corral that they would herd the sheep into. We also stopped at a stone grave that had been there for years- it was just sitting there by the road! We learned that they used to stand up big stones to make sort of a stone box (think of how Stonehenge looks) to put people in when they died- creating a kind of stone grave. That was just sitting there.. by the road! We also saw SO many castles! Many of them were small-- they were one big stone tower with a wall around it. But each castle was owned by a family, or clan that used to (or still does) own that land. I was amazing at how much people found identity in what clan they came from!
Penny walls-- the stone walls made from limestone on the hills. Men used to get paid a penny to build them.
The Cliffs of Moher-- There are no words. I wish I could express how completely FANTASTIC the cliffs were. I had seen a picture beforehand and thought they looked kind of cool.. but standing on that massive ledge looking through the misty air down that green rugged coast.. I felt sick. It was almost too amazing to handle. I felt so. small. The only response in that moment was worship. Any words we tried to murmur to explain our amazement were not enough.. all we could do was stand there and praise the Maker. Wow. They were awesome. Not to mention they have filmed several movies there, including Harry Potter and The Princess Bride (the cliffs of insanity!)
When the tour was over, we did not have a way back to our B&B, so the bus driver/tour guide told us to hop back on the big chartered bus and he drove Jo, Brenna, and I all the way back to the doorstep of the house! He was just one example of the hospitality and kindness that we were shown by every Irish person that we came in contact with!

The next day we went to Connemara, which is a region/national park near Galway. We passed through several villages with cool names like Bearna and Spiddle! We saw many cute houses with thatched roofs, petted real Connemara ponies, saw the place where Connemara marble comes from, saw Loch Karab as well as Loch Inheh, and Loch Killary. We also saw the bridge where the John Wayne movie Quiet Man was filmed, as well as a replica of the house in the movie!
We also went to Kylemore Abbey, an old mansion built by a big beautiful lake that is now used as an Abbey.
That night, Brenna, Jo, and I decided to go out to eat and then find some music to listen to. As we were eating our dinner, we heard American English being spoken at a table nearby us! We looked over and discovered that the two girls that we met in the airport in Dublin were sitting at a table right by us!! We reconnected with them and all decided to go out and find a pub with music together! They told us that they had a friend who had studied in Galway and used to play at a pub, so we found that pub and settled in for some good music! The whole scene looked like it could have come straight out of an Irish movie! People everywhere, talking, laughing, singing, and there in the corner just sitting in some chairs, a group of musicians with instruments singing and having a good time! It was a jolly time.
The next day, we explored the city of Galway a little and headed back early to Mary's to enjoy a little more of her warm hospitality for our last night.

It was a strange feeling getting up the next morning to go to the airport and return to Spain. The whole break felt like we were on vacation from a vacation! But now that we are back, Alicante really feels more like home. Its crazy.. I can't believe that we are leaving to go back to the States in two weeks and two days. As May 6th approaches, it is getting harder and harder to imagine leaving this place and all the friends we have made here. It is going to be great to get home and see all the loved ones there.. but I am just trying to figure out how to pick up and leave somewhere that I have spent SO much time, especially with the knowledge that I might not ever come back.. Its bittersweet.
Its okay though. I am so glad that I chose to study abroad. I have grown in ways that I would not have grown in while in the States. My perspective has changed. I now have friends from all over the world. I have stood in famous sites where history has been made. I have experienced how it feels to be considered less intelligent because you can't communicate perfectly. I have experienced what its like to be an outsider. I have been completely immersed in a language. I have developed a profound respect for people who enter into another culture to live. This experience has been priceless.

I appreciate everyone who has kept up with my journey as I have been here by reading my blog.
I ask that you would continue to pray for me during these last two weeks! Pray for focus (how can I focus on school when the sun is bright, the beach is warm, and summer is just around the corner?)
Pray for more opportunities to share the gospel. These are our last weeks to invest in the friends we have made, and I pray that my heart would be open to the work that the Lord still has for us!
Pray for a profound appreciation for the place we are in, the experiences we are STILL having, the friends we are still around.. Pray that we would not merely count down the days, but instead still be FULLY here!

Thanks for your love!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Life Update

I am about to go on a two and half week vacation (longest spring break ever!) so I will not be writing for probably about three weeks! I felt like before I go, I should catch everyone up on the smaller things that have been happening around here.
Two weeks ago, before Jo and I went to Brussels, we had a pie party with the Japanese girls! Brynn the brilliant baker made chocolate and strawberry pies for the girls to try. They had never had real pie made the American way before! That was a fun night, and it just happened to fall on March 13th, the day before Pi day (March 14th = 3.14...) That night, the Pope was chosen, so the bells of a Catholic church nearby started ringing for several minutes and we turned on the T.V. to watch it. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was nighttime in the Vatican on T.V., and it was night time in Spain.... because we are in the same time zone! Crazy to think that we are really not that far away!

Last week I went over to Julie's apartment to eat french food! She and some of the other French students cooked an authentic meal from their part of France! It was delicious.

This past weekend, Hayley's parents came to visit her, so we enjoyed getting to see them for a little bit! They brought us Reeses, marshmallows, and rice crispy treats from America! We went over to the apartment where they were staying and had a little 'Merica party! Unbeknownst to Johanna, an extra guest was coming to the party with Asaf! The girl could hardly move when she saw her boyfriend, Rusty, walk through the door! Rusty has been studying abroad in Austria this semester, and he wanted to surprise her by coming to Alicante for the weekend! We were all so happy that we had been able to keep it a secret from her for A MONTH AND A HALF! It was hard! Her reaction was so worth it though! We loved having Rusty with us for the weekend and showing him around the city.

A few days ago, our OBU gang went to Dominos pizza (YES they have one here) for another little piece of 'Merica! Brynn had gotten a package with a bottle of Ranch sauce in it, so we slathered our (slightly different tasting) Dominos pizza with it and yelled 'MERICA! It was a small piece of home, but it was delicious.

This week started Semana Santa-- holy week-- here in Spain. This is a week of processions and celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday. I was pretty excited to see everything that happens during the week, but now I think I am just ready for it to be over. I had no idea it was possible to take something so full of light and hope and make it so dark. The focus here is much more on the death of Jesus. Every day, throughout the city, there are processions of robed people with funny hats (honestly, they look exactly like the KKK) carrying around big altars with plaster saints on top. A band follows them playing music and their is a consistent drum beat that sounds like a death march. People from the community can walk with the procession too. On Sunday (when they celebrate the day of the Via Dolorosa) we saw them carry out a big plaster Jesus on the cross from a church and parade it through the streets. It is so dark, so centered on death. One of our neighbors told us that now, the robed people have started handing out candy to the children so that they won't be as scared of the processions! It will be interesting to see what they do on Easter Sunday.

We have already had to say goodbye to some of the friends we have made here! Yesterday night, we had a farewell dinner with two of the Japanese girls who have finished their time in Spain. Jo and I also went over to our French friend, Julie's house to have one more pancake night before she leaves to go back to France this weekend! It is unbelievable to me that we are almost to the end. Its a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to the friends we have made here. Its neat to realize just how many great friends we have been able to make during our time here, but so sad to say goodbye without knowing if we will ever see them again.

On a more positive note-- my parents get here tomorrow!! They will come to Alicante for a few days, and then we will go to Granada and Barcelona! I am so excited to be able to show them around Alicante and share the Spanish culture with them! We have planned this trip for a long time now and I can't believe that it is already here!!

After they leave next week, I will fly from Barcelona to London to meet up with Johanna, Karissa, and Brenna (a new friend we made here) and basically backpack through the UK! I seriously can't believe we are going to do that. I remember being in high school dreaming about taking a trip through the UK when I am older, and now here I am, about to do it! We will spend several days in London, Edinburgh, Galway, and Belfast, which means we will hit England, Scotland, and Ireland! What is even more fun is talking to our Scottish friend, Sarah, who lives an hour away from Edinburgh and getting advice from her about traveling through the UK! Its been so fun to talk to her about it!

After the break, we will return for about three weeks of classes in Spain, and then jet back to the good ole U.S. of A!
AH!! It is all coming too quickly!

Once again, thank you for keeping up with my life! I can't wait to write about my coming adventures in a few weeks!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Absolutely amazing.

Last Tuesday, I went to Las Fallas celebration in Valencia, which is the capital city of the region where I am living. This fiesta was unlike any celebration I have ever been to. It began in medieval times. It started from the Spanish Father's Day, which was also known as Carpenter's Day, since Joseph (from the Bible) was a carpenter. Every year in the spring, all the Valencian carpenters would throw out all their scrap wood and unwanted furniture into the streets, creating huge piles that they would burn. Over time, it became a festival where people from each street in the city build a huge figure out of wood, paper, cardboard and plaster (called a falla). These huge figures convey a satirical message about society and often portray different stereotypes of people from society. The people from each street of the city spend a good part of the year working on their falla and on the weekend of the festival, they display them on their street corner to be judged for first, second, and third place.
All weekend long, people come from all over to walk around the city and look at the stories-high paper and wood sculptures. However, the most amazing part does not come until Tuesday night. Before midnight on Tuesday, every sculpture is rigged with fireworks inside of it, and when the clock strikes 12, the fireworks go off inside the fallas! The beautiful works of art are blown to pieces and instantly begin blazing with fire! The crowd watches as the huge sculptures (as tall as buildings) completely burn down! For the Valencians, it is a symbolic representation of getting rid of the old and bringing in the new.This tradition is distinctly Valencian. No other region or city in Spain does it. It has always been a working class tradition, and to this day, the people of the upper class leave town when Las Fallas rolls around. It was a very proud weekend for the people of Valencia. Valencian flags were hanging everywhere, and we heard them playing the Valencian anthem quite a few times. Many people in the streets were wearing traditional Valencian working class clothing-- a big baggy shirt, a bandana around their neck, and a straw hat. So, being the tourists that we are, we bought some clothes like that and wore them around!The city of Valencia was also beautiful. It was fun to see the capital of the region where we have been living! There was so much going on this weekend! When we got there, we walked past the plaza de toros and saw that a bull fight was going on! 

To summarize the whole thing- this celebration is all about blowing things up and setting things on fire. Besides the burning of the fallas, we also experienced Las Mascletas. This was crazy- and a little scary. This is a tradition where they set off fireworks and firecrackers in a rhythm that is meant to almost sound like music. They started out with small explosions, but as it went on, the firecrackers they used got louder and much more intense- finally to the point when all noise canceled out and I could hear nothing. The vibrations penetrated my body and I could see everyone around my screaming and shouting and cheering, but I could hear none of it! It was the loudest thing I have ever experienced in my life. I was so afraid that I would touch my ears and see blood on my hands, but luckily that didn't happen! For several minutes, everything around us was engulfed in smoke and I could hardly see the street in front of us! It was INTENSE! It was probably one of my favorite things from that weekend, but I don't think I ever want to do it again!

I took a video from Las Mascletas, and if my wifi will cooperate, I will put insert it in here later, and also put in on facebook. Here is what happens:
In the beginning, you hear the mayor giving the men permission to start the Mascletas. She is standing on a balcony above us with all the young girls and women who were in a big traditional beauty pageant that is part of the weekend. They are all dressed in traditional Valencian dress. Then begin the explosions. After they are over, I love how all the people rush into the street and the Valencian anthem begins playing. We also laughed at all the little girls on the balcony- they were all crying! I am not sure it they were scared from all the explosions or happy to have to honor to be up there! Probably both! I also thought it was pretty crazy when a big group of people started protesting and holding up signs against the mayor. When they started yelling, we decided we should probably leave and go get some lunch.

Throughout the whole day, we walked around the city, ate delicious traditional Valencian bunuelos and also churros con chocolate, and dodged kids blowing up firecrackers in the street. Things were exploding everywhere. Throughout the whole day, we heard BOOMS in the distance or coming from nearby streets! When night fell, we went to go see the streets that had been decorated with lights. At 11:00, the streets that had one first and second place for decoration with lights had a big light show with music. Then at midnight, we chose a falla to watch burn. This was another scary instance (something that would NEVER take place in America!) About a thousand people gathered around the falla that we chose to watch burn. The thing was probably several stories high and I was surprised at how close they let us get to it! At midnight, they set off the fireworks, and immediately the thing burst into flames! After only a few seconds, the heat and flames got so intense that the whole crowd had to move back away from it! About a thousand people all scrambled at once to get farther away from the fire, which was crazy! We were also a little worried about the tall burning object falling into the crowd, but luckily that did not happen either. I just kept thinking about how there was NO possible way any of this would fly in America! The huge falla was burning right there in the middle of a city, sandwiched on a street corner between two big buildings! Super scary but super awesome.
At 3 am, we boarded our bus and made the two hour drive back to Alicante. That was one long night, but definitely the craziest festival I have ever been to in my life. 

This was the
falla before it burned. It was huge and beautiful! I can't believe they just burned it!


Now here it is burning! Look at how huge the flames are!

Then its reduced to this!

Waiting for Las Mascletas to start!

One of the smaller fallas for children!

My favorite falla. It was making fun of tourists.

Came across this guy and his wife making paella in a basement kitchen!

The Virgin made of flowers! They did NOT burn her!

The first place falla. Arabic theme.

Look at our excited faces! And check out our Valencian bandanas we were sporting for the day!

Between going to Brussels and then to Las Fallas, I would say it was the best weekend ever.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Weekend with Aunt Leyla


Almost two weeks ago (yikes) Johanna and I went to Brussels, Belgium! We left on a Thursday and flew to Brussels where we met up with a very good friend of my family, Leyla. As we boarded the airplane, neither of us knew how much the weekend would end up meaning to us.
Leyla had worked with my parents to start a church among Turkish believers in Paris, France about five or six years ago. Since the very first time my family met her, she has been a very dear friend. I had not seen Leyla teyze (Turkish for "Aunt Leyla") since I was sixteen years old, when she came to the U.S. to stay with us for two weeks. My most recent memories of her were from six years ago-- going dress shopping for a new dress to wear to my sixteenth birthday party, watching her prepare a big Turkish meal to celebrate my sweet sixteen, laughing as she took pictures of the big yellow school buses that she had only ever seen in movies. When we landed in Brussels, I really had no idea of what to expect when I saw her. We walked through the gate and there she was. We recognized each other immediately. I will never forget what she said when she saw me. She just touched my hands and said "You grew up. You are a lady now." We hugged and I tried not to bawl.
We got in her car and made the hour drive from the airport into the city of Brussels. This is going to sound crazy but.. man, it felt great to ride in a real car. As we drove, we laughed as the weather switched from snowing to sunny to snowing to sunny over and over again. It was completely different from Spain. Though Leyla was sick and tired of the bad weather, it was lovely to see the snow falling on the orange terra cotta roofs of the houses in the Belgian countryside.
There were so many memories from this trip, so I am going to divide them into moments and impressions.

The City
Leyla took us to the Grand Plaza. We saw some beautiful old buildings in the square and walked around the old Plaza. This is the place where they make the enormous carpet of flowers every summer. Here in the city center, we ate the richest waffles I have ever tasted. So good. Believe it or not, the whole city smelled like waffles too. Anywhere we went, we could smell waffles! They were literally sold on every street corner! We saw the King's Palace, the Cathedral, and the Old Palace in the Grand Plaza. I was struck by the architecture of everything. Every single building was unique. Everything about Belgium was completely different from Spain. We also went to a big beautiful park that was were Belgium was founded. We walked around by the fountains, and went into a big war museum that was there. It was crazy to see the history of WWII told from the European perspective! In this museum, there was a huge room filled with old war planes! We also saw Mannequin Pis- a famous fountain with a peeing boy that supposedly ended a war by peeing on the enemy troops. Jo and I laughed pretty hard at that.

We Got Spoiled
When she met us at the airport, Leyla greeted us with two bags of real Belgian chocolate, and from that point on did not cease to spoil us! Leyla cooked amazing food for us. Not to say that Pepita's cooking is bad, but having Leyla cook for us made me realize exactly how bad I have been eating for the past two and a half months. Spanish food is good but let me tell you something- grease and fats are undoubtably the main factor in every food in this country. Everything we ate at her house was fresh, delicious, and healthy. It was so nice to actually eat wheat bread. I also realized that Spain stinks. As in.. it is a little smelly. It wasn't until we were in Leylas clean apartment that I realized something was smelling a little funny.. and it was me! The first night we were there, something was up with my stomach, so I was spending a lot of good quality time with the toilet. Sweet Leyla called all the members of her family on the phone to pray for me! They all told her different remedies for my stomach. First, I was told to down several cups of Turkish tea. When that didn't work, we switched to coffee. Finally, Leyla ventured out into the snowy cold to go buy me some medicine for my stomach. Turns out that good ol modern medicine won this time.
The weather was pretty cold that weekend, so we spent a lot of time drinking hot tea and coffee in Leyla's apartment. Her apartment was on the third floor and overlooked a street. Two of the walls in her living room had giant windows, so we could see the snow outside. It was beautiful. When we remarked to Leyla about how quiet and calm her apartment was she told us "Everyone who has been here has said that there is a peace here." It was so true. It was quiet. There were no noisy neighbors above, below, and beside us. The sun shone through the big windows every morning and afternoon. There was definitely a peace and a calm that I think both Jo and I needed. Every morning we woke at nine o'clock and joined Leyla in the living room to drink tea and sit quietly. "Like the Italians say, piano piano- slowly slowly," Leyla said every day. We took things slowly, starting our days peacefully, lazing around, talking over breakfast, and then slowly heading out the door to do a little sightseeing. It felt like a much-needed retreat away from big loud passionate Espana. We were quiet, we were calm, we did everything slowly. Everything about it felt restful. Leyla gave us so much love, so many kisses, and so much encouragement. I loved sitting in her living room every day and just talking with her about my life. The last time I saw her, I feel like I was just a young girl. This time, it was nice to have more grown up conversations with her, and be able to share more about my life and personal growth with her, as well as learn about her life. She and everyone in her community knows my family from when they worked on the mission together. My parents had gone to visit her and her family a few years ago, so every one in her family knew my parents. It felt like I was with family. Every person asked how my family was doing. They all said that I looked like my dad. They all told me how they still prayed for my family. Leyla also took us around to places that my parents had visited when they came so that we could take pictures in the same spots. I felt so loved, and it was so nice to be around people who know my family.  I had no idea how much I needed that.

Turkish Culture 
We definitely experienced what life is like in Belgium, but more so, we experienced Turkish culture! Leyla has a whole community of friends and family from Turkey who live within a few blocks from her in Brussels! Around ten years ago, her whole family was living in Turkey when her oldest sister, Fedva felt the call from God to go and live in Brussels. Fedva obeyed, but asked the Lord to make it possible bring her family with her to live in Brussels. Leyla told us how important it is in their culture that their family be together. She said that within several years, her whole family (and even some friends) had upped and moved to Brussels. Leyla talked to every member of her family on the phone every day and took us to see every person in her family while we were there. Every where we went, they offered us food. Leyla told us that it is rude to refuse food even when you can't stomach anymore, so we did our best to go along with this custom. I was pretty glad that I had gotten over my stomach bug pretty quickly! Also, Jo and I got a kick out of taking our shoes off at every house! In their culture, the custom is to take off your shoes before entering someone's house. When you enter, they will offer you a pair of slippers or little shoes to wear inside the house. Jo and I got a kick out of all the little different shoes we had to wear! We also had to change they way we kiss for greetings! We have gotten pretty used to giving the two kisses here in Spain, but in Belgium, I never knew how many kisses I was going to get! The Belgians did one kiss on the cheek, but the Turkish did however many they were feeling! One day, when we went to visit Leyla's parents, Leyla's mother gave us four kisses on the cheek!! By the second one, I thought we were done, but she just kept going!
 Leyla told us that four kisses meant that she was VERY happy to see us! We also drank our fair share of coffee and tea! Both of these drinks are HUGE in their culture! Leyla was so happy to find that Johanna is a big coffee drinker. She told us that none of her nieces like coffee so they won't drink it with her. "Coffee is a drink that you have to share with people," she said. Needless to say, Johanna and Leyla drank quite a bit of coffee together! Leyla and her sister Rima also showed us a funny way that Turkish people tell each other's fortune! After you are done with your turkish coffee, you with have grounds left in the bottom of the cup. You turn your cup over and set it upside down on the saucer and let the grounds drip down on the saucer. After a few minutes, when you turn your cup over, you look at the shape of the grounds left in the bottom of the cup and use it to "read" your fortune. Leyla gave Johanna a pretty big scare when she told her that it seems in a very short time she will be married and have twins! Poor Johanna got teased about that all weekend long!

Leyla's niece, Debora spent quite a bit of time sightseeing with Leyla, Jo and me. She is nineteen years old and a university student like us. She spoke fairly good English, but I was really surprised and grateful for the effort that she put into speaking English with us when she could had ignored us and spoken Turkish with Leyla, or had Leyla translate for her. Learning Spanish has really made me appreciate people who speak other languages. Rima, one of Leyla's sisters also spent quite a bit of time with us. She could speak a little less English than Debora, but she also made a big effort to use it. Jo and I loved Rima and Debora. Both were so kind and sweet and willing to get to know us. One night, Leyla made spaghetti and invited Debora and her sister, Lydia as well as Leyla's brother and Rima to come over to eat with us. I loved sitting around the table, talking with her nieces, learning about each other's culture (and enjoying the delicious homemade spaghetti sauce). Every night, Leyla would let the living room get darker as the sun set and would turn on one lamp when it got dark. This made the living room have a dim light. That night that we ate spaghetti, she lit candles, so the living room felt warm and calm. We sat around, watched a French movie, and talked about what actors and celebrities were the most famous for being good looking in our countries! Lydia and Debora agreed that in Europe, most women are in love with either David Beckham or Leonardo DiCaprio. It was a fun night. Another nice moment was when Leyla took Jo and I over to Rima's house after church on Sunday. Leyla said that every Sunday afternoon, their family usually makes visits to each other's house. We hung out at Rima's for most of the afternoon. One of Leyla's other nieces and her husband came over to see Rima and play with their kids. They all eventually switched over to only speaking Turkish, so for a good part of the afternoon, Jo and I sipped our tea and watched the sweet family interact with each other. It was so nice to just be in a family setting.

Sweet Aunt Leyla is engaged! We were so lucky to get to meet her fiance, Bernard. Bernard is Belgian and lives in the city, so we got to go over to his place twice. I think he may be perfect. The first time we went over, he fixed us some delicious flan to eat, then sat down and played the most beautiful music I have ever heard on the guitar.
That night, we made one of my favorite memories from the trip. After we had visited for awhile, Leyla told Bernard that it was time to go and that we would walk over to a famous monument near his place and then take the metro home. He refused to let us walk, so we took his snazzy car and drove over to the monument. It was pretty cold, so he and Debora stayed in the car while Leyla, Jo, and I got out to look around. The wind was blustery and cold so after only a few minutes, we decided to go home and see the monument another day. When we got back in the car, Bernard was blasting Simon and Garfunkle! I shouted over the music, "I love this song!" and Bernard cranked it louder! We drove back towards Leyla's apartment with The Sound of Silence and Bookends swirling around inside the car. It did not take me long to realize that Bernard was taking a long route home. The music continued to play as we drove past beautiful chalets and tall unique brick buildings. He took us through old beautiful neighborhoods and past a big green park. When he opened up the sun roof Leyla said "Hey, its cold outside!" But Bernard said nothing, just stuck his hand out and let the music play! I know this all probably sounds super cliche, but it was a pretty magical moment. One of my favorites :) On Sunday evening, Bernard invited us back to his place for dinner! It was probably one of the fanciest dinners I have ever been to! He had brought back a wheel of expensive cheese from Switzerland and had a machine that would heat the top of it. When the top was melted, the machine would tilt the cheese over and he would scrape off the top of the cheese onto the food on our plates, similar to fondue. It was pretty much the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
Jo and I were both so happy for Leyla that she had found such a generous, caring, kind man. We loved spending time with Bernard and laughing at his jokes. He was so kind to us and so fun to be around. We told Leyla that we definitely approve of him!

On Sunday morning, we went with Leyla to her church! We felt very honored because their congregation was moving to a new building and that Sunday was the last Sunday that they would be in their old building! We enjoyed worshipping with them and singing their songs in Turkish! The music sounded much different than ours. There was definitely more of an eastern feel to the music- a lot of minor chords. But Johanna and I recognized several hymns that we sing in English! After the service, the small congregation all gathered together and took a picture in the sanctuary! Johanna and I felt honored to get to be in the picture too! Then we all went down into the church basement to have some coffee and tea. Johanna and I met more girls our age who spoke English and enjoyed getting to know them a little bit.

I loved seeing how relational their culture was. Everyone took the time to sit and talk with each other over a cup of tea or coffee. It seemed like everyone in their church body was connected by family or marriage. All of them were close friends. It was amazing to see a group of people so close, so connected.

On Monday before we left to go back to Spain, the three of us along with Rima went over to Leyla's oldest sister (Fedva)'s house to have breakfast. My mom had always told me such good things about Fedva and I was so excited to meet her. Once again, Jo and I received so much love (not to mention food) from her and her husband. Though we could not speak the same language, I felt like we could communicate so well. I felt like I had a piece of my family right there with me.

I would say that this weekend may have been my favorite since coming to Europe. The love shown to us by Leyla and her family was amazing to me. It really felt like I had gone home for the weekend. It was also encouraging to see the deep faith in Jesus Christ that their whole community had and how it united them. They never stopped talking about the greatness of Jesus and the power of prayer. It was good to just be around such a big group of strong believers. It was also eye opening to be around such strong believers who were not American! It was just another indicator that God is not the God of America, but of the whole world too.

It was a wonderful weekend and it was very difficult to leave Belgium. Jo and I feel so grateful for everything that Leyla teyze, Aunt Leyla, did for us. Now more than ever I feel like she really is my aunt and her family really is my family.

But! The long weekend did not end there! We returned on Monday, and the next day I embarked on another grand adventure to LAS FALLAS in Valencia! More on this in a blog post coming next!