Until Next Time

On this breezy Sunday afternoon, Emily and I wandered the winding streets of Casco Viejo reflecting over the past nine months as we snacked on pintxos and sipped fruity wine. We delayed the conclusion of our meeting reminiscing over our favorite trips, contemplating what we will miss about Spain, and sharing our excitement for returning to the States soon. As the hour struck and we parted, I realized that today was the first of many ‘farewell for now’s.

They say that April showers bring May flowers…but what about everything else that drifts in and out with May? Shouldn’t there be some warning with the happy go lucky saying? Like, not only do you get May flowers but expect the month to turn your world into a giant storm of worry and wonder until you’re exhausted from wishing and waiting for weeks. It’s not as catchy, but it’s definitely more straightforward about all of the change that comes with May. And why isn’t there a clever quote about June? June is the conclusion of spring and the start of summer. June is a month of change just as much as May is; an ending and a beginning.

For the past several years, May and June have been months of endings. Five years ago, I graduated from Clarksville High School. Four years ago, I said adios after spending my first month abroad in Spain. Three years ago, I hugged my first group of GSH scholars goodbye. Two years ago, I graduated from Austin Peay State University with a B.S. in English Literature. One year ago, I concluded my first year of teaching at Clarksville High School. This year, I completed my Expert in Bilingual Education course and first year of teaching ESL in Spain.

19073829_10213243046976165_53685956_n
Oldies but goodies!

For the past several years, May and June have been months of beginnings. Five years ago, I was accepted into Austin Peay State University. Four years ago, I hopped on a plane and began my first Spanish adventure abroad. Three years ago, I began my journey as a GSH counselor in Neverland. Two years ago, I was hired as a ninth and tenth grade English teacher at Clarksville High School. One year ago, I was selected into the Meddeas program in Spain. This year, I was offered a TEFL job in Rome, Italy.

19113265_10213243132538304_593074000_n
Oldies but goodies!

May and June are full of growth, doors opening and closing. No other months seem to carry so much weight as these sixty-one days of blooming springtime. May and June terrify me. May and June excite me. A fluttering fills my chest as I hold my breath through the waves of these months. May and June are both promising possibilities and inevitable endings. They are truly magical, and I’ve always been a sucker for fairytales. So as I pack my suitcase and mull over my nine months spent in Spain, I am preparing myself for a bittersweet rest of June. The next few weeks will be filled with happiness and melancholy, hellos and goodbyes, the new and the old. And just in case, during this upcoming whirlwind of moments, faces, and places, I don’t have a chance to express my gratefulness, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been apart of my journey so far. Here’s to the next chapter! 🙂 Cheers!

4eb72cd7a596676d03ecc8045a3d870b

Mundaka to Bermeo

“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling” is one of the quotes I’ve tried to live by during my time abroad this past academic year.

18816257_10213103368044279_1056560168_n

On Saturday after my workout, I tagged along to some coastal towns with my friends Susan and Emily. Our first stop was in Mundaka, a surfer’s paradise. Apparently, it is home to one of the longest left-hand waves in the world (I wish I knew more about surfing in order to properly appreciation this aspect of the small town). Although I didn’t take advantage of the surfing scene because balancing on a board while salt water crashes all around me does not seem enjoyable, I did find Mundaka quite enchanting for other reasons. The port provides lovely views of the surrounding lands and water. The Santa Catalina Hermitage, a nineteenth century shelter located on a cliff on the outskirts of town, also provided amazing views of the ocean and mountains. The Mundaka BC (Basque Country) store exhibited local artists’ photos as well as sold Basque products, including various clothes, shoes, and accessories. I bought a yellow shirt that Susan found in a discounted bin for my Mundaka souvenir. A good twelve euros spent supporting the local Basque country artists!

18789735_10213103368004278_675971356_o
Mundaka’s Santa Catalina Hermitage

We followed the walking path from Mundaka to Bermeo, a thirty minute trek along the rock littered coast, which continued to amaze us with its gorgeous views. Once in Bermeo, we enjoyed some yummy calamari, shrimp, and croquettes at one of the port cafes. Our lunch view was of the towering colorful buildings escalating up the hill of the old part of Bermeo. To walk off our lunch and make room for oreo and kinder gelato, we walked along one of the most important fishing ports in Basque Country, admiring the myriad of commercial boats while attempting to balance on the giant metal wave.

18789330_10213103367924276_1193000025_o

18765546_10213103368164282_859394412_o
Olatua ~ “The Wave”

Before catching the bus back to Bilbao, we entertained ourselves by guessing the meanings of the Basque titles of the abstract sculptures in Lamela park. When translated, the titles of the twisted metals had a range of different meanings, like moon fairy and black goat. My favorite out of all the artworks was The Warrior; if you look closely, someone drew a smiley face on the left side. 🙂

18766954_10213103367964277_1744482832_o

I returned home from a Saturday afternoon spent breathing in the salty air of the Bay of Biscay sunburnt and worn out. And honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Sure, sunblock would have been advantageous, but a little extra color gives me the warming reminder of my fun day spent with friends under the Spanish sun.

18789996_10213103367884275_780200422_o

Adventures are never perfect nor are they always the expected outcome. Adventures can be challenging, yet those are usually the most rewarding. Adventures can be spontaneous or well planned; I’ve definitely had my fair share of both while in Spain and I couldn’t choose which ones have been more successful. But I do know that these adventures, no matter how big or small, make life exciting! So if at the end of the day, you aren’t a little smarter or exhausted or amazed or frazzled, then did you really live your day?

Rome, Italy: my next big adventure!

I will be moving to Rome for the next academic year! 🙂 Surprise! Super excited! With the conclusion of the Meddeas program fast approaching, I decided to mix it up and apply for English teaching jobs in different countries, my first pick being Italy. I absolutely adored Rome when I visited a few months ago, so I put it at the top of my list to explore more. Most academies in Italy immediately turned me down because I was not an EU citizen and would need to apply for a work visa, a lengthy process that most schools avoid like the plague. However, one academy decided that I’m worth the extra hassle, and I am so thankful they have given me this opportunity. Now I can say for certain where I’ll be going and what I’ll be doing this upcoming fall; I will be teaching English to various aged children at the Greenhouse English Academy in Rome while taking Italian language courses and also second language acquisition related courses, which credits I can apply to my future master’s degree. Yay!

IMG_9117
When in Rome, reenact the Lady and the Tramp scene.

In honor of #ThrowbackThursday, here is a post about my first visit to Italy. Chris and I flew into Rome on Friday evening, where we kicked off our Valentine’s weekend getaway with some good ole Italian cuisine at Al Tettarello. We started with an assortment of bruschetta and then split a salami pizza and plate of mushroom fettuccine. All the people who have preached to me before about fresh pasta being heaven were not lying. Sooooo good! We didn’t even wait to take a picture of the masterpieces set in front of us before digging in. If you’re in the Monti district of Rome (or just in Rome in general), I highly recommend making this restaurant one of your eating stops. Our final meal in Rome ended up being here as well because it was just so yummy!

With our bellies full, we wondered around the Monti district, viewing the Colosseum at night. What a magnificent sight! The play of lights and shadows was beautiful. It blew my mind that in Rome we could walk past a ruin that was over 2000 years old and it was no big deal. People passed it daily on their commute to work. That will be me next year!

IMG_9110
Low quality picture of a high quality experience.

On Saturday, we began our morning at the Spanish Steps with a free walking tour. The tour itself was informative and hit major scenic spots in the downtown area, including the Pantheon. It was an incredible experience walking around such an amazing building. Again, I was blown away by the ancientness of it all.

Next, we visited the Colosseum and the surrounding ruins of the Roman Forum. Wow! Just wow. Not only being able to see but to touch and feel the history was such an incredible experience. I mean this is a city that can’t even construct a new metro line because they keep finding more and more ruins. We got lost for a few hours weaving through all of the fallen columns, partially existing rooms, and well conserved paintings. There was so much to see it overwhelmed us.

IMG_9173

18718597_10213072096662514_1843140312_n
Please ignore the plastic bag…it was keeping the street art we bought safe and sound.

We, of course, participated in the Italian aperitivo, where we sampled various Italian foods buffet style for solely the price of our drink. Amazing! We ate way too much suppli and gelato as well. Italian food has definitely captured the attention of my taste buds, and I can’t wait to explore more of the cuisine when I return in September.

If you have any tips for me during my future extended stay in Rome, I would love to hear them! 🙂 Thanks for reading! Cheers!

**Because it was a holiday during the weekend we were there, the Vatican was closed so no museum or chapel for us. On the plus side though, the Pope was giving a speech in celebration of the holiday so the Colosseum was pretty empty!

A Flower among the Flowers

On Saturday, I hopped on a bus with my tres amigas and headed to Burgos, Spain. Upon arrival, we quickly realized that the city was having a special three day flower festival. Surprise! Random themed displays of artistically placed flowers were scattered across the city. Needless to say, I was a Flowers on a scavenger hunt for flowers. 🙂

There were all different kinds of inspiration for the displays including 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Mary Poppins, Marvel Super Heroes, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Aladdin, Frozen, and Beauty & the Beast. Even with all of the variety, my favorite of the whole bunch of twenty displays was Alice in Wonderland! Not only was it the grandest show of flowers, taking up an entire plaza, but it was also the most creatively executed.

Now before you think that I spent my entire eight hours in Burgos looking at flower displays, let me clarify. I also toured the castle’s ruins, sported a hard hat to explore underground tunnels, stared in awe at the cathedral’s many diverse chapels, ate a yummy menu del dia of local food, and educated myself at the Human Evolution Museum.

18472657_10212968308507875_15851968_o
The magnificent and giant Cathedral of Burgos

Saturday was full of  jam-packed fun! 🙂 If you’re traveling in Northern Spain, Burgos is a wonderful place to stop for a day. Be sure to eat the traditional lamb dish while you’re there. If you have any questions about my travels, feel free to ask in the comments below. Cheers!

18493876_10212968309387897_1185807250_o
Thanks for the fantastic day, Burgos!

Side note: good luck to all those hiking the Camino de Santiago! I saw many backpackers from all over the world traveling through the city on Saturday, making their way on their spiritual trek. If you aren’t familiar with the Camino de Santiago, it’s a long journey ending in Santiago de Compostela. As long as you walk a minimum of 100km, you will receive a certificate of accomplishment at the final destination. Exciting!

camino
The main route and various branches of the Camino de Santiago

T.A.W.

During this past week, did you thank a teacher? Did you tell the one who always had an extra pencil for you to “borrow,” thank you? Did you tell the one who gave you a hard time because they had high expectations for you, thank you? Did you tell the one who slaved over those graded papers, thank you? Did you tell the one who showed up to school early and left late, thank you? Did you tell the one who noticed when you were having a bad day or cared when you were absent, thank you?

Throughout my twenty-two years of living, I have been blessed with having one or two (if not more) amazing educators each year. Intelligent mentors to guide me in the right direction. Encouraging adults to care about my successes. Demanding professors to challenge me on my best efforts. Supportive co-workers to survive the school day with. I know I am fortunate to have had such positive educational experiences. I know I am lucky that these positive educational experiences continue to this day. I also know that any experience is what you make of it.

So this blog post is a thank you. To all of the educators out there, you are beyond appreciated, whether the appreciation is acknowledged or not this week. You are necessary. You are strong. You are a change maker. You are a role model. You are a teacher. You are loved.

I also wanted to dedicate part of this post as a special thank you to all of my former and current students who, maybe without even realizing it, make my profession as a teacher worthwhile. You all are the reason I stress over lesson plans. You all are the reason I show up bright and early each morning with a smile. You all are the reason I continue to push myself to be better because you deserve the best. Truly. No matter how many times you make me want to yell or pull my hair out or cry from frustration, you are my reason. I give you a hard time because I care, just as all of my best teachers (although they weren’t always my favorites at the time) gave me hard times. Please never forget that.

18e490a4a6bebd9e26502a5c849af5ea
Although I don’t remember all of the lessons I was taught, books that I read, or tests that I took, I’ll never forget the teachers who pushed me to do more and be better. Thank you for believing in me!

My Castro Holiday 

I spent this sunny international worker holiday with friends in Castro Urdiales pier walking, calamari eating, sun bathing, and tea drinking. This quaint mini version of Santander is just thirty minutes outside of Bilbao, uniting mountains with the sea.

IMG_9755
The city is quite beautiful! (ignore my finger smudge)

When we first arrived in Castro, we explored the grounds of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the Castillo de Santa Ana. We were able to walk through some of the small castle and tiny lighthouse, but the church was closed due to the holiday. If you’re in the area, these two sights (15th century Gothic style church and early 20th century castle) are definitely worth seeing!

IMG_9746
Church of Santa Maria Assunta
IMG_9743
Castilo de Santa Ana

After our touristy visits, we grabbed some tasty calamari from Texas bar and walked along the piers (there’s two here!). The weather was on its best behavior today, the sun smiling down on us. There were some giant steps leading down to the ocean on one side of the smaller pier, where we lounged for a bit listening to the waves crash along the rocks at our feet.

IMG_9752
Ignore the squints and check out that pier!

Before heading to the bus stop, we popped into El Patio de la Rue for some tea and cake. This unique cafe is both a coffee shop and boutique, so you can sip and shop. Super cute and cozy!

IMG_9754
El Patio de la Rue

I had a relaxing, fun-filled morning with these ladies; it was such a wonderful way to spend our day off! Castro Urdiales is a quick and easy trip from Bilbao; I’ll definitely be back to soak up more sun before I return to the States. Thanks for reading, my awesome supporters! 🙂 For all of those hard workers out there, I hope you had a restful day! Cheers!

Posing in Prague

Prague (Praha) was the third city that Emily and I visited during our Christmas venturing, and it was way more than I initially expected! 🙂 From visiting the Sedleck Ossuary (Bone Church) in Kutna Hora to eating lots of hot trdelnik to watching the 600 year old astronomical clock’s disappointing hourly show to touring the largest castle complex in the world Prague Castle to cheesing in front of the Lennon Wall to viewing the magnificent muralled library in the Strahov Monastery to walking across the Charles Bridge to seeing the famous black light theater performance Aspects of Alice, I was blown away by Prague. Those three days were my favorite days from the two week trip.

IMG_8699
Praha from above

IMG_8682

IMG_8683
Lennon Wall, trdelnik, and Christmas markets
IMG_8681
Bone Church (remains of up to 40,000 people)

But my favorite parts about Prague weren’t the tourist destinations, foods, or shows. My favorite parts about Prague were Bibi and Dada, our airbnb hosts. This artsy couple was not only kind and warm, but they were also honest and curious. Their eclectic apartment offered us a generous guest room, where evidence of Dada’s previous exhibitions could be found in every corner and behind every large piece of furniture. Our mornings and evenings were filled with hot tea, exotic Czech foods, and meaningful words. Bibi, a videographer, asked to interview us for one of her current projects, and Dada, a photographer, volunteered to photograph us for simple fun. So our last night in Prague was spent in a cramped, cold studio discussing the meaning of home and posing awkwardly on an old wooden bench.

My interview went a little something like this: What does home mean to you? Home isn’t a permanent place to me, not a city or building. Home is a concept. Home is were my heart is, so home for me is many different places. Pieces of my heart are scattered all over the world in association with people and memories. What smells remind you of home? Breakfast being cooked, old antiques, cinnamon sprinkled on hot cocoa, fresh cut grass, air near the ocean, Chris’ cologne. What sounds remind you of home? My parents’ saying “love you,” my brother’s explanations of board games, Chris’ laughter, country songs, waves crashing, cows mooing. What feeling reminds you of home? When warmth spreads through my chest, causing me to smile without even realizing it. Are you at home in your life now?  To be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable in Spain until about two months of living here and learning the customs. I didn’t get that sense of comfort, that feeling of acceptance, until a little boy, maybe three years old, was blowing kisses to strangers on the metro. He was all smiles as he made smacking noises with his hand and sent those airy kisses in random directions, judgement free and merrily oblivious to everything else. One so happened to drift my way, the boy exclaiming “hola” and squealing. That was the moment I felt the warmth expand in my chest. That was the moment I felt confident that I could temporarily do this. Be separated from all things familiar for nine months. Live here. Teach here. Be happy here. That’s when Bilbao truly captured a piece of my heart.

My photo shoot went a little something like this:

A4 Emily-Julie diptihA4 Emily-Julie diptihBW

 

I have never had such thought provoking conversations with strangers before, and to think that they weren’t even our original airbnb hosts in Prague. The others cancelled three days before we arrived in the Czech Republic, and Bibi and Dada agreed to take us in last minute during the holidays. To say I am thankful for meeting Bibi and Dada is an understatement; I hope I made at least half the memorable impression that they made on me.

Thanks for reading and supporting! 🙂 Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments. Your feedback is always appreciated. Cheers!