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4 posts categorized "Victoria Finch"

Sunday in the Valley

Today as I was leaving the gift shop inside the Valle de los Caidos (home to the remains of Francisco Franco, military dictator and president of Spain during the Spanish Civil War) my eyes fell upon a plastic pink rosary. Instantly I was taken back to my childhood, my mémé gifting me a similar style rosary but in dark, mahogany red. The plastic baubles seemed to glitter as I said my solemn Hail Mary's alongside my Gram before mass at 7am on Sunday mornings. There was a secret part of me that longed to wear it around my neck, purely for the sake of its beauty, although I knew this was taboo. To this day, when I see someone wearing a rosary around their neck, I instantaneously roll my eyes: they must not know its worth; its weight.

The Valle de los Caidos is one of the most disputed historical sites in Espana. It is a Catholic Basilica with regularly held services, a “national act of atonement” designed as a symbol of remembrance to those who perished during La Guerra, and also home to the body of one of the most hated men in all of Spanish history. Regardless of its reputation, it is beautiful and grandiose; an ode to the fact that most things in life that are controversial are simultaneously fascinating. Like the remains of Francisco, and the plastic gift shop rosary, these things mutually hold weight. Though different in composition and significance, they weigh on my mind today equally.

And then there are the kinds of things in life that lift you: like my favorite class of 4th graders in my school located an hour outside of the city. On Wednesday, before the national holiday set in and the kids bolted out the doors to freedom, I consciously recorded all of their names in my mind. Sarah, the shy but prodigious one, Adrian the clown, Martina – sweet and obedient, Jorge: lady killer, maker of paper engagement rings and stealer of hearts. Although I have loved my new position in my school entirely, and each class has brought its share of joys, there is something about this group of 20 4th graders that makes every day so much better. Seeing each of their individual personalities, watching them grasp a topic and genuinely learn; it validates what I’m doing here. With my life.

Finally feeling like you’re finding your purpose at 25 – that holds a lot of weight too. But the good kind of weight. The weight I’m ready to carry throughout this year. Through long days and hard days and really good days – like today.

Today was a great day. Filled with new Spanish friends, and controversial, beautiful places.

I hope I keep moving forward. I hope I carry the weight with grace and purpose.

The Road to Perfection

David is 6 years old and a tireless perfectionist. I peek over his shoulder as he sounds out each letter of a word while he attempts to spell it in English..Mmm..Iii.. "Mi." I tap him on the shoulder.

"David, I understand why you would think an I belongs in "My", but en Ingles, a "y" sometimes makes the "i" sound."

David fixes his eyes on the word and lingers for a moment. Then without a seconds more hesitation, he begins to vigorously scribble out the tiny word until it is nothing but a black smudge of ink on the paper. Before I can stop him, he flips the entire page (which was completely blank apart from one misspelled word), and begins to try again.

This is a cycle that will continue for the next hour and a half as we navigate our way through our second week of English lessons. The other day he got so frustrated with himself that he broke down in tears, and his mom came into the room shaking her head, because she already knew what was happening. "He's a perfectionist," she whispered, as she stroked his hair. I left that day, and a few others, feeling absolutely defeated. Not only because I couldn't fully help him, but because inside I could understand his struggle completely.

The pursuit of perfection is something we all deal with, and when your face-to-face with your own shortcomings, there is no way to turn the other cheek and pretend like they don't exist.

That day when David broke down, I jumped into hyper recovery mode. "DAVID!" I said, "You are so smart, the English language is so difficult." and "You are doing so well, keep trying. Try again." But the damage had been done for the day..exasperated he huffed loudly "No!" and tossed his notebook across the table.

The realist in me understood this too. Most days I would give anything to be 6 again, just so I can loudly proclaim "No!" when I am done with all of this. But adulthood, and really life in general, require us to keep showing up. And so that's what David and I did the following day...

Yesterday as I sat down with him to practice his sentence structure, fear engulfed me. What if I can't reach him? What if I overstep and cause him to have a meltdown? As I lingered on this doubt, David was already one step ahead, breaking out his pen and getting to work.

That's one of the things I love most about children, that really revives me just by being in their presence. Maybe its because they've had less time to be scarred by this world, to be beaten down enough to quit; but whatever it is, the pains of their yesterdays are quite literally erased by the sun. David laid aside his failures from the day before as if they never even happened, and he began again today with energy and an open mind.

More than his burgeoning young mind, and his will power, and his youthful vigor, I appreciate his courage the most.

Maya Angelou is famous for all of her words, but these few stand out to me.

"I am convinced that courage is the most important of all the virtues. Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while; you can be just for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while. But it is only with courage that you can be persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

It takes courage to begin, to practice, and to learn. David has a lot of it, and most of us show an ounce of it just by waking up every morning and getting a few things done. Perfection often seems like the real end goal, the character trait to ultimately strive for, but I'm convinced that at least while we're here on this earth, bravery to keep showing up has greater depth to it and far more meaning than perfection can ever offer.

 

Embracing Uncertainty

In two days, I will have been living in Madrid for an entire month. Not sure if I ever thought I would be able to say that, but as I sit on my kitchen counter watching the sun rise over red tile rooftops and stucco houses and listen to the faint murmur of a new day beginning in the city, I realize this place is slowly becoming my new home.

So what have I been up to this month? And what advice do I have to give to future participants?

For starters, the first month living in a new country will definitely be the most challenging one. Take it in stride and embrace the uncomfortability. I lucked out with a pretty solid group of CIEE  friends that have helped me navigate metros (shoutout to myself because I've never lived anywhere with necessary public transportation), residency card waiting lines, tutoring applications, Spanish walk-in clinics with 3 hour wait times, and the dreaded piso (apartment) hunting. This will all seem overwhelming at first and you will most likely run across a few setbacks. For me, getting WiFi was a week and half long process and there's nothing quite as terrifying as being lost in a city that you've lived in for a week because your phone died on the way to the Metro. Citymapper and Moovit are essential to navigating metros and bus routes here, but take it from me, screenshotting pictures of those routes will save your phone battery AND your first phone bill.

But here's the irony and the beauty in my number one advice I could give to any of you so far -- DO get lost. Talk to the Spaniards who have taken the Metro their whole lives (Spanish people are incredibly nice and will point you in the right direction). Take that weekend trip to the coast and swim in the Mediterranean with new friends, take the day hike and chase some waterfalls, go to that sketchy babysitting interview and fumble through your Spanish with the help of Google translate and 10th grade Spanish vocabulary, and land that side job that will allow you to go out and get lost some more.

My best experiences here, so far, have required this of me. To let go, to trust in the journey. If I feel uncomfortable, unlike what most of us have been conditioned to believe all of our lives, it is a good thing.

There is infinite space to grow in the midst of uncertainty.

Grasp it, use it, push yourself.

I can't say that I still don't take shortcuts. If I go up to a Spaniard at the grocery store, and they hint at knowing English, I will usually fall back on what I know best. Sometimes, this may be necessary, but in the long run its not what you came here for.

I'll leave you with a really cool experience I had the other day at my host-mom's house. It was my last night to come over for dinner after moving into my new piso. As I walked in the front door, I was surprised to see that she had company -- a woman and her young daughter. As I ate in my usual silence, I couldn't help but be pulled in by their conversation. The little girl (Milba) was discussing her English classes and I wanted to know more, so I nervously stumbled through my broken Spanish to ask her how they were going. She responded in perfect English, of course, and we continued a conversation in Spanglish for the next few minutes. Before I knew it, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, flipping through Milba's bilingual textbooks and laughing over our mutual hatred of Mathematics. As we bonded, the mother (Karina) started to open up to me as well. Her English was similar to my Spanish -- remedial, but we managed to have a conversation about the difficulties of navigating a new language together.

"No pasa nada" she kept telling me. Its no problem if you struggle, keep trying.

Its hard to explain the strange surge of emotions I got from this simple dinnertime conversation. When I spoke with Milba, I was reminded of myself at 10 years old, excited and eager to learn -- full of potential. Speaking to Karina felt like having a trusted conversation with one of my aunts, warm and encouraging and full of laughter. And my host mom, I don't think I had really earned her good graces until that last night in her home... As I was getting up to leave, she embraced me and gave me the traditional besos on both sides of my cheeks, but it was in the smile of her eyes that I could tell she was really proud of me. She had been pushing me for two weeks to speak Spanish in her home, and I had finally stumbled my way through some words and enjoyed what I can only say was the perfect Spanish night -- sitting in a home surrounded by friends and good food and great conversation.

 

 

 

 

Blinded

So far, I've made it to the Toronto airport -- halfway to my journey to Madrid. With a 7-hour long layover, I've finally decided now is the time to write, to explain why I've chosen to spend the next 10 months living and working in Spain.

There is something about being stranded in an airport for hours on end that makes you see people with ridiculous clarity. I wait tables everyday for a living back home in Nashville, a popular tourist destination that attracts travelers from all over the world, and yet the comfortability of home often blinds me to the differences that constantly surround me. But here, I see and hear everything. Language, color, inflection of tone, various styles of dress; from sandals and socks to platform wedges, and balding Afghani men to wailing Indian toddlers. You cannot escape diversity in an airport even if you try, it literally engulfs you. And the craziest part is that I haven't even gotten to the real culture shock yet and I still feel unnerved and out of place.

So why am I doing this?

This is the question I've been asking myself repeatedly for the past 24 hours as I sit in my uncertainty and loneliness and doubt. And although I feel all of these emotions and more, I know that I am on this journey for a reason.

For one, I am so excited to be immersed in the Spanish culture and language. I really want to push myself to have authentic conversations with people. Not just speaking simple phrases like "Donde esta bano?" and "Como te llamas?" but to speak fluently enough that I can go back home one day and tell the Hispanic server assistant at BarTaco how much I respected and adored working with her for almost a year. I want to go up to the parents of my inner-city latina kids and tell them how much progress their kids made in the REACH reading program and how talented and fantastic they are.

I also want to teach. Simultaneously, I want to be taught. Not just how to speak a foreign language, but how to navigate new landscapes and truly open myself up to people I don't know. At 25 years of age, I want to start taking responsibility for my adulthood, beginning a career path in education and learning to how to live well completely on my own.

But, more than any of these things, I want to address that blindness that I spoke of earlier. That familiarity that we all face in our day to day life. I want to really see people, and to learn their stories. I want to know what inspires them and drives them to wake up every morning. How do they take their coffee? What is their relationship like with their family? What weighs on their mind when they go to sleep at night?

This, I believe, is the ultimate reason I travel. Stories are the road map that connect us all together. Sharing them helps us to understand pain, and betrayal, and love, and life. It makes the Spanish man in the Metro station, and the CIEE participant from L.A., and this elderly woman sitting next to me waiting to hop a plane to Madrid all my brother and sister in this chaos we call life.

I hope to keep this in mind as I embark on this new journey. To remind myself at the end of the day that people are all, ultimately, just people. To try my best to teach, and to learn, and to be open to each and every story that I will be told and will eventually tell myself.

To embrace each new experience that comes my way,

and to always keep my eyes open.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely of places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. -- Roald Dahl

 

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