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6 posts categorized "Victoria Finch"

Hala, Madrid

My life is messy.

In the literal sense, as I walk into my apartment after returning from almost a week in Santa Pola, I let out a long, arduous sigh. My room looks like a bomb went off inside of it. I've tossed clothes everywhere while packing -- on the floor, the bed, chairs, any available, empty space -- , there is still trash that should've been taken out before I  left, my fridge contains a half jar of jam and about 3 eggs...

Instead of cleaning up my mess at 11:00 at night, I've decided to write instead. The mess can wait until tomorrow (life motto).

I want to tell you guys about the last week, and the last couple of months here in Spain. How radically different they've been from when I first began my journey here in August. What I´ve experienced, and struggled with, and learned.

Gah, what I´ve learned. If I could sum up this entire year in Spain it could probably be encompassed in that one statement. Which is honestly why I haven´t been able to write about it as much.. my head is constantly swarming with new information, moments, and stories I want to tell -- but where do I even begin? How do I wrap it in a bow and make it something concise and inspiring and worthy of one blog?

My problem is that I feel like this is impossible. Let me try to explain...

Earlier today I was sitting on the beach with some of my Spanish friends -- Raul, my Spanish student I met in the town that I teach in, who graciously invited me to spend a week in Alicante with his friends and family for the puente, his nephew Adrian, a 23 year old soon-to-be engineer, their friends they grew up with, Jano and Noelia (sidenote -- Noelia is my new favorite Spanish name), and Jano´s parents Rafa and Carmen. Carmen reminds me a lot of my own mother. Gracious, selfless, full of life when she´s around the people she loves. As she began walking towards the water, I saw her roll up her sleeves to take in the sun; and visions of my mother started flashing in my mind. Moments with my family, so similar to this one. On a beach somewhere familiar, in a town where I know the best places to eat and the best bars and where I remember digging sandcastles in the hot sun... I watch as Rafa, her husband, follows her with his eyes..his hands on his hips, gazing into the afternoon sun. And then within a breath he steadily begins to follow her to the rocks on the edge of the water. Another sidenote, the romantic in me died at this moment, especially when he sat down and joined her to overlook the sea, taking it all in after God knows how many years together.. They have the strong and quiet kind of love that I see a lot here in Spain. That familial strength that I´ve only ever witnessed in Spanish-speaking countries.

Spain has taught me a lot about that -- the importance of connections and relationships. Its also has inspired in me a profound love for intercambios. Exchanging languages, especially with a bit of understanding on each side, is absolutely incredible. Finding commonalities in our words and  our little terms and catch-phrases that we believe only belong to our own cultures. The shock and giddy surprise we feel when we relate to each other in that moment of connection. I´ve witnessed this in moments at my school sitting in the cafeteria gabbing with my co-teachers over food and hangovers (yup, everyone knows the meaning of that word), with my little ones who have their first crushes or get in a fight with their friends over the same things I did when I was their age, and with my Spanish friends that I´ve made here...singing Reggaeton songs or watching the Real Madrid game and Rafa looking over at me and saying ¨Victoria, esta es nuestra Superbowl!¨

If you haven´t watched futbol with a band of Spaniards yet, you´re seriously missing out on one of the best experiences, cultural and just in general..

What else have I learned in these past 8 months?

I´ve learned, with much lucha (struggle) how to start speaking up. I´m a generally quiet person. I only like to speak when I feel confident in what I´m going to say, and I only like to say something if I know that it matters. That it has a purpose. In Santa Pola, my friends Raul and Adrian challenged me to a day where we would only speak in Spanish. At first, I was really excited. ¨This is going to be good for me,¨I thought to myself as I went to bed that night. The next day when I woke up and walked outside to greet them, I froze. With Spanish and English spinning around in my head, I had no idea what to say and had no clue how to say it. Therefore, I didn´t say much. And although I did decently well early on in the day (to be debated, but I was proud of my elementary conversational skills), by the time we got to lunch to meet up with a few of their friends, I felt exhausted. Defeated. I sat and listened most of the 2 hours while we ate (which honestly is my preferred way of being, I love to observe).

But observing is only part of participating, only part of the challenge, only part of really learning.

So when we arrived a few hours later to watch the Real Madrid - Munich match at Rafa and Carmen´s, I decided to give it one last go. Carmen chose to sit down beside me during the game, and this weird feeling of calm came over me. I mentioned before how she reminds me a bit of my own mom, and I think this familiarity instantly flipped a switch in my behavior, in my mind. She started speaking to me and her son kept telling her ¨despacio, ma¨, but the weird thing is, I didn´t need her to slow down. Even if she was speaking rapidly, it was all making sense. Again, maybe it was the familiarity, maybe it was that patience, that grace I saw in her too, but I got it. It clicked, and we had this great little chat about something as simple and average as our daily work commutes -- but thats all it takes, guys.

Its as simple as that. That tiny connection filled my heart and I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and excitement.

I spoke up, and the rest followed...


I have two months left here in Spain. A weird mixture of sadness and readiness consumes me, like I´m sure it does the rest of us fellow Auxilliars. We´ve all explored and experienced and learned so much. We have so much to take away from this, and yet still a bit more to learn.

That is what I hope for the rest of my time left here. To keep improving my Spanish, to really dig in deep on the relationships I want to keep. To see and experience a few more things that surprise and move me.

But I do know one thing for sure.

Living and teaching in Spain has taught me more about life in one year than I think I´ve learned in the past 25 put together, and I am so grateful.



Poco a Poco

Change is the only constant. That is what I consistently am learning, what I constantly forget, and what I am continually reminded of with each passing day. 


Spain has taught me how to adapt to that change. I came here a ball of nerves and stress, unsure of the choice I was making. I wrote in the airport upon arriving to Madrid about wanting to get to know people. Their stories, what made them have a taste for life. While living in Madrid for these first 4 months, I have found some answers to that question in multiple forms. 


I’ve met Americans here who thrive off of experience. Who travel boldly on their own to new locations, who throw themselves into scary, but intriguing situations. They grow from the challenge and I respect it. I also have met amazing families. Parents who live for their children and their families. The daughter I tutor who’s mother is battling cancer — who’s only requirement is that Inés has fun during the two and a half hours I spend at their home. Her daughters are joyful in spite of a tough situation and I see the parents instilling that spirit in them. That mother wakes up every morning for her children. 


I also have been shaken by coming home for the last 10 days and being reminded of what I left behind. My solid and steady friends and family, with lives that I respected but never really understood or thought I wanted for myself. I judged instead of listened. Their reasons for living are just as valid as mine. 


But as I sit in this airport getting ready to go back to Madrid, I am shaken by the realization that all of these people that I have known for my entire life, and others that I have known for only a few months, are all so keenly aware of what they’re living for... and I’m not so sure what I care about. 


Loyalty, friendship, family — things that I have truly taken for granted. Character traits and relationships  that are not always so easy to hold on to, that are constantly put to the test, that will change whether I want them to or not. 


That change, it follows me. Possibly even haunts me, and while in a conversation with my friend this afternoon over lunch before heading to the airport, I was reminded again that it’s not ever going to stop. 


Our character, I believe, is shaped by how we handle this wave of change when it comes. When the tide is turning and crashing over us, if we’ve learned how to swim. How we try to stay afloat. 


And the people we choose to take with us, who can save us from drowning, they’re important and so essential to our stories. Because without them we are stuck in the wave alone. 


So I’m learning how to choose my people. How to take responsibility for my character and my choices. How to move forward once change wrecks and reshapes my life. How to rebuild and keep going. 


My goal then, for the rest of my time in Madrid, has changed a bit. I believe I’ve been shown what those around me value and what they live for, but while being aware of them, I’ve lost sight of what it is I live for myself. 


I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions, honestly not sure if I’ve ever made one. But as I sit here waiting for this plane I think of this phrase one of the moms I tutor for says to me when I’m struggling with my spanish... “Poco a poco”


“Little by Little”

You will learn. You will grow. You will change and adapt. Little by little I hope to learn what I live for, I hope to learn my own strength.


This year I’m trying a little harder to be a little better. Let’s see how it goes. 


See ya soon, Madrid. 



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.






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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