It’s been a year since I started this blog and as I look back through the posts, it’s amazing to see how much I have grown, the crazy strands of thinking that I had to write about in the moment, and most of all the adventures I have had during this whirlwind of a year. I’ve learned a lot to say the least.

In three weeks I will be walking away from it all and as much hope and happiness that I have in that decision, I still feel a lump in my throat. Not for Spain the country itself and living in this adorable town, but for something else entirely. Over the year, I’ve met countless people. Some have brought me down and clouded my judgment, some have infuriated me with their selfishness and pettiness, but more than that, the majority have challenged my thinking and pushed me to better myself. They have shown me how to be self-less, caring, and loving in everything I do and to smile and nod after the third time asking ¿Que dices?

Regardless of what their role in my life has been there are key people who have weaseled their way into my heart and I will be forever grateful for the influence they have made.

So I wanted to dedicate this post to them. To those special few who have helped me find those opinions, practice this complicated language, let me cry when I was stressed, and of course, have always been down for a copa any given day, I say thank you.

From day one off the plane, I felt a weight of fear on my shoulders. It definitely could have been the oversized luggage I had strapped to my back at the time, but between my shaking legs and breaking back I wasn’t myself. As much as they told us not to cling to each other, we did. We clung together even though we had only met days or hours before. It was a strange experience to be bonded so quickly to people we didn’t even know each others last names, let alone how to get around in a foreign country. But we were wired with a mix between excitement and fear for that first week, nothing and everything could go wrong.

But then we moved to our city! The artificial friendships started to fizzle out and the real ones started to form. These relationships came from nothing besides the similarity between our passports, but developed into big life changes, shifts in mindset and new dreams and aspirations. They began when we stayed in a hotel room even after we both had new apartments and could have moved out at anytime. Or when we decided to stay in, watch First Dates and make friendship bracelets. They were the times we got lost while slightly intoxicated walking home those first few weeks. They were the times we sat and practiced language, where really it turned into laughing about the differences between the two and the accents we use. It was the bellyaching laughter from hilarious stories about falling down, twisted ankles, loud security alarms, and twisted tongues.

Day to day these relationships built—the amount of café con leche involved is still undetermined— but we were working through the complications and laughing at the hiccups the entire ride.

Leaving this tiny bubble, that has meant so much to me the past 10-months, I feel scared. I am scared I will forget my Spanish, I am scared I won’t know how to readjust to American culture, but most of all I am scared that the friendships I have made will turn into a memory about the one year I lived in Spain.

Last August I wrote a post about the people you meet in college. In a few short days I will be reunited with two of my best friends and I could not be more elated to see them! They are my friends that have stood the test of time and will always bring out the embarrassing stories from over the years. They are the special ones.

If I have learned anything from those two special friends (besides never snapchat how many double-chins you actually have unless you are willing to count them over drinks again someday) is that relationships are strong and they traverse distance and time easily.

Logroño, La Rioja brought us together, but our adventures navigating culture and language, our time spent together, all the inside jokes made, and our trust created are what will keep our relationships strong for years to come.

In my life I have lived in four different houses and nine apartments. Each time I have felt as if a piece of my heart was left with the people that filled those days. Leaving Spain, I feel no different. However, even as tears spring to my eyes at that thought of splitting it again, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have experienced it at all.

Not to mention, of course, all the countries, states and cities I now can visit 🙂

The point is, what makes traveling and moving so hard are these relationships we make, but on the other hand, they also make those trips worth making. You all were worth every minute spent and every minute yet to come. So as I say hasta luego to my new friends with a heavy heart, I am reminded of my favorite quote:

“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.” –Winnie the Pooh

Cheers to all the stories we will forever be keepers of and the people who get to keep them, you’ll stay in my heart forever (the extra CHEESE is free) ❤

 

Makenna

There were two roads and I took the one with the promise of Starbucks

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

If only my high school English teacher could see me now! *Sighs in melancholy*

If you are unaware of this poem, it is “The Road Not Taken” written by Robert Frost in 1916. This poem is controversial and beautiful and has everything to do with my horrible “play on words” title of this blog post. -__-

When I first read this poem, I thought about its meaning and took away what I think is most commonly taken away…take the road less traveled, it will make “all the difference.” But, as I sat with my Pro/Con lists of staying in Spain another year or going home, I was reminded of what this poem truly means.

One thing I love about stories is that sometimes, the right one stumbles into your lap at the most opportune moment. This poem was that for me.

These past few weeks I have been stressed. I’ve been stressed because for the first time in my life, my future isn’t exactly clear. I have always been the A B C D E F G-plan type. This is to say that I’ve never-not known what I was going to be doing with my life in the foreseeable future. Until now.

When making those plans, back-up plans and back-up, back-up plans, I always would consider them as second best (or third, or fourth, blah, blah…) But as my list kept getting longer on both sides of staying and leaving, I realized my plans were all the same.

To give a little back-story I have been battling my decision to stay in Spain for about a month now. I can’t describe the feeling or even the moment it happened, but out of nowhere the thought of not staying in Spain wrestled in my mind. It could have been the disappointment of not getting the job I wanted…but in the end, I’ve never been so happy to not get a job in my life. It could have been the roommate and man drama in my life…but those things seem to follow me wherever I go (some call it life, I’m pretty sure it’s just me). Or it could have been the fact that I miss my family…eight months without seeing them is looking pretty bleak. But I think the best explanation is that I just wanted to look at a different path.

Back in October, I made up my mind that I wanted to stay in Spain. This decision was made because my first month was awful and in October things started to look up. There was a change in the weather and also in my mood. Spain was amazing, why would I even consider leaving?

So I didn’t. I didn’t consider leaving because I was set in my decision.

But fast-forward six months and here I am, finally allowing myself to not look at going home as “failure” but instead as a plausible option. I changed my mind. I allowed myself to consider another option and whereas it has caused me many sleepless nights, I am happy it did.

The truth is, both options aren’t perfect. Staying means pushing off my dream of being a teacher another year and going homes means living with my parents while hunting for that dream job. One I get to live in Europe another year, the other, I get to be home with a new baby nephew while working towards a teaching job. My two paths; both equally as beautiful and beaten…ok, I’ll stop the path analogy; I’m getting annoyed with myself as well.

The point is, just like the poem says…

“…And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.”

…my options are equal.

But I have still have to make a choice right?

And I have. I have made the decision to come home. Yes, that’s right, Makenna Schrader is coming stateside. For good (well, I think…but who knows really?)

Now I could go through that list of pros and cons and tell you how I made my decision and probably change the story to make it sound like that was the better option. People have also told me “I can always come back and live in Spain if I want to.” And I’ve entertained those ideas, but here is why I am not going to do either of those things.

In this poem, Frost acknowledges these thoughts too,

“…Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

He tells himself that he will “come back,” but he knows deep in his heart that he will most likely never come back. It’s funny, because it’s true! In order to lessen the blow of giving up one option, we always say that we can come back and try that decision another day. We do this because accepting the fact that we will never have this opportunity again is heartbreaking. By choosing to go home, I am most likely giving up this chance to ever do it again; people can keep saying there’s a chance, but in my heart I know I’ll never live in Spain again (visit, of course, live, probably not).

A little bit of a depressing poem…but wait, there’s more!

The best part of the poem just so happens to be the most famous part that has been quoted for years.

“…I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

What I think Frost wants to convey and what I think I take away from this is that when making a decision, after telling ourselves we can go back, we end up making up this idea that we chose the less traveled road in the end. We like to say that we “made the right decision” because it helps with the idea that we missed out on the other.

Still depressed? Don’t be.

During the past few weeks I have been trying to find the “deal breaker” the one thing between the two that I can’t miss out on. I do this with a lot of decisions and I think we’ve been trained to do so all of our lives. But I think what Frost is trying to show and that should give hope instead of depression, is that regardless of the choice, either way, it will be ok…or not My options were equal, I gave up something with both…I just needed to pick one.

So what does that mean? Even though I haven’t lived this one through yet, this is what I am taking away from my decision.

I’m choosing Starbucks. I’m choosing living with my parents at twenty-three years old. I’m choosing expensive coffee over cheap. I am choosing small town USA over traveling Europe. I’m choosing a stateside adventure over a European one. And that’s ok. Instead of making up some story about how one is better than the other, I have opted to simply listen to that voice in my head (as I was mid-downward dog I might add #yoga4lyfe) that said, “You want to go home.” That’s it.

My advice is to make the pros and con lists. Think about your decision. Consider every possibility. But above all of it, just make the decision. Each decision will lead to hard times and each will lead to some amazing memories, don’t resent the one you don’t choose, be thankful for the opportunity to be able to choose.

I am a college-educated, independent, and well-travelled individual. I am going home jobless, with all the ambition and promise of that decision.  It wasn’t the better option, nor was it the worst, but I made the decision regardless…“and that has made all the difference.”

Un abrazo fuerte.

Nos vemos July 31st USA.

 

 

Makenna Schrader

Poem and explanations were aided by: http://susanbaroncini-moe.com/please-stop-misinterpreting-the-road-not-taken/ 

Thirteen Reasons Why

Two weeks ago I pressed play on a Netflix show and unknowingly entered a whole world of controversy. From the name of the post, I am obviously talking about Thirteen Reasons Why.

Rooted with so much strength and ugliness is this heavy 13 episode series on Netflix that takes viewers into the life of a Middle-Class American suburban high school. I don’t think a time of life has ever held so many emotions than those years in high school. In short, a young teenage girl commits suicide. As if that sentence doesn’t strike pain into your heart enough, like it should, we are then faced with the reasons why it happened.

After binge watching the thirteen episodes, much like the other teenagers on the tapes, I finished feeling hollow. As an educator, as a high school graduate of a similar school, and as a soul that has been touched by suicide, I was flooded with emotions. After finishing the show and giving myself time to process, research and process again, I feel I have finally come into some rational opinion and I thought I would share it with the world.

When the majority of people sit down to watch a television show, they are looking for entertainment. However, within the past few years, we have seen a switch. Instead of films being only for entertainment, films are now transmitting news and information about topics that hit relevant issues in our lives. Instead of going to the movies to escape our world, we go to the movies to learn something about our world. In my opinion, this is good and bad. The good is that people are finally being faced with real things that are happening and being forced to open those conversations. This is eye opening and thus creating discussion that later leads to improvement. It’s something we can relate to…even if it is a little bit dramatized.

So what is the bad? In my opinion it’s the business. As much as I love the conversation starters of movies and media, I am panged with the forever-itching fact that it is “all to make money.” This brings insincerity to anything I watch. On top of the drama that is hitting us hard, we are then faced with this drawn out drama that could have been incredibly meaningful if just left at one movie/season of a show…instead of a sequel, prequel and five-years later-quel (ahem, Star Wars). The point is it’s too much when it starts to seem too drawn out.

But what’s the problem with this? How is this bad? I love all the Star Wars Movies!

When I sat down and pressed play on the first episode of Thirteen Reasons Why, I was instantly sucked into this awful horrible world that is this show. It was brutal to watch at times, incredibly disheartening at others, but most of all, it was realistic. It was realistic in the sense that watching it, I could think of times I had seen things like it in my school. It was realistic because I could see what choices the students were going to make and I KNOW students who have made those decisions. What hit the hardest was the fact that I know people who have tried/failed/succeeded at making Hannah’s decision. My eyes were sore from crying and my heart was broken from watching…until the last scene.

If Thirteen Reasons Why signs on to do a second season I will not watch it. This show was terrifying. It was heartbreaking. But it made a statement! A statement that it wanted to start the conversation about this HUGE issue we have in the states and I applaud that effort. Regardless of your opinions of how good or bad the show is it opened up a dialogue that I don’t think friends, parents, educators, politicians, etc. should shy away from. However, that should be it. That should be where the story ends and the viewers have to take what they can and change it for the better.

Making a second season, to me, ruins the idea that the producers want to inspire this change. They just want to make money. They want to make a second season so they can capitalize on viewer’s emotions. I have seen the negative effects of this just listening to people around me talk about the season already. Instead of hearing the discussion of hurt, the presence of this in our schools, and how awful it is that this show had to be created before we started talking about these issues, I am hearing things like, “what is going to happen in Season 2?” or “Hannah is too dramatic and Jeff is SO hot” and my least favorite, “(INSERT YOUR NAME HERE) welcome to your tape” (Laughs to follow). This is detrimental to so many teens and young adults who are experiencing these issues.

When the rhetoric is this, we are not looking for a solution we are making a mockery of the second leading cause of death in people 10-24 in the United States. And if that is the conversation that will be surrounding this show, I want no part of it.

Here’s the thing. Even though the story is fiction, the school, the students, and the actions that occurred within those tapes happen all the time. If that makes people laugh, if that makes people want to poke fun at the “tapes” then shame on them. Laughing, making memes, and diminishing those topics makes them taboo. It makes them fade back into the confines of a person’s head that is struggling with depression. It counteracts the purpose of making these forms of media.

This needs to stop.

Be aware. Be empathetic. Be understanding.

Be aware of your actions as your holding these conversations. Before you make a joke, think about the people in your surrounding…you never know another person’s experiences. Be empathetic when someone says that this show was triggering or that this show wasn’t a good thing. Everyone has their own reactions and reasoning, put yourself in another person’s shoes that has or hasn’t experienced suicide. And lastly, be understanding. Understand that people are hurting and that making a joke about something that is this sensitive is wrong. Do what is inherently right.

Telling someone “welcome to your tape” with laughter in your voice because your friend didn’t do you a favor, is not right. Stop acting like it is.

Do the right thing. Talk about the difficult issues. And spread the positivity…you never know who might need it.

 

Sending positive vibes and love to everyone!

 

Makenna

Beautiful places, amazing views, new laugh lines and great food too

As I mentioned before I am starting to travel more and more this spring and I could not be happier for the change in pace. In the fall, I enjoyed sitting back and acclimating to my new home, but now, I am ready to enjoy its perfect proximity to other beautiful places (but let’s be real, I really go for the beautiful food).

This past week I was lucky enough to travel with four friends of mine (who I annoyingly call my Portugal Posse) to not only Portugal, but also Sevilla, Spain as well. We ended up meeting up with different groups of friends we knew along the way, as well, as reconnecting with my old friends in Sevilla. My feet have blisters, my muscles hurt, and I am sure my waist line has gained a few inches from the food…but the stories and memories outweigh any of the negatives (well we will see if that holds true when I go to the gym on Monday!)

IMG_2159We started off our journey in Sevilla, Spain by visiting and staying with a good friend of mine who I met when I was studying abroad. Alejandro and I met three years ago through a friend and even though I irritate him with my awful salsa moves, he still accepted four of us into his apartment for four days without hesitation. My friends wanted to experience Semana Santa in Sevilla because it is
renown for its celebration (although it is celebrated all over Spain). With the smell of incense in the air at every cobbled stoned street and the sounds of drums beating at all times of the day, I think by the end of the four days we all agreed that if living in Sevilla for a few years, it would be understandable to want to GTFO during Semana Santa. IMG_2132Regardless of our feelings after four days of processions in the intense heat, the processions were still marvelous. It’s always amazing to me the beauty of the pasos and the intensity of the music. However it will never cease to make me uneasy seeing the cone hats of the masked men walking in the street, but it’s significance doesn’t hold the same weight as it does to the Spanish (I’m American and the cone hats look like the KKK…it will never stop terrifying me).

During our evenings in Sevilla, we would all get together and go salsa dancing at a local club. This brought back all the memories from my study abroad experience! My moves might have been rusty, but the laughs were just that much stronger. Each night we would eat with Alejandro and whatever coachsurfer was staying with us at the time as well. The atmosphere was fun and silly, but incredibly meaningful and magical to me. I hadn’t missed Sevilla more than when I was spending those four days surrounded by people I loved and reliving memories of my time there.

However, we had to move on to our next city. An excruciating seven-hour bus ride later, we ended up in Lisbon, Portugal. Here we met up with our fifth Portugal Posse member and immediately took to the street for some good food and wine. Let me tIMG_2284ell you, the food, the architecture and the weather, are three HUGE selling points of Lisbon. After a two hour walking tour around the city, I was infatuated with its charm. There was this old historical ambiance of the city that was impossible not to like. We ended up walking for hours even after the tour, eating as many pastéis de nata that we possibly could and soaking up the amazing views. We even made the trek to Belém, which is a tiny town outside of Lisbon to try their famous Pastéis de Belém—which are all they are cracked up to be, trust me! Between the Bacalhau (codfish), pastries and the sangria we were sufficiently stuffed the entire day.

 

Our second day in Lisbon, we took a day trip to Sintra. I cannot stress how wonderful and important it is to go to this city! IT IS AMAZING. I have never considered ditching my teaching career to become a princess so seriously in my life! It’s that cool.

A small area located north of Lisbon is this province of Sintra. Not talked about enough for it’s beauty and wonder, it sits in the mountains with a small town charm that is as quaint as it sounds. However, this is not what makes it so magical (even though without it, it would probably not be as wonderful). No, located in this tiny area are castles. Yes, you heard me…castles. There are a ton of different castles all around the little town and each has their own unique charm. After renting a TUK TUK (a small little motor bike driven by a local) we were taken to some breathtaking views and a colorful palace on top of the mountain called Pena Palace. This palace was constructed in the Middle Ages and finished in 1854. It is a perfect depiction of the 19th century Romanticism in the world, as well as, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s magnificent. We only paid to walk around the castle, not in it, but it was worth even just the walk.

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After leaving Pena Palace, I didn’t think it could get any better than that. BUT, when we decided to go the Quinta da Regaleira castle on a lower part of the mountain, I was seriously mistaken. Situated halfway up the mountain is this beautiful estate, that not only has a beautiful palace and chapel on its grounds, but also a series of wonders throughout its park. This was by far my favorite of the entire day. There are a series of grottos, wells, lakes, statues, benches and fountains that add to the romantic atmosphere of the entire park. And what’s underneath all of these beautiful structures? Tunnels! A huge network of tunnels connects you to all these different wonders. It was incredibly interesting. The entire time we were there, we were dreaming of childhood adventures that could be had running through the park, princess fairytale evenings spent running through the woods and reading books (you can roll your eyes….now) It might sound stupid, but trust me, if you saw this place you would understand.

When we finally made it home, we were all satisfied and in a dream. We ended up meeting up with friends, enjoying drinks on a rooftop terrace and dreaming of our castles (that could have just been me).

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As always with trips, the end was nearing. We moved into our last leg of our trip by catching a morning flight (that was 10 euro I might add) to Porto in the northern part of Portugal. IMG_2550This city was recommended for the wine, the food and the views; none of which were disappointments (well, I didn’t care for the Port wine, but others did). Porto is a city in a mountain that overlooks a lake that eventually leads out to the ocean. To some it might look old and run down, but to me and my friends it had a character that was unmet by any other city. The part that I loved the most about this city was the tiny streets that ran through the mountain (up and down millions of stairs I might add) where locally owned bars and restaurants whose lovely smells drifted out into the streets at any mealtime were situated. It was peaceful and wonderful. We were in Porto for two days and I feel like I blinked and it was done. Overall it was a beautiful city that is worth every minute spent, I promise!

After a week and two days of traveling we all sadly walked through the Porto airport to our gate number back to Madrid. I know for me, I wasn’t ready to go back to Spain and kept feeling like we had one more part to our trip. It went incredibly fast, but will be forever remembered!

Now that I am safe at home in my little apartment in Logroño, Spain, I am happy to be home in my bed. I enjoyed all of the beautiful places and views, but even more, I loved the people I traveled to them with. They make the difference between a good trip and a fantastic trip every time. Besides my copious amounts of laundry and nursing my blistered feet back to normalcy, these next two days before school starts back are going to be spent relaxing.

Over all, this trip was unforgettable. From my special love of Sevilla to the most often forgotten about hidden gem of Portugal, I was filled with love (and a million calories a day).

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My advice is go to the beautiful places, take time to enjoy every part, and enjoy the people you are traveling with. The places will be that much more wonderful when you relive the memories in your head.

Sending love!

 

Gracias/Obrigada/Thank you,

 

Makenna

Blending in: A break from being the “rubia”

Last week I left Spain for the first time in seven months. WHAT? Compared to my fellow teaching assistants this is not common. Where my friends have been jet setting around Europe for the majority of our grant period, I have been staying closer, preferring to travel around Spain instead. I’ve done this for a few reasons, but mainly it has been to save money for a month long backpacking trip that I have planned with my friends from back home this summer. We are fitting six countries and eleven cities into a month…I just pray my body doesn’t give out from exhaustion!

I thought seven months was long enough in Spain and it was time to take a little time away from the routine chaos that has become daily life in Logroño.

Berlin, Germany sounded like a fantastic idea.

Back in September, we, as Fulbrighters, were told that there was an annual conference in Berlin, Germany every year. They told us that Fulbrighters from all over Europe were always invited and Spain was no exception. Along with the majority of my friends, we all of course wanted to attend. Fast-forward seven months to us boarding a plane at 6:30 in the morning in Madrid for a weeklong conference in the heart of Berlin. My hands gripping my passport and my shoulders not conditioned for the heavy backpack…I know, I know I need to start training ahora.

Now that I have returned safely to my wonderful little Spanish city, I can honestly say that leaving Spain was wonderful. That is not to say I don’t love Spain, I do…but I needed a break. I needed to not be the rubia (blonde) american for a week. It worked. Everyone spoke to me in German (which I cannot speak a bit of) and no one raised an eye when I walked into a coffee shop (except when I forgot how to order coffee in English…whoops). It was amazingly peaceful.

What about Berlin? Was it perfect just because it was my first trip in a while? Worth visiting?

A B S O L U T E L Y.

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Berlin is packed with a unique culture that is hard not to like. If I were to compare it to any other city, I would say it is a much larger New Orleans, LA. However, instead of soulful jazz music, it has bumping HOUSE music (I wasn’t totally a fan). What it lacked in my preference in music, it made up tenfold in food. I wish I could truly convey how wonderful it was to have such a selection of food choices, but I don’t think you can truly understand until you’ve had one country’s food for seven straight months with little variety. #stillloveSpanishfoodpromise We treated ourselves to Korean, Mexican, Kebab, and Currywurst throughout our week. My favorite by far being the Kebab. I will have dreams about it for the rest of my life.

Added to the great food, we were able to see the sights and learn more about the deep history that is easily seen all around the city. What I think I love about cities like Berlin and New Orleans is this feeling of depth to the city within its history. I remember leaving NOLA feeling similar to how I felt on my return from Berlin. It goes without saying that Berlin is historically rich, between the war, the wall, reconstruction and the counter culture population; the city is a hub of energy.

During the week we visited the majority of the significant places in Berlin: the Wall, East Side Gallery, the cathedral, etc. Of those places, the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror museum, and Sachsenhausen concentration camp were the most powerful and humbling experiences I experienced. These three places don’t warrant much explanation as to why they were so impactful, but their weight and influence on the city are definitely worth talking about.

For a city that is still rebuilding from the travesties that occurred only a few years ago, BerlIMG_1939in has every right to want to forget the horrors of the past. However, instead of forgetting these things, they have preserved it in a manner that suggests that rather than forget, they want to build and learn from it. This ideal can be seen everywhere around the city, but nowhere did I feel it like I did than in these three places. It was powerful. My heart felt hollow a
t moments. Many times my eyes watered and I was nauseated. But it was worth feeling because it made the positives, the growth, the rebuilding, and the hope…all that more significant. I was able to attend services at a Sy
nagogue after I visited the concentration camp as well. I was able to see all those positives within a four hour timespan.

I wouldbe lying if I said that Berlin was wonderful just on it’s own…the people I went with, the people I met, and the nature of the trip (first time out in 7 months), these things were all so perfect and I could not have planned it better. However, the energy, the beauty and the history of this city make it impossible to not like. If anything the food could speak for itself!

So in short, I recommend Berlin to any traveler wanting a high energy and historically significant trip. But also, I recommend taking your time here. Enjoy the eccentric people that walk the streets, try different neighborhoods, and eat anything and everything that smells good. It will be worth it.

These next few months I will be traveling 100% more than I had before. Sevilla and Portugal are next on the list, then a little time before my big backpacking trip. It could be the onset of spring in the air and the excitement of traveling, but these days are looking beautiful and I am so fortunate once again to be where I am!

 

Sending wonderful and positive vibes to everyone at home!

Abrazos,

Makenna Schrader

PS: I booked a ticket to come home July 31st…plan accordingly people!

 

 

 

 

 

Sun’s out, Guns out

The sun is out! And I’m working on my “guns” at the gym, so they aren’t technically out yet. But, the weather has been beautiful this past week and even though one of my students tried to color my face with a marker and I had to restrain him while he yelled “Hasta luego, CACA (poop),” this week has been relatively good! With warm weather, I believe it makes it near impossible to be too down for too long (I would THRIVE in a warm climate).

The end of this week marked the one-year anniversary of finding out I was accepted into Fulbright. I can still remember sitting with my host-teacher while she was talking to a student and me, jumping up from my seat and running around the school excited. It was euphoric. Wonderful. And mildly dramatic…I felt like Oprah just gave me a car on her Holiday Special, ok?

Last night, to celebrate, I went out with some friends to an Irish Pub and drank Guinness. Everyone might have thought we were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day…the green hats might have been confusing…but de verdad I was celebrating a year I could have never predicted.

To commemorate a year of my life that I could not have even dreamed of, I wrote an acrostic poem. In the words of my one true idol Amy Poehler, “the most lazy poem,” I will ever write. Here is is:

F: From the very beginning I’ve had no clue what to expect, one year later, I’ve given up on trying to find one. The wine is .80, why question anything?

U: Underdressing or overdressing during orientation and mid-year was a common occurrence. What exactly do you mean by “super casual.” Are yoga pants on the table or is there a strict jeans rule when you’re meeting the people of an international program? #Iworeadressandtights #somepeopleworesweatshirts

L: Likkeee what are we supposed to do for our side-project? I feel this has been a blanket requirement of our grant since we arrived, no one really know’s what’s going on underneath. With not too many instructions and an equal amount of “eh, well, if you can’t do it, ok,” I think the general consensus is of confusion.  Thankfully, I love my project because it works with my school and my school from back home. However, I know some people haven’t even started, puesss?

B: Brilliant, the people are truly brilliant. Fulbright has brought together some wonderfully intelligent people who are passionate about the changing world we live in and I am proud to say I was chosen to join them.

R: Running around Madrid and Burgos during orientation and mid-year were two of the most exhausting weeks of my life. Regardless of how much I am on my feet all day teaching crazy little children, it still makes me want to sleep for a month when I have to eat amazing food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Listen to brilliant people present. And then, socialize for hours on end with an open bar. How exhausting right?

I: I am blessed and incredibly fortunate for this organization and for this opportunity.

G: Gmail is my email of choice and I burn a hole in the inbox of my mentor. I would like to say that sometimes I just want to chat and also, I would love to become your best friend from four hours away, email is my way of showing my love.

Alternate G: GOOD LORD, how far away from Madrid Barajas-Airport are we?!

H: How do we go about never leaving this awesome country?

T: Thank you. Thank you for listening to all the complaints, panicked questions, and perplexing stories. But most of all, thank you for bringing the people you brought together, together. We couldn’t have done it without each other.

Looking back, the moment I jumped up from my chair in Columbia, Missouri in my fourth grade classroom, I could not have imagined my life that I have now. The good, the bad and the ugly have all made this experience unique and wonderful. I wouldn’t change a thing…except maybe the size of my tiny bed, but other than that, I can live with the gas leak #jk #nogasleak

My hope for my last few months here in Spain is that I enjoy every minute. I am currently unemployed for the next year and the stress of that knowledge is almost soul crushing when you are a planner. But, the fact is, this will be the only time in my life that I get to be in these months with these people at this time. Instead of being terrified of my future, I feel I have to enjoy the time that I have. So yes, I will eat that fifth pincho thanks.

 

Sending good vibes to all!

 

Un beso,

 

Makenna

Truth or Dare

Over the past few weeks as many of my blog readers (aka friends and family) know, I’ve been experiencing some writer’s block. Now for most people, and me included most of the time, this wouldn’t mean anything. I’ve gone years with writer’s block and didn’t bat an eye. But what I think has made this entire situation the most frustrating is that I’ve wanted to write. I’ve wanted to say so much, but didn’t know how.

*dramatically curses and contorts face*

As I was walking up an incredibly gigantic mountain, kicking myself for not just calling a taxi to take me to this so called “wonder of Spain” I realized, or what I think I realized rather, is that sometimes words need to go through a storm of processing before they can be articulated on a page (or computer screen for that matter).

And with that… I thought. And I let the storm rage. Ugly crying while you’re walking on the side of the road is always a great picture of yourself for people passing by in their magical and beautiful coches. #mymusclesarecryingmore.

It should be said that this past weekend I randomly decided to solo travel to Bilbao, Spain. I needed the time away and I had a hankering to see Spain’s equivalent to the “Great Wall of China”

Tucked away about an hour outside of Bilbao is a small town called Bakio and 6km up and down a mountain is this beautiful wall that leads up to a tiny cathedral in the middle of the ocean.

Sounds like it would be amazing? It was. The pictures don’t justify the beauty, but it truly was worth the walk.

As my legs were sweating tears of pain, I kept thinking about patterns. I kept thinking about the patterns that, as of recent, have been occurring in my life in so many ways—personal and professional. As I was thinking about these things and getting frustrated with them individually, I kept thinking about my grandma’s lesson that “a friend is always a need answered” and my mother’s advice of “you need to take of your inner Makenna”

Which reminded me of a story.

While I was in high school, much like a lot of prepubescent teenagers, I was hopping from friend group to friend group, not necessarily fitting into one specific one, but also…not-NOT fitting in either. It’s a weird combination, which is what high school is mainly about. Being weird.

High school was the time to be weird by trying to fit in, find out what we liked to do and of course try to survive. I had a great high school experience, I wouldn’t go back to that time period for even a second, but it was fun while it lasted (ask me about college and I would pay my life-savings to go back #jkIcant #mizzouhasallmymoney)

In high school, I was never the type to latch onto any group, any friend or any boy for long. I never was good at sticking to one thing. Yet, my senior year of high school, I had a group of friends that I loved. They were funny, strange, and incredibly loving. They were my need answered while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

It was during this time that I had started talking to a boy that I had met over the summer. At the time we were talking, I thought nothing about him. I wasn’t interested in him in a romantic setting…I just liked him as a friend. However this was also the time that everyone was boyfriend obsessed. It was the fashion to wear your boyfriend’s hoodie, football jersey and to have a secret nook around the school to make-out.

I remember inviting my boy-friend to homecoming that year (he was a year older) just because I thought it would be fun however, I remember my friends descending on me. The questions about if I was interested or if I wanted to date him were relentless. I even ended up loosing a friend over it…#highschoolCANbebrutal.

It was a crazy time. What I remember the most was the night of homecoming after the dance had ended. We all were at my house in the basement, my date included. After that night, I knew in my gut I didn’t like this boy romantically regardless of what my friends had said, but I didn’t know what to do (when you are 17 you just don’t) I don’t know if it had been planned before, but my lovely friends decided to play the game Truth or Dare. It should be noted that I hate this game and my friends knew it. But yet, here we were playing this game and of course, I ended up having to kiss my date.

Needless to say, as all juvenile stupid parties go, by the end of the night I supposedly was “dating” my date to homecoming (after the kiss, he texted me, “do you want to do this?” I promptly responded, “Do what!?” and he said, “Date.” He was sitting right across from me. The innocence of high school! #daysbeforetinder). Every part of me knew this wasn’t what I wanted, but I felt the pressure from my friends and I felt like I had to do it.

To make a long story short, I ended up dating this friend for two months. He lived farther away from me, so I was able to have time between seeing him. I remember it was during those two months that I kept having this sinking feeling that this wasn’t right. I shouldn’t feel this way. It was then that my mom told me, “you have to check-in with your inner Makenna. How does she feel?”

I remember rolling my eyes at her because she was my mom and I was in high school #poormothers. But, I took her advice. I checked-in with myself and realized I didn’t want this and I need to get out of it. That evening I called him and was broken up within the hour. My insides stopped rolling over and I was free. Sadly, I had to return the sweatshirt #RIP.

I tell this story for a few reasons. The main not being that I like talking about my tragic love life, but rather, my friends were my need answered at the time, but I also learned to listen to my “inner” friend as well.

These past seven months abroad, I have fell in love with the friends that I have here. They are amazing in every way. Brilliant, caring, fun, and supportive people some of that I know I will keep for life. But, during this time, I have also been faced with a load of issues. I have had to grow up these past few months and make adult decisions; it’s been terrifying at times! And as much as I love my new friends (and my old ones as well, I promise!), the one aspect that I’ve had to constantly remind myself, is that I need to check-in with myself first.

Walking up, down, up and down that mountain last week, I reveled in the time to be able to think. To let those words that had been trapped in my brain for the past few weeks, rage on and sort themselves out. I checked in with myself and I made sure the “inner” Makenna was not depending too much on the advice that was being thrown her way #nomorethirdpersonpromise

The point is this. I have always cherished the friends that I have in my life and I have always valued (the good ones’) advice. I enjoy listening to people’s points of view and they have good advice! It’s good to get a second opinion in medical issues, why not those important decisions in your life as well! But what we all have to remember is that the only person who knows our heart is you. The words and feelings are swirling in your mind, not your friends’. Take time to sort them out.

My advice is get out. Solo traveling is a dream. It gives you a chance to be by yourself, clean up your brain and decide what you want to do with the issues that you are faced with. You are incredibly smarter than you think. Listen to your friends, but also listen to yourself. If the two are contradicting, choose yourself, turn down the outward advice…if they are true friends, they will stop and love you even if they have to say “I told you so” in the end.

Sometimes it makes us better people to make mistakes on our own and sometimes our decisions provide wonderful chances that we would’ve missed out on if we listened to the advice.

Take my brilliant mother’s advice and listen to your inner self. Never play Truth or Dare. Be strong. Be reflective. But mostly, be you.

 

Un abrazo,

 

Makenna

Connecting Identities

I hope everyone has had a fantastic week so far. Unfortunately, I have been struggling getting over a cold that just doesn’t seem to be able to quit 😦 I do have faith that I am on the upswing though…fingers crossed.

After my few weeks of writers block, I finally decided that it might be time to just switch topics. So, I decided to write about something that I feel incredibly passionate about and that is something that I am implementing in my school with my students. It is time to share with my blog world (aka, family and friends) something that I have been working on with my fellow fulbrighter, Yohanna,  for the past few months. This is something we are both extremely proud of and equally as excited to implement and continue. So here it is, our baby…Connecting Identities.

A few months ago, Yohanna and I had this deep feeling that we needed to do something on a greater scale with our students at school. We noticed in our classes that our students were fantastic at noticing differences between themselves. Now sometimes, this is a great thing. However, we were struggling with our students noticing those differences and instead of having those differences bring them together, it was actually dividing them. This was causing divisions in class, hurtful words being said, and a general tense atmosphere between students and teachers.

We had to do something.

We ended up creating a curriculum to implement in the classroom called Connecting Identities. The basis of our project is this:

Students who live in Spain are seldom exposed to ethnicities and cultures that are drastically different from their own. Although there are plenty of non-native residents living in Spain there is still an immediate sense to distinct oneself from these people who reside in Spain. Students gain an immediate sense of separation from the outside world. Starting in January we will be implementing a 3-4 month curriculum with the primary objective to promote inclusion, tolerance, and an overall sense of interconnectedness with people from different cultures and backgrounds. The project requires students to understand their own identities beyond just physical characteristics. Students will engage in several activities and workshops to help them define the roles and values that construct their self-identity.  

We will begin with requiring students to self-reflect and figure out what components construct their own identities. This will be done through several workshops and activities to help them discover the adjectives and vocabulary to define their physical and internal characteristics, their roles within their lives, and their values. Students will then participate in activities to help them connect their identities with both their community and communities from around the world.

In all, our idea was setting out to fix what we had seen in the classroom. Having our students change what they saw as aspects of separation, but instead look deep beneath those things and realize that we truly are valuing the same value. Meaning, when Yohanna and I talk to each other about our families, mine being the typical American family and hers being a typical Ethiopian family, we can see that yes, we have those distinct differences, but underneath it all, we both have this value of family as well as a multitude of other similarities.

 We are moving through the curriculum working with our students from the inside out. First teaching identity. Then working on their significance in their immediate world around them. And lastly we are working on connecting them on a bigger scale to historical and modern day heroes and their similarities in their value of freedom, rights and respect.

I was terrified once we finished writing the curriculum that our students were not going to be receptive. This out-of-body thinking is complicated for students in their first language, how were we going to do it in their second…and with a low level of English at that?!

But somehow, it’s working. Somehow, every week we present in front of our students and they understand what we are telling them. Somehow, they remember the vocabulary from the previous lesson and are able to converse with us about the topic. I’m not saying it’s perfect, I’m not saying it’s monumental, but it’s poco a poco.

Complicated? Ambitious? Delusional? Maybe.

However, throughout this process, I have been reminded of this story.

Last year as I was working in the classroom, I remember I was teaching a lesson on a book called Rules. This book is fantastic. I won’t tell you much more besides the fact that it is amazing for teaching students empathy and accepting differences…it truly is wonderful. Anyway, as I was teaching this book, during one of the lessons a student asked me a question as I was reading aloud from the book. This question was golden. It showed me that my student was truly getting something from the book and learning a key concept that I wanted him to learn…WIN, YES! I wanted to cry from happiness. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t because right next to my feet, as this question was occurring, a student was arguing with another classmate with a fist raised ready to punch. Typical right?

What I realized then is that I don’t believe in the crazy “storybook worthy” teacher moments where everything is perfect and there is a monumental break. No, what I believe in are the moments where we are able to catch those golden moments and cherish them even while the chaos is occurring right alongside it. I don’t believe everything can be perfect all in one moment. These golden moments are what teachers live for and if we don’t accept that they might not be as pretty as they appear in movies, we will miss them.

My point is, as we are working through this curriculum we are trying to promote change…a different way of thinking. But as we are going through it, we have to remember that we are working with students who not only speak a different language, but also live in a completely different culture than us. We have to be able to catch those moments of gold, those moments where a student says their personality trait is “happy,” where a student tells us their role is to be a “good friend” and we have to remember that they are magical. They are little, but they mean something.

Our students are B R I L L I A N T, trust me! We just have to be willing to listen, willing to put in the effort to guide them to that brilliance and willing to catch those moments. Even if our students are driving us insane and might be doing this to our leg:

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When something in life is weighing you down…it might be a four-year old Sara. 

This is what we are aiming for in Connecting Identities.

I hope you all are as excited for this project as I know Yohanna and I are! It is something that I look forward to do every week! I wish I could delve into all the juicy details, but this will have to do.

Sending good vibes to all!

 

Makenna

 

 

 

 

Writer’s Block is a B****

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These past two weeks have been hectic. I wish I could say that it was because I was enjoying some crazy adventure and that I have a wonderful story with words of wisdom to follow, but I don’t. Truthfully, I have sat down to write this blog post about three times and each time I leave frustrated. Writers block is a real problem people!

Anyway, I decided that instead of worrying so much about what I was going to write about and if it was going to be meaningful, I thought I would take a minute and share some of my traveling tips that I have been picking up along the way as I’ve been here abroad. The two most common issues about traveling are transportation and accommodations. So here is my advice on these two very important aspects of traveling.

Back in August, I wrote a blog post about how to get the best flight prices…but as the continual learner that I am, I have learned new and better methods to find those fantastic prices! With that said, I have to be honest, I hate trying to buy the best flight prices. This is part of the planning process that I do not enjoy, but I have found some methods to make it a wee bit easier.

The main resources that I use are: Hopper (this is my favorite), Kayak, Skyscanner, and Google Flights. These are all apps on my iPhone that I use constantly. I have set up alerts for all upcoming flights and these apps watch them for me…they also send me alerts roughly ever two-three hours, I always think I am incredibly popular every time my phone buzzes when in fact it is just flight prices. Anyway, the reason I love Hopper is because it informs you when to buy. Hopper will tell you when prices are rising and lowering like all the other apps, but instead of stopping there, it also informs you when you should buy your ticket by to get the best price. For example, I have a flight from Madrid – Zagreb being watched, every time the price changes it alerts me, but it also tells me that I should book now, soon or later depending on price trends. Trust me, it’s great and super helpful. Out of all of them, I think this is the best.

Now seeing as I actually have not flown on a plane since I landed in Madrid in September (but I have booked for upcoming trips on those sites, trust me!) I need to explain what I have been doing to get around! The truth is I have had more experience with the bussing, car and train systems in Spain.

So what’s my main method of transportation? BUS. The bussing system in Spain is amazing; you can catch a big coach bus to just about anywhere. My method for buying these tickets is first looking at the website: goeuro.com, searching my city of interest, finding out the busing company and then searching that specific company’s website. I have purchased my tickets directly from goeuro.com, but sometimes it pays to check the actual busing company website. Sometimes the prices are cheaper buying directly from there!

Trains are a little more on the expensive side, but sometimes vale la pena (it’s worth it!) Where buses do have their charm, trains, to me, are just much more relaxing! I don’t know what it is about a good train ride, but it’s amazing! The train system in Spain that is most common is Renfe. This will take you just about anywhere in Spain, but there is also AVE that is also very nice as well. To get these tickets, I typically look directly at the train companies website so this will vary depending on the country.

Cars. Now I don’t have a load of experience with this mode of transportation apart from my awesome compañeros del cole (coworkers from school) carpool, but when my parents visited from the states, they rented a car to tote the whole crew around Spain. I have also had a few friends rent vehicles and had great success as well! So this is an option. From what I can tell, it is a relatively cheap option if you are trying to get to places that the bussing system is unable to get to. With that said, I don’t know if I would rent a car for any other reason besides that. Another car transportation option is Blah Blah Car. This is becoming increasingly more popular around Europe even though I have yet to utilize it! This is a car sharing method of transport that people have really seemed to like. I have heard some horror stories, but overall it has been worth it for most! I would recommend taking a peek at this site when considering your travel.

Moving on from transportation to alojamiento (accommodations). My first search whenever I am looking for a place to stay in a city is always hostels. I prefer hostels most of the time for the social aspect of the stay…as well as the cheaper price. Hostels are fun to stay at if you choose the right one, but also a great way to meet new people and learn cool things about the place you are staying. Perks of staying at good hostels can be free food (breakfast and sometimes dinners at some places), free walking tours, pub-crawls, activities, etc. The options are endless and each hostel has a unique vibe…definitely my method of accommodation! My only advice is to try to stay in an eight-person room and under. I have stayed in a 24-person room before and it was a nightmare, so be wary if you don’t like the lights turning on and off all night!

But sometimes I don’t want to stay with other people! Sometimes I want my own area, with my own friends and nothing more. That’s where Airbnb comes in. I am sure you have heard about this website…the good and the bad. I have used Airbnb a handful of times and never had an issue. This is a method of accommodation that you can rent either a private room of someone’s apartment or the entire apartment by itself. The options are endless for this! The only problem I have run into is not doing my research ahead of time and booking an Airbnb in a “far from the city center” neighborhood. This isn’t the end of the world, but it is somewhat irritating when you want to be in on all the action of the city.

So that’s what I have! I know that doesn’t encapsulate all the aspects of traveling nor does it tell any of my personal travel experience, but I thought that some of my friends who are planning the trip abroad might be worried about these two vital aspects of traveling and hopefully now have some new resources!

Apart from that, I promise this writer’s block will end soon; I traveled to Brugos, Spain last week for a Fulbright Mid-Year conference and this March I will be heading off to Berlin, Germany…so I should have things to write about…more to come soon!

 

Sending good vibes to all my family and friends!

 

Love,

 

Makenna

Wanderlust

For the longest time I have tried to think back to the moment that I started to love to travel. How awesome of a story that would be if I could remember the exact place that I fell in love with it all, the wonder, the uncertainty, the thrill of traveling. But much like all of real-life, it’s not that poetic and I can’t remember.

What I remember most of traveling is doing a lot of it growing up. My parents love vacations and when we were kids, they loved to give us those experiences as well. My dad has always had the “wanderlust”(that I’ve come to learn you either have it, or you don’t… I’ll get more to that later). But on top of both of these things, I think what really set the stage for my need for adventure was that I come from a family of movers. My parents both moved growing up and with us, it was no different. Covering the mid-west by the time I went off to college never brought that much time to understand the obsession with “home sweet home.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love home. But to me, home was never a set location, a plot of land, or four walls with a roof, it was where my mom, my dad, my two brothers and I were altogether. That was my “home sweet home.” House, apartment, hotel room, whatever, that’s where home was. Looking back, I truly wouldn’t change it for the world, even though when I was in it, I vowed I would never put my kids through boxing up their Pokemon cards that many times.

I never tied roots to a house or even a state for that matter and I think this is where my traveling obsession began. I have never been afraid to go to a different city, meet new people, and live life somewhere else. In fact, I live for it. I purposely put myself in situations where I can go to a new place. Which brings me to the infamous “wanderlust.”

I had never heard of this term until I was in a college English class and the girl who would lend me her notes had it tattooed on her left wrist (I know, I’m late to the game, it’s fine). But I remember being perplexed by her tattoo. Wander-lust? I have always loved to travel, but lust? Really? What I didn’t realize then, but I do now, is that wanderlust is a fad that used in the correct conversation, amongst the most infuriating people, makes me want to vomit (remember I hate clichés?) But I don’t want to talk about the wanderlust of spending three weeks hopping from hostel to hostel sleeping your way through European men that I saw during my study abroad semester in Spain. No, true wanderlust, or at least the wanderlust that I have come to adopt as acceptable in my life, is an innate quality that you are either born with…or not.

So what is wanderlust in my life? To me it is the deep desire to wander and be humbled by the wonders of the world. Poetic right? What I mean is that when I allow myself to wander in an area that is foreign to me and that I have to merely experience instead of controlling every situation, I am able to see the jaw-dropping beauty that is around me and I am humbled by it.

It wasn’t until I was actually applying to study abroad that I realized there were people in this world that didn’t want to travel. And what shocked me the most, was that I realized one of those people was my mother. Now, my mom loves to stay in hotels. Go out to restaurants and drink good wine. But she doesn’t see the value or the reason for spending your life savings and flying across the ocean. She has no strong desire to see the Great Wall of China, no life-long dream of seeing Paris at night, and definitely no comfort in the revving sounds of an airplane engine. This isn’t to say my mom won’t go and see these things, she doesn’t have a sense of dire biological need to go like I do. However, it should be noted, she did come to Spain this year and she loved every minute…maybe she might have a little wanderlust? Maybe?!

After learning that travel was one of the things my mom and I didn’t have in common, I started to realize there were a ton of people like her. Non-wander-ers are more common than you would think. Once I started to realize that there were people who didn’t feel it was their soul’s destiny to fill up every page of their passport, I began to question my motives. Why did I feel this strongly about uprooting myself from every city that I fell in love with? Why do I have to see the Swiss Alps someday in my life? What is the point?

The truth is, I don’t have the answers to all those questions. There is a strong part of me that wants to settle down and stop saying goodbye to all the people that I love so dearly…the downside of creating strong relationships all over the world is that you have to leave those people eventually.

But what I do know is that there is something about being lost in a foreign country, stumbling on an adorable hidden cafe with only locals, living with people whose daily life is so drastically different than my own, and making connections with people from all walks of life, allows me to constantly learn about myself and grow into a better human being (cliché ALERT).

The point is, whether you’re a traveler or not, you have to do what your heart wants. Stop fooling yourself by saying “I would love to travel, but don’t have the money.” Trust me, if you value something, nothing will stand in your way from getting what you want. Figure out who you are and run with it.

Trust me, you’ll pay off your credit card eventually 🙂

Abrazos,

Makenna