As it begins...
...so it continues (copyright Geoffrey Brown).
Or, as Troy Bolton, fellow Wildcat and strangely musical basketball player, phrases it: "It's the start of something new. It feels so right to be here with you." (He might not have been talking about his study abroad experience?) Or as another (thankfully) less musical basketball player, 7 foot tall Will Neighbour of Oveido via Arkansas via England via the seat next to me on the plane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oviedo_CB), might say, "Sorry for pressing my spidery leg against yours."
But (in all or most seriousness) "As it begins, so it continues" is a good mantra for study abroad. If you don't put out your best at the beginning (however hard it might be with jet lag and the language barrier), it'll be ever more difficult later. This applies to many things: how you treat your host family, how you interact with and think of the culture and with whom and how you spend your time. Perhaps you don't always "feel so right to be here with you." Perhaps study abroad started out as something glorious, and now, everything appears a little dingy and the people are weird and eat watermelon seeds like someone normal might eat sunflower seeds (#nojudgementcarmen). But that doesn't mean you should love them less or judge them or glorify your own culture or forget the reasons you are there (talking to myself here).
A few examples: I came back from hanging out with friends, and I could have gone to my room and read Poorly Drawn Lines (great comic--a must read) or wasted time on Facebook, but instead I chose to go talk to my host dad (Andrés) who was working on his computer. We talked about his family (he can trace his lineage back 800 years), and then, afterwards, I helped him with his laptop (he had forgotten the password and couldn't figure out how to reset it). When I started to tell him about "The Cloud," he said that, "Clouds are only for rain. If you explain that to me, I won't understand." Duly noted, abuelo.
The other day, I spent some extra time with him after lunch had finished, and we began to talk about his adolescence in the countryside and about his relationship with Carmen (my host mom). They met (as is the classic Spanish way) at a soccer game, and he used to ride his horse from his town to hers when they were dating. They're about to celebrate their 50th anniversary in March. After he told me this story, he forgot to turn the faucet off, so I helped him with that, too (I keep high fiving him after moments like this, and he looks a little perplexed).
More about Andrés...He's absolutely fantastic. We get along fabulously, and he's exactly like my grandpa in that he knows a lot, and he's very willing to be patient in order to share his knowledge (love you, Grandpa Don!). He's about 73 and LOVES to learn English (his knowledge is pretty impressive given that he's never actually studied the language in a school). He knows French, he's a jokester (see the bottom of this page), and he was a famous veterinarian (he met the king once).
Community: Hm I guess just the differences in how people treat each other. When I'm a nervous foreigner speaking Spanish at a store, people are friendly and sweet. They aren't rude or gruff (it feels a little mid-western). Something else I'm realizing is how important family is here. Carmen and Andres' three kids all live within like 10 minutes of them, and they're always coming over for lunch and dinner or just to hang out. Andres Jr--a giant of a man (seriously like 6 ft 5 or something) comes and eats lunch with his parents every other day. I want that. I know my whole life I've been like I'm going to GO places and DO things (we all say that, don't we?), but I think what we don't realize is that we don't have to GO in order to DO. There's so much love needed in the communities we find ourselves in right now (Also, by staying close to home, you get to hang out with you fam all the time and eat your mom's cooking and have your children grow up with your sisters' children which is LO MEJOR).
Resources: They're very careful here with the amount of water they use, the food they eat, etc. Most of the food we eat (tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, etc) comes from my host family's farm in the countryside. After we've eaten, my host mom saves all the leftovers and then we eat them again later (unfortunately, not in our eggs, Geoffrey Brown). Similarly, my host family has tons of plastic bottles that they fill with water over and over again rather than buying new bottles of water each time they need one. They're also very careful about water usage in the house. After using our towels for four days, Camille (my roomie--she's wonderful!) and I thought that they would be washed with the rest of our clothing on Monday. However, Carmen told us that was too short of a time. Carmen also wants us to keep the tap in the bathroom on cold so that we don't waste hot water. It's so interesting to be made aware of these types of things, and it makes me want to continue to be grateful and aware of them when I'm at home. It seems like here, people live in a very conscientious manner whereas at home, I wash my towels everyday and take steaming hot showers for 20 minutes (sometimes two times per day). It's something that's good to think about now and even better to keep in my mind when I return. CJB