1/2

January 18th, 2016 

 Ahhhh!! We’re officially half way through our bridge year abroad!! What a time to be alive! I have this app called DreamDays where I can see both how many days I have been here in Madrid (138) and how many I have to go (137)! It also lets me count down to trips and such which is really nice. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned by being abroad is not to wish time away. It’s ok to acknowledge that it’s passing of course, but the most important thing is to stay focused on what’s in front of you. That way, you can enjoy every interaction and every sight you come across. You can also enjoy your emotions more because you’re not pushing them aside worrying about feelings of the future. Obviously there have been hard times here where I was thinking about the future. I have found that I love home and love my family and friends so much that being so far away is hard sometimes. But at the same time, the more I enjoy the moments here the less I miss home! 

I’ve traveled a lot this first half, and I definitely plan on continuing that. I also want to try to stay in Madrid a little bit more and enjoy the city. It’s so beautiful and lively with so many people I can meet. I’m really excited about that too. 

My work is amazing and I’m getting more and more involved with passing time. As relationships and trusts build that naturally occurs. I love the girls I’m working with so much, it will definitely be hard to leave at the end of my time here. I’ve seen the youngest, Eva, learn to read. I’ve seen Ana accelerate in her English skills. I’ve seen Leyre come a long way in the area of respect and kindness. It’s been a journey for all of us together which makes it that much more special. 

I’m so lucky to have this experience. There have moments when I’m walking across the side of a mountain and wondering at the view. There have been moments when I’m standing in front of a masterpiece that is a few centuries old. There have been laughs and smiles exchanged with all sorts of people. Each time, I’m a little bit more grateful and a little bit more in aw of my experiences. 

Cheers to a second amazing half of my European adventure and service year! 

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By the sun and the moon

Marrakech, Morocco | December 29, 2015

Work by the sun and the moon. Laugh by the sun and the moon. Appreciate by the sun and the moon. This is a different world to me. Marrakech, Morocco is an amazing place. I have never seen anything like it. 

 Jewish Quarter

Dried mud is kicked up constantly by donkeys as they pull loads of “poofs”* down the worn streets. Unapologetic vendors barter and beg for a sale but send you wishes of respect even if you do not buy. Tannery businesses fill the air with fumes from cutting, drying, coating and dying animal skins to meet the consumers demand of more and more leather. Monkeys with chains around their necks smile and squirm as their masters show them off to the paparazzi tourists. The contrast between rich and poor is as clear as the bright blue African sky above. But by the sun and the moon everything is beautiful. 

I have been around Europe, Canada and the USA so this is a whole new adventure for me. My eyes are wide trying to take in as much as possible with all of my senses. The traditional Moroccan homes, many of which have been converted into stores or restaurants in the old city of Marrakech, are awe inspiring because of their interior detail and beauty. Seeing a woman hand make an enormous Moroccan carpet on the loom is something I’ll never forget. It is a culture where one works and works and uses charm to get what they want. The poverty subjects them to work very hard, but it’s how they live and how they function. Marrakech is buzzing with life, hope and appreciation every minute of the day. 

   EditMain square in Marrakech 

Having blondish hair, bright blue eyes, and very fair skin, I stick right out. I round the corner and people gasp because they are so surprised to see someone that looks like me. But truthfully, I feel safe because I am aware of what is going on around me. Yet at the same time it’s such a different culture. The way the men look at me like I am an exotic animal that they’ve never seen before is so strange. Who knew I am worth 6,000 camels?? Even in Spain, Morocco’s incredibly close neighbor, the value of women is very different. That’s one thing I really have come to appreciate about the States. Because of the way the American culture has had to evolve to meet the changes of the progressive economies and foreign policies of global society, the way men treat women is different. There is a long equation to the way society works in various cultures. So it is very interesting to experience especially if it helps to understand the culture. 

 On a lighter note, traveling here has been one of the most amazing experiences. It’s fortunately only the third day! The food, the vivacious vibes of the city, the beauty- it’s all something I’m lucky to experience.  

 Vegetal Couscous

Poofs* beanbag chair/ stool made out of fabric or leather and stuffed with newspaper or old dress.

Merzouga, Sahara | January 1, 2016

  

Camels, camping and drums oh my! For NYE my family and I took camels out into the Sahara dunes to camp out under the stars. It was like a dream. When we walked out on to the dunes, one of our guides handed me a snowboard. In broken English he told me to buckle up and “sandboard” the dune. So my first experience in the Sahara was riding a giant dune- it was incredible! (Until I had to walk back up it…) About thirty minutes later four camels approached us with a Berber man leading them. We all gathered our bags and climbed aboard our camels. Their names, according to us, were Norman, 2016, Moose, and Sassy. Sassy was a mischievous camel- always out of line and talking back. We journeyed to our camp site right at sunset which was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. 

 
Upon arriving at the campsite we met some interesting people and had a great dinner. We all sat around on our low benches and ate Moroccan soup and a tangine of chicken and vegetables. After dinner, my cousin, Jo, passed out the goodies she had brought along. Who doesn’t love some chocolate covered Oreos during New Years? We built a fire- my aunt taught the Moroccan guys how to do it right- and we watched the stars become brighter and clearer with every minute. There were constellations I didn’t even know existed out. We were out there for so long we saw changes in the sky because we could tell the earth was moving. We listened to traditional drum songs and celebrated a Spanish New Years at eleven (an hour earlier) because we were all a little cold and tired.  

 
We were awoken at six am to the bitter cold of the desert without sun. We climbed out of our tent and back on to the camels with groggy eyes. Soon enough the sun rose and we were back in our car on to the next adventure. I never would have imagened waking up into 2016 in the Sahara desert. I’m a lucky girl. 

Berber v Arabe | January 4, 2016

I am on my way home from Morocco and I realized how much I’ve learn about this country just from traveling around for six days. For one, this population consists of some hard working people. Sure, it is a poor country. But everyone is on the hussle. Everyone is trying to turn a dirham into 100 dirham. Between tourism, crafting goods, and agriculture people are always working. And they make some beautiful, creative things.  

 
Traditional Moroccan slippers for babies

I learned a lot about Berber people. According to what I was told while speaking to people in the country, Berber people are the mountain people. Of course nowadays they don’t all live in the mountains but that is their identity. When the French invaded in 1911, the people who ran for the mountains to preserve their culture and heritage became the Berber people. The rest of the people, who assimilated French ways into their culture and became educated in a European style, are now considered the Arabe section of the population. The Berbers are typically less wealthy and work in making goods, agriculture, tourism. They are hardy and simple in living style.  

 
Berber village built in the side of a mountain close to Dades

I saw two women scaling down the top side of this mountain with loads of Thyme on their backs that were bigger than them. They are a kind people. Hardworking and most of the time very honest and good. The Arabe section of the population is typically more educated therefore wealthier. To be honest, I didn’t interact very much with non “Berber men” because that’s just not who we were around. It seemed to be that the Arabe sect lives in bigger cities like Casablanca and is more European in character.  

 
Tiled floor in Meknés

Of course, the two sects share a long history and culture together. Their architecture, food, and art is all one. And it is incredible. Morocco is a country full of interesting people and fabulous culture.  

 

Monkey forest near Fes 

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1/3

My third month is over. A third of the way through this year as a madrileña. I have traveled to six various European countries. I have eaten all types of food. I have been in places where I cannot understand a word being said around me. I have met so many intriguing people. But most importantly, I have found a little misfit family. 

My work is hard. Every day I’m challenged because what I am doing is so different but seemingly so similar to what I’m used to. It’s hard to understand not just literally but emotionally what is happening. I’ve had times when I have wanted to break down and cry right along with the girls if they’re throwing a tantrum. I’ve had times when I’ve strongly disagreed with the way an issue was being handled but had no idea how to express it. I’ve had times where I literally have nothing to do and I feel so lost. But despite how long these three months have felt in these moments. Despite how much I have missed my family and amazing friends back home… I have grown insurmountably. That is because of the people around me. My roommates who challenge me and laugh with me, show me that my friends don’t all have to be just like me. My girls, who pretend to not understand me, show me that earning trust is essential to a two way relationship- which wasn’t always present in my life before. My mentors, who ask tons of questions, show me that even though I’m 18 and living alone in a foreign country I will still be “checked in on”. My foreign friends, who are quite infrequent might I add, show me that I need to be clear cut with who I am and what I want (even if I don’t really know). My little misfit family that is so different than back home is what is teaching me the most. 

Today, sitting in the metro on the way home from work I am not feeling sad looking at the people around me as strangers like I did a month or two ago. I do not see my neighborhood as an unknown area that I could never imagine myself living in. I do not see the girls as their tragic background stories. Madrid. The metro. Puente de Vallecas. Montoya. This is how people here live and survive. I willingly made this my home too. The difference is that now I have accepted it. This is how people live. Just because the way I lived before was different doesn’t mean I shouldn’t except that everywhere in the world people live in different ways. No matter what quality of life, people manage to live. 

By traveling, anyone can clearly see this.  But by meeting fellow travelers, I learned how to accept a new life. I also learned that it’s good for me. It excercises life skills, language and communication skills, and a sense of independence I thought I had already accomplished. I’ve never been incredibly humble. Frankly, it doesn’t run in my family. Yet, these three months showed me that I have so much more to learn if I accept it. 

So three months in and the motto now is to stop hiding and open up.  To accept what comes my way. To get out of bed even if I’m tired or the weather is bad out. To remember my friends will be there when I get home. To accept life here as it is. 

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What does “branding” mean in 2015? 

  The idea of “branding” dates back to ancient times when cattle and other animals would be marked with tar and in midevial times a scalding iron in a way of declaring ownership. Trademarks and symbols to show whose things are whose has been around for much longer than most people realize. However in modern society, the idea of “branding” is a bit different. 

While of course the branding animals, still exists, in terms of business, it is a whole different concept. Branding in business is meant to sell a product, business, or even many times people. It is what society thinks of when they see an image or hear a name. It is also, interestingly enough, crucial to success.

 In my experience so far, I have mostly dealt with branding in terms of the reputation of people. For instance, when you apply to college you sell a brand of yourself and in most cases you want that brand to be “hardworking, well-rounded student.”  But on the other hand to your friends, you may desire an entirely different brand. And even more so in the “igeneration” (people born after roughly 1995), there is a whole different type of branding going on. We are a generation that seems to depend on our social media brand to make friends, determine popularity, and ultimately determine selfworth in a lot of cases. It is both extremely interesting and useful, but at the same time can be extremely destructive. 

How can using social media to brand yourself be both useful and destructive? Well first, the usefulness clearly comes from: 

  • connecting with anyone anywhere in an instant 
  • posting anything you want about yourself or others 
  • making online connections with people you might not have the ability to meet in person
  • expressing yourself- whether it be your art, photography, writing, music, etc. 

Au contraire, the destructiveness derives from:

  • an assumed ideology that how many likes or shares you get determines your selfworth (not in all cases, but some) 
  • being able to literally post anything 
  • not realizing that what you post is out there forever 
  • everything you do and say adds to your brand

To me, building a positive brand of yourself on social media sites is a good tool for life, but not what the idea of social media is meant for. Yet, advertising is a huge part of our lives, so no matter how hard we try it is in fact a form of branding. 

The other interesting aspect of branding is how businesses use it versus how individuals use it. Think about it… What is your favorite brand? What comes with that? How do the advertisements or criticisms impact your feelings about that brand? Do you like the colors of the brand? Do you like the message of the brand? The logo maybe? But then step back… Could you ask similar questions about an “Instagram famous” or “Facebook famous” person you know? Could you ask similar questions about yourself regarding your social media? Are people selling themselves to others for popularity and selfworth on the Internet? 

The reason I bring this up is because I am currently working on promoting two different businesses brands on social media. Additionally, I saw a blogger/”Instagram famous” girl decided to quit promoting herself on social media. The two things tied together made me wonder how much the advertisement that is shoved in our eyes and ears every second of every day relates to how we feel the need to promote ourselves on social media. And do we live in a society/generation where we have to? 

  1. P.S. Here is the link to the article about the girl quitting social media.. I saw it on Facebook. She makes a decent point. http://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a16719/essena-oneill-instagram-social-media-is-not-real-life/
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Velping? Ok!

  What does it mean to volunteer? 

I recently found a second volunteer opportunity here in Madrid. The NGO where I’m working in the mornings is called Serve the City. It works as a match maker for big corporations and NGOs. Once Serve the City establishes a relationship between the two, there is a newfound responsibility given to both in order to develop a stronger community through service and collaboration. In the U.S. and Great Britain, this is implemented as CSR or Corporate Social Responsibility Policies. Here in Spain that is a foreign term. Serve the City is looking to change that.

Additionally, they work as a database of volunteers for NGOs and vice versa. The project I am currently working on is the Facebook page for an app called Velping. The app, that is currently being developed, is for volunteers to be able to log their hours of service and see what kind of social change they are initiating. They can receive feedback from the NGOs that they are helping too. My project is to find meaningful and intriguing content to feed through the Facebook to get people thinking about why they should volunteer in general. 

For me, that is a great question. Why am I volunteering? Why did I decide to fly hundreds of miles away from home and live in a foreign country so I could spend a year of my time serving others? I’m lucky because in exchange for my 6-10 hours a day givens to foundations- for incredible causes might I add- I get to live in a foreign country and experience Europe at a very young age. But then in addition, volunteering gives me so much more. 

1. When you volunteer, you choose.                 You choose where, when, and how you will work keeping in mind the needs of your community and the organizations. 

2. You gain experiences and memories.      From business and marketing skills to child psychology to cooking skills, there are experiences in everything when it comes to volunteering. You gain skills, build a resume, and take home a piece of good and pure memory to hold onto. 

3. No matter how big or small, you make a difference.                                                            A very interesting thing I was told when coming here was “this is a chance to see how much of yourself you can give without seeing an immediate impact.” This is hard. I feel it everyday that I struggle with my girls or my schedule is not perfectly ideal. But at the end of the day I’m happy because I know eventually I will make a difference. 

  So, where does Velping come in… Great question. Now I’m charged with the task of promoting the app through some social media. I need to do some research to see what kind of posts gain attention and how we can market this app so that it gains speed. It’s quite the task but it’s interesting. It’s also right up my ally when it comes to working with social media. Anyways, I’ll keep you updated on that but for now… Don’t help, Velp! Oh and like us on Facebook for some cool daily posts!! 

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Identity No.

Have you ever had to be conscious of your identity on a daily basis? 

For me, before this September, my answer would definitely have been no.  I am from Buffalo, and although statistically the city is quite diverse I didn’t see it. I don’t mean just racially or ethnically either.  I mean diversity in interests, quality of life, dreams for the future. Diversity between what defines a person.  

In Buffalo, I find that the people I was exposed to were interesting yet not diverse.  Middle to upper class. High standard of living- I mean like own a boat and a ski chalet kind of standard. Typically white.  Typically Christian or Jewish. Love the Bills. Have or want to grow up to be like their parents. I wouldn’t use the term cookie cutter because Buffalo as a city is not cookie cutter. It is unique and filled with art, passion and hard working, brilliant people. But the people seem to be homogeneous in many senses. This made Buffalo cradle-like. Safe, closely knit, predictable.  A very stable place to grow up and develop an identity. 

Yet here I am sitting in the southeastern corner of Madrid thinking about my identity. And I think about it all the time.  I am different than the spainards here with their warm blood and their romantic language. I am different than all of the immigrants and refugees who fill the streets. I am even very different than my roommates who share my nationality and language. I think about the differences that make me interesting to people living here in Madrid. But I also ponder how fascinating these people are to me. 

Madrid is a melting pot 100%. It is filled with people from all parts of Spain, Eastern Europe, students from all over the EU, north and south Americans, Austrailians, Asians. Every part of the world is represented here. Just on Friday there was a giant meeting of African Ambassadors in Madrid. I have been living here for a month now and I act like seeing this many diverse people is common. Everyone is here for different reasons. Everyone is used to different living standards. Everyone was raised a different way. The fact is there are very few places in the world that make everyone conscious of their identity. 

For me, it is a gift to feel already that this worldliness is common. Yet I have to be very conscious of my own identity as I reshape and develop it. I am of course always going to be an American girl with Irish, English and Norwegian decent who has bright blue eyes and speaks with a Buffalonian accent. But at the same time I can redefine who I am. What I am interested in, what my standard of living is, why I do what I do, who I spend my time with and how people look at me. And that is all part of being conscious of my  identity on a daily basis. 

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“Beautifully Madeline” | A Biography 

 
 David Vargas | September 26, 2015

One sunny morning I was walking in a little late to Carmichael Hall for breakfast; after grabbing some sweet Colombian coffee and contemplating the delicacy of a gluttonous continental breakfast I made my way to one of the lunch tables by the window filled with fellow 1+4 gapers. Or bridgers. As I pondered on the activities that were to take place later that day, there was something I kept hearing: “peanut­butter.” And it was so that my first impression of Madeline Weir was formed: to me, she became the girl with the peanut butter. The luggage that Madeline took to Spain included two full jars of peanut butter. Although seemingly trivial, this simple act reveals a lot about Maddie as a person: her vivacity, fortitude, and independent spirit. 

 Her motivation to spend a year in an all girls foster home in Spain emanates from her own childhood and life experiences. From studying in an all girls catholic school and growing up in a divorced home with diverse settings, she derived her insatiable curiosity and voracious desire for learning.

Perhaps one of the most defining experiences in Maddie’s life is having attended an all girls catholic school. Growing up in this educational setting, she developed a strong sense of self, voice and determination. Although oftentimes she felt restricted, having a single­sex environment was beneficial for her. She feels that in co­educational settings, often boys have control of the narrative. Yet she was taught differently. One of the many advantages that resulted from this education was the ability to connect and develop friendships with members of the same gender, “growing up I was always friends with the boys; I would always go out and play sports with them. Had it not been for all­ girls school, I would not have fostered those [female] friendships as much as I did.” Being in an educational setting for girls, Madeline was molded into a person with a strong sense of self, expression of opinion and making her voice heard.

 This strong sense of self was also shaped by the nature of her surroundings. After her parents divorced, she found herself moving often throughout the Buffalo metropolitan area with her mom. Although the separation itself was not a tumultuous experience, her family situation did end up preparing her for her year in Spain. Growing up with a brother who had anger management, a sister with struggling with depression and a younger brother with slight autism, she often had to do things by herself- as resources were being allocated elsewhere. It was this sense of independence that helped build within her that strong sense of self.

Growing up with an unwavering curiosity that ranged from arts and academia to feminism and sports (just ask her anything about the Buffalo Bills), taking a gap year was almost like a natural step. Once she heard about 1+4 she knew she had to apply. “I love the idea of challenging yourself, and throwing yourself into a new culture and be able to immerse yourself into something not necessarily uncomfortable, but something that will make you grow as a person.” This sentiment encompasses the spontaneous nature that characterize her family: they take risks, they live in the moment. Maddie chose her placement in Spain because of her experience working with children and all the things she could both inculcate to them and learn from them. She also feels that improving her Spanish can be of great use in her life at Tufts, where she intends to study International Business, and later on in life.

 
Upon meeting her I had the joyous surprise of having the most sincere smile planted on my face. Madeline radiates happiness and comfort. Although she has a strong sense of self and makes herself heard, she presents a comforting demeanour. Her spontaneity and present mindedness should not be confused with hedonism. And just like bringing two jars of peanut­ butter to Spain was something beautifully Madeline, so was her attitude going into this experience. “I cannot go in with fears. I do not want anything to keep me down. I just want to experience it.” It is impossible to underestimate the endless fortune that the girls at the foster home count with. She brings with her experience, and the knowledge derived therein. But most importantly, she brings the most generous smile and an untamable passion to help those in need and learn from them. And that might just be all it takes. 

David Vargas, 1+4 Fellow in Nicaragua- Tufts Class of 2020 

 

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The Struggle of Learning to Learn

In my first days here, I was told that all of the girls in my placement had severe learning disabilities among other issues. This was intriguing to me because I had never really worked with or witnessed children struggling with learning. Depression- yes, autism- yes, anger management- yes, even physical disability- yes. But learning- not so much.

 Eva, 7, is learning how to write in spanish & english. She has never attended school before this year. This is some of her work. 

It turns out after a week and a half in this house, working with the girls everyday, I had not even slightly noticed this disability. One reason was probably that I feel like the one who is unable because of the language (but that’s another story). 

The real reason is that a learning disability is like an undercover cop. No one notices them until you are going a little too fast- in reading, writing, or working- and then the disability jumps out shouting “SLOW DOWN THERE, you know you can’t do that!” For these girls it was surprising because this disability doesn’t affect how they play or have fun. It’s about how they organize, obsess over small detail, get frustrated with school work very easily, and more. 
First of all, it’s not fair- but what disability is. Three days ago I sat infront of the computer with an 11 year old girl with the goal to find and copy a timeline of Irish history from 1800-1900. This took us 3 hours. One for searching for the exactly right site. One for me to help her analyze the information and write out the important facts for her. And one for her to recopy in perfect script. It was exhausting for me and I was only helping with the work. These girls suffer doing something that’s so simple for most students their  age. 

So yes, I was surprised. And I want to learn more. I’ve only gotten a small glimpse into the variety of learning disabilities and the innovative ways to work with children who struggle with them. It’s a subject that I can and will research, but on the other hand most of my knowledge will likely come from experience. These are human beings and this is an issue that affects their lives forever. We are always learning- even if we are 105 years old. Learning is personal and beautiful and makes up the fibers of our mind. Imagine that whatever you are learning right now was only studiable written upside down or in a dead language- what would you do?   

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QUestion: tIme- tiCk tocK 

  In our minds, time is concrete. On our wrists there is this tiny, ticking machine that dictates our minds, our feet- ultimately our lives. Time is something no human on earth can escape. Time of birth, time for meals, time for work, time for fun, time for sleep, time of death. Each and every minute that we pass through ages us.

But does each minute have a meaning? A purpose?  Lead us to our ultimate destination? 

Since I first stepped foot on the Spanish ground, time has been like sleep. Preparing for sleep, one thinks “wow eight whole hours… It’s so long. I am going to wake up in a state where my energy is so high I could do anything.” I think we all know that this is not always the case. Groggy, slow, padding to the kitchen for a coffee that will make prying our eyes open a little easier- all very real parts of daily life. And where did those 8 hours go? Poof… Gone in a dream. Literally. 

My point is that after only three weeks here in Madrid, I am already asking where the time went. How am I going to feel after nine months? How am I going to feel after four years of college? After my kids are off to their first days of school? 

I only know that after eighteen years I feel optimistic, ready to be truly good at something, excited, and adventurous. But I don’t want the rest of my life to fly by. 

I suppose the real question should be how can I make every minute that I pass through mean something to the grand scheme of my life- now I have 8.25 months for the experiment of time. 

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Fresh Air

What does it feel like to be in this new place? 

 Well, for this first week it has been overwhelming to say the least. Of course, I’ve had frustrations and doubts, but the biggest feeling was definitely being overwhelmed. Nine months is a LONG time (says the 18 year old..)! It feels like a huge chunk of my life that still has no real plan. 

On the other hand, it’s exhilarating. This city is seriously alive. It can feel lonely but all you have to do is look around to see just how many people are right there with you. There’s always a new challenge either in work or just quotidian life, which keeps me ticking. 

Challenges that Motivate & Excite. 

Loneliness: Make NEW friends. Don’t let the fear of being alone prevent you from meeting new people. Adrenaline actually rushes through my bloodstream every time I meet someone new- it’s exciting! 

 
Big City Life: It’s hard to adjust to being on the metro for 2 hours each day and watching every step you take to make sure you don’t step in caca. It’s all in the experience though… And it’s an opportunity to get out! Madrid is so close to so much beautiful nature. I cannot wait to see it all. 

   
Impact: What am I actually doing here? I’m so little and this is such a big place. Thankfully I have realized that this question will be answered with time. But I can say one thing. Every time one of the girls from the foster home grabs my hand while we’re walking down the street or desires my help with something as small as homework, my heart lifts a little. 

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves- in finding themselves.”       – Andre Gide

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