Meghann in Argentina: One More Week

June 26, 2017

Hi everyone! My name is Meghann and I am a junior from Maryland double majoring in Political Science and Spanish and minoring in Healthcare Studies at University of Richmond. On campus, I work as a Writing Consultant, I tutor UR staff members in English through the Bonner Center, and I also intern at the Sacred Heart Center, a Latino community center in downtown Richmond. This fall semester (although honestly it is a pretty extended semester, as I will be gone from July 1st until a few days before Christmas!) I will be studying at la Universidad Católica Argentina, or UCA, and living with a host family in Buenos Aires. Going to school at UCA will definitely be a change from UR—around 18,000 students attend the university, which is located in the bustling, modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero. I have heard only amazing things about Buenos Aires, known as the “Paris of South America” due to its European influences and wealth of culture.

 

Besides exploring the city that I can’t wait to call home, I also hope to travel around Argentina and see some of the diversity the country has to offer. My Argentine bucket list includes Patagonia in the South (home to incredible glaciers, mountains, wildlife, and hiking), Mendoza in the North (wine country), and the Iguazu Falls (the largest waterfall system in the world), to name a few. I’ve already spent way too much time looking at these places on Google Images…

 

Although exploring the country is definitely a top priority for me, my biggest goal is to become fluent in Spanish. I always knew I wanted to study abroad in Latin America in order to improve my Spanish, as my mom’s side of the family is Colombian and I am the only one who does not fully speak it! I’m guessing six months of immersion and a course load that is entirely in Spanish should help, and I can’t wait to be able to speak to my family without stumbling over my words.

 

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A view of Medellín, Colombia from the last time I was there almost four years ago. I hope to return one day in the near future to stay with family, this time with a new knowledge of the language due to my studies and experiences in Argentina.

 

With just a little over a week before I hop on (three!) planes and make my way down to Buenos Aires, everyone I mention it to keeps asking how I am feeling about my trip. My answer is the same each time—excited. I am excited to meet new people, to immerse myself in a new language and culture, to be independent, and to experience everything I possibly can. Six months looks like a long time on paper, but I am sure it will fly by. My only real concern is that I will be headed down in a walking boot, having recently broken my leg pretty badly. I should probably learn to say that I now have metal plates and screws in my leg in Spanish before I go setting the metal detectors off in airport security…My list of things to do before I leave is slowly but surely dwindling down, leaving me with little to do for the last week besides look forward to everything that lies ahead (and figure out how to pack six months worth of my life into two suitcases).

 

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Some of the essentials for my long journey down to Buenos Aires: my passport, some Argentine pesos, and my walking boot!

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Tori in Spain: Dear Elvira

January 11, 2017

This semester, I had the privilege of taking a class called Public Health and Social Justice with an amazing professor named Dr. Elvira. I really liked her from the beginning because she challenged us to question all of the assumptions that our society is constructed on and is a warrior for social justice. She pushed us to think very deeply, which is something I love about my classes at U of R and was not sure I would find in Spain. A couple weeks into school, I emailed her to see if she would be interested in attending the European Public Health Conference with me in Vienna this semester. To my surprise, she messaged me back and asked if I would be interested in presenting at the conference and joining in on her research.

Throughout my time in Madrid, Elvira was a constant support for me. She and the other two students that were researching with us became some of my closest friends abroad. After our abstract was accepted by the Global Health and Innovations conference, we had to record a video presentation for the next round of competition, and Elvira and I realized that we had done it wrong the night before it was due (claaaassssssiiiccc). Due to the time difference, we had until 6am to turn the project in, so we rushed to school at 10pm to get working. We stayed up until 3am to finally submit the video, getting more delirious every hour. She kept joking that she couldn’t speak English after midnight, and when we were almost done we listened to the song Breaking Free from High School Musical together (she had never seen it!) because we were finally breaking out of the closed university. Everything is funny at 3am, and we bonded deeply that night.

When my laptop and most of my belongings were stolen, Elvira selflessly lent me a laptop to use until the end of the semester. She didn’t even hesitate. She had the means to help, so of course she would. Just one more way to lay down her privilege and love someone, something she hopes to do with every action in her life. I think she succeeds.

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One of my attempts to make Tortilla this winter break!

Elvira showed me the best tortilla Espanola in Madrid (Las Rosas, es la verdad, este sitio tiene el mejor tortilla del mundo), a dish I have tried to replicate 3 times since I have been home.  One night she, Marcus, and I went out for Indian food and talked for 3 hours about faith, gender roles, family, animal ethics, responsibility to society, what we are created for, and fertility. She told me she had never felt the need to have kids because fertility is much bigger than the mere ability to bear children. Fertility is about helping things grow, investing in ideas and people that will change other things of import. Although she has never been pregnant, Elvira is one of the most fertile women I know.

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Good food, good conversation

One of my hardest experiences of my time in Madrid was leading a BocaTalk run one night, and getting verbally berated by a homeless man who was fed up with the rich trying to fix his situation without understanding it. I felt so ashamed and confused, and she was the one I came crying to. I was so upset because I knew he was right, I would never understand, and I knew my stupid sandwich and “sacrifice” of 2 hours sitting on the street would do nothing to solve his lifetime of struggle. I felt like I deserved the emotional violence I suffered at his hands due to my privileged position in society that I had truly done nothing to earn. I was frustrated because there were a thousand things I wished I had said, and a thousand more I could never communicate in Spanish. She reminded me that no matter what, no matter how deep the injustices of ones past or the level of poverty a person is experiencing, no human never has the right to rob dignity from another. Acts of violence, emotional or physical, are never deserved, regardless of the levels of inequity. I walked out of her office with a greater sense of peace in my heart, knowing the truth that I did not deserve what had happened to me, but also understanding what I symbolized for that man (power, wealth, privilege) and desiring to change the oppressive forces that have pushed him down to where he sits.

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Dear Elvira,

I am so thankful to know you.

Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for looking for ways to surrender the power and privilege you have been given in every moment.

Thank you for demonstrating deep humility and selflessness to me.

Thank you for reminding me that it is not my fault that I was born into the privileged position I hold, and thus, I do not deserve abuse for that position.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on when I could not take the injustice I am surrounded with and when I felt guilty for not doing enough.

Thank you for teaching me that life is an adventure, and I don’t ever have to ascribe to societies ideas of who I should be.

Hasta pronto amiga, estoy agredecida para conocerte.

Besos,

Tori


Tori in Spain: 2 Lists

December 15, 2016

 

As my time abroad comes to a close, I have been reflecting on all the sweet little things that have made my time so special, and a few of the things that have made it hard. To sum it all up, I made two lists. 30 things I will miss, and 5 that I won’t.

  1. When mi hermanito Juanito peeks his face into my room and I get to wake up to his sweet giggle and smile

14516527_10210754072031396_3460640273559046703_n.jpg2. KARROL’S AMAZING SOUPS: Pumpkin garbanzo, lentil vegetable, pork adobo.

3. Café con leche y cortados at fun Spanish cafes.14642467_10210754319357579_8852335988187807400_n.jpg4. Cesar hijo’s many alteregos! I never know if I will come home to Cesar hijo, superman, spiderman, a power ranger, or a caballero. I also never know if I am the good guy or the bad guy… until I am struck down by una espada. “Si, Cesar, estoy muerta… como siempre.”

5. Worshipping in Spanish

6. Local fresh food markets and Spanish grocery stores. (Huge hunks of specialty cheese for a euro or two? Yes please.)15181531_10211259135657671_4514411424490300169_n.jpg7. Walking home really late and feeling perfectly safe

8. Picnics in the many beautiful parks of Madrid, on the docks of Barcelona, or by the shore in Lake Como. No matter where in the world I am, if I had to describe by favorite part of abroad in one word, “picnics” would be a strong contender.

15109533_10211259138297737_7157100840706222617_n.jpg9. “Guapa”

10. Long breakfasts with Amalie! Avocado toast, coffee, and journaling by this roommate turned soul sister of mine are my favorite. Honestly, I will miss everything about her and know I have found a lifelong friend in this little room of ours.

11. Rooftop sunsets

14650701_10210754291796890_3615999998446205609_n.jpg12. Hushed conversation about human rights, politics, religion, and personal philosophy of life with my host mom Bela after the kids go to bed

13.Weekly coffee/philosophy/catch up dates with Dan

14. Amazing, homemade, 3 course, dinners on the terrace. With Amalie, of course.

14633000_10210754122712663_6352662603635917363_n.jpg15. BESOS! Why don´t Americans kiss each other more? It is the warmest thing ever. Try to be mean to someone after they have just warmly kissed you on the cheek, I dare ya.

16. César padre teaching me how to pronounce Spanish words and cook Spanish foods… syllable by syllable, ingredient by ingredient.

17. My bible study: Half Catholic, half prodestant…. All just trying to figure out how to love a little better and know Jesus a little more.

15493470_562548873937717_8479785988788571161_o.jpg18. “Quieres pan?” The question of the semester, honestly.

19. Churros, coffee, and looooong, unrushed conversation after the service at my church here. When I leave church 2.5 hours after I arrive, I am leaving early. That is special.

20. La gente de Iglesia Evangélica de Cristo Vive. These people are special, and I am especially thankful to Gabi and Sarah, and Yolanda and Ekir for welcoming me into their families and making me feel known here.

21. Professor Elvira, Marcus, and Molly. The most fun public health and social justice research team ever. It has been such a privilege to learn about privilege with you, and brainstorm about how to break down systems that perpetuate privilege for some and oppress others.

22. The metro. I am convinced that Madrid has the greatest public transportation system in the world, and I am returning to places where public transport is objectively horrible.

23. Saying “Claro” and “Vale” way more than I actually should to make it seem like I know what I am talking about.

24. The delicious, seedy, grainy, wheaty bread my host mom buys that I consume copious amount of every day.

25. Making lunch with Yolanda at Eker’s mountain house. I can never cut fast enough or cook well enough to really help, so my main contribution is helping eat it all. While every moment in this little refuge is special, the ones around the dinner table are my favorites.

26. My friend Elvis’s smile and greeting every day when I pass by or sit and chat with him. He is a man experiencing homelessness from Romania, and we used to chat every day on my way to and from school in the little Spanish we both know. He isn’t there anymore, and I didn’t get to say bye, which is a bummer.

27. Having a glass of wine and listening to live music at Café Barbieri while feeling very adult with Amalie, Dan, and Andrew.

28. Being able to operate without a daily planner.

29. Kirstin’s ability to sum up all my thoughts much more eloquently than I can, Maggie’s joy, Amalie’s honesty and vulnerability, Michaela’s steadfastness and obvious love of Jesus, Gabi’s infectious laugh, Ana’s depth and gentle spirit, Anna’s dance moves, Emily’s depth of humility and encouraging words, Molly’s ability to never take herself too seriously.

30. BlaBla Car. Uber for long distances is essentially the greatest thing ever. The cheapest way to travel, and best way to meet cool Spaniards.

Life was not always easy. Expressing myself and understanding others was incredibly hard sometimes, and there were a few cultural things I could not quite adjust to.

 

  1. Jamón. I am so sorry, Spain, but I neither want to see a bag of Jamón flavored anything nor a huge pig leg hanging from the ceiling for the rest of my life.
  2. Not being able to understand/make jokes (The one time I was funny in Spanish was probably the peak of my entire abroad experience… but it was literally one time.)
  3. Never being able to get quite the whole meaning of what people are saying. Major theme, no hay problema. Actual understanding of the cultural context of the exact words used and their connotations… nunca.
  4. Men speaking in bad English to me when I pass them at a bar. I don´t know why, but I hate this a lot.
  5. Sometimes feeling like an intruder or outsider because I am not Spanishç

I am excited to go home, but sad to leave. Thanks for all the little joys, Spain. You will be deeply missed.

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Tori in Spain: The Boy Who Bowed

October 13, 2016

Since coming to Spain, I have had the privilege of joining BocaTalk, a group who walks through Madrid every week to sit with people experiencing homelessness and listen to their stories. Before we leave, we make sandwiches together to give to the people we meet that evening. However, our motto is, “It’s so much more than a sandwich,” because the focus is on listening, not material goods given.

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I have been both broken and blessed through this experience. I am thankful it has broken me, because I believe people must be broken before they can receive blessings humbly and give themselves to others wholeheartedly.

Last Wednesday started off with a blessing named Maria. I sat with her for a long time despite my inability to understand and to express what I wished to say to her well in Spanish. The language barrier is still really hard for me, but she didn’t seem to care. I think she told me her life story, but am honestly not sure. Whenever we didn’t have words, we just looked at each other. That was powerful to me.

Her gaze held no bitterness or resentment. I often resent myself for the privilege I have been given, and I felt that she was skeptical of my intentions, but appreciated me despite my brokenness. As a knelt on the ground beside her place of residence (a box she sat on) and all of her belongings (a small cart), she was worried for me. “Why are you on the ground? Don’t get your pants dirty! You don’t need to sit on the road.” Here she was, an old woman whom had experienced oppression and exclusion from society, worried about me, a privileged White American on a semester of vacation. 

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I told her I was so grateful for her words and thankful to have met her, she pointed at the sky and said “No, todas gracias a Dios.” All thanks to God. After that, I began to understand more of what she was trying to communicate to me. She told me of her Christian roots, how good the Lord was, and how He always heard our prayers. I wanted to pray for her, but she told me that prayer was for quiet, private places… not on the streets. There’s a verse in Matthew which says just that, and I was humbled by her wisdom and knowledge of scripture. Here she was, an old woman whom had been victim of abandonment and countless difficult circumstances, blessing me, loving me, and pointing me to Jesus with her steadfast faith and joy. 

I left her later that evening, and continued on with our group throughout the center of Madrid. I struggled with my ability to walk away from Maria. She could not walk away from her circumstances, so why was I able to walk away from hers without a scratch? Privilege is a terrifying and convicting thing.

Little did I know what was in store for me the rest of the evening. Less than a half an hour later, I met the boy who bowed, and our encounter broke me.

We were wandering the side streets of Puerta del Sol, when we came upon a man whom was lying facedown on the street, holding a cup in his hand. We tapped his shoulder to ask him his name and offer him a bocadillo, expecting nothing out of the ordinary. I was shocked when a young, beautiful pair of brown eyes met mine. This child could not have been older than my little brother, and here he was, alone in the streets. We tried to talk with him, but realized that he could not speak English or Spanish.

We left him a sandwich and walked away, feeling like we had nothing else to offer him since we didn’t share a language. This young boy was alone in a foreign country where he could not be understood nor could he express himself to others.

I felt paralyzed. 

I realized that we didn’t offer him a juice, so I grabbed one and ran back to him. I placed it in his hand, placed my hand on his shoulder, and merely looked into his eyes, hoping to communicate all I wanted to express to him through a look. Even if we had shared a language, words would not have been sufficient for this moment.

I left deeply disturbed and couldn’t hold back my tears.

WHY WAS I ABLE TO WALK AWAY? Why didn’t I sit with him longer? I should have stayed. Should have done something more. Should have bought him groceries for the week. Should have done anything to show him that he was loved and valued and worth it and not alone.

This experience has lead me to question the hip-evangelical-Christian subculture I immerse myself in at home. My love of bible verses in calligraphy, fancy dinner parties, hospitality, quiet times on perfect front porches, freshly picked wildflowers, acoustic music, hipster cafes, and organic food feels silly and superfluous when juxtaposed with Maria’s simple life. She loves the Lord with all she has, which is just herself. I have much to learn from Maria.

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Do we hide behind the trappings of our Christian subculture? What does it mean to live courageously and walk through life with open hands? Faith requires surrendering all we are and have to the Lord in the knowledge that everything we have we have been freely given.

Luckily, the Lord does not need us. He has already won. It can be easy to feel guilty and helpless and be paralyzed by the brokenness and inequity in this world, but we serve a God whose light cannot be subdued by darkness. My prayer is for the Lord to take my guilt and helplessness and change it into a fire within me that pushes me to give of myself, my money, my time, and my privilege in radical, courageous ways. I know it is impossible on my own, but trust that the Lord is inviting me into His beautiful story of redemption and healing in every moment, I just need to learn to say yes to those invitations.

A good friend and I sat down for coffee yesterday, and I began to process this experience with him and my frustration with privilege and guilt for the joy I derive from traveling, good food, and other material comforts. He wisely reminded me that in order to give to others, we ourselves have to be filled up. The list of things I love that felt wrong and superfluous after talking to Maria are all things that remind me of deeper truths and allow me to savor life with others. Without those reminders and relationships, I would not be wholehearted enough to give away anything at all.

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I hope to see the boy who bowed again, and hope to give more courageously to him next time. Not because it is required of me, but because the Lord is inviting me into the extravagant adventure of loving and caring for His children.

 

 

 


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