Happy New Years! I am here sitting in my second Belgian host family’s house (I am a former Rotary exchange student in 99-00) in a small village on the east side of Belgium reviewing this last month’s events as well as reflecting on this last year.
Before I forget, I just want to say I love living in Spain. I can’t believe Burak and I left the US 6 months ago. It has truly passed by quickly. I am only homesick for episodes of Law and Order and of courses, friends and family, but I have email and phone calls to take care of the latter. I find it amazing Burak is more homesick for the US than I am. I think that Spain is a nice mix between Belgium (Western Europe), Mexico (Former Spanish colony), and Turkey (Mediterranean country with Islamic influence). Having lived in all those three countries, Spain is a piece of cake.
My ideal job, in life, would be to travel and write about my experiences and life all over the world. What I do now, travel, speak; and write; is definitely high on my ‘What I want to do with my life’ list.
I sent my last update the last weekend of November. At that time, I raved about how Burak and I lived in a great apartment with people from all over Europe and it resembled working at the UN. As irony would have it, the same day I sent that email, one of our flat mates yelled at us for believing we didn’t do our part in cleaning the place. Of course this was not the case and we were offended that she thought yelling was acceptable. This flat mate had changed the atmosphere of the flat with a negative cloud hovering over the living place ever since she arrived and so it didn’t take long before we decided to move to a new place.
For one week, I didn’t know where I was going to live after the 22nd of December(when we planned to fly to Belgium for the holidays). I searched all over and before my trip to Berlin and Krakow, we paid a down payment for a new larger, and more conveniently located apartment.
On December 2nd I presented a group project in the morning at school and that afternoon I was on a bus to Madrid. I stayed with a scholar that lived outside of Madrid and the next day we went into town for my Northwestern Law interview with an alumnus. That very afternoon ETA bombed about five gas stations and I didn’t learn about it until I checked the American news websites before leaving Madrid for Barcelona. Luckily, my friends and I wondered around Madrid that day not knowing about it until after the fact.
On December 6th, the most parts of the country celebrated Constitution Day. Catalonia didn’t celebrate and the Basque region celebrated with ETA bombing select streets and plazas named after Spain to protest the day. I learned that there could well be a pact between ETA and Catalonia and that is why there have been no bombings in Catalonia. Therefore, we are safe in Barcelona.
On December 7th, Burak flew to Turkey to visit his family for a week. His dad was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and it is very far advanced. He took our two cameras to help document his time with his family. It served as a good time for him to realize what was happening with his father’s health and to come to peace with it.
On December 8th, I flew with another scholar (that lives in Seville) to Berlin. We were group leaders at a conference for Americans living and studying abroad. The goal of the organization is for Americans with abroad experience to return and keep a dialogue of world events and concerns alive on college campuses and in the public. It has many of the same goals that my Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship aims to achieve.
I met many Americans all over Europe and learned of new ways to pay for my living and studying abroad with other scholarships and grants. I spoke at the conference about the Rotary scholarships to an interested audience. I used my free time to visit the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Christmas markets, and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Many people thought I was a native German and it was fun blending in and not being assumed a tourist. It was my second time ever in Berlin, so I decided to fly to a nearby country while I had the chance.
On December 13th, I flew into Krakow, Poland from Berlin. I had contacted a scholar living there to visit him and his family. I had 24 hours in Poland and it got dark at 4:10pm in Krakow, so I had to run through the sites before it got dark. I went to the Castle on the hill, the Cloth Hall, a Christmas market, several churches, and saw the university where the current Pope attended. I enjoyed visiting with the scholar’s family which included his wife and two young sons.
The next day I ran to the airport for my flight back to Berlin. I was all set to go with just a few minutes before going through security and then I read the monitor. It said my flight was CANCELLED. I panicked. I had no Polish money left, I had a flight from Berlin the next morning to Barcelona, I had classes to teach the next night, I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t know if I could still use my phone to call anyone. Luckily, since it was the same company I had a flight with the next day, it was all changed for free and I was able to stay with the same family that extra night. I enjoyed my next day but really wanted to get home after having been away for more than a week.
I finally got to Berlin and then back to Barcelona on the 16th. I was so happy to be back and the weather was so warm compared to Berlin and Krakow, I really thought it was summer! Also, the sun stayed out longer in Barcelona and it just was a whole new world between the different places.
That very same day, Burak learned that Duke’s business school accepted him for Fall 2005 entry. We are still waiting for his other three business school applications and my 8 law school applications. Lord willing, we might be in North Carolina next fall.
On the 17th, I moved all our things to the new place with little help because Burak had to work during the day. Our new landlord let us use his car to move our things. Burak and I took several trips by foot on 15 minutes walks with 3-4 suitcases and finally one full car load to move everything. I really don’t know how we accumulated so much. That evening I had to teach. I was exhausted.
On the 18th, we held a Christmas Party with a gift exchange with about 20 people at our new apartment. When the first few guests arrived I was still in my sweat pants and had no makeup on. I figured I could use the excuse ‘I just moved and have been out of the country for a week.’ My French exchange partner was just amazed at all that I can pull off.
On the 21st, I met with Dr. Martinez regarding her foundation that helps treat those with the Zellweger syndrome. Her clinic is basically the only one in the world that has been successful in treating this rare syndrome. My fellow scholar in Barcelona and I plan to organize a fundraising event for her clinic this spring.
On the 22nd, we left for Brussels. We arrived at my family’s village later that afternoon. It was wonderful to see my family after 4 years since my last visit. It was amazing how clear my memories of the town and all the nearby villages were. My French came back but it was weak. I was grateful that I have been speaking Spanish this last 4 months but otherwise I still have work to do.
The very next day, I spoke to my old club during my exchange year, Rotary Club Verviers-Vesdre. It was wonderful seeing my dear Rotarians again after all those years. They loved my speech and I took lots of photos of them. Some said they couldn’t recognize me and others said they recognized me right away. My former Rotary counselor took Burak and I to Spa (a city in Belgium) for a dessert called baba au rhum (our tradition) and then took us out to dinner with his wife.
We spent Christmas Eve at my host mom’s parent’s house with 23 other family members. Many remembered me and we had a great night with French, German, English, Spanish, Italian, Wallon, and Portuguese being spoken around the table.
We had our gift exchange on the 26th with all my host parents’ 4 kids and their partners and their kids. I marveled at how Burak and I are not blood related in anyway to this Belgian family, but they have opened their home during this special holiday time to us. It would have been really lonely staying in Barcelona and too expensive to go back to the US. It was really the best holiday choice and I love showing Burak where I used to live.
On the 29th, we went to Liege to have drinks with current exchange students. I would frequently go to Liege on Wednesday afternoons after school to meet up with my friends living all over Belgium. This time I was an oldie, oldie, oldie, oldie, oldie. Which basically means I am a 4th or 5th generation exchange student coming back to see the current ones since I lived here 4.5 years ago. It is a great feeling being with other exchange students. The same bartender was there as well. A former exchange student that lived there when I did had returned for the holidays and we both went a took a photo with the bartender.
That afternoon, we took a train to Brussels and visited the Mannequin Pis, the street full of seafood, and the Grand Place that was beautiful decorated with lights for Christmas. The next morning we took a bus tour and saw the EU headquarters before heading to Amsterdam on the fast train.
On the 30th we were in Amsterdam. Our hotel gave our room to someone else so we found a new place for a larger price before heading out for the night. I had been there 2 times before, but enjoyed seeing the town with Burak for his first time. We went to the Van Gogh and Heineken museums before heading to cafes to hang out before midnight. At midnight the bartenders gave out free champagne and turned the TV to the festivals taking place in town. We quickly ran outside to see the entire town going crazy with fireworks in the streets, on the water, and in the air for hours to come. We waited for our 7am train to Brussels at the train station and finally arrived at my family’s house before noon.
As we all watch the reports and pray for the victims of the tsunamis of late December, it teaches us about the frailty of life and at the same time, the generosity of humankind to run their aid.
If you have chance, check out my website: www.powersprep.com/rubypowers for recent photos under ‘Barcelona, Spain’ and past updates under ‘Observations.’ Also, make sure to sign my Guestbook.
Happy New Years!
Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar 2004 – 2005