Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Look Back

Well, it's December 31st, 2010. To be sure, it's been quite the year for me. I realize that you probably don't care too much about the details of my life, but I thought it would be fun to recap 2010 in a blog post that I can look back on in a few years. So, here we go.

Last year on New Year's Eve 2009, I was standing below St. Stephen's tower in London, England to ring in the new year. I watched with amazement as the massive fireworks display went off and Big Ben itself quite literally rang in  2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thoughts on Spanish Class

Shortly after becoming a Foreign Service Officer, I took a language test to see just how well (or poorly) I spoke Spanish. I ended up with a 2+/2+ (that's State Department lingo in Speaking/Reading, which means I'm just below "professionally proficient", which would be a 3/3.) That resulted in me being assigned to eight weeks of Spanish classes, which should bring me up to the required 3/3 for my position in Monterrey.

Let me just get something out in the open: I. Love. Spanish. I really do. Ever since my first Spanish class in high school, I have thoroughly enjoyed the Spanish language and the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. The Spanish language is fun, dynamic, and fluid. But, I think one of the things I enjoy the most about learning languages is the feeling you get when you are just suddenly on a roll and every word is flowing off your tongue and your grammar and pronunciation is spot-on.

Then come the days when you feel like you have no idea what Spanish even is. For about half of this afternoon, I felt like that. In fact, the four of us in my class felt the same way. We were all stumbling over words, making huge grammatical mistakes, and just generally sucking it up. But, those times can also sometimes be the most fun. Let me share with you the following two misspoken phrases that caused me to crack up in hysterics. Note: they're probably not too funny if you haven't studied Spanish yourself, but oh well.

First up: This is one of those situations where your mind just screws up because it's Friday afternoon and you're tired. One of my classmates was trying to say "What are we going to do on Thursday?" which should've been "¿Qué vamos a hacer el jueves?" What she actually said was "¿Qué vamos a hacer el huevo?", which means "What are we going to do the egg?" (or, if you don't have the most innocent of minds, egg could be translated a little more crudely. Google it if you really want to know.) It's certainly an understandable mistake... jueves and huevo are pronounced quite similarly. As soon as she said it, we all cracked up.

Second up: We did a debate with another class this afternoon, so there were eight students and two professors. We were arguing whether or not the U.S. should legalize drugs, so we were talking about harmful effects, society, and the narcotraffickers of Mexico and other countries. Another of my classmates was having trouble pronouncing the word "dañinos," meaning "harmful", which is certainly a difficult word to work with. Our class was already having way too much fun with our debate, laughing it up the entire way through. So when that word came up, it quickly turned into "da niños", which ends up being "gives children." So the phrase "marijuana is harmful" turned into "marijuana gives children." Hysterical laughter ensued.

Spanish classes are great, especially the way that FSI does them. I'm pumped about the rest of my time here before heading out to post.

Hastla la próxima vez... paz.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's the Little Things...

I've been living in DC for almost three months now, and I've got another two and a half to go. I really do enjoy my fully-furnished apartment and it's location here in the Arlington area. I've got easy access to all of the local shops and restaurants I could want, and it doesn't feel like I'm trapped in a maze of concrete and asphalt.

Because of the temporary nature of my stay in DC, I've been reluctant to decorate my apartment and make it truly "homey," if you will. I haven't really hung anything on the walls because I'm not sure to what extent I'm allowed to do that. I mean, I'm sure I'm free to do so, but I don't want to run the risk of paying some exorbitant fees/fines for putting a few holes in the walls, when I know I'm leaving soon anyway. I wish now that I had gone ahead and bit the bullet and hung stuff up. It's a bit too late, now.

Recently, though, I've done a few things to make the place a bit more personalized. I found a deal on Shutterfly.com about a month ago offering fifty free 4x6 photo prints just for creating a free account. Why not? I sifted through the thousands of pictures I've taken over the last few years and chose my favorites that I'd like to have around my apartment. That's a daunting task, let me tell you. When you have that many photos, it's difficult to try to narrow down fifty that you really want. You end up having debates with yourself about the merits of one picture over another and why it deserves to be one of the chosen few. Or, at least, I did... maybe that's weird. PS - if you need a lot of frames in a hurry but don't want to spend too much money, hit up your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. I got six good frames for $10.

I also went last week and bought my first Christmas tree now that I'm living on my own. I didn't want to get a live one, partly because of the hassle and partly because it's kind of a waste of an entire tree (no offense to you live-tree lovers out there). So I went to Target and found the perfect one. It was love at first sight, really. The perfect little 4-ft Norway Spruce pre-lit with clear lights. I searched for the corresponding box under the display, but alas! There were no more of this specific tree, though there were plenty of other types. That must mean that the tree I chose was the best tree there, of course. I asked the Target employee standing nearby if he could check in the back to see if there were any extras. After awhile he came back and said that there weren't any more at that store, and the other local Target was out as well. To make a long story short, two more visits to different targets, 15 minutes on hold with a Target employee, and a day later, I had my tree. I picked up some ornaments and the obligatory candy canes and came home to set it up. That Christmas tree really spruced* up my apartment.

Having that Christmas tree lit up in the evenings and seeing some of the photos in frames around my apartment really have made the place feel a bit more like home. Just that little bit more cozy. I still haven't hung anything on the walls, but at this point it's kind of pointless anyway. In any case, I really enjoy walking around the apartment and seeing the random photo of my friends or a beautiful place I visited. And just in time for Christmas, too.

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you've made an effort to make it feel like home. There's nothing like it.

Until next time...peace.

*Lame pun completely intended.