The first day had been rough: overwhelming, exhausting. The second day seemed a mere extension of it.
Classes were to begin immediately and our host moms were to show us how to get to the university campus using Querétaro’s public transportation. We had to be at the campus by 8 am, an hour bus ride from our barrio, so we were up by 6:15 that first day. My host mom had prepared a simple breakfast of sliced fruit and hot coffee and handed me a sack lunch for my break at school. I felt spoiled having a person thoughtfully care for my every anticipated need. She made my breakfast, cleaned my dishes, and prepared my lunch. All offers for help were refused. My job was to follow along and learn as much as I could. I was again grabbed by the elbow and led out of the house with my house mom speaking what seemed a rushed Spanish, but in reality had probably been her slower version. It was all I could do to just smile and nod, follow along to the best of my ability, and say “Sí” when she paused and looked at me.
The language, the customs, the style- all were very different than what I was accustomed to.
But it was the bus that really revealed to me, “Brande, you’re not in Oregon anymore.”
Passengers are responsible to get the bus drivers’ attention by waving them down. If you don’t wave, they don’t stop. The drivers are always in a hurry, so dawdling passengers are likely to be left behind or required to climb on to a still moving bus. Because of this, potential riders are always seen rushing up the bus stairs with purpose. I learned: be ready, get on, sit down. Quick. Then: hold on. The buses are driven quicker than any other vehicle. Constantly speeding, they zoom around other buses, cars, motorcycles, and bikes. Lane marks on the roads are taken as suggestions, as all vehicles seem to go where they want, making new lanes as it fits their needs. It was like being in a constant game of “chicken” with several hundred other vehicles. That first ride, I envisioned a Frida Kahlo-like accident on repeat in my head. Yet somehow (miraculously??), we arrived in one piece, and were rushed to our first classes, the second-year spanish series.
Each day of my first week mirrored the first: busy, full, exhausting.
I felt ill-equipped to use my Spanish. Each encounter left me more exhausted. It was the interpreting, the thinking, the problem-solving, all in Spanish, that made my head feel like it would explode. The good-natured laughter at my ineptitude left me feeling all the more incompetent. To top it off, I felt regularly taken advantage of by taxi-drivers and market vendors who seemed to charge me more because I couldn’t speak the language well. Often, after a day of attempted connections that seemed to end in failure, I often felt more alone than the day before. Each perceived personal failure was added to an ever-growing pile, and by the end of the week I was so full of fear and insecurity I could see only a trace of the confident, excited woman I had been when I left home.
In this mind-set, tiny setbacks seemed to be insurmountable roadblocks. My first day riding the bus by myself, I missed the stop on the way home and ended up in a neighborhood I’d never been in (not that being there before would have helped because I couldn’t differentiate between landmarks those first couple days). After making my way off the bus, I had to take a taxi home (in which I was over-charged, of course), and, to make smash my ego a little bit more, had to deal with the laughter of my host mom when I got there. These setbacks, which would have been little more than speed bumps in my life back home, suddenly became stumbling blocks in which I seemed incapable of overcoming.
At night, when I was so angry I couldn’t sleep, I wrote it out. I found my part in all the mess, found the aspects of my situation I had control over. I realized I hadn’t put enough time or effort in learning the language before I came, so perhaps spending some solid time studying would give me some action to take which might getmy mind off all the stress. I wrote gratitude lists in the morning that sometimes only included the things I wanted to be grateful for because that I couldn’t muster any more positivity than that. I looked around for opportunities to be of service, even if only folding pamphlets at my local meeting. I practiced listening rather than complaining – and thank God I was only practicing, because that was definitely the hardest part!
Then, in what is the most recent phase of darkness I’ve experienced, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel — God did for me what I could not do for myself.
I talked to a dear friend, a person who has always seen the light in me, even when it’s buried under piles of resentment and bitterness. He reminded me why I’m taking this trip and the ways it will enable me to make the kinds of differences in the world that I want to see. He reminded me that these struggles are the ways that God shapes us and forms us into the people he needs us to be. He reminded me that pain really is the touchstone of spiritual (and emotional!!) growth. He reminded me of the fortitude I have inside myself that will get me through anything the moment I choose to harness it.
Bless him. Our conversation made all the difference.
We made a pact: both of us would enter the next day on a new footing. We had spent enough time struggling and growing, cursing and angry. We decided that it was time to go into the world as a light and be the people we knew we were created to be.
I wanted an adventure and that’s what I’m getting.
My mistake was thinking that an adventure is synonymous with fun. Sometimes the adventure is a learning process, and that can sometimes be painful.
I guess this is what studying abroad is all about: learning things about yourself that you didn’t know you didn’t know.
Things have begun to shift and I’m beginning to get the hang of the bus system, the language, the customs. I’m beginning to feel more confident in my ability to make it through each day with a little more independence. It’s still very touch and go, but I can tell that it’s getting easier and ultimately, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be out of my comfort zone, because I know that is where I will grow the most.