Saturday, March 26, 2011

It's not a rant.

"So let's practice what we preach and with the acceptance that we expect from others, let us stop being so damn judgmental and crucifying everyone who doesn't fit into our boxed-in perception of what is right." - Gillian Anderson

Today on Facebook, one of my friends posted something asking why girls are the ones who got stuck having to do all the things like shaving their legs, wearing makeup, doing their hair. (This isn't that exchange-related, but I've had about 10 years of gifted classes, affectionately called by gifted students, "lessons in B.S.", so I'll find a way to make it fit.) There were girls commenting on the status saying things like "well, we don't NEED to do these things, but we SHOULD". 
But I don't agree. At all. Maybe 1 out of every 20 Portuguese girls wears makeup on a regular basis, and they're some of the prettiest people I know. If you don't like doing these things, and you're not trying to please yourself by doing them, then why are you doing them? The following is the introduction from Eve Ensler's new book, I Am an Emotional Creature.

Dear Emotional Creature,
You know who you are. I wrote this book because I believe in you. I believe in your authenticity, your uniqueness, your intensity, your wildness. I love the way you dye your hair purple, or hike up your short skirt, or blare your music while you lip-sync every single memorized lyric. I love your restlessness and your hunger. You are one of our greatest natural resources. You possess a necessary agency and energy that if unleashed could transform, inspire, and heal the world.
I know we make you feel stupid, as if being a teenager meant you were temporarily deranged. We have become accustomed to muting you, judging you, discounting you, asking you--sometimes even forcing you--to betray what you see and know and feel.
You scare us. You remind us of what we have been forced to shut down or abandon in ourselves in order to fit in. You ask us by your being to question, to wake up, to reperceive. Sometimes I think we tell you we are protecting you when really we are protecting ourselves from our own feelings of self-betrayal and loss.
Everyone seems to have a certain way they want you to be--your mother, father, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, boyfriends, fashion gurus, celebrities, girlfriends. In researching this book I came upon a very disturbing statistic: 74 percent of you say you are under pressure to please everyone.
I have done a lot of thinking about what it means to please. To please, to embody the wish or will of somebody other than yourself. To please the fashion setters, we starve ourselves. To please boys, we push ourselves when we aren't ready. To please the popular girls, we end up acting mean to our best friends. To please our parents, we become insane overachievers. If you are trying to please, how do you take responsibility for your own needs? How do you even know what your own needs are? What do you have to cup off in yourself in order to please others? I think the act of pleasing makes everything murky. We lose track of ourselves. We stop uttering declaratory sentences. We stop directing our lives. We wait to be rescued. We forget what we know. We make everything okay rather than real.
I have had the good fortune to travel around the world. Everywhere I meet teenage girls, circles of girls, packs of girls walking the country roads home from school, hanging out on city street corners, arm in arm, laughing, giggling, screaming. Electric girls. I see how your lives get hijacked, how your opinions and desires get denied and undone. I see how this later comes to determine so much of our lives as adults. So many of the women I have met through The Vagina Monologues and The Good Body and V-Day are still trying to overcome what was muted or undone in them when they were young. They are struggling late into their lives to know their desires, to find their power and their way.
This book is a call to question rather than to please. To provoke, to challenge, to dare, to satisfy your own imagination and appetite. To know yourself truly. To take responsibility for who you are, to engage. This book is a call to listen to the voice inside you that might want something different, that hears, that knows, the way only you can hear and know. It's a call to your original girl self, to your emotional creature self, to move at your speed, to walk with your step, to wear your color. It is an invitation to heed your instinct to resist war, or draw snakes, or to speak to the stars.
I hope you will see this book as something living, that you will use it to identify and overcome the obstacles or pressures that prevent you from being an emotional creature. Maybe after you read these stories and monologues you will be inspired to write and share your own, or paint your bedroom wall, or fight for polar bears or speak up in class or learn about sexuality or demand your rights.
When I was your age, I didn't know how to live as an emotional creature. I felt like an alien. I still do a lot of the time. I don't think it has much to do with the country I grew up in or the language I speak. In this book you will meet girls from everywhere. Some live in remote villages, others in huge cities or posh suburbs. Some worrying about whether they will be able to afford the latest purple UGGs, some worrying if they'll every get home after two years of being held as a sex slave. Some deciding whether they are able to kill a supposed enemy, some on the brink of killing themselves. Some desperate for the next meal, some unable to stop starving themselves. Girls from Cairo, Kwai Yong, Ramallah, Bukavu, Narok, Westchester, Jerusalem, Manhattan, Paris. All of them, all of you, live on the planet right now. I think whatever country or town or village you physically live in, you inhabit a similar emotional landscape. You all come from girl land. There you get born with this awakeness, this open-hearted have to eat it, taste it, know it, defy it. Then the "grown-ups" come with their rules, their directions. They teach you how to make yourselves less so everyone feels more comfortable. They teach you not to stand out. They get you to behave.
I am older now. I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, with being this alive, this intense. I just don't want you to have to wait that long.


Why waste time doing your makeup when you could be out making memories? People will still think you're beautiful if you don't shave your legs in the winter, or if you don't always comb your hair. I will. Everyone's against the media putting pressure on young girls to look perfect, but nobody wants to give up caking on their own makeup. Stand up for yourselves, girls. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bye, bye, Jose Socrates.

Breaking news--literally--the prime minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, just resigned in the middle of Portugal's financial crisis!
Click here to read an article about why. 

Cork trees, Buddha, and Chocolate

I'm trying to not let my blog be one of those. I'm not trying to write down everything I do on here (which some of you might like, but it's not happening), because I am a writer. I tell stories, but I use my imagination, too, which I hope is making this an interesting read. I don't really know what I'm trying to do with this blog, except keep a loose record of the things and feelings I experience on this exchange. But I don't think anyone's actually reading this, so if you are, leave me a comment and give me some feedback, and I'll keep writing.
Alexandra and I went to a Buddha garden and a chocolate festival this weekend! The Buddha garden was made by a rich woman who bought all these sculptures and made this huge garden for them. I don't really have a complete history of it, because Alexandra's host dad only told us this, but it was really cool to sit on the belly of a huge buddha (: There's also a small terra-cotta army replica of the one in China there. The horses and people were painted outlandish colors, but it was definitely an interesting mix of cultures. While her host parents were waiting in line for tickets to the chocolate festival, we went exploring on top of a stone wall that's hundreds of years old. It surrounds the old part of the city, and was built as a defense city, with the wall protecting it. When we were on the wall, we wanted to get a picture together, and so I asked a man (in Portuguese) if he could take a picture of us. Turns out I have a pretty thick accent when I speak Portuguese, and the guy immediately starts speaking English to us, which was slightly disappointing.
Did I mention they have croissants filled with CHOCOLATE here? My host family keeps hinting that I'm gaining weight, but I don't care. (: I am comfortable with who I am and what I look like, so as long as my pants still fit, I think I'm going to live. I do feel lazy, though, because I literally sit in a chair at school all day. I have PE, but that's not really exercise because the teacher usually favors the boys--they get to play first and longer, because they enjoy it more than the girls, who do everything in their power to not go to dreaded Educacão Física. I miss soccer soo much, but I don't really want to join the futsal team here because I have no free time as it is, but I want to start riding my bike home from school on Fridays.
My Portuguese is getting better by the day. I still don't talk much (people don't believe me when I say I'm a quiet person), but my confidence is building fast. It's still like forcing out words, though.
I took my first test in Portuguese yesterday, for PE. It was a surprise for me that I was going to take it, because I wasn't there when the class got the study sheets, and my class assured me that I wasn't going to take it. But, since I hadn't studied and am lacking a TON of sport-related vocab, the teacher let me write some of the test in English, and use the study sheet. I took twice as long as the other kids, and I still think I failed,  but that's okay because my grades don't count here. I'm pretty proud that I finished, though, even if it did take me over an hour.
I got a care package from home, and I'll be getting another one soon, with green chile and tortillas. I'm excited to cook for my family here because New Mexican food is very different from the rest of the US, and it's something we're proud of as a state. I'm also hoping that the green chile doesn't make the food inedible, because my host family has zero tolerance for spicy foods.
There are tons of cork trees here. This one's had
some bark taken off of it already. 

Picture taken by the Portuguese guy I asked!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exercising my poetic license

As some of you know, I'm doing a few online/email-based classes so I can play soccer when I come back to the US in the fall. One of these is a creative writing class, and I wrote a poem about Andorra for it. So here it is, raw and un-edited. 

A country so small that I questioned
its existence.
Sandwiched between Spain and France, it
is as if it doesn’t want to be seen--
“Look! Why come here when Spain and France 
are larger and better!”
Crossing over the border is almost
except for the abandoned border checkpoint.
And suddenly, you’re not in Spain anymore. 
There are mountains close on either side
of the winding road, but they aren’t
encroaching; rather, they 
open up the sky and all the blue
spills into the earth and turns to green,
and brown. 
On your right is a valley, with a ribbon
of sparkling river at the bottom. You don’t
know its name, so you name it instead, 
because you’re sure Andorra wouldn’t mind.
You wonder how long it would take to
drive completely across this country. 
Is it maybe as big as Rhode Island? Entering the 
capital city, which is named, well, Andorra, 
you see that
the streets aren’t exactly 
clean. But why does that
matter when you can look at 
the people?
Especially during Carnaval. 
In fact, more adults than children are
dressed as something they’re not.
Which isn’t surprising, 
when you consider all the dreams
they’ve had to give up as they’ve grown up.
Maybe Andorra is where all the
lost dreams go, anyway. 
They fill in the cracks in the sidewalk
and they glue the snow to the mountain
and they manifest themselves
in the smiles of the people who realize
that they’re never really lost; 
everybody dreams.

They speak Spanish here. 
Castilian, to be exact. 
You know, the Spanish that sounds
like water dripping off a leaf, 
like they’ve let their tongues go numb. 
At least they can’t tell I’m American. 
Did I mention the soccer here?
Or, more culturally correct, futebol. 
It’s FC Barcelona against Arsenal. Guess
who they’re cheering for?
You feel bad for the only 
Englishman in the room. He
might be in danger of being bodily harmed
by the diehard Barcelona fans. 
No, the glowering Englishman gets a drunken
peck on the cheek instead.
The next morning it’s all snow, 
skis, snowboards and slush. 
10 degrees Celsius, and there are some wearing
T-shirts, others wrapped in
woolen scarves and ugly coats.
The sun is out and the perfect untouched
snow is glistening in its rays, 
but the stuff on the slopes has lost
that newborn luster. 
Visible above the snow are the
tips of pine trees, reaching for fresh air
and sunlight, 
gasping and trying to be free from
the suffocating cover that is the snow. 
Waiting in line for the lift, you hear
different tongues and strange accents, 
and instructors in blue snowsuits are 
speaking a combination of languages
to get their point across. 
This chairlift goes over the crest 
of the hill and you can see into two valleys, 
almost mirror images of each other, 
one side is France, and 
the other is Spain. 

The wind is bitter and biting here, 
stinging exposed skin with 
whirlwinds of ice particles. 
And you think, 
this is probably one of those
“cosmic energy” sites, 
like Sedona. 
And maybe, just maybe, 
those dreams are sitting atop the mountains, 
waiting to be found. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Andorra, Self-Realization, and "Why I threw it all away"

I have a TON of things to write about, so prepare yourself for a long blog post. (:
This week is when Lent started, as most of you probably know. Carnaval is a celebration held in Portugal and Brazil (and other countries too, but they're mostly irrelevant to me so I'm not going to list them all) before Lent, and kids and some adults dress up and there are tons of parties and celebrations. In Portugal, Carnaval isn't as wild and insane as it is in Brazil, but it's very traditional and a special time of year. For Carnaval, my host family and I went to Andorra! Andorra is a teeny, tiny country on the border between France and Spain. The official language is Catalan, which is technically a type of Spanish, I think, but it's different and harder for me to understand. The people there also speak French, English and Portuguese because Andorra is a country whose almost entire economic system is based off of tourism.
So on Saturday morning, we all set off for Andorra at about noon. We spent the night in Zaragoza, Spain (I know a bunch of town's names from soccer teams; we also passed through Valladolid) and continued the next morning to Andorra. It's about 12 or 13 hours from Minde to Andorra, which is a very trying trip if you're with 3 kids that are entertaining themselves by making noise and bothering each other.
When we got to Andorra, we checked into our hotel and went and rented our snow stuff. I had decided to try snowboarding again (for those of you who were there, you know the first time didn't go too well. I don't like not being able to do things). So, 30 minutes and a lot of tryings-on later, we left the rental shop, me carrying a snowboard, size 38 boots, and a helmet.
Andorra is stunning. It's in the Pyrenees mountains, which are very high and are covered in craggy cliffs. There wasn't really any snow until we got to the ski area, which was within walking distance of our hotel, Hotel Cristina. I shared a hotel room with my three host siblings. Monday morning we slept in a bit (well not really, we woke up at 8:30), and headed off to buy our snowboarding lessons, as all four of us kids were snowboarding. We fooled around a bit on the slope (similar to the bunny hill at Sandia) and at 12 we met our teacher, Mattheu. He was French, but I didn't know that until the end of the lesson. He spoke a combination of English and Spanish to us to get his point across, because he doesn't speak any Portuguese, but it worked out okay. It was only after I found out that he was French that I started to think his accent was funny. I don't know what it is about French accents but  I just find them hilarious. I blame Inspector Clouseau. On the second day of lessons, João wanted Mattheu to pull him up the hill, and Mattheu goes "I om not a leeft!" (:
Since last week was Carnaval, there were a lot of people dressed up in Andorra, on the streets AND the slopes. I saw all four Telletubbies, Batman, Superman, a banana, and 2 chickens skiing. And the chickens clucked at us while we were on the chairlift, to our great amusement.
One thing that trying to become Portuguese has taught me is how to spot an American from a mile away. It's really obvious, even when they aren't talking, and I don't know why. It's not a bad thing, by the way, just something that I noticed. Luckily, people don't try English first when they speak to me anymore. (:
João ended up hurting his wrist on Wednesday, so after that we kind of stopped skiing/snowboarding as much, but we got pretty okay. I am slightly out of control on toe-edge (well more than a little), and I fall a lot, but I definitely improved. And I, being the individualist that I am, kept trying to do weird things. One time, we were all going down the slope pretty fast, and I noticed that nobody was going over in this one area. So, I thought, hey, I'm gonna go over there. Oh, wait, there's a ton of ice over here. A few hours later: Hey, there's nobody over here. I wonder wh-- oh. Yeah.

Greenwich Meridian!
Crappy Spain picture

One thing that I've noticed during my almost 2 months here (*gasp!*) is that emotions are more intense when you're on exchange. Your good days are really really good, and make you want to run around and hug everyone, and your bad ones are absolutely miserable. But, like real life, most days are neither good nor bad, they just are. And school is the same, intolerably boring but still stimulating, because, hey, they're speaking PORTUGUESE. And that moment when your host family starts really feeling like a family? And when your classmates stop calling you"the exchange student" and start calling you "Katie"? And all those amazing moments you have with other exchangers who know exactly what you're going through? This is how to live.
I know that I'm going to have to work my butt off when I get back to the US, but I can't help wishing more than anything that I didn't have to go back to high school. Exchange changes you, and I think I'm only just starting to realize how much. I understand why so many exchange students, after their 6 months or year abroad, decide to get their GED. Because, after doing this, how could anyone go back to school and have everything be the same? Will I be able to go one day without thinking about Portugal?
I can't explain how exchange has changed me. Maybe it's in the way I walk down the street in Minde, and say "bom dia" to random people that I pass. Maybe it's how I now have friends from all over the world that I want to keep in contact with for the rest of my life. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the way I think about the world and the people in it. I realize that this isn't that well written, but I can't put how I feel into words. 

This was written by another exchanger, who is now a rebound, but it is a very good description of things.

"I was the good student, the nice kid, played sports, active community service, yadayada. As of my junior year, it was clear in my head that I was going to graduate school and head off to a four-year college, upon arrival would work my butt off, graduate and then join my peers as a good, working-class citizen of America. And up until about November 2009, gosh darn it I was supposed to do all that. No doubt.

What happened? Well most of you know the answer.


And although I could write pages and pages upon my experience I shall let that one word speak for itself.

Because as of November 2009, I realized that I did not, no could not leave. And I fought for it. For about a month I fought with my school in the U.S. to let me stay in Germany and still graduate on time. And in doing so I found a backbone I never knew even existed in me.

So why did I want to stay so bad?

As in exchange student you are sent to live to a country you've never been to before (well most), you get a new family (who has only meet you through emails and a dorky letter you write), a new town, new school, new language, new culture, the list goes on. You can no longer rely on who you've come to identify yourself as. No longer does JROTC, baseball, NHS, or all these things apply to you, you are simply you. What you chose to be and who are you truly are. So what do you do, with nothing to define you except "American" and "Exchange student"?

You live.

Your world is thrown off its axis, your head is spinning, and the moments in which you do not try to cling to your old thoughts and ideas, the world explodes in a freshness that takes your breath away and makes you realize you can never, ever go back to your old life. And those random people that picked you to live with them, they become your family. That random school you got sent to? The people there become your friends. And that random
town of 20,000 people you get shipped off to? It becomes your home.

So I chose not to return in January. I chose to stay in Germany. Doing so probably cost me those scholarships, those prestigious awards had fought so hard for.

But don't ever think I regretted it.

And why did I chose Wake Tech instead of taking out student loans?

So that two years from now, I can walk away debt free ready to begin my life. Not one graduating from a four year school who must immediately enter the work force in a 9-5 job to pay off their student loans. That did not sound appealing to me.

So I admit it. I'm done playing the game and following the "rules". I work to please God and find the best path for my life. That's it plain and simple.

And I guess when it comes down to it, I just want to know that 50 years from now I took every opportunity that was given to me and never looked back.

I want to see the world.

And that's why I threw it all away."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I am sitting in the Biblioteca (library) with four other people. Asif, a Pakistani boy, two Ukrainian girls (Christina and one with a super hard name), and my Portuguese teacher. The sun is coming in the window and it, apparently, is a beautiful day to learn Portuguese. I'm writing in English, I can hear the Pakistani boy muttering in his language, the Ukrainian girls in theirs, the teacher is repeating Portuguese words, and some students at another table practicing French.  At lunch, I soaked up the beautiful Portuguese sun with my friends, ate a chocolate croissant, and studied some Portuguese verbs.
On Saturday I'm going skiing with my host family in Andorra, which includes two 12-hour drives across SPAIN! I'll miss two days of school, and I'm also getting out earlier on Tuesdays now. I'm thinking maybe I'll ride my bike home from school on Friday.
I am having a great day. (: