Saturday, November 30, 2013

What it means to be Jennie Hartstein and living in Spain. (Unless of course, there's another Jennie Hartstein living in Spain.. I can't speak for her, but here's life from my perspective. :])

Wow. Three months- That’s about how long I’ve been in Spain. Most days it feels like I’ve been here three weeks, which is actually just the short amount of time I have left in this beautiful, eye-opening, and powerful experience. I realize that I haven’t exactly taken the time to write about my experiences, so I think that now is the time to do just that. :)

So many factors have strongly impacted my experience abroad, but there’s about five things that really come to mind when I think about what has shaped my time in Spain: my kindergarten class, my dance classes, bible study, my family, and group excursions. I guess it only makes sense to write about these things first. :)

My kindergarten class: For a little over a month now, I’ve spent every afternoon experiencing both the joys and challenges of what it looks like to be in an elementary school in Spain. The atmosphere is a lot more informal than schools in the U.S, and by “a lot more informal,” I mean that there have been times when my students are, and I mean this literally, bouncing off the walls. The teacher in my classroom is absolutely phenomenal, and she has shown me how to have patience with even the most difficult of students. She has taught me to search out those students’ strengths, and, rather than belittling what they are not, to encourage the growth in what they are. I really enjoy the hands-on learning that takes place here, and definitely hope to implement this in my own classroom some day. I look forward to my daily dose of hugs, playing tag in gym class, and of course, singing along to children's songs (Think 'Father Abraham', but in Spanish.) The drawings my kindergartner's create for me will be my favorite material-possessions I bring home from Spain, and I will miss their enthusiasm and joy.

My dance classes: Dance has always been an extremely important part of my life, so I knew even before coming to Spain that I wanted to somehow get involved in dance in Oviedo, whether through a flamenco club or, preferably, at a dance studio where I could continue doing ballet. And that is just what I found! :) About three minutes from my house, there is a darling little dance studio where I spend about five hours a week. The girls in my class are mostly 16-17, which makes it a blast to talk to them. I love hearing what Spanish high schools are like, and they have all been incredibly warm and welcoming. They are always quick to step in and help when I don’t understand what our instructor (who is super patient!) is saying, and I’m extremely grateful to have met these wonderful ladies. We also bond over our mutual love of Justin Bieber and One Direction, so that's a plus, too.

My host family: Oh, man. Where do I even begin?? I’m sure my host family wasn't expecting to get the world’s pickiest eater, or have a student that can’t still long enough to watch tv with them and instead is always running from one activity to another. However, despite all of my quirks (and, as I’m sure you know, there’s a lot of them), they have literally never been anything but kind to me this entire semester. From taking me on vacation the first week here, to the cups of tea I have every night after dinner with mama, I truly cherish their hospitality, warmth, their sheer joy for life, and, of course, our always-present laughter. (Also, I am grateful that my brother speaks English.. I try to only talk in Spanish, but let's be real-- that was extremely helpful the first few weeks here!!)

Bible Study: I am so incredibly grateful for the campus bible study I have been able to attend every week while in Oviedo. Though a small group, having between eight and sixteen of us depending on the day, I really enjoy my time reading God’s word with such warm and welcoming Christians from several different places. (Though many are Spanish-speaking, a lot of the people are not necessarily Spaniards, instead having lived in Brazil, Peru, or other countries.) I have really enjoyed seeing God’s light in a country far from my own, and it has definitely helped me gain a new understanding of just how big and powerful the gospel really is.

Excursions:  My class has spent a good amount of time on excursions, whether going somewhere for an afternoon or traveling for the entire weekend. I always really enjoy these trips, when the whole group gets to be together. There are eighteen students in my group from Calvin, and I truly believe that our trip would not have been the same without every single person here. I think God hand-picks these kind of things, and I have really enjoyed getting to know each person, and seeing how every one's unique strengths bring joy and diversity to our group. I am reminded of the mosaics we saw in Park G├╝ell in Barcelona. Each piece being different, yet coming together to create something whole, is absolutely beautiful. I will miss being together when our semester is over, and I hope that I have brought at least a little bit to my classmates of what they have brought to me. I deem us the "Best group in all of Europe!"

So, too sum it all up, I could not have asked for a better semester abroad. Yes, there have been challenges. (Think getting lost in a foreign country and not understanding anyone’s attempt at explaining directions.. multiple times), adjusting to different customs (dinner at 10 p.m.), and missing friends and family (love you guys!), but for every thing that has challenged me, there has been an equally grand, if not grander, blessing. God has taught me so much on this journey, and I look forward to see what He has in store for these last few weeks.

So with that I say- live, adventure, travel, bless & don’t be sorry.

Peace & love, always.

Jennie :)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding..." Proverbs 3:5

The story of how God used two homeless men, a desire for adventure & an unlikely meeting to create a wonderful afternoon:

So, have you ever had something happen in your life where you just kind of look up at the sky and say, "Ok, God- I know that was you! Thanks for having my back!" Most of you know that I have, and, in fact, the verse I shared at the beginning of this post reminds me of how God literally once saved my life with it. Definitely Him! But God also works in smaller ways. These can be just as miraculous.

But first, let me back up a little bit. Today there was a canoeing trip. Most of you know I'm all for adventure- seeking it whenever possible, even when that puts me in dangerous situations. (Not good, I know.) For some reason though, I kept having this inkling that I was supposed to be in Oviedo on this particular day. The trip cost 23 euros, and, as I purchased my flight to my Mullorca late, my ticket costed $23 euros extra than everyone else's. I figured that, since canoeing isn't exactly my favorite thing in the world, this would be a good chance to make up for the extra money spent. Coincidence? I think not.

I was excited for a relaxing weekend- Like usual, I've had a hard time allowing myself to just relax., but I thought, "This is the weekend to do just that!" I decided I'd spend the afternoon in the park, which I often do. I've never really been approached by people there- only to be asked the time or a quick conversation- so when I had two homeless come up to me, one right after the other, I decided maybe it just wasn't in my cards to be at the park that day. I wasn't really sure what to do next- I had thought about going to the mountains, and even had plans to do so with a classmate-which we happened to decide to put off until later- so I decided to just take random roads and see where I wound up. My whole goal for the day was to journal, read my bible, and spend time in prayer. So, after wandering through some streets (I saw painting on one building that said relax- how perfect is that?!), I found this little hill that had a marvelous view of the mountains, and I thought, "Perfect!" But, like so often, I soon became restless and just couldn't stay there. I saw this little path, and decided to wander down it- It looked like it might of said private property, but I couldn't really tell sooo.. I went for it. On the way down the path, I walked by a girl and we both kept looking at each other. Finally, we reached each other and I asked if she spoke english- She did! She was from New Zealend, working as an au pair here. I told her I didn't really know where I was going- just kind of wandering. She told me she lived in the mountains and actually could point out her house from where we were, so she took me around. I had prayed to God that I just wanted to see something beautiful, and the view from where we were was absolutely breathtaking! We then decided to go into town (Again, we took random roads- but luckily we ended up behind the train station near my house!) and sat by some fountains I sometimes visit. We ended up talking for hours! I literally cannot get over how much we have in common- Most people know I don't just open up very easily, but somehow topics came up that we had both gone through, and I felt so comfortable talking about them with her. I had been praying for someone to talk to about a few things I've been struggling, and here, by pure random, chance, I had that person! Even though we had just met, we talked like old friends, and we're already planning to meet again.

It's amazing to me how God works in such mysterious ways, and while it might not sound like much, this afternoon was honestly SUCH a blessing. Just the way it all worked out seems so planned, yet I never could have planned it myself! I love that. It reminds that I'm not in control, and that I don't constantly have to be trying to make things happen. When we let go and let God take over, we are free to just be. And that, I'm learning, is when great things happen. Wonderful things really do happen when we just trust God just like he tells us to. :) 

Friday, September 13, 2013

"Not all those who wander are lost." J.R.R. Tolkien 

In my case however, whenever I'm wandering there's also a good chance that I actually am lost. (Pretty much everyone who knows me could tell you that I'm ridiculous amounts of directionally challenged.) But most of the time things work out better than if I could imagine. Like today- rather than just ending up back at mi casa, my wrong turns lead me around the beautiful city of Oviedo, and I was able to see more of this wonderful area than I would have otherwise. It kind of got me thinking about life (doesn't it always) and how, even when we make wrong turns, God can use those mistakes for good. We may not see it all the time, but there's always something wonderful around the corner if we just keep on journeying. And when I finally did reach my house, I was reminded that, no matter how long we're astray for, God will always guide us, and welcome us, back home. 

Only a God as awesome as our's could give me these pretty cool realizations on what could have just been an ordinary walk home from school. :)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Live Fearless.

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

3 syllables  2 words, 1 definition. For such a simple phrase, "Live fearless" seems like a pretty challenging goal to live up to. Yet at 5:30 a.m., after I had prayed to God for wisdom regarding my upcoming journey, these are the words that flashed above me on a billboard that was just waiting to grab my attention. Usually I love adventure- traveling, meeting new people, challenging myself. These are the things I live for! But as I headed to Michigan- a quick pit stop on the way to Spain- I felt a strong rush of nervousness that felt out of place. That's when I realized that, in all the challenges I've faced and gone up against, I've still been in comfortable territory. This is the first time I will truly be pushing my limits- going to a country where I don't know the language, the customs, the cities. I truly have to rely on God for guidance. 
This time, I'm not in control.

But I guess that's what it's about, isn't it? That's what makes it exciting!  I don't think living fearless necessarily means never being scared, but rather that we face these uncertainties with enthusiasm and joy. Realizing that God isn't limited to my world at home is so comforting and humbling, and now I know I'm ready for this adventure. I know that an amazing experience is ahead of me. And best of all, I know Who will be guiding me the entire way. I will live fearlessly.

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." -T.S. Eliot