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Since getting back from France, reconnecting with various communities in Louisiana has been one of my major goals. And I can happily say that not only am I finding joy in revisiting familiar people and activities around town, but I’m also discovering a wealth of additional resources and untapped international pockets. Spanish progress is moving along well, and though I still find it difficult to hold up my end of the conversation without my brain resorting to French or English, I am understanding a lot more than before. I’m also gaining opportunities to partake in the Latin culture here from special empanada get-togethers to learning about important Catholic feast days in Latin America. And the more people I meet, the more I discover that we are already connected in some way (whether we have a common acquaintance, have both volunteered for the same organization, etc.).

This past Sunday I partook in a tasty community dinner after Spanish mass and I met a whole table of women (and a few men) from Peru (several who recognized me from my work with the Baton Rouge Center for World Affairs). Even though I could understand less than half of what they were saying, I still had so much fun! Does that make me a nerd? 😉

It’s amazing how many French connections I have made in the past few months since coming back from Europe with a new-found confidence in my French-speaking skills. Literally, it seems like fellow francophones (and even French natives) are coming out of the woodwork nowadays, and the more people I meet, the more I discover new connections that have been right under my nose for the past 23 years. On Friday I was invited to dinner and bowling with a French/Spanish teacher and her French friend who has lived very close to my hometown for 10 years. His nephew is visiting him for a month this summer (to practice English before going on to college) and lives a little more than 30 minutes away from Annecy in France! When I told them I taught at Lycee Berthollet, they both knew of the school (apparently it’s even more prestigious than I realized), and we had a lot of fun discussing the differences between France and the US. And what’s even more amazing is that I learned about a sort of French table that takes place the 2nd Monday of every month in Tangipahoa parish. It is held at a different person’s house each time, and between 30-40 people attend! I can’t wait to check it out the next time I’m in town.

On the Spanish front, I can tell my pronunciation is getting better with each mass (today all the songs we sang were ones I recognized, so it was pretty easy), and I learned that another student may join in occasionally on my weekly Spanish lessons (a priest who is new to the parish and wants to practice since he has to say the entire mass in Spanish!). It should be fun to have a little friendly competition to make sure I practice like I’m supposed to 🙂 Also, the choir was very sweet and gave me an early birthday present and card full of well-wishes (en español, of course) that I enjoyed translating. Considering that it took me 8 years to get to an acceptable level with French, I’m breezing through my 3rd language. However, I still have a long way to go before I can have a decent conversation with someone. I have to figure out how to not translate from English to French and THEN to Spanish… Here’s to a busy and fun-filled birthday week!

My First Spanish Gig

Since I’m still relatively new to Latin American culture (besides Mexican tacos and Mariachi bands), many of the traditions I discover are still very new and unique to me. When I was in high school I heard that families in some Latin American countries throw a party for their daughters when they turned 15 (similar to our “Sweet 16” in the U.S.), but I didn’t know much more about the ritual. So I was very excited to discover that my first Spanish gig with a few fellow Spanish choir members was for one of those very celebrations, a Quinceañera. But unlike any 16th birthday party I’ve ever been to, this event seemed practically as important as a wedding. We sang at a special mass for the girl who was dressed in a Cinderella-style ballgown with a tiara on her head. There was a professional photographer snapping pictures, they hired us (musicians), and she was escorted by a crew of about seven or eight teenage boys in tuxedos and impeccably shiny dress shoes. I couldn’t get over the grandeur of it all but was told by friends that this is the normal way to celebrate. After the mass, a big party is traditionally held to celebrate the girl becoming a woman. I’m still not an expert on this tradition by any means, but it seemed like fun (at least if you’re the girl)!

All my travel readers, check this out. If you’ve got some free time this September and have an itch to travel around the US and Caribean area, this pass might be for you!

http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/17/news/companies/jetblue_deal/index.htm?hpt=T2

A  leading translator argues that if we rely solely on English we’ll lose the curiosity that drove Milton and Orwell

From guardian.co.uk

Since I’m having trouble sleeping, I thought I’d try emptying my brain into a blog post. Today was a pretty busy and altogether fun day. Since getting back into town, I’ve been trying to make an effort to meet people, network and do something positive with my free time while on the job hunt. Volunteering is turning out to be a great way to accomplish all three of those things, plus I’m able to have fun with it (which keeps me going). This week’s project was a Baton Rouge Green fundraiser event. I’d never heard of this non-profit before one week ago, but it’s focused on the environment and planting trees in urban spaces, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Plus, the event was held at the elusive Crescent at University Lakes condo complex (across from Baton Rouge Beach), and I’ve always wanted to see inside. The night seemed like a pretty big success (it was ticketed along with a silent auction), and I met lots of really interesting people! It is funny, however, how often I run into familiar faces. Baton Rouge seems to be getting smaller every day.

In short, volunteering works best when productivity becomes fun. So pick a topic or organization you’re interested in, and offer your talents – whatever they may be. You’ll be surprised how good it makes you feel, and how appreciated your time will be. Happy hunting!

P.S. Since this is an “international blog,” I’ll add that not only did I get hang out in cool surroundings, but I also met part of the crew from one of my favorite local restaurants, Hello Sushi, AND got to watch how to make sushi! Maybe one day I’ll muster up the courage to try creating it on my own…

I have been very blessed to meet some truly interesting people lately – some extremely brave; others, hesitant – who have each made me step back and really think about what it means to fear the unknown and what it takes to get over that fear. 

We as humans don’t particularly like change because we are creatures of habit. We’re hard-wired to find patterns and separate things, people, etc. into groups that are familiar to us. This helps us remember things and deal with information without going into overload mode. But everyone is faced with times in their life when things do change in a big way, whether it’s moving out of your parents’ house for the first time, taking a big promotion at work that means changing cities and making new friends, deciding you’re ready to bring another life into this world. We can’t ever be entirely certain of how each of these major changes will affect us (for better or for worse), and how we will be different after experiencing them. But as much as we all fear the unknown, whether we let that fear stop us from embracing change or blocking it  is our decision.

Example 1: This afternoon I had the pleasure of spending this afternoon with a French girl just a few years younger than me who had never been on a plane, let alone outside of France and across the Atlantic ocean in a country whose language she is still learning to speak. Apparently in the beginning it was her parents’ idea, but now she is so glad to have had and taken the opportunity to visit the U.S. for an extended period of time, practice her English, meet people and learn about a new culture. I can’t imagine how much courage it must have taken to go through all those “firsts” at once (I had already flown alone several times within the U.S. before making my first trip “across the pond,” and I knew that even though the Welsh had a different accent, at least they still spoke English). For this one girl (who seems perfectly happy with her life back home), even though the experience was a big “unknown” before she left, she took that chance and can say that things have worked out great.

Example 2: I recently discovered that someone I know has also been offered a somewhat similar opportunity (but one that would require a much longer commitment). This time the situation involves a middle-aged American man who has flown around quite a bit in recent years for work, but who has still never been outside of the country. If he accepts this chance, would mean moving across the world and working in a country that still speaks English but is quite different culturally to what he is used to in the U.S. Unlike the girl in Example 1, he cannot say that everything has gone smoothly because he cannot see over the big hill into the “unknown.” So when he comes to the crossroad, his instinct is a quick and confident “no.” Oddly enough, it seems his boss is still eager to change his mind and (since there is still plenty of time before the opportunity officially presents itself), boss-man is happy to wait in hopes of finally hearing a confident, “yes.”

After talking with each of these individuals, I started thinking about the factors that lead us to making a change in our lives. In the end I came to the conclusion that the principle my dad preaches in his sales training classes also applies here – people don’t change unless they’re in pain. If they’re happy with the products and services they currently have, what’s the use of spending money or changing providers? So now let’s translate this to a personal life example:

If a high school senior is perfectly content in his hometown, loves being around close-knit family and friends all the time and would be fine with sticking around the same area forever, there’s no reason fro him to go far away for college when the local school is decent, right around the corner, and a whole lot cheaper. But if the same senior had dreams of becoming a world-renowned physician and the best way to do that is to go out of state, he now has pain and is much more likely to at least wonder if chasing his dream into the unknown would be worth leaving his current, comfortable life. That point of weakness or questioning is prime time for the vultures (um, I mean other universities) to step in, show him all the pros in an attempt to sway his decision, and recruit him.

So what causes the personal pain that might drive us to seek out such drastic new opportunities as leaving our home and traveling alone to foreign lands? Is it boredom, a need for adventure or just a desire for something different? Maybe an amazing opportunity presents itself and you realize it’s now or never. And what causes others to halt these opportunities? A sudden, life-changing event (whether positive or negative) causes someone to realize that everything they ever wanted was right in front of them? I gave only two examples, but the truth is, I could name dozens of people who fit into one or both sides of the risk-taker/hesitator spectrum, and none of their situations are cookie-cutter. But I guess that’s what makes life interesting…