Summer days

It has been almost 3 months since I finished Language School in Guanajuato, Mexico and things have been going well. I miss Guanajuato badly and look forward to going back to visit friends & teachers someday in the future, but until then… I’m at home in the desert of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

In May, as I journeyed north from language school back to the border town of Piedras Negras (via a 16 hour LONG bus ride), I remember being pretty nervous about the summer months that lied ahead. It was going to be the first summer I wouldn’t lead a college intern team, the first summer I wouldn’t be working with mission teams and the first summer I wouldn’t have to wear mesh shorts & t-shirts everyday. How was I going to survive? (haha- ok the mesh shorts & t-shirts thing can still happen with or without mission teams). But honestly, I just wasn’t sure how to mentally prepare for what was ahead, because I had never done it before.

It’s a beautiful thing when you can actually sit back and reflect on the last 10 years of your life and see how good it was and also see how it has prepared you for the very moment you are in and how it has prepared you for the steps you are about to take forward. That is exactly what I thought about during my long bus ride. While I was scared to take the next steps ahead, because I didn’t know how to take them, I also knew God was guiding each step and I just had to trust.

It was difficult this past year to change the direction I was moving. For 10 years I worked with a ministry that taught me a lot about life, family, community, church, ministry, people & the world. My time in college studying the Health Sciences and working with CrossRoads Missions in Mexico had all been preparation for me to work with a community health development ministry.

In the midst of developing and working in a new organization while learning Spanish I have been entangled in a pretty fun web of new friendships, connections and community. From dinner parties to flea markets to catering meals at a local school, leading a mission retreat, teaching at a church camp, working with local ministries, constructing Mission Trinidad facilities, etc…. the summer has been busy and exciting (to say the least). I am thrilled that I get to juggle different things I love while living and serving here. Who would have thought I would be catering meals to a local school? (It’s Italian food, Mom – I know you are proud!)

Beginning August 1st, I will begin studying general health sciences and Diabetes prevention & care.  Mid-August, we will be moving into our new facilities (thanks Oklahoma friends & CrossRoads Missions work team!).  We have an office for all things administrative, a kitchen, bathroom, pharmacy/health resource center & a spare bedroom for visitors, friends, staff & board members! Together, as staff of Mission Trinidad, Michael, Erica and I will continue setting goals and vision for the future of this organization. We are really excited about what’s to come and the opportunities to serve and teach in the city of Piedras Negras!

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music & fluency, Weeks 9-11

As I sit down to write a little update, my host-mom is upstairs blasting the stereo with a song by Abba, Chiquitita. This is one of my favorite songs in the musical, Mamma Mia. Every Saturday morning here at the house, is a loud adventure of music from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s & 80’s… mostly love ballads. I’m not gonna lie, I’m kind of into it. Ok, I kind of LOVE it! Blanca (my host-mom) has been great to live with and get to know. The music part of our friendship might be my favorite. I’m sure you won’t be suprised to know that every time we listen to music together, I tell her, ¡esta cancion es mi favorita! (this is my favorite song). I think I say that every time a new song comes on the stereo. Guess what? As I’m writing, she is listening to Creedance Clearwater Revival’s, Have You Ever Seen the Rain… It’s one of my favorites. haha!

On top of listening to great music with Blanca, we also have great times to sit and chat, usually over coffee. Our conversations have really been a key component in learning spanish better. I definitely struggle through our conversations, but keep pushing on. The idea of someone asking me the question, “Are you fluent, Gina?” has been haunting my mind and makes me completely crazy.  Am I fluent? Not even close. Thanks for asking. If you have learned a second language, you understand it is very difficult and takes a lot of time to grow to a level of fluency. I’m going to need a lot more time to advance to fluency…. years I imagine. No doubt about it, I feel more competent in speaking, and look forward to how I will develop more skills over the next year, back in Piedras Negras.

The past 3 weeks have been very difficult for me while studying advanced level grammar. Most of it is over my head, but I am trying to take it all in, taking lots of notes and trying to study in the evenings.  Coming to Guanajuato has been the best way to jumpstart this road to fluency, as I have been equipped with rules, grammar, structure & application of Spanish. I have been thinking of what this summer will be like, back in Piedras. In addition to the work & preparation I have with Mission Trinidad, I’m viewing the summer as a continuation of Language School; more studying, learning vocabulary, reviewing grammar, etc.

Each day, I experience a roller coaster of doubts & confusion while learning Spanish and believe some days I haven’t advanced at all. Other days I feel like I am practically fluent and can understand and communicate everything. The roller coaster is exhausting. I am very much ready for a break from grammar classes and ready to visit and reconnect with friends/family. I have a friend in Reynosa, Mexico who studied Spanish for 6 months in a language school and she told me that in school, we are like sponges; there is a point when we become all filled up with rules & grammar and it becomes difficult to absorb anymore. That is how I feel somedays, like I cant possibly learn anything new… but I’m pushing on and surprisingly I keep learning and advancing.

As we enter into “Semana Santa- Holy Week”, here in Mexico, there are many activities going on to remember Christ, his suffering & resurrection. It is a beautiful time of year to be in the deep heart of Mexico, and just yesterday there was a huge celebration here in Guanajuato, with 2 parts; a popular celebration,“El Día de las Flores” (the day of the flowers) along with a religious celebration, “Viernes de Pasión” (Friday of the Virgin Mary). This day is traditionally one week before Good Friday, and is a day to remember the suffering, pain and emotion of the Virgin Mary during Holy Week, before her son was crucified.

The festival started at 7am yesterday with events, music, flowers, church services and food. I headed down to the centro with my host-mom and we enjoyed breakfast together in the park, walked around the garden, bought flowers and enjoyed the beauty of the day. There were tons of flower vendors and the day was almost perfect (88 degrees & no clouds)… oh wait that’s what it is like here every day (since January… no really!).  We finished the afternoon with a music production from the Universtiy of Guanajuato, student guitar choir, and I have posted a couple videos from their concert.

Time has flown by, but I am itching to get back home to Piedras Negras in exactly 3 weeks!!!! I anticipate a great time here in Guanajuato these last weeks, and plan on a TON more studying, a little more Salsa dancing, and hopefully continued connections with local friends here.

One more thing, one of my favorite songs is on the stereo right now, Juice Newton’s version of: Angel of the Morning.  

Enjoy some photos!

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homesick – weeks 7 & 8

I stumbled across website (music, arts & news- National Public Radio) and realized it is NOT blocked in Mexico. While living in Mexico when I have tried to listen to music online I am blocked from all websites that offer free music & podcast downloads. This is an exciting find! Stumbling across this comes just at the right time.  I was homesick for many things this past week: Tennessee green, Ohio snow, Piedras Negras sounds, Kentucky hills, Texas open roads & music, Reynosa heat, Oklahoma & Georgia small town and Seattle rain. Just to name a few. Since hitting the mid-point of my spanish program, I have been craving home. The recent music find, thanks to NPR, is helping in this little stint of homesickness.

I’m realizing that home means many things to me; family, friends, smells, sounds, temperatures, communities, tastes, beliefs, music, languages, laughter, cultures, hills, mountains, lakes, etc. I am craving all of the above this week. Another version of home is developing here for me, in Guanajuato. When I leave in May, I hope to look back on this time I’ve spent here and call Guanajuato home.

I have completed 8 weeks of language training and things are going really well. Tomorrow (Monday, March 28), I will move into the advanced level of the program and will focus studies in the final subject of grammar, Subjunctive. How exciting. If you know about this “mood” in Spanish, it is a difficult subject to learn, comprehend and use. I have 6 weeks left here and hope I can process all the information that will be taught. I have enjoyed the layout of my program so far and have just started to reflect and comprehend all that is crammed in my head. I have started studying more in the evenings (which is sort of fun), but not to worry, I am still able to fit in Salsa dance classes, phew.

I have been getting to know new friends here in Guanajuato and they are very encouraging as I stumble through conversations. I went to a women’s coffee fellowship the other day at a church outside of town and understood 98% of the workshop. I was connected with this church, through a teacher friend at the University. I am looking forward to joining this church community in worship while I am here.

Lately, I have had some great conversations about what I will be doing when I get back to Piedras and I am so excited to get back in May and continue on the journey of learning Spanish, while also digging into relearning the health sciences (in preparation for my new job with Mission Trinidad). While here in Guanajuato, I have had the time to reflect, time for introspection and have churned tons of ideas for future ministry on the border. I talked to a dear friend from Piedras the other day and was able to communicate completely in Spanish… it was a big breakthrough, as phone conversation in spanish has always been very difficult for me. I cant wait to get back and reconnect with friends and grow deeper in our friendships.

I hope you are enjoying the change in seasons, wherever you are (typically its spring this time of year for most of the U.S., even though I heard it snowed in Kentucky today… yuck)! Here in Guanajuato, it feels like spring (early summer actually), everyday. I can’t complain… except on the days when its 90 degrees and I have the long trudge back up the hill to my house. Its good for me though. I repeat that to myself over and over again every time I walk up it.

until next time, oh and here are some pictures since last time…

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Guanajuato Weeks 4, 5 & 6

So, I have been a little busy. My schedule was a little crazy for the past few weeks and I ran low on time to blog, ok I didnt blog at all… but here goes a little recap.

I want to first mention that I have been timing my uphill walks each day (from school to my house) and I am at record time… 9minutes, 44seconds bottom to top. When I first arrived here… 6 weeks ago, my time was 11 minutes! Things are looking pretty good, still slow, but good. All things are going well here in Guanajuato. My classes/teachers are great, but I do get discouraged some days with how I am progressing. I learn so m uch grammar every day and it is hard to comprehend and use it immediately. I notice that things I learned 3 weeks ago (for example- past tenses) are just now being used in my everyday conversation. So, I have a lot of catching up to do, but friends have encouraged me (Amanda, thanks always!) to just keep positive and to remember that learning a language is very difficult and takes a lot of time. In realizing my insecurities while learning Spanish it has forced me to be positive & to look forward. I know that when I return to Piedras Negras in 2 months, I will not speak fluently, but I will continue the process of moving towards it.

In addition to classes at Escuela Mexicana, I have been teaching English classes for the past 2 weeks at the University of Guanajuato. I teach 3 classes/week and I have about 5 students each class. I am teaching these classes in exchange for FREE EXTRA SPANISH classes through the University. Its a pretty cool opportunity and it has been great in meeting new people, speaking more Spanish and helping out at the University. One of the students in my class (Isaac) is also my spanish teacher at the University (as he wants to learn more English). Its pretty cool seeing familiar faces here each week and getting to know more locals.

About Salsa… I still LOVE it (dancing that is, oh and I like the food version too). I am taking classes Monday-Thursday @ 7:00pm at the Salsa Club and it is a total blast. Each night about 30 people show up (always seems to be a perfect split of guys/girls… amazing) and we all rotate partners, every 2 minutes. We are learning everything from Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Cumbia, etc… I cant wait to come back and teach you all some tricks! Usually on Friday nights we go to the club for dancing (no class) and hang out for hours into the night… I am always exhausted here on Saturdays from the lack of sleep… but I’m living it up while I am here (why not?).

Other than that, all is pretty calm here. I am making some adjustments to my schedule in the upcoming week and have scheduled in some serious study time at the University Language department. I am hoping to socialize a little less (if that is even possible) and crack open the books a few more hours each day (after classes). I also bought a book in Spanish this week, Alimentos y Nutricion (Food & Nutrition), and have started reading it. I want to try and start relearning the Health Sciences (from college) as I prepare for my new job back in Piedras Negras. I thought it would be fun to start re-learning the sciences in Spanish and so far its going well… Slow, but really good.

I have hit a half-way point here with my program (completed 6 weeks). My program runs 12 weeks, but I am making arrangements to stay an additional 2 weeks to complete all Grammar courses. The director at my school informed me I would not get through all grammar courses before my 12 week period, and I think it is the best decision to stay until I have learned all things Grammar. My return date to Piedras Negras is tentatively May 8, I will keep you posted about my plans.  Check out some new pictures…

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Week 3- Quincenera, Nuevos Amigos y Salsa

The 3rd week here in Guanajuato flew by… I am already in my 4th week, so I am a little behind. I hope to catch you up to speed on how things have been going. #1- I’m exhausted. No, really. I have so much grammar and information crammed in my head, I can hardly think straight in either language. But things have been moving along SO WELL!


Last weekend I went to a Quincenera (when a girl turns 15 here, its a big celebration). with my host mom. The ceremony & party was in the middle of nowhere… no really, we took a 30 minute trip out of the city up and through the mountains, to a little town (puebla) called, Cubo. The town may have had 100 people in it and everyone showed up for the party. It was a good time, except it was FREEZING in the mountains (you know, a blistery 47 degrees)… haha northerners!

Last week I had a schedule packed full of classes and was able to spend time with new friends in the evenings. I have met some great folks here, from all over the world and I’ve enjoyed learning of other places & cultures. A few folks I hang out with often include: Gonnie (from Holland), Matt (Minnesota), Aiko (Tokyo), James (Texas) & Dermot (Ireland). I also am getting to know some of my teachers better (all of which are from here in Guanajuato).

This past weekend was a blast! Some students & I, along with local friends headed to a Salsa club (Salsa=dance, not salsa with chips). What a blast! I learned the basics and added some of my own steps (scary, I know). We went to the club Friday & Saturday nights… I realize now (Tuesday), I may be too old for staying out late… dancing, 2 nights in a row. I still feel tired from the weekend! Who knew I went and got old? Either way, salsa will be part of my weekly routine here.

Back to learning Spanish… Since the weekend, I have been assigned a new schedule at the school and things are getting a lot more difficult. I have been placed in more advanced conversation classes and they’ve really been tough. I can tell that I am learning a bunch and speaking better.

I was talking with a friend from Ireland, and he is here in Guanajuato for 1 year (learning spanish) and he told me about a program I could be involved in here in Guanajuato at the big University if I wanted more conversation and class opportunities in Spanish…

So today, I went to the University of Guanajuato (which is 5 minutes from my Spanish School), and met with the director of the Department of Languages. I wanted to sign up for conversation classes with the University (as I heard they may be free), and she offered me a volunteer job, while I am here in Guanajuato to teach English conversation classes in exchange for free Spanish classes! (dont worry, its just an opportunity while I am here for language school, I’m going back to Piedras to live & work!).

Starting next week, every MTW afternoon, I will teach 1 hour of English conversation classes at the University. In exchange for volunteering to do this, I have full access to the entire University, library, Language library & resource center, and full access to ALL Spanish courses (SERIOUSLY!). They even made me a student & teacher I.D. today! My days are going to be super busy next week, and my schedule will look something like this:

MTW (Classes: 9a-1p, Study @ University: 3p-5p, Teach English Course: 5p-6p, and Spanish Conversation classes @ University 6-8pm)

TH/F (Classes: 9a-1p, Study @ University & Spanish Conversation Classes: 1p-4p

Sat is reserved for Salsa dancing

Sunday is reserved for rest & reflection, phew.

I am really looking forward to all that is in store and am hoping that with this new crazy schedule I will advance fast in Spanish.

I’ll post some pictures from the past weeks later on… Miss you all dearly!

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Guanajuato- Week 2

I’d like to announce that yesterday I walked up the large hill to my house, without stopping; how embarrassing! Usually, I include 2 stops up, just to breathe.  It only took me a week to acclimate. The 6,000 feet elevation has been hard getting used to while walking uphill. I imagine I’m out of shape, but would like to argue (with myself) that I am also used to walking at Sea Level, on flat surfaces, but who cares anyway?

While successfully walking without stopping yesterday, I was listening to an old favorite song, Watershed, by The Indigo Girls. They helped me out a little towards the end of the climb. The song reminded me of friends & community. There is a line in the song… every step you take becomes a twist of fate. Its a fun line to ponder, while taking steps all over this new city.

About my classes; without realizing it, I have advanced to Intermediate Grammar! How exciting! In a little over a week, I have moved from Beginner to Grammar. My homestay has definitely helped in practicing what I learn and I have spent a bunch of time with my home-stay lady, Blanca (is her name). We typically chat at Breakfast before classes and then again in the late afternoon for a while. We are planning to hang out in town this weekend and see some local sites.

I have slowly been getting to know some locals (teachers at the school) and also some students in my program. The teachers are very personable and they have been a joy to talk with and share life with a bit. The school offers a lot of excursions and extra classes each week and I’m trying to get involved with as much as possible. The excursions are for students & teachers and so its cool to connect with each other then.

Tonight I am going to attend an Economics class (about Mexico), taught by one of my teachers, its kind of like a workshop where we can ask questions and learn about Mexico a little deeper. More to come…

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Guanajuato- Week 1

So, its the weekend. Time to DESCANSAR (rest). I finished up the first week of classes at Escuela Mexicana, here in Guanajuato. The week flew by and I had such a great time in all my classes and have learned so much already. Each day I have class from 9am-2pm, then I have cooking class from 2-3pm at the school. Each class has about 3 total students in it and the teachers are great at how they lead/teach. I am in a beginner Grammar class (because I never liked learning grammar) and the rest of my classes are all intermediate. Last week I learned a ton of RULES in grammar class that I had no idea existed. Each time a teacher taught a new rule, I literally said out loud, WHOA, REALLY, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW! It has been a fun adventure to say the least.

This past Monday – Friday, I finished class at 3pm to walk up the big hill back home for lunch with my host family. The evenings have been great here. I take time to rest, reflect and catch up with friends back home. A couple nights this past week I spent with students/teachers at the school, and last night we had a graduation ceremony for old students that finished their program and it was a good time to meet new people & get to know the teachers & administration better. I look forward to more nights like last night.

I have spoken more spanish this last week then in my entire lifetime. I am looking forward to all the is in store in the months ahead. Until next time…


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Guanajuato, Mexico- Day 1

Last Saturday, January 29, I hopped on a bus leaving Piedras Negras and headed south to the city of Guanajuato, Mexico. The bus ride was a long 18 hours and there were many adventures along the way. A man from Piedras Negras was assigned to sit next to me and he was a pretty quiet neighbor until… while watching an old 80’s movie (in Spanish of course) that the bus had playing, a song in English came on and the man leaned over to me and asked if I knew English! He wanted to know what the song was. Maybe he thought I only knew Spanish (since I was enjoying the movie in Spanish), but I took it as sort of fun complement to me!

I was really nervous while traveling, not knowing what to expect in the weeks to come. It was SO good for me. I have always traveled to places with people or to places where I know the people I am visiting. This was a whole new ballgame, for the first time ever!

I arrived into Leon, Guanajuato on Sunday at 11:00am, then transferred to a local bus that would take me to the city of Guanajuato. At the bus station I grabbed a taxi to take me to my final destination (host family home). Looking out at the country side & city was breathtaking and I could hardly believe I would be staying here for 3 months! The taxi weaved in and out of tunnel’s (in mountains) and up up up the mountains to where I would be staying. While we climbed I knew that the school I would attend was down down down the mountain… but I pushed my worries aside (of walking up/down the mountain everyday) and enjoyed the trip up up up.

I arrived at the house of Blanca Hernandez on a street called “Panoramica”- thats right, its the panoramic view of the city, amazing (and did I mention we are at 6,000 feet?). She was waiting outside for me and had a warm smile on her face and gave me a big hug! I knew upon meeting her we were going to be good friends and all my worry raced out.

She showed me to my room and gave me some time to unpack and settle in. The house is beautiful, overlooking the city, and I have a large bedroom, bathroom & tv all to myself. After unpacking, Blanca invited me to take a tour with her of the city BELOW, to get acquainted with my surroundings and so we headed out (or should I say, down). The small streets were beautiful, made of stone and no cars could pass where we walked, so it was very peaceful. She gave me directions of how to get around in the “centro”-downtown, and I slowly began to feel at home… We shared a meal together on that first day and got to know each other a bit… no she does not speak English, that is the point of me living with her, to only speak Spanish, its good stuff. I slept hard that first night in Guanajuato and remember anticipating so much for the months ahead as I fell asleep.

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