It's hard to believe I've been back in the States almost a week now. Since I haven't actually been home, it's been a little strange to know that I'm back, but I haven't seen my family or been to my house. After we got back on Friday, we stopped by Justin's house to drop off the luggage and grab a quick bite to eat before heading to Austin's Friday night Consecration service. Even though I felt a little out of it, I didn't really get sleepy until the very end of the service. Austin graduated from academy this last weekend and I was so glad I got to be here to see it. I saw Ryan and Rachel there since they went to the same school and Rachel's younger sister was graduating as well. 

Sabbath morning we went to church run by the school and Sunday we went to the commencement. Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch at a family favorite, the Spaghetti Factory. 
Monday night the boys went to a Mumford and Sons concert while Ryan and I spent some time with Seth who also flew into the SoCal area. We spent some time at Ryan's house and had our first American Taco Bell experience since leaving. It was so good to spend some time with friends and I was glad we didn't have to say our goodbyes just yet. 

Tuesday we went to the park and Chipotle with Ryan and finished out the evening with the first two Back to the Future movies which I've been trying to convince Ryan to watch all year. We had thought about going to Disneyland on Wednesday but started to decide against it. When both Justin and Ryan woke up feeling sort of sick, we were glad we hadn't planned on the Happiest Place on Earth because, really, it would have just been The Most Expensive Sick Day on Earth. Instead we called up Seth and the five of us headed to the beach. We had a great day in the sun and finished it off with In-n-Out burgers.

I'm sure there will be many chances in the future to visit Disneyland, and being here with some of my favorite friends is enough for me. I've been to nine countries this year and countless other destinations and mini-trips and I've realized that it doesn't really matter where in the world you are, when you are with the people you love, any place can be the Happiest Place on Earth. 
Friday morning I woke up to daylight coming into our tiny hotel room. I had a small moment of panic, thinking it was already late and we had missed our flight. My alarm was set at 5:55 and it was only 5:54, I just didn't realize how early the sun came up so far north in France. I took a shower and woke up the boys and we left the hotel around 7:30 even though our flight didn't leave until 10:40. We had no idea how long it would take to actually get into the airport after dragging five huge suitcases onto the small shuttle bus. It was chilly and raining, but after dragging, carrying and lifting our luggage we were quite toasty and very relieved when we finally saw the Delta baggage check desk. Charles de Gaulle is not an airport I would recommend to a friend, or even an enemy. It's fine for connecting flights if you're ready to run or speed-walk through long hallways and confusing turns. However, when you're checking luggage and running around with lots of suitcases, the novelty of being in Paris quickly turns into an airport nightmare. Well, despite the long lines, the security checkpoints, and broken suitcase wheels, we were soon sitting at our gate waiting to meet the rest of the kids on our flight to Seattle. 

To my surprise, instead of seeing only Seattle-bound ESDES students, I found that almost all of my friends were in the same terminal as us! Beth, Sara, and Anisha's gate was next to ours, and Rachel's was just a few down. We chatted and said one final goodbye before going separate ways.
The flight itself was not particularly unpleasant, but as all international flights are, it was just long and tiresome. We each had our own TV screen which had tons of movies, TV shows, music, and games. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and found a few movies I'd been wanting to watch. Unlike on the flight over, we didn't have any sunset or sunrise. Instead, the plane stayed in the daylight all ten hours. We flew over iceland which was quite incredible since there was no cloud cover and we could see it quite clearly. I didn't sleep more than 20 minutes on the whole flight, but I knew that if I stayed awake until i twas nighttime in California I would crash and sleep all night. 

We finally arrived in Seattle and passed through customs, rechecked our bags, and made our way to our last gate. The flight to Ontario went pretty quickly, and when we landed we were greeted by Justin's parents, our grandma, and Ryan and Jaci's parents. It was so good to finally be back but it seemed so strange that it was only five PM and that "morning" was over 20 hours before. 
Thursday morning the bus left at 8:00 to go to the theme park and Justin, Ryan, and I waved it off since our flight left at one that afternoon. We had said tearful goodbyes to friends, teachers, and volunteers from ESDES and then had a few hours to gather our suitcases and meet the van to head to the airport. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny as I stood on my balcony looking out over the oranges and the Mediterranean one last time. Rachel from our group was also leaving on our flight and she and I sat in the lobby and talked while we waited for the boys. The deans came out to say goodbye to us and told me to tell my mom and Grandma hello. Then we were off in the large school frugoneta headed towards the Valencia Airport. 

Ruben drove us, the same Ruben who picked us up that midnight only nine months ago. He spoke to us in English and translated for us when we talked to airport security about our lost luggage. I remember thinking he looked really young and must have been from the high school. In that van I met Seth and Jon, who Justin introduced to me as his friends from Walla Walla. I had no idea that they would become some of the best friends I've ever had. Anyway, this time in the van was a little different. We all knew each other. Rachel, Justin and I had been in a group together all year, jumping the gap between D and E and encouraging and helping each other each step of the way. Ryan and I have become best friends. Justin and I had lived in the same place for the first time since we were five. Things had changed, and that morning in the van I couldn't believe how far we'd come. We all spoke in a mix of English and Spanish, remembering funny moments in the last weeks and comfortably talking to Ruben in Spanish. The radio was on, and during a lull in the chatter, the ukelele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on. Being from Kansas, I actually have always sort of hated that song and the typical Wizard of Oz comments I get when I mention my home state. But it was a good moment, and we all sat quietly taking everything in.

We were all on the same flight to Paris but Rachel had a connection straight to LAX while Justin and Ryan and I stayed the night in a hotel next to the CDG airport. I was actually pretty excited about having one last adventure with my two all-time favorite travel buddies. Getting to the hotel with our 5 suitcases and three backpacks (not to mention purse, pillow, and random boarding passes and hotel reservation papers) on a free shuttle in the rain was a bit of a chore. We had planned on heading into Paris for dinner and to see the Eiffel Tower one last time, so after finally arriving in our tiny room and dropping off our luggage, we took the shuttle back to the airport where we caught the RER train into the city center. 
Photo Credit: Ryan Marais The tiniest hotel room ever. Taken from the loft, which turned into a small sauna since apparently "air conditioner" means "heat system." Anyway, our four nearly fifty-pount suitcases plus my small carryon really didn't fit that well in our tiny abode.
While in the hotel we decided that Chipotle sounded perfect for dinner. We had heard Paris had one and hadn't tried it the first time we were there, so we looked up the metro stop and made that our first priority. We decided that it probably gets most of its business from American tourists because all of the employees spoke perfect English (one even had an American accent) and they were the first restaurant I'd been in all year that actually sold Dr. Pepper. Nine euros for a burrito? Yeah, it was a rip off, but it was the best Chipotle I'd ever had, and I even ate the whole thing! We sat there for awhile, listening to people chattering in English all around us (a preview of what it would be like to be home again) and talking and laughing. The good food left us almost giddy and we decided to head out to see the tower. Just before we stepped outside, it began to rain again, but it didn't matter. It was one of the happiest moments of my year to be with two of the most special people and to know that we actually did it. We were done, we were relaxed, and we were happy.
Photo Credit: Ryan Marais
At the tower we stood in the rain for awhile. My hoodie got pretty soaked but since we had unknowingly left the heater in our room on, it dried off quickly that night. I love the Eiffel Tower, and even in the rain it's incredible. There was no better way to end our time together. When we'd had our share of walking around and being offered umbrellas by street vendors, we took on last glance and duked into the nearest metro stop. One metro ride, the RER, and the shuttle bus and finally we were back in our room. We reorganized and watched two Modern Family episodes before heading to bed before the Longest Day Ever.
We're down to three days. Today was our Composition final, tomorrow we have Grammar and Lit, and then Wednesday finishes off with Conversation, Culture, and Linguistics. All of my books have been read. All my papers have been written. Class projects have been completed. My bags are not packed but they will be soon. We've used up the last of our leftover food—half-used bags of pasta, cans of sauce, tubs of hummus. My walls are almost empty, but I've left the large maps up because I don't think I could stand them to be bare already. Thumb-drives full of photos are making their way between the rooms, trying to share all the memories we can. 

It's really hard to focus on studying when all we want to do is spend time with everyone before there's no time left, pack, and clean. On Sabbath our teachers all brought food for us and we had a nice potluck outside before the ceremony of planting our class gift—a tree with a time capsule next to it. That evening Rachel and I sat outside with the boys and talked until after ten. Sunday included pancakes, pasta, and much less studying that should have been done. 

Everyone is ready to go home in their own ways, but it's really hard on a lot of us to imagine leaving ESDES. I've lived within shouting distance of some of the best friends I've ever had for nine months, and suddenly we're going to be sprinkled across a country much larger than the one we're in now. I know we'll keep in touch and I know I'll see a lot of these wonderful people again in four months, but it's going to be a big change for sure. 

Last week Juan Antonio gave us a small presentation in Aula Cultural (assembly) about the "choque de cultura" (culture shock) we'll have when we get home. He warned us that we shouldn't talk about Spain non-stop or start everything we say with "Yeah, when I was in Spain..." because we would lose friends fast and no one would want to talk to us anymore. It was funny and true but it's going to be hard not to miss Spain and the people here.

After his presentation Ana gave us all the information we'd need to know about how the DELE worked. That was Friday, and I could not be more happy that it is over. I tested a B2 level—avanzado. It wasn't actually as bad as I thought it would be to have to take a test all day, but the difficulty was much worse than I imagined. The format was the exact same as what we've been doing on our DELE packets all year but none of the hundreds of colloquial phrases we've been learning were on it. The vocab was hard, the listening seemed more difficult than usual, and by the end of the grammar section I was pretty sure there wasn't a lot of hope for receiving the required 70% to pass. The good news was that none of the tests actually took that long and it was a little more relaxed than the ACT or PSAT. And the best part is that none of it actually matters for life or my degree, so not passing doesn't really mean anything. After the written part we had a few hours before we could have our spoken conversation. This is the part that most people were most nervous about, but it turned out to be the easiest! My conversation topics were all the same exact ones we'd had in class, and the interviewer was nice. I also didn't feel any pressure because I am pretty certain that I didn't pass the written so nothing was really hinging on the interview. We got back to the school by 5:30 and had a relaxing Friday evening. 

Taking the DELE wasn't the best way to spend my last Friday in Spain, but by Saturday I hardly even remembered that I'd taken it. Instead I remembered Friday night with the girls, hiking up the mountain, and seeing the Mediterranean out my window. I know these are the things I'm going to remember in a year, or two, or twenty. So finals? Sure, I'll study. But I'm going to make as much time as I can for friends and experiences before I go. Thursday will be here before we know it and Justin and Ryan and I will be parting ways with everyone. I've already got chocolate and tissue packets and I'm sure I'll be needing them.
Saturday night was our banquet with our teachers and some of the kids from the high school. It was rather chilly and windy, so instead of having it on the roof we had it in the Frontera. Rachel and Justin sang a song, as did many others, and we all enjoyed a little time out of class with our teachers. 

I can't believe how lucky I have been to have Rachel here with me this year. We've known each other since first grade and we've been through almost 15 years of our lives together. Our senior year Rachel transferred to UCA in Washington and that is the only year we haven't been in school together. When I started thinking about Spain, Rachel randomly brought up that she was thinking of studying abroad as well. We helped each other through the whole visa process and even tried our best to find flights together (an endeavor that failed in the end). I couldn't have made it through this year without her, and I'm so glad that we are going to continue to be together for the next two years at WWU.
Here's a few more photos from Saturday night's festivities. On Sunday we had the Día de la Familia when all the families come from the church for a big social event, including a "mercado americano" where we all can sell whatever we don't want to take home, like a big garage sale. After was a huge paella feed made in the biggest pan I've ever seen!
Well, the week is underway after one of the busiest weekends ESDES has had all year. The festivities began Friday night with our Clausura graduation ceremony. Instead of vespers, we marched in to Pomp and Circumstance and took part in a ceremony put on by our teachers and class representatives. We sat by group and each teacher got up and told a little bit about their group and how they had grown together this year, and then read off each name to give us out "diploma" of Spanish. After kissing our teacher (always go left first!) we had to go through the whole receiving line of all the teachers and staff at ESDES. Even with nearly ninety of us, each congratulated us and told us they were proud and I could tell they really meant it. Even though we've got a week and a half left, lots of us (and our teachers) had tears in our eyes as we said our formal good-byes.

After the presentation of diplomas, Lidia spoke about about the paths of our lives and used some quotes from poems we've read in literature class. About halfway through her speech it really hit me that I was sitting there, listening to a speech in Spanish without even thinking twice. Of course, I know I do this every day in class, but sitting there in the little ESDES church and looking back on that day in September when I wandered down for our orientation and didn't even know when someone said "how long have you been here?" I realized just how great an impression this year has made on my language abilities alone. 

We had two special musics and teacher tributes by two of our class representatives. None of us can really put into words how much these wonderful people have meant to us over the last nine months, but they did a really good job of thanking them on behalf of all of us. 

After Clausura was a reception downstairs in La Frontera where we all had horchata, juice, and received our yearbooks. The teachers stayed around for a long time, talking and laughing with everyone.
These are some of the best teachers in the entire world. Ana is one of the strongest, bravest, most driven women I have ever met. She puts all of her energy into teaching and loving us and I can't imagine ESDES without her. Chelo is impossible not to love immediately. Her energy and passion for learning and teaching transfers easily to all of us, and there's not a single one of her classes that goes to waste. Cristian is, as Ana put it, "aire fresco" (fresh air) of ESDES. He's been with us every single day from the beginning, translating for orientation the first week, taking care of us after the Morocco Incident, going with us on every single ESDES trip, and inviting us to eat and cook at his house. It's wonderful to have a teacher so young that he's really just a friend with the love and patience for teaching.

Of course there are more but I'll wait until I have a few more photos.
When I came to Spain this year, I only knew one girl in this photo: Rachel. I'll get to her later. I cannot even believe how lucky I have been to have spent the year with some of the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I feel like I've known them so much longer than nine months. These girls have picked me up during all the hard times and have laughed with me during the good ones. I could not have made it through this year without them.
The girls might be the ones I run to in the dorm, or when I need to see if my shoes match my outfit, but I can't leave out these guys who mean the world to me. Justin was the only other person I knew besides Rachel here in Spain on day one, but I can't even believe how much his friends have grown to be mine as well. These guys make me laugh on a daily basis but I have never ever doubted that they are there for me at any time of the day or night.
This is quite possibly one of my favorite photos ever. As the evening came to a close, the crowd shrunk and everyone was talking to Ana and Chelo at the Frontera bar as they poured juice and horchata for all. Ana taught us the Spanish version of "cheers" but instead of clanking classes together, you shout loudly in true Spanish fasion "Arriba! Abajo! A centro! A dentro!" (up, down, to the center, in!). Before long everyone had a drink and Ana led us in the Spanish cheer.

Clausura was such a fun night, but we all realized how hard it is going to be to leave. Saturday night was our formal "banquet" so photos will be up soon from that as well!
Yesterday was our culture class's paella lunch, lead by Ana and our class who made tapas since we weren't going to be able to eat until 1:30 or 2:00. Tapas are basically appetizers, usually some kind of small sandwich or tortilla (not mexican tortilla, this is a sort of egg and potato loaf), that come on a small plate on top of your first drink at a bar or cafe. The story is that the king was sick of everyone getting pretty wasted after just a few drinks, and decided that drinking on an empty stomach was the cause. So he said that the first drink had to come with a little bit of free food. Tapas can also be any kind of small snack used to hold you over until the main meal is served. So yesterday we made tapas to eat at 10:30 and then cooked paella (pah-AY-ya) at 12:30.
Paella is basically a huge pan of rice, usually cooked over a small fire on the ground. It has a ton of vegetables and it's pretty oily. The caf usually makes it every Sunday, but Ana's was way better with fresh rosemary and seasonings. 

After the paella we all got melon and ice cream and had the afternoon off from classes. Today is back to normal and tomorrow is clausura, our "graduation" from ACA. I'm sure more pictures will be coming soon!
Today was our last day in Mallorca and we had a great time! (scroll down to see our first day). We started out the morning with crepes, thanks to Justin and Jon, Crepe Boss chefs, topped with cream cheese, jam, and powdered sugar. We rushed through a quick kitchen clean-up and apartment organization, changed into our swimsuits, and headed to the nearest paddle board renting shop. 

I've heard a lot about paddleboarding from Justin, who loves it and encouraged us to give it a try. Since it was morning the water was super smooth and easy to paddle without falling off. We went pretty fast and as I looked down I realized that the water was SO clear and you could even see the white sand on the bottom. As we got further out, the water turned dark blue as we floated over a reef. We paddled along quite a way, took a quick break, found another jellyfish, and then paddled back. I'm so glad I tried paddleboarding because it was so relaxing and beautiful!
Our apartment was in a great location, not central Palma, but a smaller town down the coast with a lot to offer. It had a very beach-town vibe that was a bit touristy but also very convenient for biking or walking to any of the many shops, grocery stores, or rental booths close by. After paddleboarding, we decided to spend some time on the beach. Jon and Josh and I went to get some fries at Burger King, and as we waited outside a gelato shop, Ryan ran up and told us that the lady came to clean the apartment early and we had to get out. Yesterday I talked to the man and he said we could have until 2:00 but she showed up at 12:00 so we had to quickly pack our bags so she could clean. She let us keep the bags there until 3:00 though, so we changed and decided to spent a few free hours walking around the area. 

Before long, we saw a bike shop and joked that we should rent those crazy peddle/bike things for six. Just as we thought we couldn't get any cooler, we did! We divided out the price and it was very cheap so we decided to give it a shot! It was so funny to ride along the beach, peddling like crazy in our little contraption. 

After the bike cart, Ryan and Jon decided that they really wanted to try the fish foot massages we saw close to our apartment. It was so funny! Justin tried too, and the first few minutes were very ticklish for him! They enjoyed it a lot though, and afterwards we walked up to the kebab shop for samosas before meeting at the apartment and heading to the airport. 

I'm so glad we had one last mini-trip before the year is over. I had such a good time with some of the best friends I could ask for. Everything we did was amazing and I'll remember this little weekend getaway forever.
Even though I'm four thousand miles away (and it's barley after midnight in the States), I want to say happy Mother's Day to my dear mother. I wish I could be home today with her, not for a typical "let's wait in line with everyone and their mother Mother's Day brunch at IHOP," but to spend time together OUR way, thrifting, drinking coffee, talking, watching Friends and Modern Family, going to estate sales, finding treasures, and getting 59 cent soft drinks at QuikTrip! 

My mom has supported me this entire year and I can't believe I've been able to make it nine months on a different continent as her. Even from a distance she's been here for me and helped me through some of the hardest decisions of my life, but also smiled and laughed with me over some of the greatest accomplishments of my year abroad. Mom, thank you for being the best mom and friend I could ever, ever ask for. 
Me and Justin with my mom at our third birthday.
I was lucky enough to have my mom and grandma visit me for spring break and we spent 5 days in Valencia and Barcelona. What resulted was one of the most fun weeks ever, spent mostly talking, sightseeing, drinking coffee, talking, taking photos, and maybe a little more talking. 

My grandma is another very, very special lady in my life and words cannot express how lucky all of her grandchildren are to have her. Not a week has gone by without emails, snail mail letters, or phone calls between my grandma and I. Since she found out Justin and I would be coming to Spain, it was her goal to come and visit us. I am so, so proud of her and my mom for traipsing around Spain with me and living out her Spain dream. 

With that, I wish Happy Mother's Day not just to my mom and grandma, but also all the other women in my life who have meant the world to me. Aunt Rhonda, Judy, Carmen, and Neta have shown me what it means to be strong, beautiful, brave, loving women and I thank them for their roles in my life.

 ¡Feliz Día de la Madre!
Our last adventure of the year is underway! Friday afternoon we left from Valencia to come to Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, part of Spain, in the Mediterranean. We took off on our flight and reached altitude in about 15 minutes. As soon as the plane leveled out, we began our descent. The whole flight was barley over half an hour! When we landed, we retrieved our one checked bag and took a taxi to the address indicated by our host on AirBnB. After a few minutes of wandering around, we eventually called him and he waved from the terrace of our apartment. He gave the boys a few suggestions on paddle board rentals and recommended some good beaches to along the coast. It's so great now that we can speak Spanish because it makes interactions like this so much easier. We settled in and then headed out to the grocery store, just a two-minute walk away, for some provisions. Dinner included mashed potatoes, broccoli, and fri-chick supplied by Ryan's parents when they came out to visit. It was delicious and a very relaxing Friday night!

{blog title credit goes to Ryan with his facebook caption "moped madness" ... THANK YOU RYAN!!!!}
This morning started with tepid showers and delicious breakfast burritos made my Justin and Shannon. We weren't sure what we wanted to do today but we wanted to see some more of the island besides our little town of Platja. Right below our piso is a bike/moto/car rental shop so we decided to check out the prices for mopeds for the day. The problem was that only some of us brought our driver's licenses from the States and without them, you can't rent anything. Car rentals at the airport require International Driver's Licenses, but as we asked questions we also found out there were cars for rent with just a States license. I wasn't too keen on the idea of driving a moped for long distances since I have never driven any kind of motored bike before, so I asked her about their car rentals. We ended up with a moped for Justin and Shannon, another moped for Jaci and Jon, and then a car for me to drive with Josh and Ryan. 

I was so excited to drive again even though I haven't for almost 9 months! Luckily they had automatics for rent and it had plenty of space for our bags an the moped helmets when we stopped at beaches. We headed down the road, stopped for a little gas, and then caravanned along to our first beach, Cala Blava where we went to Caló Fort.
Aparently hubcaps are just too much to ask for.
The island is pretty easy to navigate, and the moped rental lady gave Justin a map and some instructions on getting to beaches. The vespas weren't the fastest but we weren't in any rush and we were perfectly content in the car at any speed. Driving here was really no different than driving in the States at all and I enjoyed it immensely. It probably would have been possible to rent a car first thing in the morning and drive around most of the island in time to return back at eight. If we had a few more days here I'd love to do just that, but for today the amount was perfect and everyone enjoyed their vespa experience as well.
Our route of the day.
The first beach was beautiful but the water was full of jellyfish so we couldn't swim. I didn't mind though because I had never seen so many at once in the ocean, and they were so pretty and pink! They just drifted in and out so even wading in was a bit risky. We spent a little time taking photos and exploring before heading to the next beach. 
The farthest point we went to was Cala Pi, an inlet connected to a canyon with a river. It was so beautiful! The beach was nice to but it was beginning to get a little cloudier and the vespa-riders were a little chilly from the drive. The water in the cove was so blue and the cliffs on either side were beautiful. The area was a little touristy but very small with just a few restaurants and one or two shops. Parking was easy to find and there were no big crowds. As we left we saw this lookout point and tower and took a few more photos before heading back. 
We made it back for dinner around five and afterwards Jon took me out on the moped since I only drove the car today. It was so much fun and I felt perfectly safe since I didn't have to drive. We returned all our transportation devices before eight and then ran into our host outside the apartment. He talked to us about what we did today, how our studies in Spain are going, and made arrangements for check-out tomorrow. Everyone on Mallorca has been so friendly! The lady with the rentals was also really friendly and was always calling us "cariño" which is a term of endearment in Spanish. I also noticed that the grocery store lady kept calling everyone "cariño" or even "amor," which makes me feel like maybe I'm in the Missouri of Spain. Hey hon, you wanna rent this moped? Only 25 dollas the whole day! Think about it sugar! I guess we have strange nicknames in all languages.
It was a successful day on the island and I'm really excited to see what more tomorrow! We head back to school in the evening which gives us the morning to hit up the beach or Palma before the airport. I'm so glad we decided to do this random trip; kudos to Jon and Shannon for coming up with this idea! I'm so glad we all get to spend the weekend together on this lovely island!