The Day We Decided to Change Our Careers

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As most of you already know, I am back home safe and sound! I have already started the process of settling back into the life I knew before Latvia. My exchange year adventure has ended, but there is one story I still have to tell. And it is the best one yet!
It all started out as a wonderfully planned evening with friends when it all took a turn that no one could have expected. It involves skipping rehearsal, eating sushi, stalking a bass, a sauna, a pond, and a fire. I might as well start from the VERY beginning, so here goes:
One day, my friend Kristine texted me out of the blue and asked me if I would like to go with her and Inga to an A Capella concert. (The King’s Singers’ performance, to be exact.) I said yes for two reasons; one being that I love concerts, the other being that I knew an evening with those 2 would be anything but boring. So we made plans for the evening of the 14th of July, and then waited for the fateful date to roll around. (Waiting is the worst!)
Everything went well during the 2 weeks leading up to the event and then on the 10th of July, we were informed that we, in fact, have a mandatory choir rehearsal on the 14th of July. Our choir director told us this right after he finished deciding which people would not compete with us during the world choir olympics… What to do?? Go to the concert, have a great time, but possibly get kicked out of the competition, or sit in rehearsal all evening. It was a rough realization. Kristine went up to try and talk with our director, but he was not in the mood to hear about it, so I guess we had a decision to make. In the end, we decided to go to the King’s Singers; or in Kristine’s words “Inga has decided to not listen to Zirnis.” 😀
On the 12th of July, Inga’s second choir (a women’s choir also directed by Zirnis) had their competition day. That was also the day that my parents came into town. I went to her concert before going to the airport and in the lobby after they sang, Zirnis came up to me and asked if we were going to the concert on the 14th. I replied truthfully. He simply smiled and pat my head and said, “Okay”. And that was that! We had permission! Oh Happy Day!
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Fun fact: Right after I took this picture, a Chinese woman came up to me and wanted a picture with me! Score!

Another fun fact: At the airport, a random woman came up to me and asked if I was that girl from America she saw on TV! She asked for my autograph and for a picture with her daughter! Double score!

Continuing with the story, Kristine, Inga and I were able to go to the concert without fear of the consequences. We had a delicious sushi dinner on the rooftop of a building in Riga. A bird named Boris even came to join us!

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He was a very smart bird. The waitress said that he lived across the street and flew over everyday at mealtime, but never brought any friends. He knows where it’s at!

During dinner, Inga and Kristine gave me a beautiful gift. It is a necklace of the ancient Latvian symbol of the sun, and on the back is a carving of all our names and the year 2014. It was the  perfect gift, and I will cherish it forever. I can put it on whenever I am sad or lonely and remember my adventures in Latvia, especially the one that is about to follow.

We went to the concert, and it was spectacular. For those of you who don’t know, The King’s Singers is an a capella men’s group from England. Those men must practice 24/7 because every note was absolutely perfect! And the best part was that the bass (coincidentally the most attractive) started off the show introducing the group in Latvian! It was so impressive!! So, logically, we all three got pictures with him after the concert. Kristine even got his signature!

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After the after-concert, we headed to Kristine’s house to continue our adventures. It was already at least 10 PM, but trust me, the fun had barely started! We arrived to a scorching sauna, a box of donuts, and a calm pond. According to Latvian tradition, one must get naked, sit in the scorching sauna until one can no longer bear it, run onto the dock and jump into the pond.  Then repeat. (The donuts were added on my request.) And so that is how it went  down. It was much more fun than I could have imagined. I would definitely like to keep this tradition alive in my life in America.

At around 3 AM, between the pond and the sauna, I look out the door and see a fire. I say, “Look a fire!” (As you can see, I am very creative in Latvian phrases in the middle of the night.) Inga goes to look and says, “That’s not just any fire, that is a house fire!” So we all grabbed our towels, hopped in the car and drove to investigate further. Sure enough, a greenhouse had caught on fire and no one was awake to notice it! It was extremely close to the house and so the possibility of it spreading was highly likely. Kristine calls the emergency number (which in Latvia is 112) and reports it. Since it was very dark, we couldn’t find the name of the street, so we decided to drive opposite the firetruck to direct them to the fire. We sat at the main intersection waiting. It was during this time that the gravity of the situation set in. This is serious stuff. It was also noticed that we had on only towels, but it was too late to do anything about that. We ended up waiting there for a solid 20 minutes without any sight of the fire brigade. When they finally come, they turn off on the wrong road. Typical. We wait a little longer to see if they would turn around, but after 5 minutes, we decided to drive back to the fire, because we noticed a large build up in smoke.

Sure enough, the fire fighters found it and were in the process of putting it out. What a relief! We all got out of the car to go ask what happened. (By this time, the sun was already rising and the sky was fairly light.) The fireman at the truck gave us a strange look and asked us what in the world we were doing. Inga explained that we were the ones that called in the fire and we had just come to make sure everything was okay. He said, “Come take a look if you want.” And curiosity got the better of us. As we walk into the yard, 8 firemen all turned around and stared. I think I even saw some of their jaws drop. Just imagine, 4 AM putting out a fire in the middle of the countryside and all of a sudden 3 babes dressed only in towels come strolling in. What a sight! Kristine repeatedly asked what caused the fires, but their minds were too busy looking us over to answer any silly question like that. It was then that we realized it would be best to leave. Just as we turned to go, one of the fire-fighters asked, “Were you in the sauna? Is it still warm?” And that confirmed it. We sped out of there, went back to Kristine’s home and shut off all the lights. And then burst into uncontrollable laughter! What a night!!! Who could have foreseen that?! Thankfully, no one got hurt and the neighborhood was saved.

From that moment on, Kristine, Inga and I have become known in Latvia as fire-fighters, and no one will ever let us forget it.

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Summer Holidays

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In Latvia, it is safe to say that the holidays in the summer are celebrated 10x more than the ones in the winter (Christmas included). Even though the weather may not be nice, Latvians somehow manage to carry on and, eventually, scare the rain away. It’s true. Maybe they do some sort of magic that I am not aware of. I should watch out next time.

Recently, I had a concert in a town called Suntaži for the summer solstice. I honestly can’t ever remember celebrating this day, but I don’t see a reason why not! This concert required a little extra preparation: I needed to make a headband from flowers, vainags (in Latvian). I had absolutely no idea how to do that, but my host mom taught me, and I would say the result was pretty successful! Not only did it look awesome, but it fit my head! Double win!

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So I packed my traditional Latvian clothing, vainags, and a lot of food, and we drove to Suntaži. Well, it wasn’t that easy. We ended up driving all over Ogre picking up other choir members for about half an hour, and then we drove to Suntaži. When we got there, the weather was nice (as in, it wasn’t raining. It was still 50 degrees) and it looked like the sun was going to be out for a while. And it was, until practice began, logically. We were a collective of 5 or 6 choirs singing together and each song was directed by a different conductor. We were thankfully all under the roof of the stage, but it was only just large enough to cover us. That meant the director either had to choose to stand in the rain, or stand kissing distance to the first row. I think you know which option was chosen. And, of course, I happened to be front and center. I tell you, Europeans certainly have a different understanding of personal bubbles. It wouldn’t have been all that terrible, but I also had music I needed to read from (because I don’t know the folk songs nearly as well as everyone else) so that caused a little bit of a problem. It was a fun practice nevertheless. 

We were all given a lunch ticket and after practice, my friend, Inga, practically ran off the stage. She likes food. Since I also like food, I was right after her in line. (Well there was no line because we were first, but whatever.) Right as we received our food, it started pouring. There was a mass migration to places of shelter. We went back to the car and crammed in as many people as we could fit.

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It was an experience. I think we successfully fit 10 people at the most. Since there were only 7 seats, I would say that is an accomplishment. After we finished our food, we hiked up the road to see the performance of a Latvian Men’s Choir from Los Angeles. Some of them were born in Latvia, some in America, but they all speak Latvian and English, and they were on a tour and just so happened to be in Suntaži the same time we were. On the way we saw a rainbow. It was lovely.

Then came the fun part, we dressed up in our traditional clothes, put on our vainagi, and went on a parade! But first, we took some pictures:

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As you can see, I know some pretty awesome people. In the pictures are Inga, Kristīne, and Lauma. Oh, and me. I bet it was hard to tell because I look so Latvian. 😉 They are all so wonderful and always encourage (or force) me to participate in all things. I just wanted to say thank you for letting me not only tag along, but be included. You are fantastic humans! Then we all lined up for the parade and paraded, I guess. We had a flag, an orientation, and a mascot (me, unfortunately), you could say it was a big deal. Well, it was my first parade in Latvia! Yay! It was also during this time that I noticed my fellow choir members’ vainagi were made of purple clovers and so I started eating them. Apparently they had never eaten them before! I am glad I at least taught them something!

We sang, watched dancers, theater performances, marching band, more dancing, more theater in which they threw water on each other and hit each other with branches, and more dancing. It was a good show, but I was cold. Since the sun went down, or I guess it actually just went behind the clouds which were gathering ominously, it had gotten really cold. I only had on my choir dress. It was warm, but I was still cold. The end finally came and we sang our final songs, ending the concert at around 11 PM. I once again ran off the stage, but this time in search of warm clothes. After getting all snuggly dressed, the real party began. 3 gigantic campfires were built, the beer bottles were opened, and the dance music started filling every empty space. And we did the Latvian tradtion: dance until you are hot, drink until you are cold, and repeat. We did that until 4 AM. Usually, I don’t like to dance, but my friends kept dragging me up on stage, so it looked like no was not an answer, therefore, I danced. And I’m glad I did, because it was fun.

 

And then there was Līgo and Jāņuvakars. This is by far the largest celebration in Latvia. The girls wear vainagi made of flowers, the boys of oak leaves. Everyone sings, dances, drinks, eats, jumps over the campfire, and most importantly doesn’t sleep. If you sleep on this night, the saying is that you will sleep the whole summer away! There are lots of traditions accompanied with this holiday. Mostly it is celebrated in the country side. Neighbors come to each other, singing a familiar tune with improvised lyrics (sometimes insults). I went to a large celebration outside of Rīga. There was singing, dancing, drinking, eating, campfires burning. Basically, all of Latvian’s key components rolled into one. 

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The man in the middle is Jāņutēvs (Papa John, although his name was actually Andris) and he was the narrator for the event. He is wearing the oak leaf vainags!

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Then a large group of women from Liepāja interrupted his show. They were hilarious.

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Here is the lighting of the fire. You are supposed to let it burn the whole night through, and I’m sure it did. Then the festivities continued! A band came on and started playing some pumped up folk music! They also played some line dances, which looked like a lot of fun. We left at midnight to retrieve my host mother from the airport (she had been in Belgium). We got home at 1 AM and built a campfire in the backyard. We sat around it, me with my guitar and orange juice, my host dad with beer, my host mom with wine, and Madara with her blanket. We were out there until the sun rose (4:30AM). It was interesting because during the whole night, it never got dark! It was awesome! Summers in northern countries may be cold, but the days last forever!

 

Lastly, I went to a Kings of Leon concert. This was not a holiday, but seeing how many people went to this concert, it could very much be counted as one. I originally did not plan to go to the concert because the tickets were 55 Euros, but I have connections. You see, my friend Una had an extra ticket, which she didn’t buy anyways because it was given as a gift to her mother, and I just happened to text her at that moment, and bam. I had a ticket.

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This, honestly, was my first real concert. I stood in the middle of the gigantic crowd in front of the stage and danced. I tell you, in the middle of 10,000+ people, it is easy to get hot even in the arctic air. Just to show you how many people were there, I will include a picture.

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…and the ground was strangely tilted like that. Anyways, the show was so much fun!! The singing was absolutely amazing! They really are a talented group of musicians! Oh, and I wanted to mention the warm-up band. I believe their name was The Horrors. I found it quite humorous because their lead guitarist looked like Taylor Lautner from the first Twilight movie, the singer looked like Adam Lambert, and the bass guitarist looked like Johnny Depp from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I enjoyed this combination. Overall the concert was a blast and it was so nice to hang out with Una again! Cheers to friendship! In the wise words of my host dad, “100 friends are worth more than 100 Euros. And even better is 100 friends with 100 Euros.”

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When the Americans came to visit

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Hello everyone! It has been a long trip. Already 10 months have gone by! Can you believe it? I certainly can’t. Of course lots has happened since I last wrote, but you can probably guess most of it: school, Latvian lessons, concerts after concerts after concerts. And then something wonderful happened! Americans came to visit! On May 24th, to be exact. (That was still over a month ago, but I might as well start somewhere.) My friend, Abbie’s choir came to the Baltic States for their international choir tour! What a small world it is!

The day started off with me having a concert (of course) in Vidriži, which is north of Rīga by about an hour. I was there with my choir for the birthday of one of the most popular composers in Latvian history. If he would have been alive, he would have enjoyed it. We sang at a newly-constructed church, which is unusual, on an extremely hot day, which is also unusual, in a city that my host parents have never heard of, which is very unusual. It was a great adventure!

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These are my friends, Inga and Kristīne. You will hear more about them later… 🙂 The church was quite small with only four or five rows, but it had a nice resonance. We practiced, then went for a walk along the road to a pond and watched as all the boys went swimming in their underwear. Excellent. It was so hot and I wanted to do the same, but we only had about 20 minutes before our concert, and I didn’t deem it to be a good idea. I watched as a woman swam all the way across the pond to where a bar was situated on a dock and someone gave her a drink of his beer. Latvians, they’ll do anything for a drink.

We had our concert, and I practically melted. The tiny church with only five rows was packed with easily over 100 people. You could not fit one more person inside. There was no air conditioning or windows that were able to open. We stood at the front of the church in our long skirts and heels and sang 8 songs. I didn’t think I would make it. I could feel my face dripping. But thankfully we all made it through. The things we endure for what we love…

 After the concert, I was picked up by my host dad and we drove to Rīga to see Abbie’s concert. They were singing at St. Peter’s Church in Old Rīga, one of the most popular, and most beautiful, buildings in the city. I definitely have a picture of it. I’ll search so that way you can have a mental image. It is also one of the highest points in the city and you can ride the elevator to the top and have a really amazing view. Oh look I found a picture of me dancing in front of it! Excellent!

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You can’t really see all of it, but it is pretty majestic. I suggest you look it up. Anyways, her choir sang there along with another choir from Latvia. I invited my friends Simona and Liene (Latvians) and Pauline (German). Thankfully, I got to meet Abbie before she had to sing. When I first saw her, it felt so strange. I had to keep touching her to make sure she was really there. She was the first person I had seen from my “old life” in 8 months. And there she was in my world. My brain also had trouble keeping up with her English. It was simply too easy to understand. I am used to making educated guesses about what people are saying, but I understood absolutely everything not only she said, but all her choir members around her. It was a bit of an overload, but a bearable one.

It was a wonderful concert! It sounded so beautiful echoing throughout the old stone walls of St. Peter’s church. The song that the choirs sang together, Pūt Vējiņi, was absolutely amazing. At the end of the song are two solos; one one sung by a Latvain, the other an American. It was so great! I was very impressed. 

Over the next week, I met Abbie and her friend Amy everyday and showed them around! It was so wonderful that I could show them a little bit of what it is like living in Latvia. We ate yummy (gluten, fish, and peanut free) food, went to the Baltic Sea, visited the KGB museum, met with some Latvians. The best part was that I got to translate for them. I never had the chance to do that before! It was such a good feeling!!! It made me realize how much I really have accomplished over this past year, and it is quite a lot. If anyone needs Latvian translating, hit me up. Here are some picture of our adventures:

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I don’t know about them, but I had a marvelous time! 

Hospital Visit

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I guess it has been spreading through the grapevine that I was in the hospital. It is true. I was in the hospital for 3 days and 2 nights with a stomach virus. It was nasty stuff. But, I am alive and breathing! No need to worry! It was quite a very interesting experience though. I was in the children’s hospital in Rīga and it is nothing like the hospitals we have in America. I was first in a ER type setting where there were screaming babies and IVs and too many beds, but after about 10 hours of sitting there doing tests, I was moved to the stomach wing of the hospital. I had been having strong stomach pain and a fever that kept spiking up to 103.1 degrees, which was the main reason I was forced to stay overnight. In my new room, there were 4 beds and 2 large windows. That was about it. No heart monitor, no TV screen, no button on the wall to phone the nurse. It really was different. I didn’t take a picture of it (that didn’t exactly cross my mind during that time) but it really was just a room with beds on wheels. Another girl accompanied me in my room. She was 5 years old and her name was Liza. She was Russian, so we weren’t able to communicate that much but we were able to smile at each other. She had the same virus as me but much worse. She had a temperature of 104 degrees, poor kid! My heart goes out to her! We were 2 sick kids in a hospital waiting to get better. It was not the greatest experience of my exchange year, but it was interesting nonetheless. But at least I got some reading in! I completed a whole book during my stay! Not too shabby! Hopefully I will be able to return to school tomorrow and resume my regular activities. On Saturday I competed in a choir contest in which we received a 1 rating and the highest overall score of the competition. My vocal chords were in no way prohibited during my illness, thank goodness! Nothing like being sick to remind you how good it is to be healthy! Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be just fine!

Tallinn

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Not too long ago, we had our (past) mid-year orientation in the capital city of Estonia, Tallinn.Image

If you don’t know much about Estonia I will tell you somethings. They speak Estonian, there is an average population of 1 million people, and they invented Skype. Good for them. We took off school on Friday and got on a bus! It was a 4 hour ride in a double-decker! It was sweet! It was like a tiny airplane! There were TV screens in the back of the seat in front of you, there was a “flight-attendant” button above your head, and free coffee! It wasn’t a bad deal at all! I sat with my friend Tang-Mo from Thailand and we synchronized our TV screens to play the movie Brave at the same time. I had never seen that movie before, but it was sure hard to understand them! I am not quite sure what accent the characters had, but it was a heavy one! I wonder how much Tang-Mo understood. A couple of times we had to pause it and I had to explain/translate what the characters said. I am once again reminded how blessed I am that my native language is English!

Once we arrived in Tallinn, we searched the Old Town for our hostel. We arrived at a promising one, even took off all our shoes, only to find out it was the wrong one. Disappointing. We continued the search and finally found it. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit sketchy. There was little to no heat and there was a very strong smell of sewage. But that is what it is like in Europe as a back-packer. Take what you are given! In another room of the hostel was a group of college students from England. (More on them later.) After we dropped our stuff down, we went to eat some dinner. It was so nice to meet up with all my exchange student friends again! Our Latvian has MUCH improved! We can actually keep up and speak at a normal speed now! Impressive, I know. We played a game of Telephone at the dinner table. I tell you, that game is much more fun with foreigners!!! I wish I remember what came of the sentences because it was pretty darn hilarious! Next time we play, I will be sure to take note. After we finished eating, we had free-time about the city until 10:30 p.m. Free-time, in a European city we had never been to before, at night. Awesome!

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You bet we took advantage of that! I was in a group of 4 and we just roamed the city! We ended up in a medieval restaurant drinking delicious black tea and listening to Estonian folk music. The whole restaurant was lit by candles (like the one in Riga) and we all shared about our experience thus far into our exchange year. Turns out, we feel a lot of the same things, good and bad. I never knew that we had that much in common! It was a very refreshing conversation!

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The next day, we took a tour of the city and learned all about Estonian culture. Our tour guide’s accent was marvelous! It was similar to Irish. I loved it! Then we met up with the YFU exchange students living in Estonia. That was super fun! We were paired off and given a list of tasks to complete. It was kind of like a video scavenger hunt! We had a list of sights to see and a list of fun bonus tasks. Unfortunately, we lost our serious list after about 5 minutes. (Or perhaps it was fortunate…) In my group was Katharina, Pauline, Tang-Mo, and Nora (the Estonian exchange student form Germany). Image 

We had a super awesome time together! We totally killed that list of things to do! I wish I could upload the videos of our adventures. We asked strangers if they knew any traditional dance steps, we ran around asking Charlie to take us to Candy Mountain, we walked like robots up a staircase. Basically, we looked like crazy tourists, but I didn’t mind. We ate yummy Estonian chocolate cheese. I do have a picture of that!

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Oh and look! There is a sign for a Beer Garden in the back! How did I miss that before?! Oh and I played hacky-sack with some kids in the middle of town. I even got my picture with them! Nora was nervous that she was going to meet them sometime in the near future (because Estonia is so tiny), so she didn’t want to act too strange around them… too late.

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They were good sports. Oh, by the way, Estonia was FREEZING while we were there. I don’t know whose idea it was to go north for spring break, but it wasn’t very well thought through. My fingers wanted to fall off, but I told them I needed them to type my blog. Thank goodness I still have them and they are in good condition. After the scavenger hunt, we had more free time (like the scavenger hunt wasn’t free time). Then when we met up again, we ordered Chinese food, logically, and talked about our exchange year with the leaders. Our lives are all so different! It is so interesting to hear about everyone’s stories. There are funny ones and heart-breaking ones. That is the life of a true foreign exchange student. The roller coaster never ends.

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On the last night we were there, the leaders went out for some “hot-chocolate” at 11 p.m. and we were left to our own devices. (This is where the college kids from England come into play.) Naturally we were invited to party with them, but surprisingly, none of us did! I think we were all super exhausted from being out in the cold all day. But that didn’t keep them from partying! Oh no! They were up until I don’t even know when! And they let us know it! Good grief. Hostels are interesting places. We all stayed and talked and I pretended like I understood German. I am getting there! I can understand some things, actually! They asked me to say something in German and the only thing that came to mind was “kochtopf” so that’s what I said. It was especially humorous to hear the Thai girls speak in German. I love being around worldly people! It is good fun! 

Well that basically covers my trip to Tallinn. We, of course, rode back the 4 hours and I watched Ghost this time. So, in closing, I will include a picture of my sleeping cat. He is pretty adorable. Šandors is his name in case you were wondering.

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Good night and good luck.

PARIS

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For spring break this year, my host family and I flew to Paris! We stayed in the city for 5 days and it was a wonderful time! We saw SO MUCH! We were always out and about, taking pictures of everything we could find. And it turns out that there are a lot of things in Paris. The weather was simply amazing. It was a brief taste of summer/spring; I even got a little sunburned! (Sadly it didn’t last very long. I am back to my pale self.) Unfortunately, since the seasons were changing, my allergies came in strong. I was sneezing every 5 minutes! As I am sure most of you know, my sneezes aren’t exactly the most discreet. The French were probably wondering what was wrong with me. Just look at this face:

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Everyone else is enjoying the sun and the blooming flowers and I can barley breathe. But, at night, I was wide awake and full of energy! Isn’t that how it always is? Also, since Paris has been struggling with smog recently, all public transportation was free! Even the bus from the airport to the hotel, which usually costs 5 Euros a person, was free! It was not a bad deal at all. 

I would have to say that my favorite attraction in Paris, other than all the attractive people, was this:

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It is spectacular! A gigantic, glass pyramid in the middle of old, French buildings. Perfect! It makes me happy. It also felt pretty sweet being the same place where they filmed The DaVinci Code. Tom Hanks stood where I was standing! Whoo hoo! I’ll never wash these shoes again! (Not like I did that before.) We went back to this particular site twice (upon my request). 

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Look at that joy! Paris! I even look French! Okay not really, but I don’t exactly look not-French either. Most of the people that I saw speaking French had brown hair and brown eyes. I was one of the only blondes. But still, people spoke to me in French and that made me happy. They could have said something super mean, but I was just smiling like an idiot because they mistook me as an average French-girl! I absolutely LOVE blending in to a different society. It makes me feel so accomplished. I snuck in successfully! 🙂

We also visited the Locks Bridge. I am not sure what the actual name for it is, so I just made one up. It is really creative. Here is a picture of me not taking a picture of the Locks Bridge. Image

But you can see it in the background! There were a lot of locks. Probably more locks than citizens of Latvia. That is, of course, not scientifically proven, but wouldn’t take much work to find out! There were locks in all different languages. There were locks that spoke key, others letter combination, and yet others were a number dial! They were a diverse bunch, let me tell you! Almost like that group of friends going out to eat in the Olive Garden commercials. 

Oh I just remembered! I promised my friends that I would take a picture of Latvian grass and send it to them. Yeah, I didn’t do that. But I do happen to have a picture of French grass. It is green and luscious and sounds just like a whistle. 

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Isn’t it marvelous? Can’t you notice the differences between American and European grass? It is almost mind-blowing. I had trouble recognizing what it was at first, but with a little help from my host family, I was able to differentiate it from the other wildlife. Thank goodness for that! (I am sure that when you started reading this post about Paris, you were expecting to hear about the Eiffel Tower and baguettes. But we are talking about grass. And I am okay with that.)

When we went to visit the Moulin Rouge, we were in for a surprise! Rightfully so. We arrive at the scene and there are a bunch of people crowding the sidewalks. Part of the street was blocked off and there were a bunch of camera men set up. Clearly something was about to happen! I took a few pictures:

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and then we waited for a few minutes. Finally we gave up and headed for the metro. (It was already 9 p.m.) Then, sure enough, right as we cross the street, we see a dozen scandalously dressed women march out of the Moulin Rouge! They had huge, 2 ft tall feathers on the top of their heads! I was looking for Satine but I guess she was sick that night. *wink wink* They started dancing and making that strange yelping noise. It was great! Oh and they did a count down and then something amazing happened to the Moulin Rouge:

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It became photographed! Notice the difference is the lack of smart phones in the first picture. Incredible. Oh and I guess the walls turned green. I didn’t realize that at first. Also, you can see the cancan dancers in the corner with their ridiculous feathers. I looked across the street to see where Christian’s apartment is, but they must have taken the sign down that marked his window. What a pity! I wanted him to sing to me! Next time.

For those of you wondering, we did indeed go to the Eiffel Tower! We waited in line for approx. 2 hours. While in line, we, of course, were standing behind a romantic couple. I found it amusing that as the wait progressed, they stood farther and farther apart. I, on the other hand, taught Madara how to play Cat’s Cradle. That is always a difficult process. This time it was interesting because I was speaking in English and she in Latvian. The whole situation attracted a lot of spectators. I could see over her shoulder that the Asian family behind us was watching intently. I wouldn’t be surprised if I taught the entire line how to play that game. We eventually got to the top of the tower! What a sight! I took a picture of the top:

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It is strangely similar to the Death Star. Maybe Mr. Eiffel designed it for Darth Vader. That would not surprise me at all. There is also an apartment at the top of the tower. There were wax figures (or at least I thought they were wax) of Mr. Eiffel, Mr.Eiffel’s daughter, and Mr. Edison. I guess they had a party up there way back when. When we went on a walk through Paris by night, we passed in view of the Eiffel tower. It was just light up in yellow lights. Then, all of a sudden, it started to sparkle! Not even kidding! It was magical! I wonder what special occasion made it do that. Then that got me to thinking what they do for Christmas. And New Years. And more importantly, my birthday! I bet they have something big planned. The French wouldn’t let me down. 

Being in Paris, I felt like I was in such a stylish, artistic place. Every person I saw on the street had on sweet clothes, snazzy shoes, and a killer hair style. It really made me embrace my inner model. This is a glamour shot on accident. But, according to Grand Master Oogway of Kung Fu Panda, there are no accidents… (I am sure that other people have said that, but I do not know them.)Image

Oh look! There is even a lamppost with a green light in the background. How symbolic! (I forgot the meaning it had in the Great Gatsby, but I remember there was something important that I never picked up on.)

Overall, my trip to Paris was well needed for my whole family. It was a wonderful experience and I really feel more a part of the family now. I am starting to be myself again. The trickster, childish, loving person I am is coming out! No stopping it now! I will leave you with one final picture. The Music Academy of Paris:

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I guess I need to learn French. I don’t mind one bit. As long as I can eat baguettes and lemon crepes, I will be happy. 

-The French/Latvian/American Girl 🙂       Where to next?!

 

The Build-Up

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Hello everyone! I cannot believe the last thing I talked about was New Years. Where have I been? Of yeah, in Latvia living the life of a foreigner! (Except less so. I think I am 68% Latvian by now).Where to start? Where to start? I am just going to begin and go with it. I apologize for not being chronological but you gotta do what you gotta do!

I have been involved in an unbelievable amount of concerts. I have at least 3 a month! Of course I am involved in a multitude of musical groups so I do it to myself. My show choir has been working on not only learning songs to sing, but new instruments to play! There are 9 of us and we all play instruments! Some of us for the first time! (Me included.) I will list all the instruments our group can play: guitar, piano, ukulele, box drum, shaker, bass drum, upright bass, accordion, oboe, flute, saxophone. And a lot of them overlap players. I tell you, Latvians are just talented. They have big plans! So far we have learned “Royals” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTDT0YTg7JA, “Cup Song”, and “Radioactive”. It is funny about that last one because I learned that on a Wednesday night and Thursday morning I had to play it for a contest. It was intense but I nailed it! Actually, I have never learned faster than when I have been here! It is kind of a requirement. But anyways, it is a fun time. I have never done accompaniment for people before, much less on upright bass! I really feel like part of the music! It is truly amazing! My teacher just tells me what notes to play and then I do it. Easy as that. Not too much practice is required for playing instruments, although my fingers beg to differ. I got some MAJOR blisters from the strings! It was a painful trip, but now I can’t feel a thing. So that’s good, I guess. My classical community choir has been doing a LOT of singing also. My choir director just had his 70th birthday on March 1st! We had 2 celebration concerts already and another one is coming up this Friday.

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I believe I mentioned this before, but my director is a director of four different choirs and all of them are involved in these concerts. The first one lasted 4 1/2 hours… I was so exhausted! He plays jazz in between choirs and everyone wished him a happy birthday and gave their speeches and presented him with gifts and flowers and all the while I was standing in my traditional Latvian clothes in a mob of 200 people. It wears me out just thinking about it! But I did honestly have a good time! I really love my choir! They are such wonderful people! They really take care of me and have a good time. I have made many friends in my choir and I really enjoy their company! Some of the member ask why I don’t join the youth chorus because they are younger and more lively. I truly love this choir and enjoy every part of it. The songs we sing are simply amazing and everyone is so into what they are doing it is contagious. It just goes to show that love has no limits for what it can do. Oh and good news! I was able to extend my visa so I can for sure stay for the World Choir Games in July!!! Oh Happy Day! I am super excited!

While we are talking about birthday celebrations, I just wanted to say that everyone here gets flowers for holidays. I really really enjoy this tradition. Flowers are lively and beautiful. They truly do brighten up my day. I have gotten flowers for concert performances mostly but every once in a while I get a flower on my night stand. It is just a very nice gesture. I wouldn’t mind this following me to America. *wink wink* 

We had a school dance to the theme of The Great Gatsby which is ironic because I only just read the book last year and I am pretty positive that the Latvian’s didn’t even know it was a book. Bet nekas. (Whoa! That is a Latvian phrase and it came out before English! I am just going to leave it.) We had a jolly good time! What really surprised me was that everyone actually dressed up to the theme! They looked like they belonged in the 20’s! It was awesome! 

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There were most definitely people more dressed up than us, but I didn’t manage to get a picture. I really enjoyed their effort and authenticity. Good work! And somehow I managed to get in free! There was a fee of 3 Euros but in some sort of confusion, they just gave me the admitted bracelet. I ain’t complain’! Score for me! They was actually a program to this dance. We started out with my classmates performing songs. (I did not sing because no one told me I needed to.) Then they gave out awards for things like best smile, nicest personality, heaviest partier. We had all voted the week before so it was students’ choice. Then we played games of different sorts. I only took part in one and it was because Una pushed me to join the circle. And guess what game it just so happened to be? That’s right. It was a kissing game. We had to hold a match stick between our teeth and pass a metal ring from one player to another without using any limbs. If you dropped it, then you were out. Gradually they made it harder and harder by having us stand on one foot, or not being able to hold eachother for balance. But balance has never been a problem for me so I pushed on. Finally it got to be only 5 people left, myself included. We all had to break our matchsticks in half and continue playing. It was pretty darn intimate. But nevertheless, I won! Whoo hoo! I got a massive chocolate bar! Yes, it was worth it. Then came the dancing! It was actually ballroom dancing at first! It was superb! I got asked to dance by a boy with half a clementine. How romantic. But really.

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This kid knew how to dance! He even taught me how to dance! 10 points for him! It was a very nice evening. Soon the band came and everyone started club dancing. Una and I had an adventure of our own but I do not think it is too wise to share it. Just know that it involved running through town at 10 p.m. in -15 °C weather with just a scarf and dress. 

I have written quite a lot of poems/songs recently. It has been going great! My creativity center has overflowed and things just come to me. It is so hard to try and channel it into something beautiful, but I am managing. Being in a foreign country, I am realizing my love for English. Latvian is math to me, but English is art. I love building sentences and bending the rules of grammar. I understand now that I along with singing, I will never stop writing.

I have been making a lot of progress on my Latvian. I can now truthfully say that I can understand everything in daily conversation (and in the music world). It is a strange feeling. I don’t translate in my mind but I also don’t concretely understand, like I do for English. I just simply know. It is pretty sweet! I am getting pretty fast too! My friends are all really impressed at how fast I read. I believe it comes from being in choir. I have to read a lot and read fast. It is definitely beneficial. The majority of my friends only speak to me in Latvian but there are still a few who refuse to. I think they enjoy practicing their English too much. Sometimes my friends bring friends and they know I am American but don’t realize how much I understand. When I reply to them in Latvia they are completely blown away how effortlessly I speak. It makes me feel pretty darn good. When I first decided to be a foreign exchange student, I said my only goal was to learn the language, but it is so much more than that. Language learning has dropped to a side goal. Still important, but not as important as others. I have made so many amazing relationships. I am so blessed! My friends express to me how they want me to stay for 2 more years and finish high school with them. As appealing as that sounds, I must move on. I cannot be a foreign exchange student forever. I do love it here though. I will definitely miss them. 

Spring break is coming up! My family and I are flying to Paris!! I can’t wait! I will be sure to take a lot of pictures and eat a lot of good food! And I will try to update my blog more often because I left so much out it is ridiculous. Check again in the next week. I will try to get another one up!

Thank you for your continued support and prayers. Please know that I feel them every step of the way.

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