It's a strange thing, social media. It can notify you of the happiest things in life: engagements, birthdays, new jobs and internships. But it also can bring to attention horrendous things like what occurred today in Newtown, Conn. 

My heart and deepest sympathy go out to the families, friends and employees involved in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where, as stated by CNN in an early report 26 people, 20 being children, were killed by a man who entered the school around 9:30 in the morning. 

This year we have seen a number of tragedies related to gun violence, but I do not wish to focus on the gun violence but rather the tragedy and people effected. Now is not a time to politicize over whether there needs to be stricter laws regarding gun control in the United States, it is the time to reflect on how our country, how humanity needs to pull together and be there for those who have lost someone near and dear to their heart. 

This summer in Wisconsin we as a state came together to mourn the lives lost in the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek only weeks after the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. I was an intern this summer at the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, Wisc. and never had I witnessed such compassionate reporting but more importantly compassionate souls. 
 
Today's shooting is one of the deadliest school shootings our nation has seen in its history. I can not imagine the sorrow the parents of the children whose lives were taken too soon feel. I can not imagine the feeling of receiving a phone call or text message that delivered such horrendous news. I simply just can't imagine at all. 

This evening when I went to gather more information about the elementary school online their website directed me to this message:
Due to an extremely high service demand as a result of the events that have occured today, this website is temporarily being redirected to this page rather than the school system's usual home page.
To help deal with the events of today, there will be a memorial mass this evening at 7:00pm at St. Rose Church.

As a journalist my mind goes to one thing: fact-checking and the hunt for information. As a compassionate person my mind goes to a more important realization: people care. That is what I want people in Newtown, Conn. to know today, that we care and are their for them to lean on. 

Regardless of our political standpoint, our stance on gun control, or our views on whether mental health is an illness, there is one thing these families and classmates need to know - that we are here. 

I also am proud to say I am a student of Marquette University where today the flags fly at half-staff and the university sent out a Peace Prayer to be said by the students, faculty and alumni. The actions of Marquette show that there are at least 12,000 people who are sending their support and condolences to the victims out east. 

So, I ask you all today to set aside the negative energy and the political banter and show your support. You can prey, you can talk to a friend, or you can write it out like me, but whatever you do don't forget to show the compassion humanity is capable of because there are people out there who are waiting to see it. 
 
Yesterday on the bus I saw a girl with the same Christmas socks I just had to throw away in the garbage because I wore them too much. A hole had formed and despite my hopes that it could defy the rules of physics and wear and tear, the hole grew. They were bright red socks, with green, gold, and blue presents on them, atop each present was a different bow and white snowflakes covered the ankle joint area of the socks. The snowflakes made me think: BAM! Christmas time! Needless to say they were pretty cool. 

My grandmother and I had a habit of giving one another holiday and destination themed socks and this happened to be a pair she had given me several years back. When I saw the girls socks peaking out from the cuff of her jeans I became a little excited. I know that is strange, really strange actually, but I couldn't help but think how wonderfully random and coincidental it was that when I just threw a pair of my favorite holiday socks away, another person was sporting them. My grandmother obviously had great taste if a female Spaniard had the same socks and decided to wear them when it was still light out. But then my excitement hit a roadblock and I found myself asking: Do they have Macy's here? That is where Grandma Fran always purchased them...

After mulling over where the girl purchased her socks my stream of consciousness brought me back to the dinner table Monday night with Irene. How are the two related? I'm not quite sure myself yet. 

I was not having the best evening and for the first time in my whole time here I just wanted to be home with my family but Irene had a uncharacteristically sad look on her face that made me snap out of my own stupor. Monday, December 10, 2012 marked the 20 year anniversary of Irene's husband's death. When she told us tears began to swell in her eyes and she tried to discretely wipe them away with her black sweater that had red roses on the sleeves. A peculiar choice for a day of such significance. My roommate and I had no idea what to say to her. My thoughts switched back and forth from English to Spanish and I became frazzled. I didn't want to see such a wonderful women be so sad. At this moment she reminded me of my grandmother when it was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. Grandma Fran never let it show, but inside I knew she was torn to pieces each St. Patrick's Day. Irene, unlike Grandma Fran, showed her emotions and wanted to talk about it. So, after my brain became less frantic I muttered out the most pathetic thing possible: Lo siento. I have been here four months and all I could muster up was an "I'm sorry" to my favorite señora in the world? It was a shame but she smiled and was glad we cared. 

Irene is a strong women and adores her children, even her unofficial children like myself. When she began to talk about the memories her and her husband shared I couldn't help but smile. She explained how he died, how the following months were hard for her, and how she just had to keep busy otherwise she would become overwhelmed with sadness. One reason why she began hosting foreign exchange students was because she didn't like how the house was so quiet after her husband died. She said he brought so much life to her life, and then she smiled that big smile and chuckled. Clearly she was having an internal dialogue or recollection of memories. After dinner she didn't do the dishes, nor did she hum a happy tune per ritual, instead she talked on the phone with her daughter for a few minutes and headed to bed. It was disheartening to see her in such sad spirits and not like herself. 

The next morning Irene was up bright and early gabbing away on the phone with, what I am assuming was her daughter who lives in Switzerland by the conversation. She had a smile on her face and sipped her coffee as she sat on the couch. As I left for school Tuesday morning I was relieved to see her in a happier mood. That night at dinner we then shared memories we had of Christmas and what traditions we had. Irene became very excited when she was talking about all the toys she had purchased for her two youngest grandchildren and how she has to go to Zara to look at for a nice piece of clothing or accessory for her niece and then a jewelry store for a necklace for her daughter. 

After telling me all of the things she had to do in preparation for the holidays I told her my sock story. She laughed. 
She asked how something so simple can make me think about such unrelated things. I didn't know the term for stream of consciousness, but I think she understood what I was trying to get at. At one point I honestly just told her I was weird, and she said everyone has their quirks. She continued to laugh for a bit and said she was feeling much better today. She said it is much better to talk about how she is feeling with someone than to let it bottle up inside. She is 100 percent right, something my grandmother and I could learn a lesson or two in. Suddenly the sad disposition I saw the night before came back and Irene quickly explained why - she didn't want us to leave. She looks forward to having the new girls in January and is thankful that the weeks between our departure and their arrival will be busy, but it still eerie to be alone in her apartment with no one there to talk to. 

Not long after reassuring her that the holidays will be fun Irene asked me if I was ready to go home. I couldn't lie to such a sweet woman so I said yes, but that I was going to come back and see her and while I was back at school I would write to her. She understood that I needed to go back home, she is a mother after all. So then, after I finished my clementine at the dinner table in the kitchen she bid me goodnight, but not after saying she liked the pair of Christmas socks I had on. I told her they were from my grandmother. She laughed. 

Man, I'm going to miss her. 
 
Thanksgiving was hard to celebrate away from our families, but it was also difficult to celebrate this year with the Madrid family because we were missing one key member, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle. 

After Femy's death in September we all grieved in different ways. Some liked to talk about it, others kept their feelings quiet and some were upfront and said they didn't accept the fact that she was gone. I think I had a mixture of all three. For the past two months we all have been going about our daily routines and remembering Femy for the wonderful person she was when the topic came up, but none of us dwelled on her death and I think we all have moved on from it as best as we have been able to, however after receiving a comment on a blog entry I wrote on the death of Femy, the emotions could not help but come flooding back. 

Her name is Jackie Curbishley and she met Femy when she was an au pair in London, England. Curbishley shared a story that none of the students knew and after conversations with faculty here I don't think they did either. 

Excerpt: 
I first met her through one of my Spanish teachers when I was studying the language as a mature student in London. I was married with two children and a working mum. My teacher, Teresa Rubio told me she had met a young Spanish girl in Bourne & Hollingsworth (a famous old London store, now long gone,) one lunchtime. She said this girl had come to London via an agency in Spain as an au pair, for the purpose of learning English. The family she had been placed with were Indian, they spoke no English at home and wouldn't allow the girl to attend any classes. They had taken away her passport and she was allowed only one day a week off. 
This to me seemed like modern slavery, and ever the campaigner for liberty, I decided to free her.
I was in the music business in those days, managing bands like The Who, so I had access to some pretty heavy security men. That night I sent one of them to the address Teresa had given me with the express orders not to leave without the girl and her passport and if necessary, to call the police.
To cut a long story short, he had to call the police, but Femy arrived at my house that night, aged 23, nervous and bemused as she had no idea how this miracle had come about. 
So began a lifelong friendship. 

Not a single soul in our group knew this about Femy and I never would have expected it. When I first received the email with the blog comment I planned on reading it back at my piso, but decided to read it while I was around friends. As I read it aloud to Emily we both couldn't help up and think about how strong of a woman Femy was. No matter how difficult the situation was she never complained, she never let anyone know how she truly felt if she did not like something and she always turned a horrible situation into a positive one. 

As I continued to read the letter aloud to Emily we kept learning things about our dear Femy that we never knew. She lived with Curbishley and her family in England for three years, becoming fluent in English while she taught them Spanish; Femy was forced to withdraw from her education in Salamanca, Spain because her college grant was taken away due to austerity reasons; she thought the best way to learn English was to be a stewardess but she decided to be an au pair instead; when her college grant was reinstated she went back to her university in Salamanca and never mentioned how she was doing until she told her family and Jackie that she was getting her doctorate and heading to teach in Michigan as a professor. 

Emily asked a good question, how could we have known Femy so well but not have known all of this? Our minds were racing with questions but then we came to a conclusion: we were meant to receive this comment on Thanksgiving, when we all would be together later that evening and be able to process it together, just like we had two months earlier. 

I am not one for fate and I will be honest, I don't know if there is a higher power or not, but you can't help but think we were meant to receive this on a day where we would be missing our families and be leaning on one another already to help us forget about missing a family orientated holiday. 

When I posted the comment in our group Facebook page the responses were positive, one student even said they had chills. We all knew we lost an incredible women but we never knew she could continue to amaze us without even being present in our lives. Curbishley said it best in her closing statement:
 I will never forget her and we have all been touched by her to greater and lesser degrees. That was Femy. Always loving, always giving of herself, and always a shining example of the best of humanity. She will be sorely missed.
- Jackie Curbishley.

 
Picture
It is perhaps the most acceptable holiday to refill your plate more times than you care to remember and still gorge out on pie afterwards all while being surrounded by family and friends. You eat, drink, tell stories and laugh that hearty laugh and the delicious aroma of hot, homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pie, biscuits (I could obviously go on) fills the home. It is Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday. 

This year Thanksgiving Day was quite different than what I am used to, and what many United States citizens are used to. While students back in the United States have part of this week off to celebrate the holiday, us here in Madrid, Spain still have classes, and while you watched football, the 2012 National Dog Show, or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade we, or rather I, watched the season finale of Covert Affairs. Needless to say, the beginning and middle of my Thanksgiving were no match to the customary holiday music, family-filled day I have had since I was just a wee little kid. However, the day took a turn for the best when Dani, my intercambio, and I walked around the city of Madrid and he showed me a breathtaking view of Madrid from the top of a hotel. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at the time. It was a pristine view. While I was with my intercambio I couldn't help but think that there was something about speaking Spanish on Thanksgiving that made me miss home even more, but it helped that Dani was intreagued by the American holiday and asked why we liked our potatoes to be mashed. Several confused faces and cheerful laughs were shared while I tried to explain that phenomenon.

Picture
After chatting for a few hours he walked me to Sol where I met the rest of the Marquette University  students were dressed in our finest attire, that we brought with us that is, and we headed to have our Thanksgiving dinner at Restaurante Botín. For over 30 years Marquette has celebrated the holiday at Botín and it was a pleasure to carry on the tradition, even if it meant swaying from your own, and it was an incredible experience to eat a meal at the world's oldest restaurant opening in 1725, according to the Guinness Book of Records

What made the dinner more special was the presence of Femy's brother and sister-in-law who came to have dinner with us, he said they came in honor of her. It was very sweet of them and made all of us reflect on how we are grateful for the time we had with Femy before her death. In addition to Femy's family a few of our professors from the semester and orientation class came. The table was segregated with profesores on one side and estudiantes on another. It was a blast to see them outside of the classroom, share our traditions, and watch them be confused over why we thought this meal was the best meal of the year. Needless to say our plates were spotless by the end of the meal and they had barely touched theirs.

We did not know what to really expect. Paloma and Lilliana told us it would be an authentic dinner, but we did not really know what their version of authentic would be. But when we saw the turkey, and the vegetables we became overjoyed and could not wait to dive into the meal. 

These were the best parts of the evenings delicacies: 
  • Potatoes, they were not mashed but they were very good.
  • Cranberries. They were from a can, but that did not bother me because I love cranberries mixed with turkey mixed with gravy. It was delish
  • The turkey. Oh my goodness gracious it was heavenly. I like dark and white meat and they gave me both by chance and I could not believe how wonderful it tasted. 
  • Last but not least, the pumpkin and apple pie. To die for. I am a big fan of cinnamon and there was a strong taste of the spice in the apple pie. And the sheer fact that the restaurant served pumpkin pie made my heart melt of happiness.
Picture
We were served one plate of food, going back for more was not an option, but it was plenty to eat. We could barely finish our pie, but we obviously did. While enjoying our pie we also were serenaded by local university students who sang "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and classic Spanish hymns that our professors sang along to. It was an evening full of sharing stories, laughing at jokes and embarrassing moments and our professors and directors witnessing some of us dance to the live music. All in all, it was a success don't you think? 

So, that was my Thanksgiving experience. It was different than what I am accustom to but it turned into one of the best nights I have had in Madrid because I was surrounded by my friends who are like my family. We all are grateful for this opportunity to study abroad in Madrid, and as fate would have it Thanksgiving marked the beginning of our last thirty days. Studying abroad has been one of the greatest gifts given to me but I wouldn't be able to do it without my parents, so I give thanks to my parents Elin and LeRoy Anderson; to my brother and sister-in-law and their new son, Nolan (he is such a cutie); to my friends I have back home who are as solid as rocks; to the new friends I have made here; to Paloma and Lilliana for being there for us after Femy passed away; to my health; to all the traveling and cultures I have been able to experience; and my education. I hope you had a wonderful Turkey Day, we sure did.

 
Saying goodbye is never easy, but it always helps to make things definite by clearing all the unnecessary ambiguity and doubt that something has happened. Last Thursday we said goodbye to our program director, Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle, who died tragically after a car accident caused by a heart attack Thursday, Sept. 27. 

The chapel located in the bottom of our schools building started off nearly empty, only three others students, a few other members of the Madrid community and myself sat in the rows close to the front. The students and I didn't know if we were allowed to sit in the first few rows, but we determined it was OK since we grew so close to her. The minutes passed and the chapel began to fill. Students who studied abroad in previous semesters who now worked in Spain  arrived, her three brothers sat across the aisle, opposite us, their emotions and tears clearly showing how much Femy meant to them. Faculty, that we have grown to know, attended and even some of our señoras came to pay their respects. 

The ceremony began and the priest spoke about the kind, loving person Femy was and how, just like all of Gods children, we live, die and return to our place next to him. The language was no longer a barrier, we all shared the same loss, the same grief and the same question: Why Femy? The priest answered this question by saying it is never the right time for any of us to loose someone we love and care for, but that God has a plan regardless of what is seemingly convenient for us. I am not an extremely religious person but this hit home for me as well as many of us who attended the ceremony. It was not a convenient time to loose Femy, it never would have been, but the idea that she could be looking out for us somewhere in this world, even above us in Heaven, makes loosing her easier because no matter where she is I can guarantee you she is smiling and laughing that hearty laugh she had. 

After a beautiful ceremony there was a homage in one of the classrooms. Photos of Femy when she was a baby, a tomboy and then a college student. There were photos of Femy alone but not many, she was always with someone in a photo and I think that shows just how much of a people person and caregiver she was. There were plenty of photos of her with students, a sign of how she depended on us and we depended on her, and of her with friends laughing.  Kind words were said by her coworkers and her youngest brother at the end that truly embodied the spirit Femy had. No one was ever able to stop her from achieving greatness and she wouldn't stop anyone from going after their dreams. Everyone was touched by Femy and Thursday's ceremony embodied her spirit and the tears that were shed were of sadness but also happiness that we were able to be part of her life in some way. We wish you everlasting peace, Femy. See you on the other side. 

Related content: 
 
Picture
Grandma Fran in Costa Rica, age 80.
Loosing someone who meant a lot to you is difficult, that goes without saying. One thing I never expected was for one loss to bring back the memories of another. 

Last summer, right before I was to head back to Marquette for my sophomore year, my grandmother passed away. Her and I had a special bond. I was the only granddaughter and am approximately seven years behind my cousins and brother, it's safe to say I was a surprise. Frances, yes my grandmother has a kick-butt name like Frances, taught me how to find good bargains, let me sit in the tub until my hands and feet were pruney when I was young, and introduced me to Shirley Temple. Grandma Fran was a cool cat. 

Upon hearing the news of loosing our program director, Femy, I was extremely sad. I lost the professor who really made me decide, with 100 percent of my body, that I wanted to go to Madrid, Spain to study abroad. She instilled hope in her students and made them feel smart and successful, she had a lot of qualities that reminded me of my grandmother. I never really noticed this until Friday, when unexpectedly, but naturally, all of the feelings of loss and remorse came back. 

It's not easy starting a semester with a loss. It, regrettably, seems to be a trend right now. Focusing is difficult, sleeping is even harder, and even a little One Direction doesn't seem to light up my world like it used to, but the one thing that does, is my Madrileño family. 

I really cannot emphasize enough that when you study abroad, the people you are with become your support system. We are always there for one another and if something isn't going well, we find a way to turn it around. We all become exhausted when we think about Femy. I certainly do because it reminds me of how much I miss my grandmother as well, but the beauty of studying abroad is that you have a new family and a new place to distract you from the pain you are feeling. 

You learn something new everyday, and today I have learned that study abroad as more faces to it than traveling and going out in the evenings. The educational experience makes you realize the importance of support, family and how regardless of language barriers, everyone knows what it feels to loose someone and feel that pain deeply.

Related content: 
 
"WE ARE MARQUETTE," a chant said by many when our men's basketball team is up by fifteen and the Bradley Center is a sea of blue and yellow. This is a time when happy moments surround our school's slogan, but I bet a lot of us never thought three words could transcend the barriers of an ocean, triumph over death, and bring a group of eleven students closer than they could have imagined. 

Last Friday my fellow classmates and I received the tragic news that our resident director and personally coined, "fun mom," Dr. Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle, passed away the night before in a car accident. 

Sanchez de la Calle, also called Femy by her students, was an associate professor of Spanish and resident director of the Marquette en Madrid program. She was a woman of many things, but most people know her for her smile, laugh, intelligence and all around joyful demeanor. 

Our group of eleven was scattered across the continent when we received phone calls from the Office of International Education. Five in Italy, one in France, five in Spain and one in Germany. Many of us thought it had to do with us failing our intensive orientation courses, what we all found out put that presumption to dust. Terence Miller and Gail Gilbert informed us that we lost not only a teacher, but also a friend we held near and dear to our hearts. 

Some may have known Femy for only the month that they have been in Spain, others, such as myself, had Femy for one or more classes at Marquette. In cases such as these time doesn't matter, the growth of the relationship does, and each of us grew closer to her than I think we even realized. 

When I first met Femy I was a scared freshman in her first semester at Marquette University. I had been placed into Spanish 3500, a level clearly not meant for me but somehow the placement exam thought so. Femy was the professor and we all sat in our rows in Lalumiere Hall staring at her. She was a pretty woman with brown hair and discreet highlights and an accent that made me shrink even further into my chair because it made it more difficult than it already was to comprehend. We went around, one by one, and did the usual shpeal: state our name, year, and major. 

Well, let me tell ya. When my turn came around and I said I wanted to be a journalist Femy gave me a large smile and a slightly audible laugh. "A journalist?" she asked me after a grueling 55 minutes. I said yes, and she told me to go for it, but not loose myself in the chase. She also said to keep my second major as Spanish a month later when I wanted to drop it. Just as a precaution if my other career didn't work, she said while laughing in my advising session.  

She was a funny woman, and always made a point to greet everyone and make sure they were doing well. Here, she frequently would check in on us and made a point to speak in the best Spanglish I have ever heard when she knew we didn't understand what she was saying. She was the queen of taking group photos, buying us ice cream and making sure we had enough to eat at every meal we went to. After hearing the news of her death we all recalled these events and asked one another, who is going to make us take those ridiculous photos? What about our Thanksgiving dinner we were supposed to share with her? Who is going to find humor in our crazy stories about our señoras and then crack jokes about them? You can't replace Femy, she was one of a kind. 

Since her passing we have received numerous forms of support from the university. E-mails from Campus Ministry, Mission and Ministry, OIE, outreach from students who also knew Femy, and a wave of generosity from faculty here in Madrid. However, as comforting as this support is, it's each other that the eleven of us rely on. Within group, none of us have refused a hug, we accept each others tears and sniffles. We don't expect one another to move on any time soon, in fact we expect it to take each of us a different amount of time. Each of us are grieving differently but we have one another, we have our new family. Our group of eleven  and the support coming across the Atlantic Ocean is, right now, the epitome "WE ARE MARQUETTE." No one is alone in this time of difficulty, and if you feel you are look to the Marquette population, we are not just a family during basketball games, but also during times of tragedy. 

We miss you, Femy. We miss your smile, positive attitude, generosity and the fact that you were a professor who meant business but also acted as our temporary mother who wanted everything to go well for her students, including the discotecas. You were an inspiration to many and we will never forget the impact you had on our lives, regardless of how long you were part of them.  I think I can say, on behalf of all of Marquette and the people you have touched, thank you.


Related content: 
 
Today, Friday September 28, the students in the Marquette en Madrid program received phone calls from the Office of International Education at Marquette University informing us that Eufemia Sanchez de la Calle, our program director and personally coined "fun mom," passed away in a car accident two nights ago. We all were on vacation in various countries and Europe when the accident occurred. 

Due to this accident and loss I will be returning to the blog come Sunday evening or Monday morning after all of my fellow students, faculty and I have processed what has occurred and are told the details of the event and how we as a group and program will be proceeding. 

Blogs regarding the experiences in Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; and how strong a community can be, will be posted as soon as possible.  For now, please keep your thoughts and prayers with our beloved Femy's family. 

- Andrea