Semester in Spain by Sarah

There are currently a number of Dordt students studying abroad this semester in Spain! One of them is my friend Sarah Van Hulzen, a fellow education major that I've had the privilege of getting to know a bit over this past year and a half! I contacted Sarah recently and asked her to compose a blog for me to use for The Dordt Life. Graciously, she accepted and wrote up this beautiful piece. Please take a read!

Sevilla, Spain. Where do I even start? I’ve thought about sharing all of the highlights of my semester so far. Really wow you. Make you think I am living this grand life full of nonstop adventure. But while I have had some incredible adventures, the majority of my time here has been day to day living. Some good days, and some bad. I was reminded by a friend that study abroad is ‘wonderful and transformative, but it’s also normal living’. And I’ve found a beauty and a freedom in accepting each day as a miracle, whether I’m traversing through Europe, staying in sketchy hostels and hiking mountains, or sleeping in, eating too much Nutella, and lounging in my pajamas until supper time. So without further ado, I’ve decided to take you through two typical days here in Sevilla.

A typical day in the life…

I wake up at 7:15 to Elevation Worship and the sun shining through the white curtains. My roommate is reading her Bible. I walk to the bathroom, passing through the kitchen. The smell of coffee stirs me awake little by little. I’m greeted by Maria, the gem of a woman who helps around the house. “Buenos días, hija” she chimes. Three simple words and I’m reminded that I am in Spain. Shoot dang, I feel blessed. I get ready for the day, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a bowl of cereal while reading the Word before heading out of the apartment with my roommate, Bailey. Our walk to school takes a half hour, but when the sun is shining and the streets are full of people walking their pups, the walk is an absolute delight. We smile at the same man we see each morning who stands on the street corner selling tissues, we pass Mr. Pizza, our favorite spot to get giant slices of pizza for 2 euros, and we arrive at Plaza de Cuba. Crossing the bridge that takes us to the center of town, I look out over the river and see the morning sun glistening on the slow moving water. It’s 8:40 and several people are already out rowing on the river. The rest of the walk to school is down the main street of Sevilla. The city is awake a bustling. Horse and carriages are parked out front the towering cathedral, waiting for their next customers. Restaurants and bars are opening their doors and setting out tables in chairs. Baily and I leave the bustle of downtown and turn onto a side street that leads to the school.

Upon arriving at school, Ana greets us at the front desk. The school is full of students from several different universities. Although there are 14 colleges represented in the program, everyone chats with one another. Even with 40 students that didn’t know each other 3 months before, the atmosphere of the school is warm and welcoming. At 9, class starts. My lovely teacher, Carolina smiles as she walks in to find all 7 of her students ready for the day. “Hola clase! Cómo estáis?” The next three and a half hours are spent with some of my favorite people as we try to grasp new grammar concepts and speak Spanish with one another. I can honestly say that my class here is one of my favorite classes I’ve ever had in my life. We talk in the best Spanish we can muster, we are all patient with one another, Carolina makes class fun, we laugh until our abs hurt, and we learn applicable Spanish that we get to use in and out of the classroom. During our 20 minute break, we go to either a coffee shop or a pastry shop, justifying our eating habits with the fact that we walk at least 20 minutes to and from school every day.

After class is over, I head to the roof of the school to start homework and play guitar. The warm sun and gentle breeze makes my soul happy. I’m often joined by other students, some chatting, some reading, some drawing. An hour on the roof looking out over the city makes one never want to leave Sevilla. I walk home for lunch at 2. The walk home is just as interesting as the walk to school. The streets are full of people performing, singers, dancers, and artists. I pass George, a singer from Romania who sings covers of Ed Sheeran, Hozier, and Ben Howard. When I have time, I pick out a tune while he takes a break.

Once I get home, I sit down with my host mom, host sister, and Bailey. We eat a typical meal of croquetas, lentil soup, and bread. We have pleasant conversation and laugh about the day while we sit on comfy couches with the table cloth pulled over our legs and a space heater on under the table. After a dessert of either yogurt or fruit, we sobremesa (time after a meal to talk) for at least an hour. With a full stomach and a tired brain from a morning of Spanish, my bed is calling my name. Siesta time has finally arrived, and man it is oh so sweet. An hour of sleep in the middle of the day has become a guilty pleasure.

After siesta, I make my way back downtown to meet with a friend I met at church. We go out for ice cream and chat in Spanish about our week. We mosey through town, bopping in and out of stores laughing as we hold up ridiculous clothes we’d never wear, or comforting each other when we want that sweater but we don’t have any money (a consequence of too many ice cream dates). After bidding my friend ‘adios’, I spend the last bits of sunlight by the river. I’m found once again with guitar in hand and Bible beside me feeling overwhelmed by this crazy awesome life and my crazy awesome God.

I return home for supper at 9. A wonderful meal leads to an hour of homework. From there I crawl back into my bed, unmade from my siesta yet comfy as ever. My roommate and I write something on our gratitude list from the day and I go to sleep with a smile on my face.

Another very typical day in Sevilla…

I crawl out of my bed at 8:15. I’m supposed to leave the apartment at 8:30. It’s another rainy day. I throw on a flannel and grab a piece of fruit on my way out the door. I speed walk to school and plop down in my chair as class is starting. I pull out my half-finished homework and struggle to grasp what my teacher is saying. I can barely stammer out a sentence in Spanish. During our break, I realize I forgot money for coffee. After class is over, I walk out into the streets and am met by a downpour of rain. I forgot my umbrella so I walk home getting drenched. At home, my host mom has to repeat everything she says at least 3 times for me to understand what she is saying. After lunch I crawl to my bed and end up sleeping an hour longer than I wanted to. I try to do homework, but can’t seem to focus. The rain has let up, so I go for a run. 10 minutes later, I realize I need to stop making so many stops to Mr. Pizza and a pastry a day might be good for the soul, but it is bad for my heart. I shower, watch a show on Netflix, eat supper, and head to bed. I spent the day just trying to survive. I miss home and wonder what I’m doing in this foreign land and if I’ll ever actually learn the language.

These are two typical days in Spain. While one is obviously better than the other, I have come to appreciate both. Each day is different, some hard, some easier. Some wonderful, some quite difficult. I find myself struggling to control my emotions. Some days I stay positive and go through the day with gratitude and other days I feel overwhelming sad and lonely. But on both days, God remains the same. God reminds me that even though I’m human, and unstable, and emotional, He is always the same. He is my rock. He is constant. So whether I am speaking perfect Spanish, or struggling to order a smoothie, whether I am in love with Sevilla or hopelessly missing home, God reminds me that He is my home and He is guiding me through it all. On my good days and on my bad, He is molding me and He is shaping me. And for this I am so so thankful. So to any of you considering study abroad, I won’t sugar coat it. It is difficult sometimes, but it is worth it. It is transformative. From the good days to the bad, the wild adventures to the daily schedules, God will use it all to reveal Himself and help you grow in faith and wisdom.

As you can probably tell by her words, Sarah is such a neat gal. I so admire her honesty, and the way she finds God and can see him working in all situations. On the right are a collection of her photos she shared with me! Hope you enjoyed. :)



In one of my education methods classes, we are focusing on citizenship. Social studies is citizenship education, so my professor asked us today if any of us saw examples of good citizenship over spring break! To be honest, I did not think about it during spring break, but looking back on it now, I can see there were actually a lot of examples of people who demonstrated citizenship to my fellow choir members and I during tour!

1) Our bus driver dealt with 51 college students without a complaint and allowed to us watch loud movies, sing, play some pretty rowdy games, fill up the bus's bathroom a couple times (yuck,) and even drove us through snow storms, always getting us safely to our destinations, 11 days straight. I would never be able to do that, but he did it all and interacted with us, always having a basket of candy (which he refilled at least 3 times during the trip) at the front of the bus for us. What a guy. :)

 one of my tour buddy and i's wonderful host families

one of my tour buddy and i's wonderful host families

2) Our host families--they were willing to pick us up late after our concerts (many even came to our concerts!) ;), give us beds to sleep in, bathrooms to use, tons of food to eat (can you spot the lunch bag in the photo on the right?,) :) and many woke up before dawn to bring us back to our bus for the next day. They were amazing, to say the least.

3) One of our road trip lunches consisted of Panda Express. My tour buddy and I happened to be talking to the guy and his wife behind us and he offered to pay for our meals. What a treat!

 beautiful jellyfish from the aquarium

beautiful jellyfish from the aquarium

4) Our free afternoon was scheduled to be visiting Yosemite National Park, buuuut it was forecasted to be 23 degrees and snowing 8-25 inches in the park. Needless to say, when we packed for the Southwest, we didn't exactly bring our snow clothes along... :) So all week we had been trying to come up with other options. One of the people who attended a concert of ours the night before our free day heard our plight, and offered to pay for all of us to go see the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was absolutely gorgeous and such a generous gift.

5) Once we stayed in a hotel since we did not have a concert and host families to stay with that night. We had to be loading the bus and leaving by 6:00am the next morning, but the hotel breakfast was not scheduled to be open until 6:00. Our director asked if they would be able to open it just 10-15 minutes early for us to grab something on our way out. They willingly did. In fact, one of my choir members who had been doing homework earlier that morning said the breakfast lady had opened it already at 5:20am for us! Wow, now that is being a servant. What an incredible, selfless display of citizenship.

Thinking back to these models of hospitality, selflessness, and pure goodness inspires me to want to be a better citizen, too. I'm going to work on that more intentionally the remainder this week. :)


Reflections on Choir Tour

Hey all! It's been a long time since I've posted. I'm sorry about that! Today was our first day of classes post-spring break. For 51 students, this also means it was our first day back from choir tour! I have had the incredible blessing of being part of concert choir this year and over spring break we went on our tour! We had the privilege of singing in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Califorina, and are looking forward to our homecoming concert on campus this Friday. :) As I reflect on this trip, there are a number of notions that occurred to me. I'll give you just a few.

1. Growing up in NW Iowa, in the same town I attend college in, I never understood how students from other states and countries heard of Dordt College. I mean honestly, a town with a population about 7,000, in the middle of Iowa's cornfields? How does one come to know about it? Well going on this tour opened my eyes to the incredible amount of people who knew of and even have connections to Dordt. Every single host family my tour buddy and I stayed with had some knowledge of and/or connection to Dordt College-and we stayed with nine different families in four different states! That is quite incredible. I learned this week that Dordt has 19,000 alumni! The legacy Dordt College is leaving is amazing.

2. I am so incredibly thankful to be attending a college where we can sing praises to our Savior in our choir songs. Some of my favorite pieces we sing are anthems of praise to our amazing Lord. Each school and church that hosted us welcomed us with incredible hospitality and showed us their dedication to their faith and their church body and it was so neat to have conversations about faith with them that we otherwise likely could not have had. Honestly, our favorite places to sing on tour were some of the old churches-their acoustics were beautiful! Being able to do devotions on the bus with the choir each morning, as well as before each concert every night entirely puts my mind and heart in the right space. I cannot imagine being in a choir where we would not have that freedom.

3. Guys, the people I go to school with are so cool. :) I've always felt that choir is one of the most diverse groups of people on campus, encompassing friend groups and personalities all over the spectrum. And it is so incredibly neat to spend 250+ hours with them straight because I learned so much about each individual that made me gain a deeper appreciation for who they are, as well as for the Creator for making us so unique. I'm so thankful to sing in a choir where we can celebrate our uniqueness and yet all come together to make a joyful noise (Psalm 98.)

Basically, this week was awesome. :) Minus a little snow trouble one day, everything went so well, and I had an incredible time. If you're interested in hearing us, I strongly encourage you to join us this Friday night, March 23, and 7:30pm in the BJH! If that's not possible, but you would like to hear just bits and pieces of our concert, I have included a link from one of our tour stops this past week-Ripon, CA. I hope you enjoy. :)

If you're curious about the facial expression and such going on in some of the photos I chose, I'll just say we have some very fun warm-ups. :) Thanks to Mary VW for the photos!


More Than Just Pepperoni Pizza

On Thursday night I walked down the stairs of the Campus Center to be greeted by the sound of chatter, music, and the smell of pizza. My friends and I made the spontaneous trip to find ourselves some hot food and a place to chat about our days. It's a trek that we make at least once or twice every week. Our destination? The Grille.

The Grille is a-buzz with activity and deliciousness, making it one of my favorite places on campus. When my friends and I do have the time to sit down at the Grille, the food is always worth it. Pizza, onion rings, fried cheese curds—they're all absolutely delicious, especially late at night when you're writing long papers. But, if you ask me, the best food at the Grille is their pepperoni pizza. Plus, if you happen to go the Grille between 1:30-3:30 p.m. or 8-10 p.m., you can get it on meal exchange, which means you get a side and a drink, or, if you're like me, forgo a side and get two slices. 

However, the Grille's pepperoni pizza is more than just a spicy, cheesy slice of goodness.  Pepperoni pizza means community, between myself and my friends and our group and the other groups who meet in the Grille. It means laughter between bites and trading stories from our classes. It means the kind of comfort and satisfaction that you can only get from a good slice of pizza.

-- Erika

Thrown Back into the Action

The first week of classes is over.  The Spring 2018 semester has commenced with little fanfare.  Yet somehow, everything feels different.

Getting back into school after any break can be difficult.  Just going to classes on Monday after the weekend feels like it takes extra effort.  After a month of naps, gifts, and no homework, going back to classes every day feels like a daunting task.  Yet, the stress I often felt during first semester is gone.  I see familiar faces in classes and on sidewalks.  I find time to socialize, sleep, eat, and do homework.  My 17-credit schedule doesn't seem nearly as challenging as I thought it would.

It's different than my first semester of college.  At times, freshman orientation was draining for me.  Meeting new people sometimes got exhausting, trying to find friends wasn’t always easy, and getting the hang of homework loads and professorial expectations was often a nightmare.  But, I learned a lot and made it through.

So, I was a little surprised when the start of this second semester of my freshman year seemed similarly draining as my first one.

On Monday, I moved in.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I already had lists of homework to accomplish.  Apparently, "syllabus day" was more like a "syllabus glance-over plus actual class day."  It was a shock.  What happened to the leisurely academic start I had experienced first semester?  How could I have four different reading assignments plus a one-page paper and an analysis to write already?  It felt overwhelming.  Instead of getting to dip my toes in first, it was like I had been tossed headlong into the water. 

Even though I found the first week of classes to be draining, I know that, this time, things will be easier.

I know now how quickly time passes in college, and I know how to manage that time.  It helps that I enjoy the massive amounts of reading and writing that my English major demands from me.  I have more confidence in myself now because the first semester taught me that I can handle just about any chaos that gets thrown at me.  As the stress of the first week fades away, I am already excited about what I can learn from my professors.

The first week of classes is over, but the fun has just begun.


AMOR in Cambodia

One of the best learning and growing opportunities Dordt students have over Christmas break is to go on AMOR (A Mission OutReach). Aaron Baart, Dordt's dean of chapel, likes to call them "vision trips": we get a chance to spend 1-2 weeks in another country seeing what God is already doing there through organizations like One Body One Hope, World Renew, and Sarah's Covenant Homes

This year, my team went to Cambodia. We learned so much on our trip. We spent a few days with local families and experienced what daily life is like in rural Cambodia. We learned how World Renew partners with local NGOs to improve health, education, governance, and food safety. We struggled with the horrors of the Pol Pot Regime and Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. We saw so many Buddhist monks and learned about spirit houses. The two weeks we spent in Cambodia really pushed us outside of our comfort zones and helped us to grow in so many ways.

If you get a chance to go on AMOR when you come to Dordt, you should take it; you won't regret it.




Hello all :) Hope you are enjoying your Christmas break and had wonderful parties and all that jazz! Today I am going to write about a project that some Dordt students are involved in this month! Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't, but it's December, and that means for these students, it's Dressember.

Since I chose not to participate in Dressember this year, two Dordt freshmen girls, Brianna and Katie, graciously answered a few questions for me about the project so I can relay it to you, for those who don't know! :) I have included the questions and answers below. :)

What is Dressember?

-Dressember is an international movement that basically tries to raise awareness and funds for victims of sex trafficking, which is actually a super big issue world wide.  In having people wear dresses, which honestly feels pretty simple, the organization creates an awesome community of people who want to see change.

-Dressember is an organization which raises awareness for human trafficking and human rights around the world. Women globally commit to wearing dresses everyday of December as both a conversation starter and a fundraiser for the cause.

 this is the beautiful Brianna and Madi Shae, on the first day of Dressember :)

this is the beautiful Brianna and Madi Shae, on the first day of Dressember :)

Why did you decide to participate in Dressember? Anything specifically inspire you?

-I looked into it then and realized what a great movement it is, and knew I wanted to do it in the future.  Madi Shae asked me this year if I'd be interested, and we started a little Dordt team!  It's a really cool way to be a part of this bigger movement. Also, everyday when I put on a dress and wear it walking to class and whatever else, it constantly reminds me there's so many people hurting out there, and as cheesy as it sounds I think it makes live with a little more awareness that people around me are struggling with things too (probably not human trafficking, but it's kind of a cool unintentional way dressember can make a difference). 

-I first heard about Dressember when I visited Dordt on a campus tour my senior year of High School. I thought it was such an amazing opportunity because it was something small that I could do, but it had the potential to make such a large impact. It is worth waking up in the morning and putting on a dress instead of sweatpants because I know that women around the world are going through so much worse. 

How many years have you took part in Dressember?

-This is my first year, but I have loved doing it so far, and would be down to be a part of it again!

-This is my first year! 😊

Are you starting your own "team" to raise money for Dressember? Or encouraging others to donate to the page itself? Or just raising awareness? (Any of these are awesome😃)

-We do have a Dordt dressember page for our team where we've been raising money so far this month!  Currently we've raised just over $850 of our $1000 goal (our page is here: (: ) So hopefully we'll be able to get there by the end of the month, it's awesome how many people either support or are directly involved in this from so many different places.

-I am a part of the Dordt team, so I am directing people to the Dordt Dressember page.

Anything else you'd like to share about Dressember?

-There's a lot of sadness and brokenness in the world, and it's just awesome to see how we, a few girls in Northwest Iowa, can do something so simple and make a tangible difference in someone's life who really needs it this year.  The website is an awesome place to learn a little bit about the cause and how it started, which is an awesome story, so if you're at all curious, check out the campaign!

-It is absolutely incredible to be able to help people around the world from a small town in Iowa. I am so grateful to everyone who is spreading awareness!

Basically, what Brianna and Katie are doing, along with some of their friends, is taking part in an international fight to raise awareness and money to combat the evils of human trafficking. What started with one lady in 2013, has now grown to thousands of women participating and in 2016, raising just shy of $1,500,000. The organization's goal for this year is $2,000,000. To date, they have raised $1,355,008.70. The Dordt girls' team has raised $1,036.05 of their $1,000 goal!! (Whoop whoop!!)

Seriously people, Dressember is so cool. Such a small commitment can make such a huge difference.



What Dance Has Taught Me

I realize I just posted an Instagram picture about dance, but I am also going to write a blog about it. It's been awhile since I have written one on it, and since we are just home from competition, it's the first thing on my mind. :)

 our lyrical routine from isdta

our lyrical routine from isdta

Being in dance, as any sport, teaches one so many things. Obviously we learn concepts of the sport itself, which for dance would include technique, French terminology, how to be expressive, performance value, etc. But there is so much more to a sport than just what meets the eye. Over my past year and a half of dancing at Dordt, and the 13 years of studio dance plus high school dance team before that, I have gleaned so much. Here's just five of the things dance has taught me:

1. Dance is a means of glorifying God. It is a gift. In my first studio, there is a wall decal that reads Psalm 149:3. "Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre." We use the beauty of dance to bring glory to God.

 our hip hop routine from isdta

our hip hop routine from isdta

2. Dance is a way to express oneself through physical movement which is unique to its nature. Beauty, anger, grace, power, sadness, joy, and so much can be portrayed through a dance. It is also an outlet from the stress of daily life. When we walk through the door to the studio or currently to the areobics room to practice, we leave our homework, jobs, and other co-curriculars there and our minds can just focus on dance.

3. Dance instills confidence in each individual. From being on stage and performing to a teacher and coach's positive encouragement in studio class or a practice to seeing improvement in the mirrors, one's confidence is built.

 our pom routine from isdta

our pom routine from isdta

4. Dance teaches hard work. As with any sport, progress doesn't just happen over night. Team turns, high leaps, and getting the precision of the movements all together takes time and has work. This instilled work ethic carries over into our school work, relationships, jobs, and more. Whether or not we come home with trophies from competitions, we can see confidence being gained and progress being made.

5. Dance friends are the best friends. We have used this statement for years, but honestly it's not wrong. From studio memories to carpooling to high school morning practices together to spending 10-15 hours a week practicing together in college, friendships are built. And they last. And it's beautiful.

These are just a few of the things I have learned from dance. No matter how long I will be involved in dance in college or beyond, I will never lose the lessons I have been taught from it and will treasure the memories and relationships forever.