I apologize that it’s been so long since I’ve updated, but I was engrossed in a bit of traveling and I had a two-week stint of visitors which was quite delightful. I’m going to try to back track to where I last updated, but it feels so long ago that things will probably be more brief, as I can’t easily conjour up my feelings for the most authentic blog post.
My family came to Spain for Christmas, and it was so great to spend time with them for a week. It was nice to have quality time together as it was our first family vacation in a decade and I’m unsure when we will all be together again.
It was so comforting to be around people who know me so well. During their visit (as mentioned in a previous post), we went to the Alhambra:
Visited a monastery in Granada:
We also walked around the city, and saw the beautiful Granada cathedral:
For Christmas Eve, when everything was closed, we had a picnic in the hotel of bread, cheese, fruit, and the delicious Spanish ham.
We also went to Jerez de la Frontera for a vineyard tour of Tio Pepe sherry, saw the highlights of Sevilla, and went to the famous Museo del Prado in Madrid. All wonderful. Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I was not equipped with my charger, so I have no photos of these experiences.
As a young woman, and also as the youngest in family, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the transformation of my family over the past few years. I moved to Spain, one of my brothers moved to Illinois, and how I feel when I am in the house I grew up is much different than I once did. What is “home”? Spain doesn’t feel like home. My parent’s house feels safe, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like “home” anymore either. I wonder when the next time will be that I will feel rooted to a certain place. I’m starting to believe that home is more of a feeling than a location. Being with my brothers and parents feels like home. Sharing a laugh with friends feels like home.
I have a quote taped to my mirror in my apartment, and it has become truer as I grow older.
Home is wherever you are if there’s love there, too.
While I am in Sevilla, I go to Spanish class 4 hours a day. In high school and college, I hated Spanish. I thought it was difficult and I didn’t think I’d ever need to use it (wrong-o). However, I am seriously in love with this language class. It’s extremely intensive because it is only two weeks, but it’s really entertaining and I’m learning a lot.
The school I am attending is in the heart of the city and teaches a bunch of different languages to students of many nationalities. They offer a lot of other cultural programs as well…weekend trips to nearby countries, tours of the city, etc. The atmosphere of the school is so fun. You never know what language the person sitting next to you in the library speaks. Everyone seems to love the study of culture and the joys of travel. It’s exhilarating! It would be really cool to work at an international language school one day.
While I am indulging in the romance of learning a new language, I am also realizing how immensely difficult it is to become fluent. Yes, I can form sentences. Yes, I can understand you if you use basic words, speak slowly and use charades. However, when I overhear a conversation in Spanish at the table next to me (at the same pace at which I would speak English)…I can’t understand anything.
I am learning more and more that residing in a foreign country does not grant you the sudden privilege to understand another language. In fact, I believe to be fluent in a second language, even living in a country where it is the native language, is an active choice, and is hard work. You can learn by osmosis how to function in the everyday places…i.e. the grocery store, the mall, etc. But you can’t just learn how to have a coherent conversation by walking around. It takes a lot of study and a lot of practice, and a little discomfort. It is uncomfortable when you can’t find the words to express your thoughts to someone else. It’s uncomfortable when you say something so incorrectly that other people laugh. But that’s how you learn. When I move to Granada, and I have fewer American friends nearby, I am going to become even more fully immersed in the uncomfortable stage, but I’ll need to keep reminding myself that is it all part of the process.
On a different note, I have a huge crush on my cutie Spanish teacher. I don’t think he’s interested in me at all, but I often daydream in my free time about our future life together. He could perfect his English, I could perfect my Spanish…we could work at this language school together…have bilingual babies…it’s really the ideal situation. The positive aspect to this scenario is that I try harder in class, and that benefits everyone. 🙂
Besos y Abrazos,
I had a really awesome birthday here. Granted, I missed you all extremely, but I tried to put homesickness out of my mind and enjoy the day here. The night before my birthday, I went out with Enrique and his girlfriend and their friends. They were extremely kind and spoke really slow Spanglish with me. I appreciated it. At midnight, they sang happy birthday to me in Spanish.
On my actual birthday, my host family got me a delicious ice cream cake and candles and sang to me after dinner. It was really, really sweet. They also insisted on taking pictures of me blowing out the candles (there were multiple reenactments), and they took one with my Spanish cell phone to send to my parents (however, I have no clue how to send an international text).
I went out at night to a street with lots of bars called Calle Betis for sangria and dancing with friends from the program. They made me feel really special and I had a lot of fun. I was also touched by all of the kind e-mails, voicemails, and facebook messages from people in the States. It meant so much to me. 22 is going to be a good year.
Besos y Abrazos,
I moved in with my host family, and they are incredibly precious. They are very patient with me as I learn Spanish. They often say “poco a poco” which means something comparable to “a little at a time” when I struggle to find the right words. Enrique, Sr. is the kind father, Enrique, Jr. is 26 and is a salesman and Maria Luisa is the lovely Senora. They also have two daughters who are in their thirties and live with their respective husbands. Both parents are retired. Everyday, Maria Luisa cooks something delicious. The food that I have at her house is honestly better than anything I’ve had at any restaurant here. I may be 5 pounds heavier after this homestay…because a lot of Spanish food is unhealthy and also because I can never refuse it from them. 🙂
Not to toot my own horn, but they have since told me that I am the best exchange student they have ever had. I believe this to be so for the following reasons. First, none of their other home stays have spoken a lick of Spanish. Second, because they said that Americans are more similar to them culturally. They also say that I am “funny.” I am not sure if they think that “funny” and “fun” are the same (many people confuse them when learning English), or if I actually make them laugh. I did make one joke in Spanish which went over well. The conversation went like this:
Enrique: Annie…like “tomorrow, tomorrow!”
Annie: Si…pero yo tengo padres (Yes, but I have parents).
They thought that was cute. They tell that joke whenever they introduce me to new people. It’s good that we have overlapping pop culture to draw us together.
Besos y Abrazos, (kisses and hugs)
p.s.—I don’t get much Internet here. My host family does not have Wi-Fi, so I can only use the internet when I go to my Spanish classes. It will be much easier for me to call/e-mail when I move into my permanent residence at the beginning in of October. Right now, it is frustrating because time difference + limited Internet = Annie is bad at keeping in touch. But I promise it is temporary.
Upon arrival in Sevilla, I met at a hotel with the rest of the Teach in Spain group. There are in total approximately 150 people from America teaching in different cities in Andalusia, and about 50 people at this orientation section. It has been interesting getting to know people, hear about their hometowns, (none from MD or VA…tear) and listen to their motivation for teaching abroad.
We have been meeting at the University of Sevilla campus in the morning and talking about all the crucial pieces of info about life in Spain…our health insurance plan, how to get a cell phone, how to find a place to live, how to acquire a bank account, how to avoid death, etc. We also learned about some of the cultural differences and received information on our homestays. I am living with a Senora, her husband, and her son who is 26, named Enrique. Apparently it is completely normal here to live at home until you are 30 or 35. Strange, huh? I don’t move in until Friday, and I am very excited to meet them. I am hoping that Enrique is a Spanish cutie who insists on becoming my Spanish tour guide.
Here’s what we learned about Spanish culture in regard to our homestays:
1. They will be direct in telling you how they feel about anything and everything.
2. You can’t just eat whenever you want. You need to eat set meals and let them cook for you. Apparently they try to feed you a ton, and are very territorial of the kitchen.
In the afternoon, we met with the other people who will be teaching in our same city for lunch. The three other teachers in Granada and I went for tapas, and they seem like quality individuals. After lunch, we went on a tour of Alcazar, a palace in Spain. I have bad news about this for you, my dear friend. Not only did my camera battery die after 2 pictures, but I opted to take the tour in Spanish so I have very little information to offer about the significance of this place. It was VERY beautiful though…I wish you could have been there to see it! Google it if you’re interested.
Our day was concluded by meeting a local college student and taking a tour of the neighborhood where my host family is from, Triana. We passed the bull ring on our way, and ate more tapas! It was a long day, and a lot of walking, even for a girl who loves to walk.
While I am enjoying orientation is it hard to not be antsy to get to my teaching location and settle in. Every time I tell a local that I am teaching in Granada, they rave about how beautiful it is, and tell me how jealous they are. I CAN’T WAIT.
I promise to take lots of pictures today, so that you can get a visual taste of what I’m doing. Off to breakfast!
Let’s start at the beginning. By some miracle, I stuffed only one suitcase full of things for the whole year. Granted, I had to pay $50 for it being overweight, but nonetheless, it was one bag! (when I checked in today with my program, the coordinator asked me if all my luggage made it because she couldn’t believe I only had one suitcase…I was a minority among the women).
So, gigantic suitcase and overstuffed backpack and purse in tow, I arrived at BWI for the first of three flights. I flew to JFK, and made a friend along the journey. Alexis is studying abroad in Madrid and we had lunch together during our layover..and naturally, shared life stories. On my long international flight, I watched a Queen Latifah/Common chick flick (so bad, yet slightly entertaining) and talked to the very nice Spanish couple sitting next to me. They spoke very little English so this is how the conversation went:
Me: Are you from Spain?
Me: De donde eres? (for all you non-Spanish speakers, that means “Where are you from?”)
Them: Alicante. Spanish spanish spanish spanish spanish spanish I had no idea spanish spanish spanish I kept nodding and smiling
Me: Si! En un viaje? (On a trip)
Them: Si! spanish I didn’t understand for about 10 seconds….Canada...more spanish I didn’t understand….Bonita (that means pretty)...more spanish…I continue to nod and smile.
The really glorious part of this story is that I think she thought that I really understood her. I figure…”fake it til you make it,” right? 🙂
Anyway, my last layover was in my least favorite airport, Barajas (in Madrid). I dislike Barajas because it is extremely confusing for all human beings…Spanish speakers and otherwise. The arrows make no sense, and there are just lots of letters and signs but no real direction. For example, if you read a sign that said “Terminal H” and then it had an arrow that pointed down, you would assume that perhaps that meant it was downstairs. Wrong. It means continue straight. Sometimes the arrows are pointing in obviously incorrect places, like inside a perfume store. Sometimes they are diagonal. Sometimes they are squiggly. Can you understand the frustrating nature of this?
Arrows aside, I found my way to my gate by doing what I do best…befriending people who are going my way, assessing their level of competence and following them until I get where I need to be. Works like a charm. After a 6 hour layover, I boarded my final flight (this time I sat next to a French man and his business partner from Switzerland…we talked, but I don’t know enough French, so the conversation was short lived. I think they were going to Sevilla to decorate windows? But I wouldn’t bet my life on it). I have met a bunch of people also teaching, but only one so far in my city. I am excited to get settled, and to rid myself of the woes of Jet lag.
I’ll be here in sunny Sevilla for three weeks before moving to Granada. I have orientation this week, and I am taking a 2 week language immersion class (during which I will stay with a host family).
Adios for now!