One's destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things. -Henry Miller

Posts tagged “Sucking at Spanish

An American Girl in Spain

Being an American girl in Spain is an interesting experience. And by that I mean that there is a whole load of stereotypes that accompany the word “American” combined with being a female. I really hate to say this, but sometimes, it pains me to hear other people call me an American because I feel like there is a harsh judgment associated with this. Men have a tendency to be um…very forward with me when they realize I am not fluent in Spanish. I think there is also an assumption that I am loud or spoiled. Not everyone thinks this, but there are a lot of people who participate in this stereotype.

Having these feelings is part of the reason that I wanted to have this experience. As some of you know, I have an interest in working with immigrant populations in America. Until I came here, I knew very little about what it must feel like to be in their shoes.  I am obviously very blessed in this scenario…I have a program that has helped walk me through everything I need and I have great job.

However, now I get what it feels like to not have your family close by. To not put your thoughts into words because of language barriers. To miss your culture. To apply for a residency card at the immigration office. To feel like someone else is stereotyping you based on your nationality.

I love Spain…it’s so beautiful and 99% of the people I meet are warm and kind.  But, I am grateful for a chance to feel like not everything is easy and not everything is handed to me. As my blog says, “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”

Please help me remember this new perspective when I return to the U.S.A and all that is comfortable.

This is a picture from a gallery I visited in San Diego, CA a few years ago. A good reminder that behind the label of "immigrant" is a real person.


Now I Know

What better way to learn than through experience? I have had a lot of moments of “oh crap. that’s wrong…”  but at least now I know. Each normal day here is a form of exploration and I am happy to say that I’ve accumulated quite a bit of knowledge on the Spanish culture.

Some examples:

  • You cannot touch the fruit in the grocery store.
  • No one bags your groceries for you.
  • They will not give you change for a fifty on the bus.
  • The floor you enter on in a building is zero. I live on the third floor. I put my key in the second floor door approximately once a day.
  • This one isn’t Spain specific but…make sure you get on the bus on the correct side of the street.
  • It’s not very appropriate to ask for a glass of tap water from a restaurant without ordering a different drink that costs money.
  • Yoga is not the same. It is much more challenging and concludes with chanting. (I actually liked it better though!)
  • When lighting the gas tank for hot water, always make sure you are turning the knob far enough. And after taking one cold shower, you should probably ask for clarification before taking another 4 freezing showers and assuming its not your incompetence.
  • If you order fried fish at a restaurant, expect it to come with scales, eyes and some bones.
  • Baking powder comes in teeny tiny sugar packets and is difficult to find.
  • People don’t know what oats are here. They were only found at El Corte Ingles and were confused for rice.
  • Milk and eggs have very lengthy expiration dates and are not refrigerated at the store.  I have yet to deduce how this can be so.
  • Although it is counter intuitive to the way things are in America, specialty stores are much cheaper than the one-stop shop.
  • Salad dressing is non-existent. Fantastic olive oil and salt is what is put on an ensalada.

There are so many more things, but this is the best I could come up with on the spot.

This past weekend, I had four days off because Tuesday was a holiday and I don’t work on Mondays. My friend Megan, who lives in Almeria, had a similar break so we took adventures together! I went to Almeria for 2 days and she came to Granada for 2 days.

In Almeria, we went to the beach, shopped, hit the discoteca, and ate the most fantastic Italian food ever. In Granada, we visited the Alhambra gardens, ate at my favorite kebab place, and watched You’ve Got Mail (it was raining). It was great long weekend! Pictures coming soon.

I am loving my job still, and have started tutoring for extra money. My first tutoring client needs help improving her English for her doctorate thesis on nanoparticles. Hmm….my general science 101 skills should come in handy? Let’s all cross our fingers that  I can be helpful.

Sending some love to you all today. My spirit misses the joys of Maryland and Virginia in the fall. Don’t take your pumpkins for granted, people!

xo Besos y Abrazos.

I have a new passion!

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 Have Arrived!

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?

Them: Si!

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!