The Cathedral in Salamanca
Everyone assured me that plenty of people in Spain spoke English. And since I haven’t used my Spanish vocabulary since high school, I was hoping I would be fine. Turns out, not that many people speak English (nor should we assume that they do) and maneuvering the transportation was harder than I had anticipated. Prior to the trip I had been so excited, there wasn’t any room left for fear. But when my best friend and I landed in Madrid, it was quite the adventure to ask directions to the train station, purchase tickets and get to Malaga. Before the J-Term began, I planned to spend a week with my best friend relaxing in Malaga, touring Madrid and trying to become accustomed to the culture on my own.
I feel like I grew up a lot on this trip; I got to view the travel experience from a new and different perspective. Usually it’s a vacation that my mom and her two sisters planned meticulously, and I just follow along. This time, however, I was in charge of bookings, reservations and travel accommodations. I spent 6 months researching and preparing for the trip. I have traveled a fair amount in my life but never on my own. Everything about this would be an exciting experiment!
Despite the fact that everyone assured me people would speak English, no one in Spain spoke very much English. I should have been terrified but panic only makes situations worse. What got me through everything was the fact that my mom knew I would think through any situation that came up despite the doubts of others. Her complete and utter confidence in me gave me the reassurance I needed to get through the month.
Although I felt prepared for anything, the first challenge came up rather quickly. My friend and I got stuck in the Madrid Train Station for 7 hours after our flight landed. I had planned out the times perfectly. Landing at 9:30, train station by 10:30 and the train to Malaga was at 11:30. But apparently you have to book a train ticket and the 11:30 was completely full. As was the 12:30 and the 2:30. So we took turns sleeping until 5:30pm (or 17:35 to be precise) to get on a train.
I learned a little about Spanish culture that week including the meal times and some history. But not nearly as much as the first day in Salamanca. When I finally got inside the right apartment building, a man who lived there was offering to help me find which room and I could not understand him at all. I just needed a second to think and translate what he was saying but he just kept talking. While I was distracted, I didn’t see the two kids who ran downstairs, interrupted him and told him they were picking me up. Phew. They helped me onto the tiny elevator and I asked them how old they were and thanked them a bunch of times! They showed me into the apartment and then Angelita ran up behind us saying she was looking for me, not knowing the boys ran down. I was so confused and grateful I finally made it! She showed me around and then told me to wash my hands for lunch (at 3pm) but I hadn’t eaten since lunch yesterday so I was very grateful! She made pasta with meat sauce and then salad, bread and chicken that was so delicious! I ate so much food but it felt weird because it was the middle of the day. Little did I know, we would be eating “dinner” for “lunch” for the next month.
Before I left, I read that a lot of people were overwhelmed their first few days, that you shouldn’t come with expectations but just an open mind to learn. I was grateful that I made it to the right place ok and that she was an awesome host mother and had really cute grandkids. But I was also really overwhelmed, like what have I gotten myself into? She speaks no English. And I haven’t used Spanish since high school and I’m a junior in college. I didn’t know I would have a roommate either, but at 5pm we threw on coats and walked down the street to find Kamaria!
Angelita keeps the most tidy apartment I have ever seen. There is no dust anywhere, everything gets cleaned immediately or daily or magically. Her kitchen is pristine and newly remodeled I believe. It looks like a kitchenette straight from an Ikea catalog – purple and white and space saving – it’s perfect! She’s got her meal system down pat too, setting the table and cleaning up methodically. And although I offered at least three times, she wouldn’t let me help clean up! And although tiny, everything is multifunctional and space efficient/effective.
One of the most confusing, yet rewarding and educational, parts of the day is the conversations over “la comida” (sort of lunch) and “la cena” (dinner). Talking is arguably one of the hardest parts of a new language. But Angelita was very good at correcting us just the right amount in a nice way. And between Kamaria and I bouncing back and forth we could get our points across and figure out ways to convey what we were trying to say.
The first night there was January 5th or El Dia de Los Reyes which is essentially as important as Christmas to Spanish children! Antonio and Fernando came running in to put their shoes outside for gifts! Angelita explained that there was a parade we should go to which we did and they threw out quite a bit of candy! And then we ran back for dinner at 8:30 and met up with Gaye’s daughter Indie to go out and explore the beautifully lit up town of Salamanca. That was also the first time we met most of the students who would be sharing this experience with. Everyone has a pretty incredible story and it was exciting to get to know them.
From that point on, everything fell into place probably as it has a million times for every other study abroad student. I released my fears and enjoyed myself, meeting the other students and bonding over a shared language in a foreign country. It was priceless and this was just the beginning!