September 9 Journal
I cannot believe that I have finally made it to SPAIN! After almost a year of preparation and anxiety for the trip, I finally arrived little more than a week ago. I remember getting off the plane and the first thought I had was 'what is that smell?' After looking around for the source, I finally saw a booth that was labeled for fumar or smoking. Now, I started to look for my family, and quickly remembered that I was in the terminal and they would be somewhere else like maybe on the other side of the airport after baggage? I followed the flow of people and made it to baggage. Once there I grabbed a cart and waited for 20 minutes for the tram thingy to turn on. Now, I was on my way to meet my family. The nerves hit me so hard I was not sure if I could actually make it there. I mean I had been flying for 12 hours, had not showered, and was abnormally tired. But I pushed through. Walking out of baggage claim, I see my family waving at me like crazy. I did not know what they looked like but I was sure it was them. My host dad Eduardo, his daughter Maria, and her best friend Maria all greeted me at the airport.
After all the besos and abrazos, we headed toward their car. Now before I left, my dad and I were talking about what car they may have. Maybe a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW or better yet a Porsche.....but no they had this really cute blue car made by Citroën. Once we loaded the car with my bags, we were going to my new home. On the way to the house and in the airport, they all spoke Spanish to me. I was really unprepared for this. I was exhausted and not too good at Spanish. Thank goodness my family does speak English so I could at least get some bearings. Twenty minutes later we arrived at their apartamento. I did not know what to expect. I was actually really surprised when I saw the place. It was not large, but it was not small. it had a Goldilocks and 3 bears thing going on. I felt immediately at home.
After the tour of the house, we had some lunch. It was chicken and rice with of course bread. All the reading in the world could not prepare anybody for the sensation you have in your mouth when you eat real authentic Spanish food. Soon after lunch I was offered to take a shower and then participate in a Spanish tradition, la siesta. La siesta is a mid afternoon nap right after lunch or maybe before. I awoke 2 hours later and was back on my feet. My host sister Maria took me on a tour of the neighborhood and candy store. I bought some caramels and she bought Twizzlers. We then head to the berlin park. It was amazing to see how many people were there. Coming from a town of 17,000 to a city of millions was a huge change. There is a lot of green here, more than you would expect in a city.
Since my first day here it has been go-go-go! I have walked the streets of Madrid only to become really lost, but no good exchange would go anywhere without an area map, right? Well, of course, I had my map and used to navigate my way back home two hours later. I have ridden on the public transportation. I really enjoy the buses and subway. Before now I was not exposed to the city life or European. I have visited my school numerous times and still have no idea what I am doing. We have gone out to dinner once. It was an American restaurant, Tony Roma's. I think maybe they thought it would comfort me, but I was already content and wanted to start my Spanish life. I have a pass to the pool which I visit religiously. Their pool complex is like the YMCA in America.
I love living here. My window opens right onto the street. I can hear all the sounds from cars, people, and animals. Surprisingly there are no bugs or flies and best of all no mosquitoes! My window has no screen so I am able to stick my head out and feel the city air brush my face. Every morning, I wake up and cannot wait to start walking the streets of Madrid.
November 1 Journal
I have been here for exactly 2 months starting today. I understand mostly what people are saying to me, and I can respond to their questions. I find that every now and then I forget some English words and can only talk about them in Spanish. I find that now I am always the one telling the stories, asking the questions, and chatting on the phone with my friends.
I love the school here. I have a total of 8 classes of which I have six each day. There is a selection of majors you can choose from including: Arts, Humanities, International, and Science. I am enrolled in Humanities. My classes include Art History, Spanish History, Philosophy, Literature, Language, English, Geography, and Psychology. I find it amazing that I don’t have a math class because in the States you have to have a certain class every year like math and English, but here you choose a major and take only those courses. Here, you don’t change classes, the teachers do. I am not sure if I like it yet or not. The little walks in between were a nice chance to stretch your legs and have a break, but now I just sit at a desk and wait for the next class to begin. Another interesting difference is that they don’t have substitute teachers. So when a teacher is not there, you either wait for the next class or if it is the last class of the day you go home. The school gives the students here a lot more freedom than in the States. They have a smoking section here…yeah it’s different.
My family owns a house up in Asturias which is in the northern part of Spain. It is located in this pueblo called Puerto de Vega. Our house overlooks the water. Asturias is so pretty with the mountains and the seaside. While we were there we visited numerous beaches and towns.
About two weekends ago, I went on a Rotary Excursion. All the kids from Madrid and the surrounding pueblos all met at Cercedilla, a little train station, to begin our hike. From Cerdedilla, we took another train to the base of the mountain. While on the train I met up with Tatiana, Laura, and Ray. Once to the base, we began our climb up the mountain. It was so beautiful. The rocks had this green hue and every once in a while these big clouds would swallow us up. It was really windy and a little cold. We had lunch at the peak of the mountain where there was a little bit of snow. We hiked 10 miles of which took us 6 hours.
Yesterday was Halloween, and to my surprise they celebrate it here. It is not as big as in the states, but the kids still celebrate it … well … really it is only the teenagers and maybe some kids. There is no trick-or-treating so the fun is limited. I was invited to a party at a friend’s house from school. It was really fun. We played games and danced and just hung out. It felt like I was back in the States hanging with friends.
My life tends to be quite normal. I got to school every day and have homework. I hang out with friends or family on the weekends. Even though it all sounds the same as in America, it is truly all the more different.
I love it in here. Spain is my new home. I love my family, friends, and my new life. I am enjoying every day and hoping that time will slow down.
January 24 Journal
Every day, I wake up and see the same thing. I have breakfast with my family and then prepare myself for school. This is my new normal. The things I do now are not different. They’re me.
Although, I am not super fluent in my language, I find that I am having more and more conversations in Spanish. I use the words like como, vale, y, pero normally without even thinking about it. I surprise myself when I make whole sentences and don’t even have to think about it. When I read, I don’t have to translate into English. I can read straight through and understand it. I am beginning to only know words in Spanish and have the trouble translating it into English.
But over the last four months, I have begun to treasure who I am and where I come from. For one of the first times in my life, I am proud to be an American. I enjoy saying my president is Obama. I love coming from a country of every culture in the world. The feelings that are growing for my country are strong and indescribable. Yes, I really enjoy Spain and it culture, but mine is just so much more unique and I have never seen it from that view before.
Now, that I have done my philosophical view on the world, I’ll go on to what I’ve been doing. Well Christmas or Navidades was good. I enjoyed the meals most of all because we had some very interesting new things. It was the first time I had foie (duck liver) and prawns. The foie is so rich and smooth and the prawns were these cute little guys that you got to play autopsy on and remover their heads. Well, then again that does not sound like autopsy as much as does murder, but murder just doesn’t seem Christmas-y. Then we had New Year’s and more prawns. The last holiday we celebrated which was new to me was Los Reyes. This is on the 6th of January to celebrate the 3 kings that came to bear gifts to Jesus. Each gift comes from one of the Reyes and has a little saying or dicho with it. This year mine came from Gaspar. Another thing which I really enjoyed was the 3 weeks off of school. Spain knows how to do Los Navidades.
During break, I had gone to Santander which is a city in the north of Spain in the community of Cantabria. It is the Capital city and is right on the water with a harbor. The beaches are so beautiful because they are so wide and flat and have the background of the European Peaks which at this time were covered in snow. It was so magical and enchanting. Whenever I see the mountain here I just want to sit on a hill with an easel and paint brush and go crazy on canvas.
School started on the 11th and it was back to work. I have been keeping busy with school work and heading to the gym. Here normally you don’t go out on weekdays to hang with friends, which I’ll admit was very tough at first because I was use to doing that to keep busy. This past weekend I went to a concert of the band Billy Talent. Then afterwards I had a party at a friend’s house where we stayed up all night dancing and doing karaoke. I had to sing all the Spanish and songs while my friends did the English. Let’s just say when one sings in Spanish they are going at like 100 mph.
Now another week is starting. I only have 3 days because we have a four day weekend starting Thursday. Other than that, life is normal and well I am beginning to grow in way I never knew a person could. I thought I had a strong grip on the world and life, but I am discovering that it was only a finger skimming the surface of something much bigger than I thought.
May 20 Journal
Today. Home. Again sick.
It was about two weeks ago that I was extremely sick with this nasty throat infection called Amigdalitis now what is that, tonsillitis. Yes, I have the horrible tonsillitis. Dry throat, throbbing pain, and on top of that I have to speak Spanish. When you are an exchange student, your work is never done.
Now let’s catch up on a couple of things:
Last weekend: León
My host sister studies veterinary up there and it so happened to be her birthday so what better time to travel! It was so beautiful and surprising modern. I was expecting a city drenched in history but what I came to find was that all was redone and made of modern construction. Yes, the old cathedral was still there and the old wall that used to surround the city, but that was only in the center. Once you stepped 20 feet away it was like “modernolandia”. All the buildings were recently constructed and all the streets repaved with asphalt not the normal uncomfortable blister giving stone. But still, the city was without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
2 weeks ago: Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy
This little island in the middle of the Mediterranean is something special. I went there to visit a friend and saw one of the coolest places ever. First of all it is kind of like the Lost island where it is all flat and then you have these huge sky polluting mountains. Then, they have this awesome fascination with cork. You could basically buy anything made out of cork. I happened to be there during a festival for Jesus so there was a huge parade in the street with the different regions of Sardinia represented through their dress, crop, and food specialty. This was also my first time on/in the Mediterranean. We went to this beautiful beach where you could walk out about mile without a drop off and with beautiful clear blue water. Later on during my 9 day trip, we went to see some caves in the mountains, eat at a restaurant that makes things with nutella, and see an ancient Roman city that had been destroyed by the tide.
5 weeks ago: Started at a new school
I changed families back in April. Now, the new family didn’t live in Madrid so that meant that I was going to have to leave the city to go out to a smaller town called Colmenar Viejo (old Apiary). It is about a 40 minute train ride from Madrid and I wasn’t really feeling taking that every morning to go to school at 8:30 so they decided to put me in a new school. Which in the end I am so very glad they did. I have un montón de amigos and they are always so interested in learning about where I come from. This transition was a lot easier since I knew a lot more Spanish than when I started at my first school so I was able to participate more in class and actually have real conversations with the people.
7 weeks ago: Semana Santa (Saints’ week or Holy week)
This is basically spring break here where for about 2 weeks you celebrate and party. Here in Spain they have the carrying of the floats (pasos) by the people (costaleros) through the streets for the procession and then there are the people who where the pointed hats (capriotes). There are a million of these in about every city and each one is different as in different traditions. Well, I didn’t go and see any of these instead I went with my new host family to their small village. They call it the pantano which means swamp. It is this cute little village that is right next to a huge dam. There was only one bar and everyone knew each other. It is one of those places you can get to visit once in a lifetime. But before I arrived there I had to take the train for 6 hours to go to the city of Cáceres. This is a place filled to the brim with history. It was one of the towns most beaten up during all the wars of Spain, it was where the soldiers from Napoleon’s army walked through on the way to conquer Portugal, and where I had one of the best pastries EVER! Then after the 5 days in el pantano we went to Trujillo. This is a lovely little town still living back in the 18th century. It has a beautiful castle and small streets filled with venders and old bath houses. Here there is the annual festival called Chivri where all you do is listen to music (singing optional) and drink and eat typical food. There they have a special sandwich which is like the first hotdog. It is bread that someone stuck a thing of chorizo in. Also, the woman dress up as Shepherds’ wives.
Life here in Spain is different every day. I learn something new or different. I meet people from all over the world everyday and I enjoy all that I can. I know that when it’ll be time to go I’ll be ready, but this place leaves a mark on you that’ll never go away. I will always have that little bit of Spanish in me.