Hola chicos… que tal? It’s been a fun experience adjusting to Spain-Spanish lingo as opposed to the Mexican-Spanish I’ve grown up around and been surrounded by. Vale! Vosotros! El ordenador! Zeta having a “th” sound… Thapatos! I’ve noticed that Spaniards tend to be rather, er, persistent in clarifying the differences between these (what seems like to me) minor discrepancies, haha. They also don’t hesitate to beam with pride when they explain how much more rich, versatile, and difficult the Spanish language is compared to English. Which is funny because my whole life I have heard that English is the most difficult language to master, aside from Manderin Chinese. I suppose the arrogance goes both ways!
As always, it’s pretty impossible to sum up a multi-faceted life situation with a neat “it’s been great!” so instead I’ll just say that it’s covered a wide array of emotions and that every situation is what you make of it. I have been here in Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña (all within the autonomous community of Galicia) for almost a month exactly. Santiago de Compostela hosts a famous cathedral (St. James) that serves as the last stop on a pilgrimage that masses of people take (sort of a spiritual Appalachian Trail). You can start the pilgrimage from several different routes, but the most common one is from the border of France. I believe it takes about 30-40 days, give or take. I lucked out and found a piso (apartment) very quickly. I had been talking with landlords and viewing pictures via whatsapp for a couple weeks prior to my flights, but hadn’t found anything I liked until casting out a request in an ERASMUS (Europe’s intra-country study abroad program) facebook group. I crossed my fingers that it would be still available by my time of arrival, and thankfully, the proprietors kindly held it for me despite there being no deposit or monetary exchange. After almost 2 days of nonconsecutive travel time (someone just tell me next time not to go for the cheapest travel bookings. I do this EVERY TIME) which consisted of 3 flights and one long train ride, I arrived looking and feeling haggard af to meet up with a girl my age and her mother who was the landlord of the piso. We drove the 30 seconds it takes to get to the piso (I’m listening to a train rolling in right now!) and after a quick tour, I verbally consented to live there sans written contract (still totally crazy to me) and happily collapsed onto a mattress with a comfy musty blanket I found in the closet. Mi habitación is spacious and yellow; it has 4 big windows that overlook the train station and a beautiful view of surrounding mountains and neighboring red-tiled roofed houses. I really like it a lot, though I do sometimes wish I lived a little closer to the center of the city. But I didn’t know the area at all before renting, so ya live and ya learn. We do not have central heating or a dryer, so sometimes I pat myself on the back because I feel like I’m living in the wilderness with my trusty drying rack. (privileged American alert) Most apartments in Spain come already furnished, which made settling in SO much easier. And I am MOST PLEASED with my amazing mattress, the likes of which are apparently pretty hard to come by here. 10 points to Gryfflepuff!
I also super lucked out in the roommate department; mis compañeras son tres chicas españolas (y también todos son estudiantes) and they are all very nice and patient with my lack of Spanish. I bet you’re thinking, “ha ha but Caroline, you moved to Spain, don’t you speak Spanish?!” My short answer: fuck no! My long answer: I THOUGHT I spoke a little Spanish, but then I quickly realized that a large extent of my Spanish extend only to convos about asking for directions, colors, animals, where I’m from, personality traits, things I have/don’t have, and things I like/don’t like. So, basically nada in the real world. I recently told a friend that I feel like I’m on the old MTV show Punk’d and Ashton Kutcher is about to jump out and be like “lol we gotcha!” The words “puedes repetir eso mas despacio, por favor?” have become my new best friends and I tend to start every “conversation” with “Hello, my Spanish is very basic, so… *flashes apologetic toothy smile*”
In all honesty, I was being way too hard on myself at first about it all. It took me a second to remember that I’ve only ever taken one formal Spanish class in college, and the rest I’ve picked up through backpacking the past couple of years and working this past summer at a beloved traditional Mexican popsicle store. I took French in high school, which was a bust because I was totes a lazy student, though I do think that after I become decidedly proficient in Spanish I will try to learn French again. (very original idea that no one has ever had before, I know!)
Being in a place where you walk outside and just, don’t hear English, has been so gratifying and cool and amazing. My brain is constantly hurting as it’s trying to process new words and piece together sentences and make meanings out of the strung together words. “WHY ARE YOU TORTURING ME???” it always begs. “Because we’ve gotta expand our neuronal connections and fend off early Alzheimer’s! Cheers betch!” I reply happily and with no trace of sympathy. Oh, and communicating in deeper conversations with my Spanish-speaking friends would be a fantastic plus, too. I keep trying to assess what level I’m at, but it’s probably too soon… now is the time to just absorb everything, I think. Sometimes it hits me that I have willingly moved myself to a country in which I don’t speak the language and i’m like DUDE WTF R U DOING. but I think this sort of spontaneous decision-making works best for my personality. I have quite the habit towards procrastination, after all, and living here is the utmost motivation to learn. However, I vow that someday I will be trilingual. I envy Europeans so much for their easy access to languages! Gah, how I wish to become one of those people that can shift gears easily into a different language, so effortlessly catering to the person they’re speaking with. A nice hair flip, an easy smile. Sure, we can speak in German, no problem! Oh, your native tongue is Arabic? Well no problem, I think I recall a bit! *proceeds to speak rapid-fire Arabic about politics and philosophy*
DAMN YOU ALL! I WILL BECOME YOU SOMEDAY!
I’m not jealous.
So ANYWAYS, I am working as an assistant language teacher (auxiliar de conversación) through a government-funded program. This first month has been full of so. many. headache-inducing extraneous bureaucratic necessities that have basically revolved around me trying to get my TIE (residency card). Thankfully, everything is squared away, but now it’s almost time to reapply for the program come January (even though I just started! what!) There are many a blog post in the cyberwebs on the ~*fRuStRaTiOns*~ of this program (like, uh, not being paid for 3 months and having your all of your phone calls to government officials ignored), but thankfully, overall my experience has been mostly positive so I don’t have much to say on that front. There is a tendency towards less organization and lack of communication, but I think this is also part of the culture because everything here in España is just a bit more laid-back than in the States. It may be frustrating sometimes, but it’s a pretty great thing, imo. I hear “no pasa nada” (no worries) all the time. Almost every store closes down between 2:30-5pm everyday for lunch, the biggest meal of the day, and “siesta,” which I think might occur more in theory than in practice. Except for tourist shops, EVERYTHING is closed on Sunday, as Spain is still a very Catholic country. During the week, there is only one 24 hour little shop that sells gas station snacks; every other store closes at 8 or so, aside from cafes and bars. Government offices close at 2pm. There is a mall (with a grocery store inside! Who knew!) but there are no 24/7 open mega stores like Walmart or Target in Spain, or in Europe. I love this. I’m still not used to eating lunch at 3pm, or dinner at 9pm (!!! I usually eat a pre-dinner at like 5pm lol) so I bring a snack to work. I also haven’t been a coffee drinker in about three years, which is almost unheard of here, so I think this is a big reason as to why I eat a huge breakfast and snack before lunch. Spain is a country of festive nightlife, and it’s lovely to step outside and see people enjoying dinner or tapas with friends every night.
So ya, my school is pretty great. I felt very welcomed there, and my transition has been smooth, despite the language barrier. I’m still adjusting to how different the Spanish school system is. The teachers use a much harsher tone of voice with the students than in the U.S., something that has led me to consider that this may be why Americans tend to sugarcoat things and “baby” people. I’m still figuring out my footing as a teacher. It can be frustrating because the class times are so short that the bell seems to ring right when we’ve begun to make progress. But every day:
-“Ahllo Carolyyne!!! *big wave*”
-“Hello children! How are you?”
-“umm….no entiendo. bye bye!…”
Children speaking in another language is precious… Thank goodness I don’t always know what they’re saying.
In my free time, I teach a few private English tutoring classes to a couple young girls, which has been a good challenge and a fun journey in realizing how much English grammar I don’t actually know. If you have time, read about how one fun little study conducted in the 60’s changed the course of how grammar is taught (or not taught) in the U.S. (tl;dr – it was deemed stifling to creative writing and was subsequently phased out for the most part). So far, my experience has been seeing that Europeans can recite off the top of their heads what Type 2 Conditional and Past Perfect Continuous tenses are, for example. But at least in my personal experience, and along with a few other Americans I’ve talked to about this, the emphasis in learning grammar in the States is more about how things sound – correct or incorrect. Another interesting cultural nuance for sure.
Also interesting to note, here in the region of Galicia people also speak Gallego along with Spanish, a gorgeous language with similar sounds of Spanish and Portuguese. I haven’t quite developed an ear for totally distinguishing it from Spanish, as many of the words are similar.
I have also started taking Spanish classes at the local Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, which has been quite helpful so far. It’s 40 minutes away one-way by walking, but it crosses through a gorgeous park so I love the route. Walking everywhere has been a major adjustment in my life – in Amuricah, we drive cars, dammit! But no seriously, walking has been a GREAT life change for me. At first I was concerned about how much time it takes up (I’m averaging about one and a half-2 hours of walking around everyday) but I think when you factor in the time lost sitting in traffic, and how annoying it is to keep up with gas and repairs, and just the general sense of impending doom that comes with driving an old car (like mine was – before I just sold it! HOLLA!) walking is totally worth the exhaustion and time. It’s teaching me time management, patience, and to really notice the little things. And it’s been great unintentional exercise, which is awesome because I don’t have a bike here.
On the weekends I’ve been exploring different parts of Santiago, trying out new cafes and tapas, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing intercambios with people, talking with pilgrims who have just completed the Camino, and eating chocolate while watching too many romantic comedies on Netflix. Rom-coms have been my saving grace during this uncomfortable period of transition. Seriously, Maid in Manhattan? Last Holiday with Queen Latifah? The Ultimate Comforts. I’ve had a viral infection for almost 2 months that (knock on wood) is finally starting to go away, so I’ve only been able to go out a couple of times. Salsa dancing, tapas con vino, etc. My typical grandma schedule has been stirred up, but it’s for the best. Gotta keep putting myself out there and making new communities. MUST! ASSIMILATE!
Rainy season is about to start, which means it will rain here for about 6 months straight. I am prepared with rain gear and lots of warm beverages. My original plan was to wear copious amounts of bright colors during wintertime to ward off my propensity towards seasonal depression, but I guess I’m assimilating faster than I thought because I’m already starting to be like, “Oh wow, this black looks really nice with this black!”
Signing off now.. As my students would say, BYE BYE!!!