Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Maggie - Spain - Fall 2008

After the bathroom experience, I was really lonely and I wanted to call home and let my family know that I made it ok. So I decided to buy a phone card, so I went up to one of the machines and put the smallest amount, 20 euros, but then the machine just ate my money and I didn’t receive the card and the machine didn’t even show that I had paid. So I had to go the information desk and explain what had happened in Spanish. After waiting for ten minutes a lady in a suit came up to me, she explained that that machine had run out of cards and that I can only get credit for the twenty dollars if I paid another $38 dollars to her and then my card would be credited with $58. So I ended up doing that because otherwise I would lose my twenty euros. After all that mess I didn’t even call home because I didn’t understand how to dial all the area codes. I waited around for a few more hours till I found the director. He got us all separate taxis to the hotel.

Once taking a taxi to Madrid, we all arrived at the hotel and got situated, and the director actually gave us a free phone card. So then we were all hungry so we went out to a little café and had a small lunch. We returned and took a nap and then got ready to go for a little tour. The tour was short but we ended up at park, and then went out to eat and this little restaurant, it was really cute. We had tapas and it seemed like the plates wouldn’t stop coming. The director kept ordering more and more and it was nice because we got to taste a little bit of everything. The food was really tasty but really fattening because the majority of it was either fried or really salty. We all had wine and then the director said that we can all go on our own ways and just to meet in the morning for a meeting at 10am. So from there we went to the hotel to change but ended up just wearing practically the same thing, we couldn’t really wear heels because we would probably twist an ankle within the first few steps on the cobblestone walk ways. Our hotel was just a minute walk from the plaza mayor, where many bars and discotecas are situated. We started a little too early, at ten thirty, because there was practically no one our age out yet. We decided to go to an Irish pub so we wouldn’t feel that out of place. As we considered going in, the door guy offered us free shots if we went in. Of course we accepted. It was so weird being in an Irish pub in Spain, I work at one in the States and I really felt at home but I wanted to try something more Spanish. After finishing our shot and a glass of sangria, we went outside and there were plenty of people our age and a lot of freaky-funny cross dressers. At every end of the block there was a promoter that offered to take us to a bar and buy us a round of whatever. We ended up going to about 7 different bars that night and not paying a cent. (Thankfully I didn’t drink something everywhere I went) I don’t know if they were offering free drinking to everyone or only us because they knew we were American and would most likely eventually end up spending a lot of money there. My favorite was a discoteca that was more modern and classy. It was towards the end of the night and we were all dancing. At another bar we all took a picture and then this creepy guy came out of no where and kept insisting that he take the picture for us. And just as my friend was going to hand him my camera I took it and said I didn’t trust him and I thought he was going to steal it. Within the next week at orientation we learned that this was a common scheme thieves use on people in night clubs.
By about 3am, we were all getting tired of being on our feet and decided to go back to the hotel. We were all up for more than 24 hours by this point. When I got to the hotel I couldn’t sleep but I was so tired, I think I was just really anxious for school and meeting my new family.

The next day we had a meeting with the director, Cliff, going over details about school, safety, and traveling. Afterwards, I felt a lot more comfortable about the trip all together. Then we went out for lunch. After that we went to go see El Palacio Real, and it was absolutely breath taking. Later that night we went to go see Flamenco dancers. The music was great and the musicians and dancers were so passionate one of the singers was crying as she sang. The dancers had an amazing amount of energy, it was like they feet were possessed, I never knew it was humanly possible to move like that! Unfortunately we couldn’t take any pictures of the show, we had really close seats and saw everything perfect. Later, everyone went out to the bars again. I don’t know why but my stomach was not reacting well to the food so I decided to just head in early for the night and get some sleep.

The next day we headed to Toledo, about an hour drive south from Madrid. It was kind of sad to leave Madrid because I felt we all grew attached to it. Approaching Toledo, I couldn’t believe this city was really full of people from this century, I felt like I was in a time capsule and was going back in time. Everything is so antique and well taken care of. I was so excited that I would be living there. Since the streets are so tiny the truck that had all our suitcases couldn’t get through and we all had to drag our many suitcases up and down hilly cobblestone roads (it took us about 15 min) when it usually takes only 2 min to walk this road. At the school we were greeted by many of the directors and professors. Then we were split into two groups, one group full of people that would be living there on campus (which was mostly composed of native speakers or people that were kind of afraid to have to live with a family), and the other for people living with a family. After about 45min. of them explaining what we should discuss with the family about rules and just common things about living with a Spanish family they surprised us all by saying “Alright well they are waiting for you guys downstairs, lets go meet them.” All of us stood at the top of the stairs as they read our names off to meet with the corresponding family waiting at the foot of the stairs. There were mostly all older women, and I was called towards the end and I met my Spanish father, Jose Luis, whom greeted me with a kiss on both cheeks as it is custom in Spain. (I swear I felt like I was on a reality tv show with all this suspense and drama) We all sat and had coffee with our families and then we left to go to the house. I was totally unprepared to meet the family because I was a mess all sweaty and not made up because we had just dragged our suitcases a few blocks to the school before the meeting. We walked even further from the school this time but thankfully he was dragging the heavy suitcase and duffle bag. Finally we got to his small blue Chevrolet and he explained that we were going to pick up his wife and daughter on the way home. On our drive out of antique Toledo and down the mountain he stopped periodically to explain some of the buildings and to admire the beautiful views. After about 10min we arrived at his daughter’s house, we went inside and I met the jolly and plump mama, Remedio, and also the 28 year old daughter, Elena, who lives with her boyfriend (she doesn’t believe in marriage). They were both really friendly, and wouldn’t stop complimenting me on how I looked even though I was a mess. Then we all went to the apartment were I would be staying with them. It was a little further away from town, in a suburb called Polígono. After going up the rackety and startling elevator, we entered the apartment. It was spotless, with tile floors, French doors, and a balcony. It was decorated with a lot of paintings, which I later came to find out were all works of Remedio. Jose Luis is a police man, but now that he’s older he just works in the office. Elena is an agricultural engineer, who travels a lot for her job. Cristina, the older sister who lives with us permanently, is a social worker. Finally, they showed me my room and I was so relieved to be able to unpack everything and put everything in order. So I did that for about two hours. Mama Reme also said that I would have a bathroom to myself so I put most of my cosmetics in the bathroom. Everything here is really small in proportion to my house in Addison, but I don’t mind it because if anything I’m usually in the family room, dining room, or balcony with everyone. The only thing that bothers me is the bathroom because the shower is so tiny that I hit my elbows on the glass doors when I wash my hair. In Spain they are very aware of conserving energy and water. They say to take short showers and to constantly be turning the water on and off as you shower, just using the water to rinse off. They don’t have much grass here because it would waste too much water to sustain. They really try to use a lot of natural light whenever possible and don’t really ever have too many lights on or even their computer on if they aren’t using it.
I felt so relieved after putting all my things away, and as soon as I finished we had la cena (the lightest meal of the dayThat night we sat outside on the balcony and chit chatted a while, until I was tired and decided to go to sleep early.
In the morning I got dressed and ready for my first day of school. Mama Reme went with me to school on the bus to make sure I got there ok. Once on the bus I saw my friend Brian there with his mama. Our moms started talking and then a big group of American students got on, they said, while laughing, “Maggie and Brian look like little kids with their backpacks and their mom’s going to school with them on the first day, and those girls look older than them.” (but of course in Spanish, they don’t know any English) Brian and I thought it was funny and weren’t offended because honestly we wouldn’t have known where to go with out them. At school we just had 2 placement exams which were pretty laid back and easy. After that we ate la comida (the largest meal of the day) at school (they have really good chefs at school and everything is pretty much home made). Later we had appointments to make our schedule, and after that we had interviews for internships. I was one of the last ones to go. They said that somehow they never received my application even though I sent mine in really early and the internship at the hospital that I wanted was already filled up. They had already told everyone else that there was nothing that they can do about it, but for some reason they are pulling some strings for me and allowing me work at the paraplegic hospital. I was really thankful for that, and I’m going for the first day this Monday. My best friend here, Daniella, got an internship at a tv station here in Toledo, and was already on tv, they interviewed her about September 11. My school schedule is really good, Tuesdays I only have one class but I’ll usually be at the hospital for eight hours that day. Everyone has Fridays off for excursions so that’s really nice. Later that night we had a long meeting about safety and everything but then afterwards they surprised us with this beautiful banquet in the courtyard with a band. After we all went to a local bar and then went home. Tuesday, Elena took me to the mall and it was really new and modern, and then we went on a few other errands. Later I had one class, and I felt really optimistic about everything because all the professors seem really patient and understanding. I think they are trained specifically to teach native English speakers, because I could understand just about everything thing they say in Spanish, but at home I have a little bit more trouble talking with my family.
Wednesday, I had more classes and bought books, which were only about 100 euros at the most. Thursday I had my politics class, and it was really interesting. In most of my classes I have a lot of my friends so that’s a plus too. Later that night we all went to a bar and club. The club was in the middle of antique Toledo, in an old church. We all danced a lot and sang along to all the the American music they were playing. We mingled with some of the Spanish natives a little bit. It was a lot of fun, some of my friends and I shared a taxi home so it wasn’t too expensive, 5 euros a person. I was kind of nervous the whole time because I have curfew at 3am. I am the only person here that has a curfew, I’m kind of upset about it, my own real parents don’t even give me a curfew. I talked to one of the directors about it and she thought it was kind of weird too, she said that if there’s a problem she can talk with them but in the mean time just try to comply with their rules. I made it just on time. Friday we had a tour guide around Toledo and it was really awesome to see everything, but I couldn’t really hear what the tour guide was saying since there were so many people with us.


Blogger Libby said...

Sounds like you're already having a great time! It seems like you're adjusting really well to the different culture. I'm going to be studying in Ecuador/Galapagos Islands in the Spring and also doing a homestay. I'm a bit nervous about the homestay but also really excited because I know it will help me improve my Spanish language skills. Any tips/advice you have for the first meeting w/ the family?

7:27 PM  
Anonymous maggie said...

Hey libby
Yeah, I really like living with the homestay, and I know I getting a lot more exposure to Spanish than my friends that are staying in the dorms. After being here for about 5 weeks, I've noticed a huge improvement in my language skills, and how much better I could understand them. When first meeting your family be sure to not to hesistate to ask any questions, make sure you tell them to speak more slowly if they are explaining too fast, because this is probably the only time that they will tell you the house rules unless you break them and they have to talk to you about them again. The program I went through made a packet of questions for us to ask our host family, about rules of the house, and just everyday living there. It was kind of an icebreaker and the information was real useful. I know most programs reccomend bringing a present of some sort to your host family. I brought this hand carved wooden box from pier one, (I spent like $40). My house mom really liked it. My family has been really good to me and has always been really friendly. However there are some people that lived with a family that they weren't comfortable with and they easily moved in with another family, with no fuss. Most likely the family that you're going to live with has taken in a student before so they will probably make your experience go very smoothly, my family has had 8 different students in the past.
Good Luck!

8:08 AM  
Blogger Libby said...

Are you taking all classes related to your major? Is it difficult to understand a class like politics in Spanish? How did you pick your classes?

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Sammy Luckett said...

Hey Maggie!
Sounds like you are having a ton of fun over there! I decided to study abroad in Ireland this Spring! and i'm super excited about it... I was just wondering how you are dealing with the culture shock? Was it hard for you to adjust?

11:11 AM  
Anonymous maggie said...

Dear Libby,
Well my major is Spanish, so yes, and i'll actually finish my major after the next two classes i take over here next semester. I was actually looking into taking a class at the local university where there are Spanish students, so I can take other classes that would pertain to my pre-requisites for grad-school. I'm hesitant in doing so because the Spanish school system is completely different to American schools, and even the school i'm at now. All my classes are in spanish, and they almost feel the same as any other class. I think that the professors at this school are specially trained to teach non-native speakers, so they use a lot of synonyms during class, and they are super patient, and make sure everyone understands. There are American, Puertoricans, and Japanese students, and all the classes seem to be working out for everyone. I choose my classes based off of what I needed to finish my major, and which would also count towards my gen eds. The first week was the hardest to get through having classes in only , but now it's like taking any other class.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous maggie said...

Hey Sammy!

that's awesome you decided to study abroad, i'm sure you'll enjoy it just as much as I am. THe culture shock, well, I'd say the culture shock here was more of a good thing. For instance, the times of meals, the mid-day meal is around 2pm, which is the biggest meal of the day, then there's the siesta, and then there's a light meal later in the evening, which I found healthier, so it was easier to adjust. I think that because I researched and knew a lot about the Spanish culture before coming here I braced myself, and wasn't really shocked by anything too badly. Honestly, the more I'm here the more I feel like my family and community at home aren't that different than the people here.
But here are a few culture shock experiences that I got over really quick:
- really tiny showers (i always hit my elbows shampooing my hair)
-obsession with turning off everything electrical when you leave the room
-people smoking everywhere
-little kids playing outside by themselves until late
and of course there's more but I can't think of them right now

See you in the summer!

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Shannon D. said...

Hey Maggie!
It sounds like you are having an amazing experience! How many years of Spanish classes did you take before leaving? Was it difficult to fit into the culture? Do they have any customs that you really like? While I am going to England in the spring, I would really love to visit Spain and France. But I am scared of not knowing how to speak fluently. Are there any phrases I must know before I visit?

3:12 PM  

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