University of Wisconsin–Madison

We’re All Learning

It’s hard to know where to start recounting the happenings of the past week, my first week in Spain. I’ll start before the beginning:

My mother dropped me off at the airport after a mostly sleepless night of packing. Alone in Chicago, a weighty reality of all the big changes that were starting began to set in, but was kept at the periphery of my consciousness by the list of tasks I had to complete: take the shuttle to my terminal, find the desk, check in, go through security, find the gate, exchange currency, go back to gate, get on the plane. The four hours spent at the O’hare Airport passed quickly.

On the plane I was smooshed in the center of the center aisle. The people in the seats next to me did not talk, but the man on my right kept turning on my seat light by accident with his elbow. The only way to tell we were moving at all – I couldn’t even see evidence of windows – was the tiny digital display of a cartoon airplane moving slowly, slowly, across a map of the world.

When I got to Germany for a short layover, despite being incredibly tired and stiff to prove my own passage through time, it felt like no “real” time had passed. As if I had just spent seven hours in box that had its own version of non-time, and the rest of the world had surpassed me by a lot. (… most of my flight was spent reading a book on the possibilities of time-travel, so my thinking may have been a bit affected)

Germany was foggy. That’s all I found out while there.

When we landed in Seville, a to-do list of concrete tasks soothed me as it did in Chicago: get off the plane, find my bag, go through customs, find Marta (Marta is the lady who hired me, and is also hosting me at her home). Everything went smoothly, and soon Marta and I were in her car. I was officially in Spain!


 

My first days here were a mix of the awkwardness of learning life in someone else’s home (challenging no matter the country), and preparation for the upcoming week. I studied English grammar and sentence structure and learned how Marta runs her school. I met Marta’s husband, Chema, and their dog, Lucás. I learned that eating is not optional here, and is never marked as low priority – there was unexpected shame describing my normal routine to my hosts when they asked what I normally ate for various meals (“Well, I usually don’t have time for breakfast, and then I don’t want to spend money on lunch, so I usually eat noodles or soup or lettuce when I get home from school and work, unless I’m too tired.”). Food is “important” in the United States. Food is Important in Spain.

I started shadowing Marta during her classes on Monday. The young students took my presence in stride. The teenage students were wary. The adults asked me questions about why I was here, and how I liked Seville, and where I was from. The one standard question, regardless of age, was directed at Marta, “Ella sube Español?” To which Marta would respond, “Ask her!” and I would say, “A little bit, I’m learning just like you!”

The hardest part of this week has been how unprepared I didn’t realize I was. I am not as proficient in Spanish as I had hoped and the more questions I get thrown at me about English, the less I feel confident in knowing that either. What is the difference between “can” and “could”? (I wrote an 5-page essay on this last semester if you’re really interested.) Why does “she” change to “her” and “hers” but “he” only changes to “his”? (the world is an unfair place). What is the word for when a museum has something, but its not real? (…replica?). Between not knowing how to give a useful answer, not knowing the answer at all, and not being able to think fast enough… It’s hard to feel like I have any language at all.

Apparently, there is a difference between being fluent in a language and knowing a language.

Which is hard to come to terms with because, as a generally successful English major, my identity and vanity have been cushioned with a “knowledge” of English… which is now a bit less … cushy.

BUT passages that I thought were walls are revealing themselves which opens the possibility of finding more effective ways to my destination.

Also, Lucás the Dog is starting to like me.

So, everything is good.