After many months of anticipation, I finally made it to Spain! Packing went a lot smoother than I expected and I was able to fit everything into one enormous rolling duffel to check, a smaller rolling duffel to carry on, and my trusty blue Eddie Bauer backpack, also to carry on. Pretty impressive, considering I can fill an entire Suburban and still have stuff left over when packing for a regular semester at Madison.
The flight to Madrid could not have been easier. The people at the airport were so nice to me. I think they could probably tell that I was a rookie air traveler and had no idea what I was doing. When I boarded the plane with my small rolling bag (when I say small, I actually mean the maximum size for a carry-on bag, stuffed beyond capacity) and my backpack, the man in the seat next to me looked at all my stuff and jokingly said, “Are you going for a month?” I am a notorious over-packer, so for once, it felt pretty good to be able to say, “Well yes, actually for four months!”
The culture and language immersion began as soon as I boarded that plane to Madrid. Operated by Iberia Airlines (an airline based out of Spain), all of the instructions given by the pilot and the flight attendants were in Spanish. Most of them were repeated in English, which was a blessing because I could not comprehend any of the Spanish. I started to get extremely nervous, thinking: “if I can’t understand a simple sentence like “Thank you for choosing Iberia” in Spanish, how on earth am I going to be able to get through an entire semester?” Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
I felt better as soon as I met our program director, Cristina—probably the friendliest and most caring person I have ever met. She also spoke completely in Spanish, but a little bit slower and more deliberately, so that we could understand and attempt to respond. She met us at the airport and we took a bus to a hotel, Hotel Campanile. Realizing that the students are completely exhausted from the flight and the jetlag (seven hour difference between Alcalá and Wisconsin), the program is set up so that the first day consists of eating and sleeping, that’s all. ¡QUÉ BUENO! Our host families did not pick us up until the late afternoon of the second day, which gave us a chance to sleep and more importantly, take showers before meeting the people we will be living with for the entire semester.
Day Two: Orientations Galore! We spent the majority of the day in a conference room of the hotel, going over rules, expectations, and protocols for the semester. Once again, completely in Spanish. I’m starting to realize that communication is definitely something I take for granted in the United States. It can be incredibly frustrating to know exactly what you want to say, but not be able to find the right words for it.
One thing that will be a challenge to get used to here is the daily schedule. Breakfast is in the morning, similar to my usual schedule, but lunch here isn’t until 2:00 in the afternoon. For a girl that usually sticks to coffee for breakfast during the school year, it was a little bit of a struggle to make it to 2:00. After lunch, which is the “main meal” of the day, it’s siesta time—one of my favorite things about Spain so far! Nap time every day. (I might never come home…) Dinner is also much later here, not until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. This routine will definitely take some getting used to.
Speaking of meals, don’t even get me started on the food here in Spain. Actually, yes. Please let me talk about food. Not a joke, I am probably going to double my weight while I am here. BUT IT’S JUST SO GOOD. Meals in Spain go like this: first plate, second plate, dessert. First plate is similar to an appetizer, except it’s basically the size of a whole meal for me. Then you have the second plate or main course. And then you have dessert, which is fantastic and impossible to say no to. SO MUCH FOOD. The problem is that everything is delicious, so it’s really difficult to pass up. (And when I say “problem”, I actually mean “the great thing” is that I love everything I am eating here.) Let’s just say I won’t be going hungry any time soon.
At the end of orientation, our host families picked us up at the hotel. My family consists of my mother, my father (not pictured), and my ten-year-old brother. All I can say about my family is that they are absolutely fantastic. They are extremely friendly and they are so patient with me! I feel so bad because I feel like I am saying, “lo siento” and “demasiado rápido” and “repite, por favor” all the time. But they never get frustrated and they are really good at helping me understand.
Our group spent Thursday on a tour of Alcalá, the university and the rest of the city. It was difficult for me to pay attention to where we were and how to find things because I was so in awe of the beauty and the history of Alcalá. As of right now, I know how to get to school and that’s about it! But as long as I can get to class on Monday morning, I’ll be fine. Everyone says that the city is easy to figure out once you get to know it better. I just need to start paying a little bit more attention when we are walking around!
In addition to speaking Spanish all the time and this new strange schedule, another huge strugglefest for me is the metric system. ¡Ay! While I realize that the United States has the more complicated system of the two, it has been very difficult to use meters, Celsius, and km/h. As well as run on a 24-hour clock and use the euro instead of the dollar. But, as said by a wise cousin of mine, “€ > $ and km > mi and Europe > U.S.” I’ll be sure to keep that in mind during my semester!
It has only been three days since I left home, but so much has happened already! Spain is wonderful and I am so thankful for this experience! Stay tuned for more adventures in the near future! ¡Ciao!