You know that scene in Legally Blonde? It is Elle’s first day of law school and when she goes to class, her professor calls her out in front of everybody and she says, “I wasn’t actually aware we had an assignment.” Then she giggles and the professor makes her leave the class. I am always afraid that is going to happen to me on the first day of a new semester. I get so nervous!
First day of school. First day of school. First day of school. AH! Fortunately, all was fine and good. No problems whatsoever. There were no assignments that I was unaware of.
My school is called Instituto Benjamin Franklin, which is one of the schools within the University of Alcalá. The Instituto is for international students only, other study-abroaders (mostly Americans) taught by Spanish professors. I am enrolled in five classes (15 credits): Spanish Grammar, Spanish Literature, Spain & its Relations with Latin America, Phonetics of Spanish, and Spanish Culture & Civilization. All classes meet twice a week for ninety minutes, and of course, they are taught completely in Spanish.
If that wasn’t obvious.
The first two days were a blur of syllabi, class rearranging, WiFi connection struggles, and meeting my new professors. Things that I wasn’t ready to do: spend ninety minutes in one class, especially when I have to be on my toes all the time, just to understand every fifth word the professor is saying. I am used to fifty-minute classes at UW and occasionally I will struggle through a seventy-five minute power lecture, but that doesn’t happen often. On Tuesday morning, I accidentally drank decaf coffee at my house before school. That made for one long day. I won’t make that mistake again!
One thing about school here that I absolutely love is the daily schedule. We start classes at 9:00 A.M. and we finish at 2:00, so that we can be home in time for lunch with our families. After lunch is the siesta, probably my favorite part of the day. Since dinner here is so late, my days are completely open and unstructured from 4:00 until 9:00. I have time to relax, do homework, explore the city, go running; the list goes on! It was hard to get used to at first, but I think I will be incorporating this schedule into my daily life when I return to Wisconsin. It just makes so much more sense to me!
If you know me at all, you know that I function best when I have at least four meetings a day and a To-Do list that is three miles long. All of this free time is nice, but I definitely needed to find something to do besides drink coffee and go shopping all the time. When our program director presented us with the opportunity to work as English tutors for kids, I jumped at the chance to fill my schedule.
English tutoring consists of meeting with a student two times a week to give them a chance to practice conversational English (and ask for help on homework if they need it). This experience has really allowed me appreciate how easy the Spanish language is… at least in comparison to English! It has been an eye-opening experience thus far, and the kids are just too cute for words. (I have three students—ages 10, 7, and 10.) I have so much fun while I am there; it doesn’t even feel like I am working. That’s an added bonus of the tutoring: getting paid to speak English for a few hours a week. Of all the things I thought I would be doing in Spain, I definitely didn’t think I would have any opportunities for employment. Spend money: YES. Earn money: not so much, so this is a great surprise. Spain’s youth unemployment rate (56.5%!!) has nothing on me! My father was thrilled.
Thought of the day: I am following the stages of culture shock and adaption to a T. It’s almost as if the manual was written about me. I have officially passed through the Honeymoon Stage: the “Wow, this is amazing/I love it here/It’s great!” feeling. The fascination of the new atmosphere smothers any frustration or anxiety. That starts to wear off after awhile, prompting the arrival of the Hostility Stage: the “I can’t understand anything anyone says/I get lost all the time/My brain is tired/I miss America/I just want to eat peanut butter” feeling. Thankfully, I brought my own jar of peanut butter, so it is mostly just the frustration of misunderstanding that I am dealing with. The third stage is the Humor Stage: the “I think my frustration was a little intense/It’s not that bad/I tend to overreact” laughing-at-yourself feeling. I’m almost exactly in between stages two and three. I can be incredibly frustrated at times, but recently, I’ve been remembering to take a step back, relax, and realize that forgetting the difference between ser and estar is not the end of the world. The adjustment continues. It’s a process. Despite the struggles, I can already feel pieces coming together to form the last stage of the adaptation process: the Home Stage, the “I think I finally get it/I belong here/Spain is my home and I never want to leave” feeling. *Cue Phillip Phillips…*
After all, everyone knows: there’s no place like home!