I am already thinking in Spanish and was about to start writing this blog entry en español but had to stop myself and consciously compose it in English. I can’t believe it’s already been three days since I arrived in Spain: my flights were on schedule, I made new friends at the CIEE program orientation, met (and just love!) my host family, and then spent today (Sunday) visiting Madrid.
There weren’t any problems with my flights on the way here, except that I could not fall asleep during the overnight flight from New York to Madrid. Also, while waiting for my flight to board and leave NY, a security guard was talking to a woman, and then asked everyone sitting nearby, “Does anyone know English and Spanish? I need a translator.” No one responded, so I thought I would go over even though I didn’t have 100% confidence in my Spanish-speaking abilities. The woman spoke Spanish and knew very little English. It turns out that she had fallen in the bathroom and hurt her knee and I had to translate between them. I understood everything she said and was able to actually help! That was pretty awesome. I wasn’t even in Spain yet and I was already speaking Spanish.
On the plane ride from JFK to Madrid I sat next to two girls from San Diego who will be studying in Granada and we worked our way together through customs and baggage claim in the Barajas Airport. Then, I had to leave them and board the bus to take me to the right terminal for the CIEE group pickup. That was a bit stressful as I was sleep-deprived and everything was in a different language. I had my backpack (16 pounds), my carryon with wheels (34 pounds) and my checked luggage (36 pounds). It was a bit difficult to lug it all around the airport and onto the bus, but I finally found the pickup area and waited about an hour until CIEE Resident Director Cristina and a group of students showed up at the appointed time. I was so relieved that I found everyone and the first thing Cristina did was give me a great big hug!
There are 36 students participating in Session I through CIEE from various American colleges and universities: we arrived at the hotel, took a descansito (little rest), ate a lot, then slept even more. Most of the next day was spent working through the program orientation where we received our class schedules and our host family profiles. Each of us will take two classes in various areas of Spanish culture and language that meet Monday through Thursday for a total of 5 hours each day. Since we did not have any advance information about our host families, it was very exciting to receive and read the profile! On Saturday night, the families came to the hotel to pick us up and take us to our new homes.
Mi madre’s name is Pilar (her nickname is Pili) and mi padre is Luis. I have a little brother, Nacho (his real name is Ignacio, but Nacho is his nickname) who is 11 and a sister, Raquel, who is 18. They also have a gray cat called Attila, named after Attila the Hun because the cat is a big troublemaker! In Spain, when you greet someone, it is common to give them a kiss (besito) on each cheek. I am used to shaking hands when meeting for the first time, but I gave everyone besitos and we took a family photo. Nacho made me a card that said, “Welcome to Spain, Catherine!” When we were all chatting in the car on the way home Pili told me that she knew my birthday is next month. I felt so welcomed and already a part of the family – I almost started to tear up! We had la cena (dinner) around 10:30 pm (we normally eat dinner at 8:30 pm, but it was later since they had to pick me up) and then I went right to sleep!
As I was telling some of my new friends from the Alcalá program, I now have three madres: my real mom, my mom Cristina (the program director), and mi madre española. Pili is very open and warm and tells me that if I don’t like the food we have one night, or if I don’t understand something, all I have to do is ask. She also showed me where they keep the dulces (sweets) and said anytime I am hungry I can eat anything I want! Nacho is really kind and excited for me to live with the family. Pili actually had to tell him to leave me alone so I could start to unpack.
After spending our first night in our new homes, the CIEE students spent the next day in Madrid. The directors, Cristina, Eero, and Fausto, accompanied us on the train from Alcalá to Madrid, took us on a tour where we saw La Plaza Mayor, El Museo del Prado y El Museo de Reina Sofía (where Guernika is housed), and many grand statues of old Spanish kings throughout the city. We had lunch, the biggest meal of the day, which is normally a first dish, second dish, and dessert.
After lunch, our directors left us to spend as much time as we wanted in Madrid and instructed us to return to the train station at Alcalá without their help. I am a bit directionally-challenged but was up for this task with my new friends. A group of us went to visit an Egyptian temple in Madrid, called el Templo de Debod (the Temple of Debod). It was free and interesting to see as most people wouldn’t think that there could be anything Egyptian in Madrid. After walking all over Madrid and also taking the metro (using the orange transportation cards provided by our program), we figured out how to take the train back to Alcalá and our host families picked us up.
I spent the next hour or so chatting with Pili about traveling in Spain and Europe. We then had dinner and afterwards, Pili showed me pictures online of various places in Spain that I should visit. She said that I should definitely travel to Toledo (which is about an hour from Alcalá), Ávila, Cuenca, Granada, Segovia (our first school field trip is to Segovia), and Sevilla. She also said that if I don’t visit a city through the free university trips, we will all go together as a family on the weekend.
I brought some small gifts for the family, including Wisconsin and Bucky lapel pins, Bucky stickers and a Bucky stuffed animal. I gave the Bucky toy to Nacho tonight and he loves it! (he pronounces it with a Spanish accent, “Bookie”).
Finding the time to blog about my experiences so far was harder than I thought. Writing this is my first time having to think in English since I arrived and it feels strange! Tomorrow is the first days of class and for Session I, I am taking Spanish Culture and Civilization, and Spanish Literature Through the Movies.