One week ago, I was waking up early to enjoy one last breakfast with my mom and brother. I was finishing up some last-minute packing and beginning my four-hour car ride to Chicago. A few hours later, my dad and my sister would drop me off at the airport, sending me off on the adventure of a lifetime. One week ago, I was filled with excitement and curiosity. I had no idea what would be waiting for me as I stepped off the plane in Madrid, but I am so happy I am here. One week later, I am living in a new culture, a new language, a new home. And I’m loving every moment of it.
My flight here went well. It was my first time travelling on my own, and to be honest, I was pretty terrified. The flight itself seemed like a piece of cake, but successfully navigating security and finding my way to my gate? Eh, I wasn’t so sure. All went well though, and 20 minutes later, I was happily sitting in my gate with another girl from UWSP. The flight itself was a simple 8-hour direct flight to Madrid. Still fighting my cold, I took some Nyquil to knock me out right away, and I luckily slept for most of the flight. We arrived in Madrid around 8:00 Monday morning, beating the late sunrise. All of us students from UWSP naturally found each other and worked our way through the large airport together. We took a small shuttle train to our luggage, and from there, we took a bus to another terminal to wait for our bus to Valladolid.
We left the airport a few hours later and began one of my favorite parts of any trip- the first bus ride. I absolutely enjoyed the skyscrapers and graffiti of Madrid and the grassy, diverse altitudes outside of the city. Spain was absolutely beautiful, and it was finally starting to click. “I’m in a new place. This is my country for the next few months.” With each sign we passed, my excitement grew intensely. “Valladolid 40 km”, “Valladolid 30 km”, “Valladolid 20 km.” I was ready to be there. I was ready to be home.
Our bus pulled up in front of a large group of adults. A lady from the university stepped onto the bus, greeted us, and called us each by name to meet our host families. An exhilarating anticipation filled the bus as we each waited for our name. About three names in, I heard mine. “Mara.” I stepped off the bus and was greeted by the friendly besitos and abrazos of my host mom. I had talked to her a little bit on Facebook, but it was such an exciting moment to see her in person.
I grabbed my luggage, and we drove home. My host mom told me all about the city, and I listened with excitement, responding with a lot of “si’s” and “bueno’s.” The Spanish language was so overwhelming at first. I could understand her fairly well, and I wanted to communicate, but my Spanish was so limited. I couldn’t say much. I still can’t. We arrived at our home nestled into the inner corner of a small plaza. A garage door opened, revealing a small garage underground. Much of the parking is underground here. My host mom managed to turn the car around in such a small space, successfully parking in her desired spot next to the wall. I was impressed. The Spaniards are pros at parking. I could use a lesson or two.
I had a little bit of time to unpack my things before we left to pick up my roommate from the same location. I really didn’t know what to expect when she stepped off the bus. The only information I had before meeting her was her name and her school. Luckily though, she was super nice. We instantly clicked. Being thrown into a small room together with a new language is enough to make any two people bond, but no, it’s easy to get along with her adventurous, curious personality. Our Spanish skills compliment each other nicely. She knows many words that I don’t know, and I’m able to help her with conjugations. We both have a lot to learn, but we’re learning a lot just through our own conversations. Plus, it’s really nice to have another English-speaker around the house. Having her here eases the pressure of maintaining a conversation in another language. At the table, in our room, and during our walks around the city, we talk in as much Spanish as possible, and it’s great. It makes the language immersion so much easier to do.
The rest of my first day was spent adjusting to our life at home. Once we got back, we had lunch (la comida) a little bit later than our typical 2:30 time. Pasta with an egg on top, along with some bread that accompanies every meal. It was delicious. My host mom made a good first impression with her cooking, and she’s lived up to that reputation ever since. Every meal is a new one, and there hasn’t been a meal I haven’t liked. I love having a vegetarian, health-conscious cook to prepare our meals for us.
The next day (Tuesday) was our first day with the university. My host mom walked my roommate and I to school, trying to familiarize us with the confusing turns and roads we had to take. We received a lot of information about the university and the city, followed by a tour of Valladolid. I was absolutely in love with every street, building, and plaza that we passed. Valladolid is beautiful, and the thought of living here is so enthralling.
Later that night, we had a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was great talking with other students (in Spanish) over wine, tapas, and dessert. The restaurant was a warm environment that invited socialization and fun, and I couldn’t help but feel like it represented the Spanish culture well. An entertaining musical group, known as a Tuna, played a few songs for us. We later learned that these musical groups were typical made up of the “bad students,” which was no surprise. It was still a lot of fun, and they were very talented. Dinner was delightful. Afterwards, we came home and passed out. I was tired.
The rest of the week was filled with getting used to my new classes and my schedule. On Wednesday, my host mom walked us to our first day of classes, which was on a campus farther away. A lovely 30 minute walk through the city. All of my classes are really enjoyable. My professors are extremely passionate about teaching, and they are easy to understand. They’ll definitely turn typical history, grammar, and literature classes into something that I’m interested in. I look forward to it.
The students as well are super friendly. Half of my classmates are from the United States, and the other half are from various countries in Asia (Japan, China, South Korea, and India). I love that so many different stories, cultures, and languages come together in one classroom. We are all so different, but we can come together and meet each other in the Spanish language and in the same country.
Time is a lot more relaxed in Spain, but we still follow a pretty consistent schedule. Wake up. Attend class from 9:30-2:00. Come home for a big lunch at 2:30. Take a siesta. Find something to fill free time. Eat a smaller dinner at 9:30. And then relax until bedtime. The typical day here is a lot different, but I like it. It wasn’t hard to adjust. I like that when I come home from class feeling hungry and tired, there’s a convenient lunch and siesta built into my day. I haven’t quite mastered the art of a short 30 minute siesta, but hey, I’ve been tired. I’ll adjust. I’m sure I’ll slowly cut out the three hour naps.
The past week has been filled with a lot of exploration. In our free time, my roommate and I like to go for little walks around the city. We bought some textbooks, put minutes on a phone, and even found a cute little coffee shop. The guy at the coffee shop laughed at our Spanish as we ordered, but that’s okay. We’re learning. It’s the little interactions that you don’t think about until they’re happening… umm como pido un smoothie?
Another girl lives with us as well. She’s from another part of Spain, and she’s studying here in Valladolid. Having her around has been super beneficial to learning Spanish and learning how to interact with the city as a young adult. Last night, she invited my roommate and I to go out with her and a friend. Every year, there’s an event where thousands of motorcycles gather in Valladolid. It just so happened that this event was taking place during our first weekend here. The four of us went to a “parade” in which all of the motorcyclists drove by carrying torches with colored flames. Several people were gathered along the streets and the plaza to watch, so it was the perfect way to interact with the culture. A few fireworks followed the “parade.”
Afterwards we returned to the house for a quick cena (dinner), and then went out for a bit. The bars here are the go-to place for socialization here in Spain. Even student organizations have their meetings at local bars. Most locations typically have tapas, other foods, and your typical coffee shop menu in addition to the alcoholic beverages, so drinking isn’t necessary. It’s just like being at any other restaurant. The second place we went to had amazing batidos (milkshakes). They had an entire menu full of ingredients to choose from. I went with a classic oreo with soy milk. A couple Buddha heads sat next to the door, and unique decorations and pictures hung from the wall. It was an interesting location.
Other than that, everything has been going well. My Spanish has grown tremendously over these past few days. It was a little difficult to understand some people at first, but now, the Spanish sounds so natural to hear. I also can speak much better (although there is still a lot of room for improvement). It’s interesting how different it is to learn a language in a new country. Rather than quickly looking up a word on SpanishDict and forgetting it, I can remember exact words, their meanings, and when I learned them. I think things like, “Oh, my professor explained this word three days ago. It means this.” My lexicon is growing, and I can more rapidly conjugate and form sentences in my speech. Overall, I’m slowly making my way towards sounding like a fluid six year-old.
The first few nights, I took in so much Spanish that all my mind wanted to do at night was process everything. Perhaps that’s why, like a baby, I have been sleeping so much. At first, my thoughts before falling asleep consisted only of random Spanish sentences. My dreams were in Spanish. It was so weird. My mind hadn’t completely switched to Spanish, but at the same time, I struggled to speak English. I was stuck somewhere in the middle, and I would just speak whichever language came to my mind first. After those first few days, the differences haven’t been as drastic. Perhaps I’ve been speaking less or adapting more. Either way, I’m settling into the language, and it’s feeling normal. My Spanish is definitely improving.
I don’t know what more to say. I could honestly go on and on and on about my time in Spain, but I’ll keep this as concise as possible. What I do know is that I love Spain. Valladolid is the perfect place to live and study. Since it’s a city, there’s a lot to do. I live in El Centro, so nearly everything is a short, convenient walk from my house. But at the same time, the city feels small, safe, and friendly. Coming from a small town, it’s not overwhelming at all.
I absolutely enjoy people watching as I’m out in the streets. At night, the streets become more alive. People gather outside of bars and restaurants or just spend time in the plaza. Everything feels so warm and cheerful. The food, the people, the culture. Everything is great, and I look forward to further immersing myself in it.
I’m going to end this here before it becomes a novel. My roommate and I hope to go for another walk, to explore the city on this chilly Sunday afternoon. Perhaps we’ll end up in a park or a cafe if there are any open. We’ll see. My first week has been absolutely incredible, and I can only imagine what’s next to come. I’m already planning travels to other countries during Carnival and Semana Santa. This week has been the first of many European adventures.
Until then, besitos de España,