Hello from Granada!!! We’ve been here for a few days now and I don’t know how else to put this except that I am high on life. I realize that I’m in the honeymoon phase of culture shock, but I can’t imagine this feeling going away in a city as vibrant and beautiful as this one.
Our trip here was about as good as an overnight transatlantic flight can be. I started squealing when we could see the coast of Portugal (so much for escaping the obnoxious American stereotype) and we arrived in Madrid the next morning. We got our luggage, met our visiting professor (Collin McKinney) outside, and then jumped right on the bus for a 4 1/2-hour ride south to Granada. Most of us weren’t conscious during this segment of the trip so I don’t have much to report here except that there were fields and fields of olive trees.
To be honest, it’s been a complete blur since we arrived. I feel like I have done and learned more in the past three days than I have in the past three years combined. Rather than write a novel here, I figured I’d try to just focus on the biggest aspect of my experience so far: the language. We officially begin classes in February but are taking an intensive Spanish immersion class until then. My professor stressed to us today the importance of focusing on speaking in three environments: the classroom, the street, and the home. I’ll start there.
The classroom experience so far has more formal speaking. Our immersion class will focus a lot on brushing up on rusty conjugations and reviewing useful and necessary vocabulary. It’s amazing to me that there are so many students from around the world studying with us (at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas – CLM), but we are all united by one common language here: Spanish. We have a girl from Shanghai in our class, and our professor told us that we are only allowed to speak either Spanish or Chinese – 50% of our grade is just participation and constant communication amongst each other so if she doesn’t know English, we can’t speak it.
I haven’t had too much practice with street or colloquial Spanish, but I’ve had a few experiences with this since we’ve been here. Even though we were exhausted the first night that we arrived, our group decided to explore a bit anyway (YOGO – you only Granada once) and checked out Hannigan’s, a local bar frequented by American foreign exchange students (and therefore the most expensive in town), to watch some Sunday night football. We talked to a couple of other American students studying here and I think I learned more profanities from them that night than I did on the third grade bus. I’ve bartered a bit in the Albaicín (the city’s Arab quarter) with some venders as well, but this conversational Spanish is definitely a work in progress.
What I’m most excited to share are my first impressions of the home-stay experience and the language that I have picked up there so far. I am currently living with a Señora (Carmen) and her daughter (Bea), a professional flamenco dancer (I’m not kidding). They live in an apartment that has the most AMAZING view from the balcony- it overlooks an old monastery and you can see the entire city lit up at night.
It’s about a 5-minute walk from the CLM and is in close proximity to everything else I could ever want or need. Living with a host family has been absolutely wonderful. Carmen has been teaching me so much and I have been taking in a ridiculous amount of Spanish the past few days – I told Carmen that it was giving me a headache (¡Me duele la cabeza!) and that I was annoyed because everything always sounds better when she says it. Emily (my roommate and Neuroscience major at Bucknell) and I are usually gone during the day, but when we return home at night to eat dinner, we like to just sit and talk with Carmen. Tonight we discussed the Rwandan genocide and Spaniards’ take on U.S. involvement in the Middle East, common word mixups like embarazada (pregnant) and tener verguenza (to be embarrassed), and everything else in between. If anything is going to get me fluent this semester, it will be meals and television with Carmen. She is so patient with us, and we are so appreciative. I think that half of the battle of learning this (or any) language is just mustering up the confidence to practice speaking, as well as knowing that it is okay to make mistakes; I was so afraid that I would be judged for butchering the language but, if anything, people here are just flattered that we are making such an effort to learn it.
Carmen makes us feel completely comfortable. It occurred to me during our conversation tonight that I know a lot more than I thought I thought I would coming into the program. As stupid as this may sound, it no longer feels like the language was made up by a bunch of my professors. The first day in Granada was a vacation; moving in with Carmen has really snapped me back into reality – I’m not in a dream. I’m really living in Spain, the country that speaks the language I have been learning for so many years 24/7, and I am so excited for what lies ahead.