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“Vamos a la playa” ((Orientation and Host Family Life))
After arriving to Alicante and settling in, I began to realize, this is where I will be for the next 4 months. Beautiful Weather? Check. Beautiful People? Check. Beautiful Surroundings? Double Check. However, I am realizing more and more that there is so much more to Alicante, to Spain, and to the world.
After meeting about 9 other students who are in my program on the flight from New York to Madrid, we all decided to endure the 6 hour lay over in Madrid before finally arriving in Alicante. After almost 24 hours of traveling, we arrived, were immediately greeted by Spanish students from the Universidad de Alicante (University of Alicante), and taken to our orientation hotel (which just so happened to be right on the beach). If orientation is any indication of how fast this experience will go by, it will be over in a hot second (Hot Second- a term I was introduced to ((comparable to a hot mess))- and will plan on using in the States ) During orientation we had sessions with the 27 of us students from all across the United States participating in the language in context program. The sessions were comparable to fast survival skills and relevant information that would allow us to live in Alicante (i.e. Spanish culture, Health information..ect.). During free time we took tours around the city of Alicante and were introduced to a few specific, but important, places (the barrio, the beach (la playa) and the rambla (the main street running through the city)). It was so easy to get caught up in the hype of this amazing beach town where old retro 90′s hit are continually playing on the streets like Vamos a la playa (Lets go to the beach). Then after 3 days we met our host families on Sunday and began intensive Spanish language courses on Monday.
I am just going to be brutally honest. Learning another language is like shoving a llama into a 5-gallon bucket. Entertaining, but almost impossible (unless it’s a baby llama- But that’s besides the point). I am not sure if I have ever experienced such a sense of isolation. It may just be a vulnerability of mine breaking through the surface, but speaking in a second language is scary! Between the intensive Spanish classes and literally living with the language all around me in my Spanish host family, I am for the first time surrounded by a form of communication I am always guessing at. The first couple of days living with my host family, they attempted to make pretty advanced conversation with me, and I unfortunately often wore a blank stare on my face…or nodded like a bobble head and repeated “Si! Si!”
Thankfully, my family (mi familia) is amazing. Mis Padres (my host parents) are named Victor and Pepita. They are both in their late 60′s and have 3 kids (one of which- my host sister Elena- lives at home and attends the University of Alicante), and they have 3 grandchildren. The youngest grandchild is named Eduardo. He is 3 (soon to be 4) and I think the reason I really like talking to him so much is because our language skills are at the same level. (okay. I lied. I still can’t understand what he is attempting to say half the time).
Spanish families operate much differently than American ones do. For instance, Spaniards have a break during the day known as a siesta. It starts at 2 in the afternoon, when pretty much everything closes down and everyone goes home to eat with their families, then rest until 5 or 6 o’clock, when siesta time ends. Being American, I was, at first, a little annoyed with this idea. Soon, I realized how amazing it is that the country values family time so much they set aside a span of time each day for families to have time to converse with each other. Plus, since the days in Spain are so much longer (Spaniards eat dinner (cena) around 10 o’clock and don’t go to bed until 12) it doesn’t really effect the businesses negatively since everyone stays up so much later.
Even though the lack of communication definitely creates a wall when getting to know others, my host family has been nothing but kind to me. They treat me like part of the family, which is an amazing thing for complete strangers to do. I am definitely growing attached to them every day a little more. Yesterday my host Madre explained that she did not feel well, and today I was told she has an issue with her gual bladder and will be in the hospital for a couple days. I think we are going to visit her tomorrow. I am told she will get better and I really hope she does soon! I already miss our conversations in broken Spanish that mainly exist around the topic of Eduardo.
So far, the things I have learned can be summed up in the following…
1. Don’t pack a lot. Bags break.
2. Have faith in the kindness of others.
I can sense a change in stages from the honeymoon (Yesss! I am in Spain!) to the contemplative (Okay, how do I adapt to living here?) stage. Knowing the language will hopefully help. I am really attempting to learn quickly, but I feel like to fully grasp another language is much more difficult than people let on. But I will keep trying, and that has to count for something, right?