Hasta Luego

I’m writing this last post as I wait for my flight in the Dublin Airport. Now that my time in Spain has officially ended, I can confidently say that it was the best experience of my life.

Before I arrived in Spain, I had so many worries, all starting with the most infamous pair of words: “what if.” What if I feel lonely living abroad? What if I don’t like the Spanish culture? What if I get homesick? Thankfully, these fears were all for naught. As I’ve alluded to before, I met some of the best people I have ever met. Among them are Issy, Claire, Emily, Daniel, Benjamin and Jaden. Issy is intelligent and selfless; Claire is witty and wise; Emily is quirky and adventurous; Daniel is mature and funny; Benjamin is energetic and entertaining; and Jaden is open-minded and lively. Some of my memorable moments with them include: walking 50 minutes in 95 degree heat to get to the swimming pool; watching the sunset at “the spot”; playing Benjamin in a tennis match featuring our very own ball boys; routinely getting ice cream at 10:30 in the Plaza.

Although being in good company can make any experience better, I would have liked Spain regardless. As I mentioned in a previous post, I love the siesta culture. The best part of the siesta culture, apart from the nap, is that it allows the day to last so long. (Yes, the sun setting around 9:45 might have a role in that as well, but the Plaza is lively long after sunset!). Living in a place where families and friends are out and about at 11:30 pm made me sympathetic to John Donne’s quote: “No man is an island.” Additionally, the rich history of Salamanca, and Europe overall, was something I had never experienced before, and something I will miss when I get to the US.

Lastly, I feel more confident, yet insecure, in my Spanish. My confidence stems from my placement in the highest level of classes, my purely Spanish conversations with friends, and the compliments I received from native speakers on my Spanish. Nevertheless, my insecurity comes from the realization of exactly how difficult it will be to speak Spanish fluently. Yes, I know I can get by in a Spanish-speaking country without much troubles. But speaking Spanish almost as easily as if it were my native language? That will be a huge hurdle to overcome. Hopefully my five months in Chile will significantly help with this, but I now anticipate that I will have to live in a Spanish-speaking country post-graduation if I hope to achieve true fluency.

I have to sign off now since my flight is about to board. There is so much more that I would love to rave over when it comes to my time in Spain and Europe, but it would take too long to type. I’ll save it for when I see my family and friends back home and on campus. Because I fully intend on returning to Spain (I never got to see Barcelona!), I’ll sign off with the popular Spanish phrase: hasta luego!

Last sunset I saw with Issy and Claire from “the spot,” Salamanca.

I can’t decide if bars or Catholic churches are easier to find

Given what I’d learned about the Spanish Inquisition in history class, I knew that Spain was a country with strong Catholic roots. However, I didn’t realize how prevalent Catholicism was until I arrived in Salamanca and found out that nearly all of the must-see buildings are either churches or convents. The main tourist attraction of Salamanca is its cathedral, which is actually composed of two separate cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. Although I like how the cathedral’s beauty demonstrates the devotion the builders had for God, it unsettles me that the cathedral seems to be a tourist attraction rather than a house of worship; one has to pay 10€ to enter if not attending mass, and tourists can walk around the Church while mass is going on. I understand that many churches around the world (or at least around Europe) require admission fees, and probably use the fees for maintenance, but it seems wrong that people should pay to enter God’s house. Additionally, by making people pay to enter, it makes the cathedral seem like a commercial institution rather than a religious one. As a consequence, I associate the cathedrals with museums and palaces — places that strive to preserve history in an ever-advancing world — and I don’t think the Catholic Church should become a thing of the past, appreciated solely for its elaborate buildings.

Rose window in the cathedral of San Sebastián
View of the Old and New Cathedral, Salamanca
Bell tower of the cathedral, Salamanca
View of the cathedrals from across the river, Salamanca
My friend Sabrina and me in front of the cathedral, Segovia
One of the chapels in the cathedral, Segovia
One of the many churches in Porto, Portugal
Interior of a church where a wedding was taking place, Porto
One of the many churches in Salamanca

Charo y Pacho

Every weekday I attend Spanish classes from 9:00 to 13:15 (when in Spain, keep time as the Spaniards do 😉 ). On my first morning in Salamanca, I took a placement test that determined which level of classes I should be in. The level I tested into suits me well not only because I find the content difficult yet manageable, but also because the class atmosphere is very lively; my classmates participate a lot in class, and they are all more dedicated to becoming fluent in Spanish.

For the first two hours of the day, I attend a grammar class taught by Charo, who is a great professor; she’s willing to joke around with us, but she takes our comprehension of the material seriously. In class, we review Spanish grammar concepts that are particularly difficult. For example, we’ve studied the different uses of the two verbs that mean “to be” — “ser” and “estar” — as well as when to use the subjunctive tense or indicative tense. Although I’m familiar with these concepts and the others that I’m learning in the grammar class, determining when and how to use them has always caused me to second-guess my Spanish writing and speaking. The grammar class alone won’t allow me to reach complete confidence with the material, but it already has significantly improved the comfort I have with the challenging concepts.

During the third and fourth hours of my school day, I take electives. The electives are Spanish History and Spanish Art, which I mentioned in my previous blog post. Pacho, the professor who teaches both courses, loves to relate what we learn about Spanish history and art to current Spanish culture. Since my last post, my history class has studied the 1930s in Spain, which witnessed the Spanish Civil War — I finally know what Franco looks like and what the ideologies of the two opposing sides were! In my art class, we’ve learned about the differences between Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture. I love that when I’m learning about these art styles in class, Pacho shows photos of the buildings downtown as examples. Living in such an old city is still surreal at times.

Speaking of the historical aspect of Salamanca, next week our classes are going to be held in the Old City. The Old City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s my favorite place to be in Salamanca. Hence, I’m looking forward to the move, even though I like the current building my classes are in.

Salamanca Cathedral, Salamanca
Courtyard in Old City, Salamanca
Old City, Salamanca
Grammar class with Charo, FES Edificio
View from classroom, FES Edificio
Hallway, FES edificio

Spanish Siesta: The Greatest Thing since (or before?) Sliced Bread

My previous blog post discussed how, due to my living situation, I’ve been learning about numerous European cultures. It should go without saying, however, that the culture I have learned the most about is the Spanish one.

I’ve adopted some parts of the Spanish culture into my daily routine; for example, every morning and evening I drink café con leche with friends at local cafés, and every afternoon I take advantage of the Spanish siesta (which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the title of this post 😉 ). At least once a week I go out for tapas with friends, which involves going to two or three restaurants over a three hour period and trying small plates of food with drinks. Other cultural excursions have been more unique, such as watching the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona—something I will never do again!—and trying pintxos in the Basque Country. Evidently, food is a big part of the Spanish culture, so I’m also taking Spanish cooking classes; today we made paella and arroz con leche, both of which were delicious!

Along with learning about the Spanish culture through experiences, I’ve also learned a lot about it in my classes. The two electives that I take are Spanish History and Spanish Art. In my history class, we talk a lot about the political state of Spain; currently, there are five major political parties and the president is a socialist. I’ve also learned about major issues that Spain is dealing with, such as people moving in throngs from rural areas to big cities and the current generation having too few kids to support the older generation. Through my art class, I’ve learned about the prominent Spanish artists, such as El Greco and Velázquez, and the large amount of cathedrals in Northern Spain due to El Camino. These tidbits about Spanish culture and history are just ones that stick out in my mind—every day I learn at least one new thing about Spain, thanks to my awesome professor, Pacho.

Despite only having been here for two weeks, I already feel much more familiar with the Spanish lifestyle, and I look forward to other ways I’ll learn about and experience it within the next four weeks!

Pintxos, San Sebastián.
Post-siesta café con leche with Issy, Salamanca.
Eating croquettes while on a tapas tour, Salamanca.
Walking the streets of Pamplona after the Running of the Bulls, Pamplona.

6 Nationalities on One Floor: Life in a Residence Hall

When I registered for Cursos Internacionales through the University of Salamanca, I chose to live with a host family. However, there was a mix-up with scheduling, and I was placed in a single room in a residence hall. When I heard about the change in my accommodations, I was disappointed and nervous; I worried that not living with a host family would significantly hinder my ability to improve my Spanish and that living in a single would make it harder to meet people. Thankfully, my worries were all for naught, and life in the residence hall has been my favorite part about Salamanca. With regard to language acquisition, the majority of my classmates who live with host families say that they spend a lot of time away from their homes, so most of their Spanish improvement occurs in the classroom. In reference to the facility of making friends in a dorm, living in a residence hall has helped, rather than hindered, my social life. There are 12 other students living in my hall, all of them between the ages of 18 and 22. Apart from being a group of adventurous, intelligent, outgoing, and interesting people, my friends in the hall represent a wide range of nationalities: Issy and Dan are English; Steve and Mark are Canadian; Thomas is Belgian; Caroline is Swedish; Gabrielle is French; and Claire, Emily, Lucia, Ellie, James, and I are American. Learning about the cultures of my peers over meals has been one of my favorite things to do here. I’ve learned from Daniel how important football (soccer) truly is in the UK, and I’ve learned from Caroline that flower crowns in Sweden are a Swedish tradition rather than part of the hipster movement. While learning about their cultures is super fun — over dinner tonight I learned all about the education system and culture in England from Issy and Daniel — it’s great to simply be in my friends’ company I’m not one for social media, but I may have to re-activate my Facebook to stay in touch with some of them after we leave.

Issy and Emily, out for dinner right near Plaza Mayor, Salamanca.
View from my dorm window (with a filter), Salamanca.
From left to right: James, Caroline, Daniel, Claire, and me in front of a monastery, Salamanca.
Claire, seconds before eating THE BEST SLICES OF CHEESECAKE, San Sebastián.