This weekend was relaxing and laid back, and I’m okay with that. A group of students traveled to Lisbon in Portugal, and while I was initially bummed I wouldn’t be joining them, I ended up having a really great time sticking around Toledo. While the city is small, there is still so much I haven’t seen! Friday afternoon, my Art History class went to Madrid to look at the El Greco and Velasquéz pieces we have been studying. It was a beautiful day, and my talented Art History professor did a great job of leading us through the museum and describing the pieces to us in detail. We are learning about El Greco’s mannerist style and certain characteristics of his works which include anti-natual, bright colors, and elongated figures. Our professor said that in El Greco’s works color is “la alma del cuadro” (the soul of the painting). Learning about these works is fascinating, let alone learning about them in Spanish!
Week in review:
I climbed a mountain. Literally. No big deal, right? Okay so maybe it’s more of a “cliff” than a mountain. But it was steep and at points I was crawling on all fours, up the edge of the cliff as if it were a rock wall. Once we reached the top we could see the whole city of Toledo, including La Fundacíon where we study.
On Wednesday I tested my spontaneity and booked a flight to Geneva, Switzerland for the weekend of October 12! We’ll be hiking in the Swiss Alps. More details about our travel plans to come!
I had an opportunity to Skype with my WHOLE family and introduce them to Paula, my four-year old host sister. It was so great to see everyone via Skype, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins!
The Fundación sponsored Flamenco lessons for us two nights this week. It was TOUGH and I realized I am definitely not very coordinated when it comes to certain dance moves.
I finally had a “real” conversation with my host brother Christian. He was in the living room watching TV so I went to sit down too, and we started talking like actual people! I had to ask him to repeat himself a few times but he was talking slowly so I could understand. We talked about his weekend and our favorite music, etc. Success!
Now I am getting ready to leave for a trip to Museo del Prado for my Art History class. The class has been very enjoyable and I like the professor a lot. Thus far, we have studied Velásquez and El Greco.
The Fundación sponsored a trip to Madrid this past Friday which included a bus tour and a tour of El Palacio Real. Because a group of us had already seen Madrid, we planned our own excursion to Valencia! We took the bus to Madrid with the Fund and went on the tour of the city. It was nice to be able to go inside El Palacio Real, because during Arcadia orientation I had just seen the outside. After the tours were over, we took a bus to Valencia from the station in Madrid. The ride was about four hours and wasn’t too bad.
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. It is on the coast and most of it is very modern. However, there are also fantastic cathedrals and churches. We stayed at a pretty nice youth hostel called Purple Nest. They have them all over Spain and I would definitely recommend it to any students who are traveling and looking for a cheap place to stay! There were young adults staying there from all over the world. We met lots of Australians! There was even a girl I met who I have a mutual friend with which was crazy.
On Friday night we explored the city a bit. We woke up to a bright, beautiful, and clear sky on Saturday morning. Perfect weather for the beach! Clare, Lauren, Jennie, and I rented bikes and rode around the city. It was a blast and we got to see a lot of cool things, including many beautiful squares and gardens. We rode past amazing museums, including Ciudad de Los Artes y Las Ciencias, a flamboyant opera and music center called Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, L’Oceanográfic, and another interactive museum of Science. We didn’t go inside, but the layout and architecture of all these museums is amazing and very contemporary.
I have been in Toledo for seven days and the historic city continues to fascinate me. I am slowly becoming accustomed to the narrow cobblestone streets, the smells of Tortilla Española and Paella. I can even feel my Spanish comprehension beginning to improve, and perhaps my speaking ability as well (although that is definitely still the greatest challenge).
It’s hard but I’m settling. And the city is spectacular. My twenty minute walk to La Fundación is absolutely gorgeous with views of the pastures in the distance and quaint neighborhoods below. The incredible view makes the steep hills a little more bearable. And worth it.
If I could sum up the past week in one word, I would say intention. The intentions I have during this experience affect everything. I need to have the confidence to speak Spanish and not be afraid to fail. Because I have already embarrassed myself numerous times.
Last night, the American students at the Fund had an organized dinner with Spanish young adults who were trying to learning English. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this initially because I thought it would be awkward, forced, and uncomfortable. But it turned out to be really great! I met a lot of people my age, and although it was a little embarrassing to speak Spanish to them, I was proud of myself for engaging in conversations. We exchanged contact information, and I’m going to do an intercambio with one of them, which means we’ll meet throughout the semester.
Maybe I was underestimating myself.
Brian and I discovered a nature path yesterday near the edge of the river (el Rio Tajo). We only walked on it for a bit, but there are many trails leading up and down rocky cliffs. It’s beautiful and serene. Our goal is to find a way across the river, because both of us are interested in climbing up the cliffs. I love elevation.
Travling to Madrid tomorrow and then spending some time at the beach in Valencia. Increíble.
We left Madrid on Thursday afternoon and drove to Toledo. The city is just as beautiful as I remember. There are about 40-50 other American students studying at La Fundación Ortega y Gasset which is a university for international students. The majority of the students either go to Notre Dame or Minnesota. We had lots of orientation sessions and programming when we arrived. I met my host family Thursday evening at La Fundación. I was super nervous to meet them because I’m not very confident with my Spanish! I am living with a woman named Rosario and her husband, Miguel. There are three kids in the family but only two live at home. There is a 22 year old boy named Christian who is living at home and a four year old adopted Chinese girl named Paula. The other son does not live at home. Paula is absolutely adorable, but it’s hard to understand her because she doesn’t know she needs to speak clearly to me! The family lives in El Casco, which is the old city. It’s still a pretty long walk to where my classes will be at the Fund, but it’s easier than taking a bus. The house is really nice with two porches that each have a beautiful view of the city.
Rosario, my host mom is very sweet and hospitable. However, she (or no one for that matter) speaks a word of English. Even though I have studied Spanish for a long time, I’ve never been thrown into this type of situation where I feel like such a foreigner! We are expected to speak Spanish 24/7, and there is a language pledge at La Fundación where we need to speak Spanish whenever we are there. It has been very difficult to connect with my host family because I can’t speak fluently yet. I know it will get easier, but right now it is pretty frustrating. I have so many questions and facts I want to share with my host family, but I don’t know how to say it in Spanish. I have also felt very discouraged because there are many instances where I know what I want to say but I can’t say it in Spanish.
The adjustment has definitely been difficult. My host family is great, but the past few days I’ve spent a lot of time in my room. I don’t feel totally comfortable with them yet. It’s also hard because all the students at the Fundación live in different places all around the city, so it’s hard to connect with them and I feel isolated. I know it will get better once I get to know the city. On Friday, I tried walking home by myself and by some miracle, found the house! But then I got EXTREMELY lost on my way back to the Fundación and was wandering the city for almost an hour! It was scary…I eventually wandered up some stairs and found Evan (a student also studying at the Fund). I’ve never been happier to see an American. Friday night, my friend Katie (her host mom is my host mom’s aunt) and I got lost again trying to find our way back home. It was a long day.
I think I’m expecting to be acclimated all of the sudden when I know it takes time. But the confusion/strangeness has also contributed to some homesickness which is weird since I was gone all summer! I have to remember that I’ve only been here for four days. And I know time will end up flying by.
I arrived at the airport in Madrid on Tuesday morning. Despite accidentally spilling water all over myself on the plane within the first hour (which meant I had to sit in a puddle for 7 hours), the flight went smoothly. I met up with the Arcadia group once I got my luggage. Our orientation leader is named Jaume and is the Director of Academics at Arcadia. He’s very friendly and dynamic. He speaks English fluently but was born in Mallorca and lived in Barcelona. There are only five other participants within the program: Mara and Danielle from Arcadia University, Brian and Madeline from Amherst College, and Evan from Missouri. I was surprised the size of the group was so small, but there will be other American students living in Toledo and taking classes with us at La Fundación.
We stayed in a great hotel called Hotel Moderno right in the center of the city near La Plaza Mayor. Madrid is a beautiful bustling city. Our group explored the city a bit, seeing El Palacio Real and La Plaza Mayor, and getting a feel of the Spanish culture. Although I had been to these places a few years ago, it was still exciting to see it again. The skies were clear and blue, but it was very hot. That evening, Jaume treated us to a traditional Tapas dinner. He told us that in Spain it is typical to get drinks and a small snack before dinner, since people eat so late. We went to a hip bar with lots of young people in it and ordered “papas bravas” which means “brave” or “fiesty” french fries, because there is a spicy hot sauce on top. They tasted great.
At the Tapas restaurant, Jaume insisted on ordering us a bottle of red wine, a couple vegetable dishes, really good ham that tastes like prosciutto, and some type of meat dish that he wouldn’t tell us about until we tried it! It turns out it was cow stomach. I didn’t like it much…even before I knew what it was.
The next day, to my DELIGHT, we visited El Prado, uno de los museos más importantes del mundo (one of the most important museums in the world). Our tour guide was very animated and only spoke in Spanish. She showed us paintings by famous artists like Goya and Velásquez. It was great, but I will definitely be going back because there is so much more to see!
It’s Sunday night at 11:25 pm. My bags are (just about) packed and except for a few last minute details, I am ready for my journey to Toledo, Spain. I sure have had my fill of adventure in the past few months, spending my summer in sub-Saharan Africa and living in a rural village without much electricity or water. Now I am ready to partake in a different type of adventure, one where I will live in a different culture for even longer. As per usual, I don’t know what to expect. I am currently worried about whether my two duffel bags will exceed 50 pounds, or whether I’ll be able to sleep during the flight to Spain to avoid jet lag once I get there. And then there are the people I will meet…while I’m sure I’ll get along with most people, there is still that fear of going to a place where you know no one. HOWEVER, this is MY time, an amazing opportunity, and I know it will be worthwhile. The language barrier will be difficult but it will be a challenge I know I can face! I feel extremely lucky, motivated, and eager. At last, off to gorgeous Spain. !Ya me voy a España!