Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I'll be home for Christmas

Being home for the holidays after living in Spain for four months has really thrown me off.
First of all: the airport. Arriving in the LAX airport for my layover was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had in California. I stepped off the plane with wild hair and raccoon eyes, desperate for a giant glass of water and a Tylenol to calm the fever I’d acquired en route.
All around me, I heard English. “Thank you!” “Where is the baggage claim?” “Don’t push me!” I felt like I was in an alternative universe where my accent actually fit in.
Someone pointed me in the direction of Customs, and I replied (without thinking) with a sincere “gracias.” Of course…
I found myself comparing the United States lifestyle with the Spanish lifestyle more than ever as I went about everyday things in my city. How would a person speaking Spanish say that? Why are we eating so early? Why are the bars closing at 2 am?!
It’s wonderful to have the chance to come back home and be with my family during the holidays. However, I really do miss the Spanish culture and language. I miss meeting new people every day and getting to hear their stories. I long to be able to go out on a Tuesday to drink a caña with friends from totally different cultures. But at the same time, I want to be with my beloved family and friends for which I am heartsick when I’m in Spain.
I’m the epitome of torn.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back from hiatus

I just came back from Geneva and Annecy, two very different cities in two different countries. In other words, I just arrived back to the "real" world of Madrid after a vacation in a perfect, picturesque snow globe.

The winter wonderland was aesthetically beautiful, and it really couldn't have gotten more idealistic. I traveled with my friend Brittany who is from the same study abroad program as I am. As we waddled off the plane with our 5-7 layers of sweaters and tights, we were greeted by snowflakes bigger than any we've ever seen. They resembled those that I cut out in my first grade art classes.

Wandering the streets of Geneva, Brittany and I noticed that there was little warmth (both literal and figurative) in the city. Most people kept to themselves. Christmas decorations were few and far-between. The stores were nearly empty. I never really felt comfortable touring the area; I always had the feeling that I was intruding on someone's bleak, lonely holiday. Where were the fake reindeer?  The strands-upon-strands of little lights? The Santa cookies?

However, the lack of cheerfulness in Geneva was counteracted by the adorableness that is Annecy, France. I knew instantly that I liked it better than Geneva because as we stumbled off the bus, we landed straight in a scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I thought I'd get to see all the misfit toys wandering around (to my dismay, I never did). There were strings of colorful lights strewn about the square that surrounded the train station. Usually, I'm not a person that feels giddy upon seeing a giant fake snowflake stuck to a window while "Jingle Bells" plays on constant repeat in every shop. But there was something about Annecy that made me want to sing carols in exchange for hot chocolate. Maybe it was the friendly nature of the people in the coffee shops. Maybe it was the perfect placement of the snowfall, adorning each rooftop in a perfect, blindingly white blanket. Maybe it was just the hot-mulled wine... Yeah, probably the wine.

The day we arrived, Brittany and I took the bus to our quaint hostel, which greeted us with quirky posters and cartoon drawings on the wall. Our room, which we shared with a sweet Korean girl that was traveling alone, had a poster on the wall: "What NOT to say to your boyfriend." Most of their tips were kind of a given, to be honest ("Don't say, 'I'm pregnant...just kidding.'")

It was difficult to leave an adorable town to head back to Geneva, but we managed. After a lovely night at the freezing Geneva airport, we made it back to Madrid Sunday morning. Never have I ever been more excited to hear people speak Spanish.

As cheesy as it seems, I felt like I was back home.

P.S. You can't imagine the power of that nap I had after I got back to my apartment...

Monday, October 29, 2012

A new focus

Seven a.m. is just too damn early and too cold. My down comforter envelops me in two different types of warmth, like hot mulled wine when the alcohol kicks in. I slip the sheets off my shivering body and scoot the cat, Gala, out of the bathroom to get ready in peace.
Then I remember:
The metro workers are on strike today. I’ll be late.
I swallow my oatmeal with fury as I shoo Gala away from the sandwich I have made for lunch. Hat, shoes, coat, scarf, keys – go.

Pounding the pavement outside my apartment, avoiding cobblestone, I dash towards the center of town to hail a taxi. I can’t miss my first class. Worry runs through my mind a few more times as I’m bounding towards La Puerta del Sol, ribbons of frost whipping my bloodless face. I spot a cab that says
LIBRE and raise my hand to it. The car pulls up to me in haste.
, I say as I swing the door open, rushing every movement. I glance in the rearview mirror. The driver is a cheery, middle-aged man with cheeks I can only describe as jolly. Rosy and smiling, he mentions that it is very cold outside. I agree, and I add that I’m from California, so I’m not accustomed to the below-freezing weather this time of year.

The conversation vacillates back and forth easily and without pause. It starts with the weather, flows to schoolwork, which leads to why I’m here, and eventually turns to a topical discussion about society as a whole in California compared to Madrid. We talk about vagabonds, Roman ruins, travel, poetry, New York, hippies, and it goes on.

Now, I haven’t been feeling incredibly encouraged about my Spanish conversation abilities lately, but in this conversation, I feel confident and self-assured. Though his accent is thick and he cuts many words short, I can understand and follow the discussion with ease.

When I arrive at school, he thanks me for the rich conversation and tells me that I am a girl with a lot of personality. When I try to thank him for that comment, he says, “It’s not something you need to thank me for. It’s something you either have or you don’t.”

I hand him the money and thank him again, wishing him a good day.

I realize my worries about being late have melted. Being late one day to class is not part of the so-called “big picture.” It’s a spot on my windshield that I can easily sweep away. Good conversations in Spanish with strangers are part of the reason why I am here. I want to experience the culture and empathize with the population here.

I am surely to remember these moments more than tests, papers, or lectures. I’m here to expand my outlook, and that’s just what I’m doing.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Learning a foreign language in the United States is like riding a bike with training wheels. In my case, I rocked a tricycle for about ten years. I'd go to class at my tiny all-girls' school, learn and recite grammar rules, and then innocently skip off to my next class, letting Spanish words escape my mind as I walked.

To put it mildly, those ten years of classes were incredibly deceiving. When I arrived in Spain, it was like someone took off my training wheels without warning and let me go (Still haven't forgotten that day, Dad). I thought I already knew how to ride a bike! I was coasting with the best of them!

Without those two extra wheels, I'm flat-out struggling. I'm forgetting words that I've known for years, mixing up verb tenses, butchering subject-verb agreements... It makes me wonder how I ever did well in my Spanish classes at Cal.

In my current state, I'm alternating between frustration and hope. Maybe I can get through a long sentence without stumbling or pausing to think. Or maybe I should have worked harder back in my college classes instead of taking advantage of the fact that my professors did not really care much about grammar or correct phraseology. This mental war with myself is exhausting, but I need to keep pushing through so I can get to the next stage of learning.

The light at the end of the tunnel: The more times I wipe the dirt off my scraped knees, the more I ignore the fear of falling, the closer I get to being able to ride a two-wheeler.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Before arriving, I talked to innumerable people about Spain: the culture, the people, the nightlife, the food, and the list goes on. I've made a little list of my own. Here goes...

Things I heard about Spain that haven't proved true:

  • Shorts are unacceptable here. This is fiction - every Spaniard and their mother wears shorts. It's hot as Hades, so the Daisy Dukes are on parade.
  • They don't wear high heels. Wrong! Despite the cobblestone, many ladies rock the pumps on the way to a discoteca.
  • Spaniards are fascinated with blonds. Hah! Has not been the case with this blond. Plus, I've seen a lot of blond Spanish people.
Things that I heard about Spain that are certainly true:
  • HAM! On, with, and in everything.
  • Many Spanish men are short. I feel a bit like a WNBA player.
  • They are in love with California. I just hope I get serenaded with "California Girls" one of these days. Sounds like my kind of night.
Hasta luego!

Monday, September 17, 2012

A strange sleeping pattern

My eyes don't shut when I want them to.

It's currently 1:16 a.m. in Madrid and I can't sleep. Naturally, I flip my computer open to see what's going on in the world of my American loved ones. Here I am, scanning the ever-superficial Facebook newsfeed, struggling to intake segment of life in los Estados Unidos.

Every time I do this, however, I ask myself, Why? I'm in a completely different country in another corner of the world. Why am I resorting to Facebook to pacify my homesickness? It doesn't do anything other than blind me to what I have right here in this culturally rich city.

Reading updates about family and friends at home is instant gratification, but it can't fill the void that moving away from home leaves. In order to soften the homesick feeling, I should focus on creating a life and identity here, in the moment. Instead of looking upon the past and smiling at memories, I need to embrace the right now with courage in my step.

Maybe my eyes don't shut when I want them to because I need to keep them open. Perhaps it's necessary that I keep my eyes peeled in order to identify any opportunity that presents itself.

I suppose I should sleep with one eye open just in case a once-in-a-lifetime experience threatens to pass me by.

Artwork at El Museo de la Reina Sofía

Sunday, September 2, 2012

El primer fin de semana

Code switching from English to Spanish is fairly disorienting, similar to the feeling I get when I leave a movie theater and the daylight pierces my eyes as they adjust. My mind also must adapt and I feel like I literally have to change a language setting in my brain in order to communicate with Spanish people. My goal for this year is to be able to transition seamlessly between the two languages without flipping the on and off switch. I'm hoping that'll happen in time, but for now, I'm embracing this language barrier as a step outside of my comfort zone.

Today I had the pleasure of exploring the downtown area (La puerta del sol) by myself because I had an appointment to check out an apartment in a barrio nearby. This solo trip allowed me to really get to know the city that I will be calling home for the next 10 months. Everything about it feels perfectly novel; the people, the food, the customs all seem beautiful in all their newness. My heart is full with the prospect of complete immersion in this culture.

I visited the apartment and met a young Spanish man wearing faux crocs that was very patient as I explained my situation in painfully broken Spanish. I definitely made some silly errors; I was trying to say "If you want me to move in" but I ended up saying "If you love me..." (Si me quieres...). Talk about awkward.

Long story short, I'm going to put the deposit down tomorrow after classes. Here is the neighborhood and surrounding areas of the piso: