Spain Week 1
The past week has been a complete shakedown of my endurance. I felt quite like Mrs. Bennet mentioning the state of my nerves at every turn. The week before I left for Spain was a trial in itself. I said good-bye to friends, family, and an environment and country that were familiar and comfortable. I’ve known how to be an American all my life. And it was not something I consciously thought about until I was thrown into the ring with the bulls. Every adventure here in Spain has been just that, an adventure. Something as simple as going to the grocery store needs a new lens to accomplish.
The day before my flight to Spain I had a wedding. And let me tell you, it was absolutely wonderful. I got to celebrate a couple who had their name written in the stars long ago (what’s a wedding without some cliches?). The groom was my dear college roommate’s brother and having one last hoorah with her was such a blessing. At the end of the night I told her how much we really needed this. I’m also so proud of how much she let loose that night, tearing up the dance floor like no one else (except maybe her dad). Not to make the wedding all about us but when I was saying good-bye “Sweet Caroline” starting playing, a song any Penn Stater knows has a special place.
The wedding was my first real trial. I put on a brave face when anyone asked the classic question “What are you doing with your life?” and I told them “Well, actually… I’m flying to Spain umm like literally tomorrow.” There were many reassuring words and promises that it would turn out fine. I didn’t really believe them but I thanked them all the same. Of course, I meet the only single man at this wedding and we hit it off. Completely dashing and a gentleman to boot, something he said stuck with me: there’s a fine line between fear and excitement. Sometimes one wins out over the other and sometimes they are the same thing.
Sunday arrived and I felt indifferent. I am, for the most part, a good traveler. I can be patient and stand in lines, negotiate an airport, and fill the time it takes to travel. I could almost forget the fact that I was moving to Spain when I was buried in my book.
Planes, Trains, and Autobuses
Sunday and Monday
The start to our journey had a rocky start. My mom flew with me to Spain because I didn’t really have a choice. Of course it was amazing to have her with me and I think it gave my poor dad–all alone at home– some reassurance. Arriving in Newark and arriving at check-in, a loud and deep heartbeat stopped my mom in her tracks: her passport. Where is her passport? It turned out that her passport was sitting on the counter at home almost a two hour car ride away. My dad immediately starts driving home and we get a hold of our neighbors. Thank the Lord for good neighbors because they went to our house and then drove to meet my dad halfway. My dad had taken my mom’s passport to make a photocopy and classic miscommunication lead to the rest. It was no ones fault and in the end my mom checked in and made it through security with time to spare. Perks of arriving at the airport early (maybe for moments like this…)
Six hours to Dublin was nothing especially exciting. The hour layover was something I had constantly worried about. Getting off the plane the airport workers were bright eyed and bushy tailed for it being five in the morning their time. We formed lines for our connection, their thick Irish accents charming as they said “Scotland, Wales, and Isle of Man” in one line and other European connections in another.
A short flight to Madrid and exhaustion was hitting. I slept completely upright in my seat! The Madrid airport was under construction, and after what seemed like five miles of walking, we arrived at customs. A glance, a stamp, a gesture and we were through. No smiles and no questions as we stepped over the threshold and into what would be my new home: Spain.
A bus ride to the train station, a train ride to the bus station, and a bus ride to my town. An entire day spent dragging 2 huge suitcases, carrying 3 backpacks, and holding 2 purses. And it was hot! The dry and sweltering September air made us reconsider what exactly we were doing. Without proper sleep and without proper food my mom and I were zombies. Once arriving at our hotel in my small town there wasn’t much else to do but hopefully sleep it off and worry about everything else in the morning.
Roaming and Restless
Tuesday and Wednesday
My night of sleep was anything was restful. The weird time change and sporadic napping during the day left me awake until two in the morning. My heart itself couldn’t seem to stop pounding with anxiety. I wasn’t sick but I was as agitated as if I was tossing and turning with fever. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
The morning at least brought breakfast: toast and freshly squeezed orange juice. Food is a message to my body to reset. I felt better and I felt more grounded. Our first task was to walk around the town. We went to my school first thing, getting a feel for where it was. The sound of child streamed out of the windows of my new school with such force. But at the same time the sound was comfortingly familiar. The excitement and energy that children bring are universal.
My mom is a wanderer. There is no better term to describe the way in which my mom aimlessly meanders. In a grocery store or on a family vacation, my mom follows her own path that to an outside seems completely random. As someone who is very ‘type A’ I can find this annoying at times. But other times, like the first days in my town, it was what we needed. We saw my town, Hinojosa del Duque, by following cobble stone streets and being tourists. I had my google maps open to see where exactly we were headed. I even pointed out a street where an advertised apartment lie (which turned out to be my future home!). We stumbled upon a street market, the food market, and the many plazas tucked away between streets. Arriving at the main plaza we got a map at the tourist information office. We “tried” and failed to get lunch in the plaza. Around two to three in the afternoon the town was dead. Everyone was home to avoid the high and hot afternoon sun and enjoy their lunch and siesta.
Siesta in Spain is completely real. Everyone goes home from work and shops close at two. Everything then reopens at five or six. It makes sense but it was hard for me to believe it was real until our only option was to return to our hotel. This was more than okay. My mom and I got to relax a bit as well. Only for a bit mind before we started our first– and most important– task, finding an apartment. My coordinator at my school sent me advertisements for pisos (aka flats) in town. During siesta we called all the advertisements, and wouldn’t you know! We had two appointments that night to see pisos.
Seeing both the pisos was a weight lifted. No matter anything else that happened, finding a decent place to live meant I had a home. It was funny because the parallels of both the flats we saw were uncanny. Both of the pisos were: rented by grandmothers who each had 3 children (one had 3 sons, the other 3 daughters), quaint family owned apartments, 3 bedrooms, and patios at the back. They were even the same price! I had a really hard time deciding because both of the women were helpful and kind. In the end I picked one on a quiet street close to my school. It’s furnished with 3 bedrooms, a saloon and office in the front, a kitchen and laundry in the back. It is so easy to live in such a pleasing piso.
The next morning I called and got the keys. Who would have thought that in just one day I would finalize my home for the next 8 months! And I am so happy I did. Rosa my landlady took my mom and I to the grocery store and helped us navigate it. I was again reminded that food was an axis for my world. With some more knowledge of my town, a place to live, and some snacks in the fridge, my initial worries were starting to dissipate.
I got an email from my coordinator at my school and there was another auxiliar in my town! I was placed in the local, public elementary school and he in the local, public high school. My mom and I meet him for a drink and tapas in the plaza. Another reassurance added to my new life and another worry removed. Andrés, the fluent in Spanish auxiliar, was a fast friend. We have many things in common but most of all we could help each other navigate this crazy new placement.
Day by Day
The rest of the week was spent running errands so to speak. I had to buy sheets, detergent, Tupperware containers, towels, and other essential items to help me settle into Spain. I opened a bank account, got my residence card, signed up for internet, and maybe the most important thing, adjusted to the time difference.
The first week of Spain taught me a lot and really put me through the ring. My Spanish is not at all good. I struggled (and continue to struggle) to communicate effectively. Being in Andalucía (the southern region of Spain), the accent here is one of the most difficult to comprehend. They cut off the ends of their words and extend their vowels. Sometimes I would actually know the word but their fast speaking and heavy accent made my head spin. My mom tried her best too. Between the two of us we tried to get our point across, with varying degrees of success. Keeping it simple and keeping google translate on hand was essential. There is time to keep practicing my Spanish.
The most important thing that the first week made me realize was that I had to take everything day by day. Rome wasn’t built in a day and I can’t build my life in Spain in a day either. The paperwork will get finalized eventually, the language will get easier to listen to eventually, and I will find my place here eventually. Considering that only one week has passed, I would say that I have more than a good head start.
My mom was taking it day by day before, during, and after her sabbatical with me. She always has her head on straight it seems and she is the one to reassure me when stress tries to overwhelm me. My dad as well told me that it wasn’t the end of the world, if I needed to come home I could– I can.
Comparing my thoughts before the trip to my reflections now, I know I am strong enough for this. I tiptoed along that line between fear and excitement not sure which way I would fall. But the line split, diverging into two new paths: one of fear and one of excitement. And the thing about paths is that you can choose. I was a trapeze artist balancing the tight rope and I survived my first act; I made it to the other side in one piece. And I am excited for my next show.