Thursday, October 24, 2013

Baby Steps.

Dear family, friends, strangers, Facebook friends, and anyone that is reading this right now, 

         I've been in the most amazing place in the world for six whole weeks. I could try to write everything that I've done in the past month but that would take about three hours. It may be a gap year, but I sure don't seem to have much time on my hands. My days have been filled with new friends, experiences, travels, and a lot of Spanish. 

         I think I underestimated how difficult learning a foreign language is, even when you're fully immersed in it. In a normal day, I speak about as much English as I do Spanish, because people from all over the world speak my language. For instance, I have a very good friend here named Freddie (actually, Frederique) who is from the Netherlands, and who has invited me to stay with her during the Christmas holidays! Her English is practically perfect and our Spanish is equally pre-intermediate, so naturally we speak in the language that is easiest for both of us. It's both a blessing and a curse. We usually sit next to each other in class, in fact, we've been together since the very first, very confusing day. When we first went to class, I remember our professor asking me the equivalent of "what's up" in Spanish (of course.) I looked at him with horror and turned to Freddie to ask her what I was supposed to say back to him. Little by little, I began to understand a word here or there. After two weeks, basic greetings became familiar. Three weeks, four weeks, I could understand most of what my host mom said to me as long as she spoke slowly. Six weeks later and I've begun dreaming in this language. I really do understand what goes on around me now, for the most part. Starting from the bottom, Freddie and I have worked our way up to the third level at our language school. For four intense hours a day, we learn grammar, practice conversation, listen to native speakers, and play games. The professor chastises us if we speak even a little bit of English, or French, or Dutch, or German, or Chinese or anything other than what we're here to learn. It's often very difficult to say what we want to say, but we have to try.
      A few months ago, I would have been nervous to have a formal conversation on the phone or to accomplish some sort of task that required me to rely on strangers to help; I've always been timid in public situations. Now, I have to do everything for myself in a language that I don't speak with fluency, from buying necessities to asking for vitamins at a pharmacy (it's harder than it sounds), to recharging my bus card, to inquiring why I had to pay 40 euros to pick up a package from the post office. Separately, these things are quite difficult and 78% of the time, someone laughs at my accent or my inability to understand certain words. But together, the blend of all of these experiences that force me to get outside of my comfort zone, is making me into a fearless person. What I'm trying to say is that being away from familiarity, in a foreign country, is simply hard. There are days when you want to hop on a plane back to Arkansas to hear a few "y'alls" and eat at your favorite restaurant. But there are also those days that are just so magical that you can't imagine yourself any happier than you are at that exact moment, eating tapas with your friends from three different countries while the moon shines over the ancient Cathedral that you have the chance to marvel at every day. As I sat in the lotus position this past Wednesday at my yoga/meditation class, while the teacher hit a gong and made strange humming noises, I looked up to see a small figurine of Buddha. I thought how strange and wonderful it is that I'm getting to see other mindsets and religions that I would never in a million years see back home. This is why I'm here. This experience is far from easy, but it's completely, one hundred percent, changing me for the better. 

In a few days, I'm off to Paris for a week with my friend Paige for fall break (how many 18 year-old American can say this?!) Morocco is in a two and a half weeks and Christmas break is coming up soon. I'm really getting to see Spain (more details on Ronda and Granada later) and the world. To say that I'm lucky is an understatement. I promise to blog more often. 

Your global citizen,