East student blogs about experiences in Spain: Post #1

Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor, and Juliet Brooks ('13)/ Eastside News/Features Editor

I’m in Spain right now, sitting at a keyboard where the quotation marks are somewhere above my left hand and the backspace bar says “retroceso.” Also, the ñ is a legitimate button. In fact, I think I’m going to press it again. Ñ. It´s pretty cool, although admittedly disorienting. I guess they moved the shift bar and quotation marks around to make room.

I’ll be honest, I was pretty apprehensive about going to Spain. I’m going to be here for five weeks total, with nine kids I’ve never met before in my life, and a group leader I have previously had no contact with. So when I drove up to JFK Airport with my family, my basic thought process was “Will these kids like me? Will I like them? Will I be homesick?” and so on. Pretty much every thought anyone who has ever gone away with a youth group has had.

This is supposed to be a cultural experience, so I’ll talk about the culture that we’ve experienced so far, which is a lot.

Our flight ended up being delayed, so I was sitting around in an airport with a bunch of kids from all over the country. There were two other groups from the same company (Experiment in International Living) on our flight, and meeting those other kids and their group leaders didn’t assuage my fears at all. I was terrified that going to Spain was going to be mandatory fun with a sergeant for a group leader. But my group leader, Jennifer, is really sweet (as I discovered sometime between the original flight from JFK and the connection flight from France), and that made me feel a lot better. My group members are also amazingly well-suited for each other. We don’t have a lot of common interests, so there can’t be any cliques, and everyone is really sweet and inclusive. We’ve already started calling each other family.

By the time we got to Madrid, it was ten thirty at night here, and I was starving. So we ate dinner at ten thirty at night in a beautiful square somewhere in Madrid, and I have to say it was amazing. Something much less amazing (for the first few days, at least) is the fact that we eat dinner at ten thirty every night. Or eleven. Sometimes ten, if we have an activity after dinner… Lunch is at 2 p.m., and breakfast is at nine in the morning. They also don´t have goldfish. The snack that smiles back. I wish I could say that I’m being adventurous and eating Spanish food alongside everybody else, but that would be a lie. I don’t eat seafood, and I also don’t eat mysterious meats covered in mushroom sauce. So basically, while my group mates are trying rabo de toro (bull tail) and purple octopus babies (and loving both, I might add), I’m living off of bread and fruit. Hey, there are worse things. I like bread.

On the bright side, for the three days we stayed in Madrid, Jennifer let us explore the city. We learned how to navigate the metro system in a foreign language, led American chants in the park, and discovered the beauty of several museums. My favorite was probably the Reina Sofia, where we wandered through galleries full of Picasso’s sketches. We also saw a flamenco version of Carmen, and although I can’t claim to have understood even a quarter of it, the review we read afterwards as we drove to Toledo clarified things for me.

We only spent a few hours in Toledo, but if I had to name one city ¨el ciudad mas bonita en el mundo,¨ it would be Toledo. It’s impossible to even begin to describe the view of the hills and valleys around the city, the way the cobblestone streets slope and stretch, the way the houses (painted in pastels and yellows) sit slanty but somehow tall and strong… We’re usually supposed to wander in groups of two or three, and our group often just stays together, but Jennifer made us promise to wander alone in Toledo for a half hour. And I have to say, when it was only me and the brick walls of the city around me, the magic was tenfold. My group mates were joking that they wanted to stay in Toledo instead of moving on to Guadix (where we are now), but I really don’t think I could have handled so much beauty for more than half a day.

I understand about one word in every four that people speak, and the accents of the people here mean that words like “dos” and “tres” are “do” and “tre,” which was a bit of a slap in the face because I swore I knew Spanish so well, but I´m beginning to understand more as the days go by. In fact, our group is only speaking Spanish to each other now from breakfast till dinner, at which point we can spend the evening chattering in English. I think that the locals are less hostile towards us than towards some Americans, because we´re trying to speak their language and understand their culture.

In ten days, we go to Grenada to stay with host families for two weeks. Starting tomorrow, we´ll be practicing a play for them. It´s interpretive dance based on the life of a famous Spaniard. We´ll also be starting ceramics, which sounds fun, although a bit daunting. I thought ceramics meant making pots, but apparently it would be too difficult to bring pots home to our families, so we´re making jewelry.

Last night, we went to something called a bottelon, which is where a bunch of Spanish kids get together and drink. Literally the whole town showed up, and although my group didn´t drink, it was a lot of fun. It was a really amazing cultural experience, because the drinking age here is sixteen for wine and beer, and so all the young people in town get together and then go to clubs. It didn’t end till six in the morning, but my group left early. I´ve noticed that the Spanish culture is very inclusive, and it seemed like everyone in Guadix knew each other to some degree. No one was left standing alone, and at one point, someone´s dog (possibly the most adorable puppy I have ever seen in my entire life) came running up to my group mate and chewed on his leg, so I started petting the dog. The guy who owned it (probably twenty, with huge gauges, guyliner, and dreadlocks down to his waist) looked around, smiled at me, and nodded like he was trying to say “go for it, he´s friendly.”

It has been a bit difficult to contact people in America, and a Euro isactually 1.3 dollars, instead of the other way around, as I initially thought (so no, that dress is not seven dollars) but for the most part my trip has started off without a hitch. I´m waiting for the BIC company cell phone (apparently they make more than pencils) I bought here to get the minutes I sent it, and then I´m going to go in the pool with my group mates.

So, despite the fact that this computer says “enviar” instead of “send” and I didn´t know what “recargar” meant until about twenty minutes ago, the cultural experience so far has been really fun. I can´t wait to see the dance that we end up doing for our families, and I hope everyone in the audience has the good sense not to take videos.

¡Abrazos y besos!

Juliet