Brian Becomes Bilingual - Brian in Spain - September
Loud Noises and Soft Voices
September 28, 2011
Crick, crick, crick, crick, crick, crick, crick.
Imagine that sound, over and over, louder and louder. This is what we have had to deal with in our house over the last few nights because there is a cricket in the living room. It is no ordinary cricket; it is a cricket with an over-sized larynx that it is not afraid to use. Every morning, Isabel tells us that she could not sleep because of the grillo (cricket), and no matter how hard we try, we cannot find it.
Other than the cricket, it has been a good week so far. On Monday, we started our second class. I thought it was going to be a literature class, but I must have been mistaken because so far, it has just been a continuation of our last class – grammar. Most of it has been review for me, which is nice, but also makes it kind of boring.
On Tuesday, I went back to the nursing home as part of my service learning class. The nursing home is called Hospital de Caridad. It was used as a hospital for a long time before it became a nursing home. I will be going there every Tuesday to hang out with the guys, and possibly help with feeding and dressing as well. For my first day there, I mostly played dominoes with three other guys and one spectator. One of the men kept calling me ‘joven’ (young) every time he addressed me.
The men were kind of hard to understand because they spoke very quietly. The difference was that they spoke quietly in a language I am still learning. This made it really hard to understand several of the guys I talked to, but I am hoping to improve. I felt better when I helped push one man in a wheelchair to a store down the street. The owner of the store had to get really close to him and needed him to repeat himself several times to understand what he wanted.
Wednesday night, I went to encuentro, our worship service. Mark got there ahead of time to practice with the band and he decided it would be funny to hide under the stage and pop out during the first song. What he was not planning on was a guest speaker before the singing started, so he ended up waiting under the stage for about 30 minutes.
Three Views and a New Friend, Too
September 24, 2011
On Saturday, Mark, Luke, and I visited one of Seville’s newest attractions, “Las Setas.” Las Setas is actually a nickname, which means ‘mushroom’, and it is appropriate because the giant wooden sculpture looks just like mushrooms from below. Word on the street is that most of the natives do not like Las Setas because it does not really fit in with the rest of the historical area. The best part about Las Setas is that you can enjoy three very different views.
The first view of the sculpture was from ground level. Although I have already seen the giant “mushrooms” several times, it is still awesome to look at one of the largest wooden sculptures in the world. I am not usually a fan of modern art, but this is definitely an exception for me.
The next view of Las Setas has nothing to do with the sculpture itself, but what the sculpture is actually meant for: the ancient Roman ruins below it. When the ruins were discovered, several artists offered their models for a sculpture that would protect and attract people to the ruins below.
The ruins were awesome to see, and it was hard to imagine just how old they had to be. Most of what we were looking at was in pretty bad shape, but you could still make out some pillars and a bath house. Also, on one of the floors, there was a mosaic design of Medusa, snakes and all. This design was probably my favorite part of the ruins since I am a fan of Greek mythology. It was great to see it actually come to life by seeing art honoring this story.
The final view of Las Setas is from the top. The three of us rode an elevator up and got to see a spectacular view of Seville. There were ramps all around the top which made it easy to see the city in all directions.
In our school program, we also had the opportunity to sign up for intercambios, which is a program meant to set students up with local Spaniards interested in learning English. The people usually call the school if they are interested and are interviewed. My first meeting with my intercambio was today. I met Nehemias at McDonald's, and we got to know each other. Nehemias is the opposite of me in his language skills; he is able to speak Spanish really well but has a hard time understanding, whereas I could understand everything he said but could not always respond without making a lot of grammatical mistakes.
Overall, I was really happy with my experience talking to Nehemias. I was really surprised how easy it was to communicate one-on-one with someone in a different language. We spoke in Spanish pretty much the whole time, so I will have to give him the opportunity to practice English more the next time we meet.
September 23, 2011
This past week was a busy one; between doing homework, working at my internship, and studying for our final grammar test, I was busy most of the week. On Friday, we had a written and oral test for grammar, which means we are finally moving to literature.
On Friday night, we had a guys’ night since most of the girls went to Portugal for the weekend. Mark, Luke, and I met up with two friends we met at church. Both of them are from California and are studying in another program here. It is great to have two more guys to hang out with, bringing our total all the way up to five. The two also joined our prayer groups since their program is not Christian and they still wanted the opportunity to worship.
The five of us went to a small pizza place and shared some really tasty pizza. The owner of the shop was nice and loved telling us about a typical Spanish passion, fútbol. There are two fútbol teams here in Seville, so there are plenty of opportunities for the Spaniards to debate on which is the better team.
After the pizza, we went to a flamenco bar, where I finally got to see the famous dancing that I have heard about since I got here. The room was packed with people gathered around a small stage with three people: a singer, a guitar player, and a dancer.
The dance was impressive and unique. The woman did not look like she was enjoying herself since she did not smile at all, but I am guessing it is part of the dance style. The most impressive part of the dance was that her dance shoes were more like high heels. Despite the uncomfortable shoes, she was able to spin, stomp, and swirl quickly, and to the beat of the song, too.
Weekend in Seville
September 18, 2011
I spent this weekend in Seville, and it was far from a boring one. On Saturday, we went to the Plaza de España, a beautiful building that we visited during our photo scavenger hunt. Unlike our last time there, the fountain was actually on, which added a lot of aesthetic appeal. After this, we climbed the stairs and looked at it from below. Like always, there were a lot of people in boats along the moat and others enjoying the designs of the huge building.
After our trip to the plaza, we went to one of our leader’s apartment and watched a movie on her roof. It was great because we could see the cathedral in the distance, along with the rest of Seville – a perfect atmosphere for a perfect night.
Bingo with the Abuelos
September 15, 2011
This week went by quickly, mostly because I had a lot of school work to do. On Wednesday, we had our first test, so I was busy studying for that in the beginning of the week. I did some of my studying by the river, where I saw a lot of interesting people.
I also got an internship at one of the many tourist agencies. The agency mostly works with students studying abroad and plans trips to nearby cities. They told me that I would have several different tasks, but this week they were busy with a trip to Portugal this upcoming weekend, so I mostly helped them get ready for that.
On Wednesday, I went to the program’s church service again and I was happy to see that there were two new males there. Sunday, we met two guys from California at our church, and we invited them to the service. They were also interested in some of our other programs, so our numbers are growing slowly.
Thursday afternoon, our group had a service project; we played bingo at a nursing home near our school. Sadly, I did not win any rounds of bingo. However, I did get to practice my Spanish a lot with people who didn’t know we were still learning Spanish and talked at their normal rate instead of slowing down for us. I am planning to return to the nursing home on Monday for my service learning class. Hopefully I will be remembered.
Un Fin de Semana Relejante (A Relaxing Weekend)
September 12, 2011
On Saturday, nearly all 28 of the students in our program bought a bus ticket to Madalascañas, a beach about an hour away. The bus station is only a 10-minute walk from my house.
About 100 feet away from the coast of the beach, there was what looked like a huge rock. We spent a lot of the time climbing up the rock, getting cut by the many barnacles along the way, and jumping from the top of it. After we got tired of the rock, we dug a huge hole that ended up being a play area for several Spanish children lucky enough to find it.
When we got to the dinner table later, there were 10 pairs of little eyes staring at us, because we were having shrimp. The shrimp were huge, and Isabel told us that children always complain and will not eat them because they have eyes. Her response to this is that turkeys and cows have eyes, too.
For my run on Sunday morning, I decided I wanted to go to the nearby city. I didn’t see any way to get to it except through a field, where I saw some trailers, one of which had three dogs. I was pretty far away from these dogs, but they still ended up seeing me. First, they started a deep bark and then I saw them heading toward me so I started going faster. Once they got on the same trail as me, I put it into high gear, but these were not exactly dogs you could run away from; they were huge greyhounds.
I kept running, and every time I looked back, they were much closer. I looked for a weapon but there was nothing. I panicked and screamed a loud, manly scream.
The dogs cornered me and growled but did not attack. I slowly walked away, and they glared at me. Once I was far enough away, I caught my breath and decided I would not be going that way to run again.
After this intense morning, Sunday was still peaceful. I went to church and understood a lot more than last week. It is awesome to see how much my listening skills have improved after only a week; I am looking forward to getting even better.
September 10, 2011
Instead of having regular class on Friday, the group took a day trip to Córdoba, a city about two hours northeast of Seville.
When we first arrived at the city, the professor gave us headphones and a headset linked to her microphone so we could hear her talking about what we were seeing. If anyone had any doubt about whether or not we were tourists, it was gone after we put these on.
To begin, we stepped into a strange combination of a building – a mosque with a cathedral in the middle of it. The mosque was built during the Islamic conquest of the area. When the Spanish reclaimed it, they decided to build the cathedral in the middle of it instead of tear it down. This was definitely a good decision because the mosque was breathtaking.
When we first entered the mosque, it was hard to know where to look first. The room was dimly lit with large red-and-white-striped arches everywhere. There were designs lining the walls and paintings that had different scenes from the Koran. Our professor told us about all the history behind the beautiful room before we moved on to the cathedral.
The cathedral was well-lit in contrast to the darker mosque. Gold lined the area where the priest spoke, and huge pipes for the organ came out of both sides. Paintings the size of garage doors were in the back, decorating the length of the enormous wall. There were too many hand-crafted designs to count. There were seats for the clergy that were crafted out of wood, along with pews for the congregation to sit in.
After our time there, we went to a Jewish synagogue. Here, we had a very animated tour guide. He said we could ask him any question we wanted as long as it was not about politics. He then added that he only talked about politics if he had a cerveza (beer).
The guide showed us around the synagogue and the ancient house that surrounded it. It was not fancy, but it was still great to hear the history behind it. This tour ended with the guide playing an old Jewish song on the drum while another man played the violin.
September 8, 2011
Wednesday and Thursday were busy and fun-filled days. After class on Wednesday, we had a program called “Encuentro,” a bilingual worship service at the same church I attended on Sunday. Some of the songs were in English, others were in Spanish, and some were both. It was nice to worship in our native tongue for a change, as well as practice more Spanish.
After “Encuentro,” Mark and I went to play soccer with some guys who invited us a few days before. They claimed that it would be a laid-back game, but when we got there, it looked like a pretty intense match. There were eight guys, most of whom were native Spaniards. After I joined the game, they slowed down, but I still managed to embarrass myself quite a few times with my inferior soccer skills.
Isabel, our Señora, continues to make us laugh daily. During Wednesday’s lunch, she took out a jar from the refrigerator and handed it to me. “Un hombre fuerte,” she said, (which means “a strong man”) and motioned for me to open it.
Thursday night was exciting. We had “Noche de Chicos” (guys’ night), which was funny because when it was originally planned, I am sure they expected more than three guys. For guys’ night, Katie, the program director, took us out to eat for ice cream and said we could get any size we wanted. Mark took this very seriously and ordered a huge banana split.
When we finished the ice cream, we rented a boat and rode it along the river. I took the lazy man’s seat while the other guys paddled. We had an hour to paddle down the river and back. The only thing that disturbed our peaceful ride was the big tour boats that honked at us and sent some large waves our way.
When we got in our fill of man time, the girls joined us for going out to dinner with our tour guides from last week. We got a few large plates to share along with our own personal plates. Personally, I went with the swordfish, which ended up being a great choice and what I am sure will be one of many experiences with seafood here.
Next, we went out for frozen yogurt. I don’t think our tour guide knew that we had already gone out for ice cream, but we were not about to turn down free frozen yogurt. I justified my second trip in only a few hours by ordering kiwi as one of the toppings, a healthy addition to the chocolate sauce and candies that went along with it.
September 6, 2011
Monday and Tuesday were my first two days of class. I am in the intermediate class, along with four other students including my roommate Mark. During the orientation, we had to sign a contract that said we would not speak any English while at the school, forcing us to use Spanish even if we do not know how to say something. Personally, I like this because we learn to work around words that we cannot remember or do not know.
Class here reminds me a lot of elementary school, because we have the same teacher for both classes in the same classroom.
My classes only last from 10-1:30 every day, giving me more free time than I have had in a very long time. On Monday, I used this time to go to a coffee shop with some other students. The atmosphere in Spain is much more relaxed; when people go out for dinner or to the cafe, they typically stay there for a couple hours, talking with one another, instead of leaving once their food is gone.
I made a friend while running on Tuesday morning. I planned to do a workout, but a few minutes into picking up my pace, I passed another runner. He started asking me questions when I ran past him, so I decided to let him catch up and talk with him instead of continuing my workout. The combination of the man’s deep breaths in between words and my lack of knowing Spanish perfectly made it hard to understand him, but it was still exciting to have a running partner for a little while.
On Tuesday night, after an extra-long siesta, I practiced my Spanish with Mark and Luke. We did this by going through most of our Facebook pictures and describing them in Spanish. It ended up being a great way to learn about one another while using Spanish.
September 5, 2011
Sunday was my first time at a Spanish church service. Most of the Presbyterian churches in Spain are very small. The church only had one room, and it was filled with about 50 people.
We started by singing several songs, most of which were the same songs we have in English. The words were basically the same with a few changes. I was excited to know exactly what I was singing the whole time.
After each song, there was a list of 100 songs on the screen. For the first few songs, we went down the list and I was terrified that we were going to sing all 100 of these songs. However, I finally noticed that people were shouting out numbers after every song and giving requests.
To my pleasure, I could understand most of what the pastor was saying during the sermon as long as I focused completely. The second I stopped trying to translate in my head, I had to wait for the next point to begin.
Later that day, we were able to go into part of the cathedral. First, we went into a large room that was open to anyone. All around there were figurines in different scenes from Jesus' life. The ceilings were very high, like in all cathedrals, and they had designs everywhere. In the front, there was an altar with Mary sitting on a throne with baby Jesus on her lap.
September 4, 2011
On Saturday, we had a photo scavenger hunt around Seville. We got into groups and received a list of several different locations in Seville. Locations further from the school were worth more points.
A map was a must-have for this competition, so I went to a tourism office. After mapping out our route on the coveted map, my team headed to the first stop – Plaza de Espana. The building was huge and surrounded by a moat where people were renting kayaks. There were mosaics for all the major cities in Spain around the outside and two huge towers on the ends.
After we took our picture by the plaza, we went to the American Plaza, where there were hundreds of pigeons. A worker there kept on insisting that we buy food, and it seemed like she was getting mad that we weren’t listening to her. Even without the food, the pigeons were happy to land on my back and go in my hand.
My favorite place that we visited is a huge wooden structure that forms several squares. In English, it is called the ‘Metropol Parasol’, and the construction was just completed in April.
Overall, we walked for about six hours on Saturday to several awesome places that I will hopefully be able to visit more as the semester continues. Our team was only one picture away from first place, but I was more excited that I now know my way around the city.
September 3, 2011
On Thursday, I really got to know what it is like to live in Seville. I had my first taste of fish, the most common food in a Spanish diet. The fish was in “la familia de un tiburón,” or in the shark family.
If there is one custom here that I wish I could follow forever, it would have to be the siesta. Lunch time here is not until 2:30 p.m., and after the meal, we have nap time. It’s perfect because it is right during the hottest part of the day, and also the time when everyone is most tired. Most of the stores even close during the siesta, which lasts until 5:00.
On Thursday and Friday, I cut my siesta short to go running. Running can get boring in the same area over and over, but now I have a whole new city to explore in a completely different country. I look forward to running every day. Since I am terrible at directions, I am a little afraid of getting lost, but I am slowly learning my way around and venture a little farther from the river by our house every day.
Thursday night, we went on a tour where we saw a lot of Seville’s beautiful buildings, sculptures, and fountains. Our tour guide spoke really fast and it was the hardest time I had understanding anyone here yet. However, she still showed us a lot of awesome places that I will definitely visit again. One of the coolest places was the Seville Cathedral, the third largest one in the world. The cathedral is also where Christopher Columbus is buried.
On Friday, we signed up for our classes, which start on Monday.
September 1, 2011
I was very happy with our home when Mark, Luke, and I arrived. Our house is like an apartment; it is on the second floor and has a great view into the plaza. There are balconies from all the rooms in the house, so it is easy to look out onto the street. There are two bedrooms for the three of us, so Luke and I are sharing the larger one.
I was expecting my first encounter with Spanish food for lunch, but to my surprise, Isabel ordered Chinese food. After lunch, I took a much-needed nap that lasted until 8:45 p.m. Next, we ate dinner at the normal Spanish time of 9:30 and saw how Señoras spoil their guests. Isabel made our plates for us and insisted on cleaning all of them herself. “You will have to get used to living like little princes and princesses,” we were told during orientation.
When we finished eating, Mark and I explored the city a little and walked on the streets near the river. One big difference here is that everyone is still out and about during the night. There were large groups of people everywhere we went and children playing in a playground.
Even after I went to bed, I could hear people out the window. At midnight, I woke up to the sound of a garbage truck emptying the dumpster outside of our house. Along with this, the crosswalks all make a loud, high-pitched beeping sound when you are allowed to cross; there happens to be one right below our bedroom. I definitely need to become a deeper sleeper this semester.