Brian Becomes Bilingual - Brian in Spain
December 19, 2011
When I left for Spain, I did not know exactly what I was getting into, and there was a lot that I did not know about the country. Here I am though, four months later, and Spain seems very comfortable to me. I have learned so much about the culture, and I will never forget this experience.
After our final exam on Friday, we said our final goodbyes to all of the teachers and everyone who would not be flying on the group flight. Our class of intermediate students bought a picture frame for Ana with a picture from our dinner at her house.
Saying goodbye to Isabel was definitely one of the hardest goodbyes. She said she was not going to wake up as we left because she did not like goodbyes. Instead, she just wanted to pretend like we would see her the next day and we said "hasta luego" (until later) followed by some besitos (the cheek kisses) and thank-yous before she went to bed. I will definitely miss her and how she did everything she did for us with love.
For our final night on the town, we enjoyed one last Flamenco concert before heading to bed for two hours, as we had to leave at 3:30 to walk to the airport bus stop. The sleeping did not actually happen for me, as my mind was racing with feelings of happiness yet sadness.
I said goodbye to this as I walked over the bridge for the last time.
Overall, I am sure this semester will stick out to me as I look back on my college life. I have learned a lot of Spanish and hopefully I will find opportunities to continue practicing it. I am very happy to be home right now for Christmas and I cannot wait to see all of the people I missed for so long. Thanks for reading my blog!
Christmas is in the Air
December 14, 2011
Walking around in Sevilla at night just got even more enjoyable. Now there are Christmas lights over almost every street, and each street has a different theme. It is a sign that Christmas is very near, and it also means that we are almost done with our semester abroad.
The last couple weeks have been filled with "villancicos," or Christmas carols. First, we sang them at the Hospital de Caridad, where I had been playing bingo and dominoes every week. We sang what seemed like about 20 carols for them, most of which were bilingual. The men seemed very happy to hear us despite our general lack of talent as a singing group.
The next week, we sang songs for the children at a convent at their Christmas party. We had bake sales throughout the year to raise money for the party, so we were able to buy all the kids gifts. It was great getting to see the kids open what would probably be one of their only Christmas presents with such enthusiasm. We also played a holiday-themed game with the kids.
I also got to see Isabel setting up her nativity scene. Several of the churches had signs advertising their nativity setup inside the church, and there was a huge fair going on for the past month outside of the Cathedral that sold figurines for the nativity scenes along with animals to accompany them.
The Great Peacock Debate (along with some other site seeing)
December 5, 2011
Despite having lived in Sevilla for so long, there were still a few must-see places that we still had not visited until recently. Therefore, we dedicated the last two weekends to doing just that.
First, there is the palace called the Alcàzar. Most of the palace is now open to the public, but some of it is still private so the royal family can still use it. The inside of the palace is yet another example of the Muslim influence from their reign in Spain. It has a lot of traits of the Muslim architecture including baths, mosaics, and a dome.
My favorite part of the Alcàzar, however, was the world of gardens outside the main building. If you are walking in the center of Sevilla, it is hard to picture where they would possibly be able to fit so many gardens right in the middle of a city, but they were there.
The gardens are complete with a small hedge maze, waterfalls, fountains, and, of course, peacocks. A fun fact is that peacock in Spanish is "pavo real," which means "real turkey."
Mark and I were able to go on a trip to Aracena, a small city about an hour and a half west from Sevilla.
The most noticeable thing about the small town is that there is a castle on the top of a hill that you can see from almost every spot in the city.
We also went on a cave tour while in Aracena. The caves were beautiful and there were huge crystal formations along with some of the clearest water I have ever seen. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures in the caves, but they probably would not have done them justice anyway.
The final must-do was climbing the Giralda, the huge tower connected to the Sevilla Cathedral.
Upon entering the cathedral, we saw yet another breathtaking display of pipe organs, altars, and Christopher Columbus' grave. After taking all this in, we headed to the tower and walked up 34 small ramps once used by men on horses to ring the bells and finally arrived at the highest point in Sevilla.
From the Giralda, we could see everything from the Plaza de Toros to the huge bridges along the river. We waited for the sun to set behind the mountains before making our way back down.
This week, we have yet another week of holidays, with classes only on Wednesday and Friday. I am going to try to make the most of it as it is the last week before exams and then my return.
Two Fantastic Feasts
November 26, 2011
When she heard that some of the students in our class still had not tried paella, our professor was shocked – so shocked that she invited all six of us over for dinner on Monday night.
So on Monday night, we all went over to Ana's house where we met her two sons and a family friend who I had already met at church. We gathered around a small table in her living room and enjoyed chicken paella, tortilla de patatas, and my personal favorite, arroz con leche for dessert.
The meal tasted wonderful, and we all loved spending time with Ana outside of class. It is really cool that she likes us enough to want to make us a meal and spend time discussing something other than what we are learning in class.
A few days later, it was Thanksgiving, where we had another delicious meal. Before that, we spent the morning in Italica, a city just outside of Seville that contains Roman ruins.
The first stop on our tour of Italica was the monastery, and after the monastery, we walked to the third-largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. I was surprised by how much of the structure was still intact after so many years. When we went to the middle, we could see tunnels that were dug out underneath the ground where animals or gladiators would emerge to surprise the fans.
Thanksgiving ended with a feast at a Cuban restaurant with everyone in the program. All of the professors have been saying that this is usually one of the most special nights of the fall semester, so we were excited. Everyone got dressed up and we ate all the American foods (turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and stuffing) at a Cuban restaurant in Spain. It was a great meal, but still strange to be away from my family on such a family-oriented holiday.
The night ended with the exchange of our "Amigo Invisible" gifts, which is what they call "secret Santa" here. When I received my gift, I knew exactly what it was and who it was from because Luke happened to draw my name. It was a deck of Spanish playing cards, which is basically the same as American cards but with a few extras.
November 21, 2011
A few weeks ago at our worship service, a speaker came and invited us to a Christian camp run by several local churches. The deal was that we could stay there overnight and get free meals in exchange for our labor one day. This past weekend, about 12 of us decided to take them up on the offer, and we headed out into the country.
None of us really knew what to expect in terms of what kind of camp this was, what kind of work we would be doing, and where we would be staying. All we knew is that the camp was about an hour away in a town called Pedroso, and it was in the mountains.
When we arrived at the bus stop, we were greeted by Richard, one of the main workers at the camp. Richard was only able to take a few people to the camp as he only had a small truck, so the rest of us waited. This action of meeting a new person who worked at the camp and then taking between 2-5 people repeated itself about 4 times until finally everyone was at the camp.
It was dark when we arrived Friday night, so we did not explore. However, we did get a good look at the stars from an open field and sat by a fireplace, which was nice considering it was much colder here than in Seville.
Our group had a huge room filled with a few smaller rooms that had several bunk beds in them. It got pretty cold at night, but I was smart enough to bring a bunch of blankets from home. However, I did not know that Luke did not have a blanket all night, and I felt pretty selfish when I woke up in the morning to find out he had suffered through the night in the cold.
Saturday morning, we woke up to a light drizzle. After breakfast, it was raining much harder but this did not stop us from working. We walked to the fields of the camp where we saw farm animals of all kinds. As we walked to our site, we saw a flock of sheep, one of which was a two-day-old black sheep. We also saw two huge dogs named Princessa and Bruto, or Princess and Brute.
Being the only guys there, we had the task of cleaning out a room that they were currently renovating. We had to lift a bunch of random stuff including mirrors, beds and tiles into a truck and bring them into another building. Meanwhile, the girls whitewashed the walls of the room we were cleaning out.
Finally, we got to enjoy a great meal together. My favorite part of the meal was croquetas, something Isabel has made us before that kind of tastes like a chicken pot pie fried into little balls. There are different types, but these were chicken. I am used to only having a few, but we had a huge platter, so I had all the croquetas I wanted. I also tried mussels, which looked bad but tasted a lot like fish.
On the drive back, we were all quite tired and wet, but I think everyone had a good time doing something different for a weekend and was happy that we were able to help out some very nice people.
The Ups and Downs of Ronda
November 13, 2011
Five days of school would be a lot to come back to after such a long break, so instead of regular class on Friday we had an excursion to Ronda, a city about two hours away from Seville.
We quickly discovered that Ronda, like every other city in Spain besides Seville, is very hilly. The city actually seems like it is on the top of a mountain because at every balcony there was a huge gorge overlooking trees, fields, and more mountains.
Before our actual tour of the city, we had time to explore, so I went on a hike along with some other students. We heard that there was a waterfall that we could get close to, and it did not take long to find. We also found a dark cave to walk in, but it did not last long because the girls were afraid of a big spider.
Ronda is divided into two parts: the old and new town. For the tour, we mostly walked around the old town where we saw some houses, churches, and other buildings.
Next, we went into an old building that used to serve as a walkway to get down to the river to collect water. The group slowly made our way down to the water through the damp and dark passageway. When we got to the river at the bottom of the building, those of us that went on the hike for free time realized that we were right across from where we had been.
After making our way back up the stairs, we finished our trip by entering the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.
The Last Legs of the Trip
November 6, 2011
We arrived in Venice on Thursday afternoon to our bed and breakfast about 15 minutes outside of the city and rode the bus in for the night. We were shocked to see most of the restaurants and stores already closed by 8:00 p.m. Luckily, there were still a few pizza places open where we could experience actual Italian pizza.
We spent most of Friday walking around Venice. According to the traveler's book we read, we were supposed to get lost in Venice, so we did just that. A lot of the city seemed to repeat itself; there were hundreds of shops that sold masks, toy Venetian boats, and other souvenirs all over.
At night, we decided to make use of our stove in our apartment so we made our own Italian dinner with pasta and pizza around our kitchen table. It ended up being a great night with friends even though the rain made us a little grumpy during the day.
Finally, it was Saturday, and time for our last leg of our trip. Originally, we were just going to go back to Seville from Venice, but we found that it was actually cheaper to fly to Barcelona first and wait until an early flight on Sunday to return. By this point in the trip, everyone seemed kind of burnt out from all the big city attractions that take quite awhile to get to, so we just decided to go to a few main places.
First, we went to the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that is still in the process of being built because the artist, Antoni Gaudi, died before completing it. It was obvious that this was a much newer cathedral as it had a completely different feel to its outside. The sculptures had more square faces and the towers were much skinnier than those of Seville or Notre Dame.
After a long eight days, we went back to the airport and waited for our 6:00 a.m. boarding. It was a long night, but we played some Uno, got some free French fries from some generous people at the cafeteria, and even got a few hours of sleep before returning to our soft beds in Seville.
November 6, 2011
What began as a trip in another bustling city quickly became a relaxing one with some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
We spent our time at Champfleuri, a retreat center just outside of Grenoble where Luke's mom has connections through her missionary work. It serves as a camp in the summer, and is currently being used by a program for students to study the Bible in French. We were picked up from the train station by Damion, an American pastor who is in charge of Champfleuri.
We got to know the students who are living there until February. This year's program has eight girls, so the guys were back in the minority, just like in Spain. Most of the girls were using this program as a break between college and high school and all of them spoke at least one other language to go along with the French that they were currently learning and using. At one point, we heard French, German, and English being spoken at the same time in one room, so we started speaking in Spanish just to get a fourth language in there.
On Monday morning, the five of us went on a hike to further explore the mountains. We quickly realized how perfect it was that we were here during this time of year; the yellows, oranges, and reds that coated the mountains made an already breathtaking view even better. Between the trees, mountains, countryside French houses, and farm animals, it was almost impossible to walk forward without stopping.
Wednesday was Luke's birthday, and he was able to spend it with his mom, who happened to be in the area for work on the same week we were on vacation. For his birthday, she took us to a castle where a lot of meetings resulting in the French Revolution were held. The best part of the castle was the balcony that overlooked a park filled with geese, ducks, and swans.
On Thursday, we finally had to say goodbye to all the new friends we met because we were on our way to Venice.
Perusing Paris: Part 2
November 1, 2011
Saturday, we hit the streets again for some more sightseeing. First on our list was the Arc of Triumph, a huge arc decorated with carvings and dedicated to those who fought in French wars. I found that I could read some of the French because of its similarity to Spanish, but I still missed a lot of what was written.
Next, we got a look at the Eiffel Tower in the daytime while heading toward a market that is open twice a week and sells a variety of French foods that we could try. We took our findings to a park where we settled in for a relaxing lunch.
We spent some of the afternoon in the apartment of two Americans with whom one of our friends from another Seville program was staying for the weekend. They were nice enough to invite us in and help us plan out the rest of our day in Paris.
Later, we went to a statue garden that I believe was once someone's very fancy backyard. The most famous statue here was "The Thinker," of which there are actually a few copies in the world, but this was the first one cast and therefore the coolest.
The next day, the guys went to another art museum, the Orsay. There were several works from Van Gogh and Monet, some of which I had just seen in their travels to Chicago a year before. I am following them all around, I guess.
The museum was our final destination in Paris, and after this we walked to the train station for our next part of our travels in France - the peaceful countryside of Grenoble.
Perusing Paris: Part 1
November 1, 2011
When I returned from my run on Thursday morning, Isabel was sitting on her couch, hand on forehead with a distraught look on her face. "Do you know what happened?" she asked. I said no, and she proceeded to tell me that she accidently fell back asleep after her alarm went off and was not able to give Luke his breakfast or say goodbye before our trip. "Pobrecito," she kept saying, which means "poor thing." This is just how much our host mom loves us.
Our trip began with a 2-hour flight to a city just outside Paris and a quick bus ride over to our hostel. It was pretty late so we went right to bed after getting a quick tour of the hostel. We were a little worried about the quality because it was such a good deal for being downtown, but it ended up being a nice place.
Friday, we took our first walk through the city over to the Louvre, a huge building that is now a giant art museum. The courtyard has some giant glass pyramids that serve as the entrance to the museum, and it was here that we discovered we could get into all the museums in Paris for free because we had a student visa.
The museum was gorgeous with too many beautiful works of art to admire in the short time we had. In every room, my eyes did not know where to look first. We quickly made our way to the Mona Lisa, where there was a swarm of people taking pictures of the very small but famous work.
Next, we looked at all the statues, many of which I have seen in my history and art books, but never knew where they were held. My favorite statues were the Greek gods, being the fan of Greek mythology that I am.
After enjoying some sandwiches that Isabel gave us the day before, we went to our next famous landmark, the Notre Dame cathedral. It is the only cathedral with square towers instead of pointed ones. I felt a little spoiled with the cathedrals because this one was not as impressive as the ones in Seville or Toledo, but it was obviously still very fancy, and it was awesome to experience such a famous place.
Finally, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower. We ate dinner outside at a restaurant where we could see it sticking its head out over a building. The restaurant was frustrating because we could not speak French, so we had to resort to pointing out everything on the menu foolishly. It made me realize how easy it is to get around Seville with the amount of Spanish I know.
Following the delicious meal, we sat in the park right in front of the Tower. The pictures that we took in front of it were so surreal and perfect. Every hour, the tower started sparkling with flashing lights for about five minutes, so we stuck around for two rounds of that before making our way back to our beds.
Cold and Wet
October 26, 2011
We took a little break from the Spanish culture and enjoyed pizza, pop, and a movie at the school on Friday night. Almost everyone in the program came for the "noche de chic@s." (The "@" means chicos and chicas because it looks like an ‘o’ and ‘a’, and I thought it was cool). The group voted to watch "New in Town," a romantic comedy. Of course, it was not complete without popcorn and candy, of which I ate way too much.
Saturday afternoon, some of us went to the area called San Juan del Aljarafe just outside of the city. We quickly became masters of the metro and figured out how to get there with ease. I had already run to the area a couple of times, but it was great to finally go with a camera and without being in a rush.
The most distinguishing feature of this area is the two statues that overlook Seville. First, there is a smaller statue of Mary holding her baby. Further up the mountain, there is a huge statue of Jesus that is connected to a church. We were able to take an elevator up the hill and enjoy the view of Seville from a distance while eating our sandwiches from our loving host moms.
Saturday night, my roommates and I had a "guys’ night," along with our friends from another program and Mark's intercambio, Alvaro. Sadly, I made the mistake of only wearing shorts and a t-shirt. If it were any other night in Seville thus far, this would have been fine. Unfortunately for me, Saturday night marked the beginning of cooler weather. In reality, it was probably in the high fifties, but having been accustomed to the 80-degree days and nights of Seville, it was a shock for my body.
The cold air was not the only change in the weather. On Monday morning, it rained a lot, meaning it dumped all the rain that has not fallen since the second day I arrived. This made for a very wet run, a nice change from the hot and humid ones in the past. A lot of students got blasted by water from passing cars driving over puddles on the way to school; I was lucky enough to avoid this.
This brings me to today. Today I am packing for my 9-day trip along with Luke, Mark, Kristen, and Kirsten. We have been excited for this trip since the day we planned it, and we are leaving tomorrow after school. Paris, Grenoble, Venice and Barcelona are all in our plans - it is sure to be an adventure.
October 1, 2011
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a road race, mostly along the river and streets of Seville. Friday, it was finally time. It was my first night race and one of the longest races I have ever run (12 kilometers).
At 9:10 PM, Isabel was anxious about the fact that I had not left yet. I did not think this was a big deal, but fifteen minutes later when I arrived to the scene of the race, I realized why. Thousands of people were lined up at the starting line. There were huge groups of teams, all wearing matching running attire. I had to try to get my way to the front of this pack before the gun went off.
Unfortunately, I did not make it very far; there were simply too many people and nowhere to go, so I settled for a very mediocre starting position. When the race started, I had to walk at first. This slowly progressed into a light jog until I finally had enough space to start weaving around people. I continued doing this for the first two miles of the race until I finally had enough room to run in a straight line at the proper pace.
We ran along the river, and it was the perfect time to run because everyone was out at this time on a Friday night. Fans were everywhere and it helped me stay positive. When we got toward the end of the race, there was Spanish rap music playing to pump me up. Finally, we got to the Olympic stadium, where we finished the race with a lap around the track. I finished in 44:39, which I was happy with considering all the people I had to weave around.
I still received a goodie bag that included a t-shirt, running shorts, and a medal. It was a great experience and my legs are still pretty sore.
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.
August 31, 2011
At 5 p.m., I stepped on a plane to begin what is sure to be a great adventure – a semester of classes in Seville, Spain.
After a long flight with little sleep, 20 of us made it to Madrid. It was 1:30 a.m. back home, but here, the day was just beginning. The airport was fancy; it had several stores and some very smooth floors that some of us used to entertain ourselves by sliding back and forth.
Four hours of waiting later, we got on our plane to Seville. I fell asleep on the plane before it took off and did not wake up until a stewardess told me we were landing.
With luggage collected, the group took its first steps on Spanish soil (besides the airport), and it was great to be almost finished with traveling. Three leaders of the Semester in Spain program greeted us, and we began the short trip to the city.
One by one, the girls were dropped off and greeted by their Señoras. At each stop, everyone remaining on the bus crowded around the windows to watch everyone's first attempt at the Spanish greeting, going to each cheek and making the kissing sound without actually making contact.
I was on the final stop, along with Mark and Luke, the only other guys in the program. We met our Señora, Isabel, and she walked us to our home for the next few months.