My first week in Spain was a blur of newness. My second day I discovered my area is perfect for runners. With the beautiful park nearby and pedestrian friendly streets, I really enjoyed scoping out the area in my sneakers. Although still in Madrid, the neighborhood surrounding the Suanzes metro stop is a suburb of the city center. It is a quiet, family-friendly neighborhood with a busy downtown area.
In only a forty-minute metro ride I can be in the center of Madrid. I was astounded at the clarity and cleanliness of the Madrid metro system. The maps are easy to read, there are signs everywhere and a there is voice-over on every car that announces approaching stops. And there is no garbage anywhere! Metro seats are technically reserved for the elderly, pregnant women and handicapped, and this rule is observed by the public. Many times I have seen a younger person give up his or her seat without a word. There are also a lot of musicians on the metro trying to make a buck. I have spent a lot of rides being serenaded by traditional Spanish vocals.
It felt very strange at first to hear everyone around me speaking Spanish. It made me feel a little isolated and slightly paranoid – especially while eating lunch with my host family. Sometimes all the boys spoke very fast and I had no idea what they were talking about. I wanted to participate more in the conversations but my ability was limited. After the first week, however, my capacity to string together Spanish phrases had improved dramatically.
My embarrassing misunderstandings in Spain have been numerous. The first time I tried to order coffee at I ended up with a latte. I did not know that when you ask for a “café,” the standard beverage served will not be “coffee” but a latte with espresso and steamed milk. I now know my preferred drink is a “café solo,” or one shot of espresso.
On Sunday I went out with my host family and both sets of grandparents. We went to a Chinese restaurant as a party of twelve. Chinese food is different in Spain. They put ham in the eggrolls and my host family did not bother attempting to use chopsticks. The desserts served are more European than Chinese. The soup served before the meal was not hot and sour, wonton or miso, but something with noodles. However, the food was delicious! My host family frequently eats together on Sundays and it was nice to be a part of that experience.
Much of my first week was also spent tutoring and researching English grammar. Two of the boys are taking their senior year exams and have to pass the English section if they want to graduate high school. It’s a lot of pressure. On their test are things like “conditionals,” “passive voice,” using “will” vs. “be going to.” These are things that many English speakers have trouble understanding. It was a challenge for me to find the best way to explain their entire English text book in one week along with getting to know the boys, their levels of understanding and styles of learning. However, all the English grammar and ESL websites I researched before my departure really helped! After all our hard work, it was rewarding to hear them say they felt ready for the exam.
By my first Tuesday, I was already enrolled in an intensive Spanish-language course. I took an exam the previous Monday and was placed in level 2. Not bad! I am the only American in my class. The other students are from Germany, Australia, India, Indonesia, China and the Philippines. Everyone speaks English except for la profesora. We began this week with imperative verbs and I learned that Spanish has even more verb endings! When it comes to learning Spanish, I struggle most with verb endings. But, apparently, so do most native Spanish speakers. Classes are also a good excuse to visit the city center every day of the week. Our classroom has a view of Puerta del Sol. The buildings in Madrid are beautiful along with street performers everywhere, statues and fountains. There are always things to see!