November in Alicante
It’s nearing finals here, which means (for once) the same thing it does in the States: “study” abroad is now, officially, STUDY abroad. The way Spanish classes are structured, nearly all of our school work is loaded towards the end of the semester. Aside from a few assignments and our midterm exams a few weeks back, everything we are being evaluated on happens between now and the 18th of December. On the 4th, I have four (yes, four) ten page papers to turn in in Spanish. At Whitman I would not bat an eye at someone having this workload during finals, but then again at Whitman I would not have spent my semester wandering around Europe and not doing any homework every single weekend. Faced with it now, and in another language, it’s a bit of a shock to the system. All that is to say, I might not be the most frequent blog-updater from here on out…
But enough complaining. Here’s a cool story: the first weekend in November, I went to Paris and met up with a few other Whitties. It was a strange experience being in an a country where I do not speak one word of the language (I don’t think “merci” counts, really) and I realized how much I actually rely on my Spanish in my daily life here, and especially when traveling around Spain. I had a great time, though, catching up with friends and seeing the sights, until the Sunday morning I had to leave and found myself on a deserted quiet street in Beauvais, France, with a flight at the nearby airport leaving in 50 minutes and no way to get there. I was wandering around praying I’d see a taxi when I man in an unmarked car called “taxi?” Despite the horror stories I’ve heard about unofficial taxis, I decided desperate times call for desperate measures. (I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had actually watched the movie Taken before I left for Spain the way my girlfriend wanted me to… but luckily it all worked out for the best!) After two silent tense minutes in the car, the driver asked me, in Spanish, “do you speak Spanish?” The rush of relief I felt was unexpected and amazing
“Yes! That’s where I’m going right now, back to Spain!”
For the next 20 minutes he told me his life story, about how he moved to France three years ago because of the economic crisis and speaks hardly any French still, about his daughter who is doing well in school and his son who isn’t… He seemed just as relieved and happy as I was to find someone he could actually converse with. When we arrived at the airport I paid him five euros more than he asked for, said goodbye with the now-familiar Spanish “dos besos,” and made my flight with plenty of time. It made me realize how cool traveling can be, the people you can meet, and how exciting it is to be able to speak a language other than your native tongue. There are millions more people, like Jose the taxi driver, who I can communicate with now, and it was a scary but cool way to realize that.
Now I’m back in Alicante and, aside from a weekend trip my friends and I have planned to Madrid to celebrate turning in all of our final papers, will be here for the rest of my time in Spain. November here has been unusually rainy and cold, according to the Alicantinos- but it feels nice and homey to me, and I still managed to snap this picture of the University on my way to to class the other day, so I wouldn’t really call it real winter.
Instead of daily ice cream, since almost all of the heladerias have closed for the winter (I guess Americans are weird for eating it year round?) my friends and I go to the Spanish cafes that all become bars in the evenings to drink black tea with hot milk and too much sugar. I am perpetually on the hunt for something that reminds me of chai tea, so we go to new places each time looking for it, so far with little success. I feel more settled here than ever, but also more homesick than ever. I miss the orderliness of Whitman classes, and the familiarity of Walla Walla. Some things about Spain like the constant stares at my blonde hair get frustrating. But I try not to think about that- I’ve seen so much, learned so much, personally and academically, and the friendships I’ve made with my American friends and my abuela Carmela are for always.
Time to go study now! Love to all.
Filed under: Claire Johnson's Study Abroad Blog