A Texas Rose in a Spanish Garden

Education

Visiting a Spanish City Versus an American One

One of the things that I’ve heard from some of my classmates here when they talk about the U.S. is that they were surprised how huge the U.S. is when they visited it. You don’t have to tell me that. I come from the second largest state in the Union. It takes forever to travel over Texas. You can go to all sorts of different Spanish cities over the course of a month, and traveling to a new Spanish city is a weekend trip. In Texas, that would be the sort of thing that you would have to plan for a while.

Europe feels more connected than the U.S. in many ways, which is partly a function of its size. However, some of it might be the shared history and culture that a lot of these people have. They have a history that goes back thousands of years. In the United States, our history only goes back a couple hundred years, and it has been a pretty unfriendly one. I still here people at home complaining about the Civil War.

There are little things that you notice about Spain. People aren’t as likely to order ice in their drinks, which are also way more reasonably priced than most American drinks. People spend more time outdoors and less time in their cars going from one location to the next. However, most of all, you notice that this is a culture that is very old, and yet it is all contained in this much smaller area. It’s like you get more culture in every step in Spain.

The Challenge of Learning a New Language

For me, the hardest part of learning a new language has always been the spoken part. I can usually learn the written part okay. I picked up written Spanish pretty easily. Watching a Spanish movie is harder for me than reading a Spanish book, unless there are subtitles attached, which really only makes it feel like I’m reading a book anyway. I don’t think I’m alone here, although I’m sure that there are plenty of other people who think that learning a language visually is easier than learning a language orally.

I think that a lot of it comes down to this: a language changes when it is spoken out loud. On the page, the words look exactly the same each and every time. Your pattern recognition skills can help you out, and you don’t need to puzzle over whether you really got the word right. This really isn’t the case when it comes to spoken languages, including spoken Spanish. The speakers will talk faster or slower than you will expect, and that is the case for every language. People’s personal ways of talking will change the way in which the words sound, which is going to be tough for someone who is still a novice in the language.

My main experience in listening to someone speak in a foreign language is to process what they said a few seconds too late. They’ll say something, I’ll vaguely recognize the words that they just used, and then I’ll actually understand what they just said. The problem is, the conversation has usually moved on by then. It’s like everything is going in fast motion, and I’m still stuck in slow motion.

However, it really is just the sort of thing that you have to practice. The brain gets better and better at processing that sort of challenging information the more and more you are exposed to it, and that’s the great thing about an immersion program in a place like Spain in the first place. You can’t say that you’ll practice Spanish tomorrow and you have more Facebook to read right now, and that Facebook will all be in English. People are talking to you in Spanish right now, and you have to make sure that your brain works, and you have to make it work if it isn’t happening. You have that responsibility, and you need to use it.

I tend to work better when people actually make me work, since I am one of the worst procrastinators that you will ever meet as both a student and as a general worker. Being placed right in the middle of Spain where I need to speak Spanish just to get by is actually making me learn it and do the work, which I just wouldn’t have done on my own time.

I’ve always found speaking to be easier than listening when it comes to the oral use of the language. You can pick your own words and talk at your own pace. I’m sure that I sound really slow to the native speakers of Spanish, but at least I can understand what I’m saying. The thing is, sometimes I’ll try to say something, and I won’t automatically know which word I’m supposed to use. I’ll have to think about another way to state the exact same thing, even if that new way isn’t really a part of my normal speech patterns and I sound kind of weird to myself when I think about the meaning of what I just said. Soon, I also end up using that phrase habitually, because it helps me express whatever it was that I needed to say in the first place.

When you learn a new language, you aren’t learning a direct counterpart to your native language. I talk in a fairly casual way normally, with a little formality thrown in. When I speak in Spanish, I talk in a more formal way with some slang terms thrown in, because that’s largely how I learned to talk in the language. I don’t have enough experience with the language to be able to speak with the same level of skill that a native speaker would, which means that I am not able to talk in quite the same naturalistic way that they can. I really almost feel like I’m a different character when I’m speaking in Spanish, and not just that I’m myself and I’m talking in a different language. Hopefully, that aspect of the process isn’t going to last forever, and there is going to be a point where I really feel like it’s me speaking the language, and I’m not just playing a character.

I guess that’s essentially what achieving fluency means. You can put on an accent, but even if it is good enough to fool people who naturally have that accent, it still isn’t going to feel like yours unless it is one that you use often enough for it to be considered just another way that you speak.

The Beauty of Spain

The Beauty of Spain

I really can’t get over just what a beautiful country Spain is. Coming from Texas, I’m used to the kind of climate where if you didn’t have air conditioning, you’d need your own additional vacation in the summertime. Texas is a great place, but it isn’t really known for its lush, natural beauty. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons why people always talk about and brag about the great, big Texas sky is that at certain points throughout the year, the empty sky is really the prettiest thing you’re going to see.

I can definitely see why a lot of people are interested in buying real estate in Spain. The climate here is absolutely gorgeous. In Texas, when it gets hot, it gets humid. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Texas heat is a dry heat. It sure never felt that way to me. Ever since I’ve been studying in Spain, it feels like I’ve been studying in Heaven, or at least one of the neighboring areas.

The Mediterranean climate of Spain is basically considered the ideal climate for humans, and I can definitely see why. It feels like it’s around seventy degrees all the time. It’s warm but not oppressively hot. It’s comfortable sunny, but not so bright that you need sunglasses just to step outside. I can totally understand people wanting to move here just for the climate alone.

Places You Have to Visit in Spain

Places You Have to Visit in Spain

My parents have said over and over again that I’m in Spain to study, and having fun is really only secondary. In fact, if I mention having fun over Skype or on the phone, they’ll assume that this means that I’m not working hard enough. Indeed, I really do want to make it clear to people who think that studying abroad is going to be a never-ending party that this really isn’t remotely true. It’s still school and it’s still work.

However, I know that if I went to school in Texas, I wouldn’t feel any great need to see the sites or check out all of the really cool stuff that’s there, even though Texas does have plenty of cool stuff in its own right. In Spain though, I really do want to go on the weekends to see all of the great stuff in Spain. It’s even been enough of an incentive that I try to do my homework early, which is definitely a first for me.

I’ve never even been on a zip-line before, but Spain literally has a zip-line that lets you go from one country to another. It isn’t super long or anything: I think I spent around a minute in the air. However, I still managed to cross nations while on a zip-line, which sounds like the sort of thing that you would only be able to do if you could fly, or if you had some sort of futuristic technological device that could give you all sorts of cool powers that would seem magical. You know how you can stop in some places in the United States and stand at a point at the border, where you are literally standing in two different states at once? The zip-line is like that. It helps you play games with the border of the country so you really can visit several places immediately, at least technically.

I am also really pleased to say that I have officially eaten at the world’s oldest restaurant. I guess eating at a restaurant isn’t normally the sort of thing you’re supposed to be proud of or ashamed of: it’s just the kind of thing that people do sometimes and it’s totally neutral. Going to Sobrino de Botin is definitely not neutral. I went there on a weekend trip, and it was fantastic. I guess we don’t technically know with absolute certainty that this is the world’s oldest restaurant, but it probably is, and it sounds really cool one way or another. This is a restaurant that dates back to 1725, which is too cool for words. Fortunately, the food is fresher than that, so you get the best of both worlds.

I know that I should be recommending all of the historical sites that you can see in Spain, and I do recommend them as well. I actually went there when I was working on a history paper and I ended up talking with one of the guides for a half an hour about the topic I was working on, and it’s cool to talk to a real expert in person at the site itself. However, I can tell you that riding on an international zip-line is something that you can’t experience online, and neither is eating at the world’s oldest restaurant.

Seeing a New City for the First Time

I should say off the bat that I’m not a country girl. I know a lot of people think of the rural parts of Texas when they think of Texas, but most of the population of Texas still lives in the city, so I don’t know why the Texas countryside gets so much press. I grew up in Houston, so I guess I’m used to living in an urban environment that differs culturally from most of the rest of a given area. Exploring new cities has always been fun and engaging for me.

Ever since I started at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo, I’ve just wanted to explore all of the neighboring cities. The classes here are challenging enough that it limits my time to explore the cities at least a little, but I can still definitely spend time doing so on the weekends, which is more than enough for me.

One of the great things about Spain is that it is so much easier to walk outdoors in a lot of the cities. In Texas and a lot of US cities, it really feels like they’re almost trying to punish you for not having a car, or at least for not using it right now. I really never got that impression in Spain. It really feels like they’re a whole lot friendlier with the tourists and with the students who are studying abroad, which makes a huge difference to me.

You always get a feel of the character in a given city. There are certain places to be, and great restaurants where everyone goes, and things like that. We tend to associate that kind of thing with the small towns. I guess that happens more often with small towns. I have a lot of relatives that live in small towns, and there are always a few places there that are more or less the life of the place, which doesn’t always leave a lot of room for other locations. That effect is still at least somewhat in place in cities, since you learn to avoid specific places and come back to other ones. However, with cities, finding the best places is like an adventure.

When I find a great new restaurant in a city, it really does feel like I discovered it, even if I technically found it in an online listing of the great places to go in Spain or someone at school told me about it. When I see a historical site that’s in a given city, it’s like uncovering that city’s past, even if the site is famous. Ever since I’ve been to school here, I really do feel that way almost all the time. It’s fantastic. I get more education than what I was paying for originally, which really makes all the difference.