As of today, our Temple Spain group has officially been in Spain for one week—and what a week it’s been! On Wednesday January 3rd, we all arrived on separate flights to Spain’s capital, Madrid. This is where we would spend 5 full days orienting to our new lives in Spain.
I arrived to Madrid at 9 AM on the 3rd, and the first day was a blur. Although I had tried my best to pack light, the combination of lugging 2 backpacks and a guitar through the Madrid airport plus experiencing the onset of jet lag was a rough start to the trip. Our group leader, Jaime, had advised us to avoid taking a long nap upon arrival so as not to make our adjustment harder, but I knew I would have to give in to the time change eventually. After all, isn’t Spain the land of siestas? After taxiing to the Hotel Opera in center city to drop off my things, I met up with two friends in the group to explore the city. We all felt a bit foggy since in U.S. time it would have been about 4 or 5 AM, so the three of us chose to rest for a while in a café.
We laughed when the waiter brought us menus in English, wondering if we were really that obvious. We took the Spanish menus on the table instead, and promised each other to speak only in Spanish for the rest of the meal. I knew that the true immersion wouldn’t start until we arrived to our host families in Oviedo, but I wanted to start practicing as soon as I could. What we realized quite quickly is that it takes a massive amount of concentration and will power to maintain a second-language conversation when you’re hanging out with people who speak your first language. After speaking for a bit, we would each accidentally switch back over to English without even noticing. In a setting where you have peers who you know well, it’s definitely a team effort to improve at language study. You constantly have to remind and encourage your friends (or be reminded and encouraged by your friends!) to keep up the practice!
Our first night in Madrid, we got to enjoy a group dinner at the Hotel Opera. This was our first typical Spanish dining experience—one lighter starter entrée, a second heavier entrée like meat or fish, plenty of wine and fizzy “casera” (a soda used to mix & balance out the wine’s flavor), and a rich dessert to top it all off. I wondered if this extravagant meal might just be a “welcome” feast, but quickly realized that this sort of multi-course experience is typical for both lunch and dinner in Spain. I’m not complaining! As the waiter explained our options for each course, I was lost by the regional vocabulary he used to describe many of the foods. We’re lucky that we had Jaime to help translate, because I really didn’t want to accidentally order pig’s stomach or scrambled eggs with eels (maybe in a few months… but I’m not that brave yet!). I’ve come to realize in one short week that the Spanish seem to eat everything. I never thought I was a picky eater, but I now know without a doubt that I have a lot of room to expand my culinary horizons while living here.
To give us a taste (no pun intended) of some of the most important history surrounding the region of Madrid (Madrid is the capital of Spain, but also one of the nation’s “comunidades autónomas”), we took day trips on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. While I loved our excursions to the El Prado art museum, the charming ancient cities of Toledo and Segovia, and the historic El Escorial, I also found myself enchanted by simply being in Madrid. I reveled in the constant buzz of Spanish and the beauty and distinctiveness of the streets and shops, and quickly came to accept the miserable fact that I will never be as fashionable as 99% of those who live here. I did, however, purchase a pair of fashionable rain boots after ignoring Jaime’s advice to bring some and nearly freezing my feet in the Segovian snow… but that’s another story. (More on weather preparedness later…)
Monday finally arrived, and we bused 5 hours to the city where we will spend our next 5 months, Oviedo. A long day of travel, exhaustion, and anxiety surrounding meeting our host families made for an intense day!
We are now settling in for our second week in Spain and getting accustomed to our classes, families, and life in Oviedo. For everyone, it seems to be full of both the good and the bad, the exciting and the terrifying… and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Stay tuned for an update on all of the coming adventures 🙂