The first thought I had as we drove through Oviedo was, “Huh, this city seems a lot calmer; the most exciting, fast-paced parts of our trip must be behind us in Madrid.”
How very wrong I was. Though at times slightly panic-inducing, this crazy week in Oviedo is something I’ll remember fondly forever.
It all started when I met my host family – one of the aspects of the program that intrigued me the most, but one that I also felt the most unprepared for. After my time in Madrid, I expected I would have to ease into communicating in Spanish and let the nerves pass. But, some things
I couldn’t anticipate. How friendly would they be? Would we find any common ground? Would we spend any time together? One thing that concerned me the most was my identity as a gay man. I knew of course that Spain was fairly progressive, but I couldn’t precisely account for how open I should be with a particular individual. Should I expect a lot of discomfort if the subject were to turn to something like dating, like I had felt growing up? All I could do was write that I was a member of the LGBT community on my info sheet for The University of Oviedo and brace myself to gauge first-hand how open I could be.
After one week, I can happily say that staying with my host family has been nothing but delightful. Of course, there are some language barriers and general awkwardness to overcome, but as a common Spanish phrase goes, “vale la pena” – it’s worth it. My host family has been integral in helping me to discover Oviedo, see local landmarks (like the top of Monte Naranco and various works of art), and adjust in other unexpected ways. I’ve been treated to freshly prepared meals and sidra, a vital part of the gastronomy in Oviedo. And, I’m glad to report that after just a few hours, I felt totally comfortable in discussing my identity with my host family. I also have felt a very open environment in La Casa de Lenguas, where we take classes with The University of Oviedo.
After a welcoming ceremony on Monday, we started our classes, which run from 9:30 am – 2:00 pm every day. We tested into levels that correspond with our Spanish proficiency, with the chance to switch to other levels if we feel like it would be beneficial. This ensured that we feel comfortable in our classes, but are also challenged. Of course, we get some homework too, but luckily, it doesn’t interfere with our group excursions and free time.
As a group, we had the pleasure of visiting El ayuntamiento de Oviedo (one of Oviedo’s government buildings) where we were welcomed by a representative of Oviedo’s government, who told us a bit about life in Oviedo. We went to a sophisticated dinner at El real club de tenis courtesy of our program leader, Jaime. Lastly, we enjoyed una espicha, a dinner typical of the Asturias region where we enjoyed local food, music, and dancing (which, I hesitate to add, I joined in onstage).
With my friends, I visited the beautiful town of Xixón (also spelled Gijón), where we enjoyed the beautiful San Lorenzo beach and some local shops. Xixón is a bustling town that reminded me a little of the coastal towns in South New Jersey, though more beautiful (sorry NJ!). Lastly, I had the pleasure of seeing the stage version of Dirty Dancing in Spanish at El teatro campoamor in Oviedo. It was a production which rivaled any professional show in America, and an experience I won’t forget.
There’s been so many other little things here and there – trying local bakeries, hanging out in parks with new friends, going shopping for more Spanish books to read in my down time, etc. – that I can’t possibly fit into here with an explanation of their significance to me. But this much is clear: my time in Oviedo will continue to be delightfully surprising and action-packed.
I can’t wait to share more of my Oviedo experience next week.