1) Mexican Food: I didn’t realize how much I liked Mexican food until it was an ocean away. I’m talking sizzlin’ pans of fajita chicken and steak, chips with hearty salsa, and the delicacy of Red Cactus tacos. The moment I get home, I’m going to commit the sin of gluttony all over Mexican restaurants everywhere. Okay? No. Necessary? Yes.
2) Access to electricity: If I had a water balloon for every time my laptop was about to die, I would be able to punish every cat on the planet for when they peed on the carpet.
3) Wireless Everything: Phones. Internet. I was born in Generation Now, and I’m not ashamed. I love being connected. I love having access to everything and everyone at a moment’s notice.
4) Shoes: I’ve rolling two loafers and a pair of Sperries deep, and its just not right. A girl said I looked like a Southern frat-boy the other day. It was then I there that I realized importance of a fresh pair of kicks — preferably Air Max’s or Creative Recs — in everyday life.
5) Unnecessarily Loud Speakers: As I walked the city streets today, I was turning heads, not because of my dashing good looks, but because I had my headphones turned up so loud that my eardrums were crying tears of joy. I couldn’t help it. There are few things I enjoy more than just being swallowed in the sounds of a quality song, and it was simply necessary to do so today. I’m going to just warn my future wife now that we’re going to have top of the line speakers in our basement permanently connected to turntables and a computer. Standard? No. Necessary? No doubt about it.
For all my beloved back home, please do all of the above as often as possible for me. And take pictures of you enjoying their presence in your life so that I can live vicariously through you.
So in theory, I’m here for one reason: to learn the Spanish language. Do I have a reason to learn the language? Other than just tighting around speaking to other Spanish speakers, no. However, that is not to say one won’t arise.
Anyway, for the first 3 weeks-ish, I had made progress, but by no means enough. There are a lot of Americans around, a lot of English being spoken, and only so much time can be spent in a book learning verb tenses.
But this week it all changed. Following the sister-in-law encounter and blind date, there were like five other instances of great Spanish. Let’s see…
1) Attended an extra conversation course on Tuesday between classes. Incredibly beneficial, lot of fun, and a few cute girls to top it off. (No, Grandma, I’m not dating anyone.)
2) Went to this thing at school called Speed Intercambios, where you go around talking to someone new every 5 minutes — of the opposite origin. Was reluctant to go because c’mon that’s just weird, but had nothing to do. Good times.
3) Went the next day to meet up with Alejandra, one of my actually Intercambios who is a Freshman at UPO, and spoke with her and her friends. Beginning to feel like less of an idiot each time.
4) Taking the Metro home after school, this girl asks me if I’m American. I politely say yes, and she begins to talk to me in Spanish. She’s moving to Chicago to learn English next year and had some questions. Solid 20 minutes convo.
5) Met up with Luis, my intercambio who is a Sevillan cop, along with his friend and two American girls. Went to this modern lounge, cafe, bar place and spoke of just about everything — from the cruelty of bullfights to how to distinguish when to say “Either, or” or “Neither, nor”, a skill set I guess I’d always took for granted. Next time, Luis is going to show me some spots in the city. Excited about it.
6) Had a DJ tryout last night at a bar called Esencia — which will get its own post eventually, I got asked to come back each week — and was fielding requests in Spanish, most of which I didn’t have because they were Spanish songs. Then, on my walk home, I hear someone call “Amigo!”. I turn around skeptically, excepting to get hassled, however its an overserved Spanish girls who is carrying an umbrella when it isn’t raining outside anymore. For the next 20 minutes, she works to get me to go to the discotec with her. I politely decline — I had my computer on me. It was another 20 minute conversation.
On Tuesday, I have 7.5 hours of class. I was on campus from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. busy the whole time — I attended an extra conversation course and intercambio event during my breaks.
Fast forward a few hours to 9:30 where I was riding the Metro with Clayton to attend our blind Intercambio date that our señora had hooked us up with. It was a group of 8 people, 6 who were Spaniards, 1 Polack? (Polish), and 1 Brit. They were all about mid-twenties, and all except the 2 were looking to learn English.
So we grabbed a beverage and just talked, switching languages when we couldn’t explain something in the other. It hour or so passed and we had to leave, but it was an awesome time. Now, every Tuesday at 9:30 we’ll be heading to O’Neills to do the same — next time bringing a few friends with us so there are more English-natives.
We roll home, and I get a call from a great human being named Kirsten. “Come Out!” she says. “Be there in 20!” I say.
So I get dressed fresh and head out to Betis, the more or less American street full of bars with cheap drinks and good times. I walk in the bar, and see a friend of mine from class. Start talking, and then keep talking. While walking to the other side of the bar, I see this blonde girl with a frown on her face. So, like any good human being, I tell her to “Smile”, and keep walking. She calls me back over, and says the one thing that strikes fear into every American man: “Español?”
Since when are their blonde Spanish girls? I make a clutch five-minute conversation and bail to catch up with my friends. I figure you gotta get out while the gettin is good.
To sum up the rest of the night, met like 20 people, connected like 40, and even saw two of the girls from my blind intercambio date. Top notch night, straight beast mode, and classes are much better now that I know people.
Last week was no good. I hadn’t met too many people, wasn’t improving my language skills, and was overall just dec. This week was a whole ‘nother ballgame though. Where shall I start?
I get back from Carnaval, but my mood remains. I simply couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. But then, as were eating dinner, Manoli’s sister-in-law starts talking to us boys — a good thing except for the fact that I couldn’t understand a word. She takes note of this and goes off on me saying that I haven’t improved, and it’s pathetic because that’s the reason I came here. This somewhat upsets me because 1) my language has improved a ton, and 2) because I can’t help it that she talks at 300 mpg with an Andalusian accent.
Dinner ends, but we keep talking, and somehow the conversation takes us to American materialism. I begin to explain the status arms race, and how people place value on superficial things rather than relationships etc. They are glad to hear an American speak on the subject and encourage me to return home with a new mindset. Conversation ends, and I’m back in her good graces.
Then I mosey upstairs and go talk to my señora’s niece, Maria Gena. She’s studying, as always, but we begin to talk about what’s really important in life. So I speak my mind and tell her that grades shouldn’t be what you pride yourself on, and that other intangibles are more important. She rebuts, and chat for a while longer, and the part. Another rogue conversation with depth — in Spanish.
So when you study abroad at UPO (the university we attend) you get paired up with a Spaniard student in order to help one another learn the languages. It’s a great way to meet a local and speak in a comfortable environment. Before I arrived, all the wise ones that studied here before me said that these relationships should be a priority.
My first intercambio is a freshman at UPO. Last week, we had a double intercambio date where her and her friend made us hamburgers. It was a good time, good food, good laughs from me sounding like an idiot. I’m meeting with her again tomorrow.
Despite the success, I decided to take the advice of the wise ones and went to go ask for another one.
Days later I got an e-mail telling me who it was. I e-mailed him, he e-mailed me back. Turns out he’s a 32-year-old Sevilla police officer who is learning Spanish so that he can communicate when on vacation. Not exactly the typical intercambio, however this guy is awesome. We spoke back and forth switching languages when we got stumped, talking about work, family, culture, and various language tips. We’re going to meet every Thursday from now on starting with a city tour later this week. (Yes, I know it sounds like we’re dating, laugh all you want.)
To top those off, my senora told us that her friend’s son is trying to learn English so we’re going to start hanging out with him as well. So hopefully amongst the 3 of them, I can actually start sounding mildly intelligent. If nothing else, I’ll have someone to bail me out of jail if I ever need it. (No Mom, I’m not being serious.)
Studying abroad, you’re away from everything you’ve ever known. Your family, your friends, your work, and everything else that you identified yourself with is gone. You’ve only got yourself, and a brand new world waiting to be discovered.
It’s like Freshman Year, a time I remember as if it was yesterday. I arrived in Fort Worth with a smile on my face and a bandana on my head — a Midwest kid with experiences and a mindset unlike the rest — ready to start building relationships.
And I did…in time.
That’s what is so hard about starting new. You’ve grown accustomed to having the world at your fingertips, with friends and family only a dial away, and access to everything you love, the organizations, your work. What you forget is the period of time and effort you put forth to reach that point. You forget the times when you were homesick, the times when you were excited with no one to share it with. You fail to realize that the things you’ve worked for back home — in my case, Hubba-U and ThinkCash — have vanished, as has the sense of pride and accomplishment you enjoyed while working on them.
So what do you do?
The same things you did freshman year. You dive head first into everything. You put yourself out there. You meet people. You say yes to any opportunity that comes your way. And slowly but surely, you’ll build a new life. You’ll find that sense of belonging and regain that sense of self-worth through new relationships and new endeavors — the two things I believe to be essential in the pursuit of happiness.
Therefore, I’m here with a smile on my face and a bandana in my backpocket, and only hope everyone else does the same.
With Manoli being sick this week, she had me run to the grocery store for her. Here was the list: 3 loaves of white bread, 1 dozen eggs, 2 bags of oranges, and 6 loaves of sandwich hoagies (at least 2ft long each).
Anything stand out to you? Maybe the fact that there’s 2 stories of bread on that list…and that is just for the next 2-3 days.
Here at the Manoli Clan, carbs are near all we eat. Would you like a sandwich? Yes, but hold everything except for the bread. Would you like some soup? Yes, but hold everything except the potatoes. A typical day is:
Breakfast: 3 pieces of toast and a cup of coffee.
Lunch: Assuming we have school, it’s 2 bocadillos and 2 oranges. Bocadillos are sub sandwiches rather than a harmonious choir of ingredients between the bread, you get one of the following, a) cooked egg, b) 1 slice of salami-esque meat, c) a garlic chicken breast (money), or d) potato and cheese.
Dinner: Soup or Salad (often potato or rice soup, both of which are delicious), and then an entree that varies — most likely a pasta, potato, or meat. Then, a piece of fruit for dessert
As you can see, we eat carbs just as lions eat antelope; and we’ve lost weight doing it.
Therefore, here and now, I’m taking a stance against the discrimination placed upon carbs. It is not the cause of obesity and ugly people, it is the staff of life. My grandma has been telling me this for years, and never has her reality been as real to me as it now. If the Manoli Clan isn’t proof enough for my case, my grandma eats bread for dessert, and is still going strong near 90. Now that’s what I call irrefutable evidence.
Really though, other than the egg variety of sub sandwich (I’ll provide a picture another time), its not a bad way to live. The food is different, but delicious — accent on the delicious part — and I have a ton of energy every day. However, I do miss hamburgers, cereal, peanut butter, ranch dressing, mexican food, sushi, and the stockpile of chicken that I typically keep on hand. So yes it’s good here, but I won’t be mad upon returning to the home-cooked meals of Sweet Denise, and the hearty unnecessarily large portions of my favorite restaurants.
I wear the same thing like 10 times, then maybe, yes maybe, I send it to get washed. That’s the mindset. That’s what’s expected here in the Manoli Clan, as well as with all the other homestays.
I shower once, twice, maaaybe three times a week — for no more than 5 minutes. That’s the mindset. That’s what’s expected here in the Manoli Clan.
Mind blown yet? Think I’m a disgusting human being with poor hygiene? Maybe you’re right, or maybe you just haven’t lived here before.
In the United States, you wake up and throw on you Northface to go to your early class. Then maybe you have a dinner and need to look a bit nicer so you change into jeans and collared shirt. Then, you gotta go impress that special someone so you change to look really good. Then you throw half of it into the wash. Does that make sense? Is it all really dirty? I’m no scientist, so I can’t prove anything one way or the other, however what I do know is that the way I’m living now is a lot easier, less stressful, and requires a smaller investment in clothing. No one judges with a repeat outfit amongst the study abroad students. I can’t say if that’s true across the culture, but I’ll do some research and figure it out.
Americans have a certain air about them. Many believe its the utopia of the world, where things make sense and everything is better than in elsewhere. When you get submerged in another culture, your mindset changes.
Here, everything is more relaxed. People walk around the city just enjoying the people and places around them. They sit at cafes. They love their families and put it above everything else. It just seems as though they enjoy the simple pleasures of life so much more than Americans who are forever insatiable. For instance, my senora Manoli takes pride in keeping a clean house and making sure food is on the table for us. Yeah, it’s her job to do so, but she does it with pride. She wants us to be happy. She takes pleasure in seeing us enjoying her meals, and refuses to let us leave the table without a full stomach.
Also, their culture is satisfying — not moreso than America, just in a different manner. Every day, I wake up to a small breakfast of toast and coffee, just enough to hold me over through lunch. Then, I either go to school or explore the city. But I don’t hop in a car. I hop on the Metro for school, and everywhere else I walk. Never in a hurry. It’s acceptable to be late. Time isn’t money here, it’s just there to enjoy, which is something I would never even consider back home. Then, there’s lunch. A hour plus long meal full of carbs and conversation. It’s a heavy meal, and one whose purpose is interaction. People take their time, enjoy the company of others, and the down time it grants. Then people go to siesta. Businesses close, people close their windows to escape the sun, and they sleep — a beautiful thing after a big meal — and because of it, you are refreshed and ready to conquer the rest of the day. When the sun sets, we eat dinner around nine of so, once again for an hour plus, hang out with one another afterwards, then head out just after midnight to start the festivities only to return around six in the morning. It’s a great feeling, and a schedule that I find ideal.
Lastly, people are fresh dressed. Never T-shirts, I don’t think I’ve even seen sweatpants for sale except in sporting goods stores, and shoes to kill. They look good. They look respectable. Guys are usually in a collared shirt and slacks, both fitted trim to match their thin bodies. (People aren’t fat here due to the walking, and healthy eating habits.) It’s refreshing, and a lifestyle that greatly reinforces my belief in the art of presence. Luckily, I’m here during their season of clearances, and you best believe I’m taking advantage.
Now, the above is a bit generalized. There are plenty of skater kids and a surprisingly large number of hoodrats, but the overall feel is the above — and it really broadens your perspective.
Been here for four days now, but it feels like a blissful eternity. The first two were spent in a hotel for TCU orientation. The last two living with our senora Manoli.
Walking into orientation was like going to Frog Camp. I knew near no one in the in the room save Marcy and McKenzie, yet was at ease with all the friendly faces. We were all there for the common cause of language, but everyone was different. Intellectuals, stoners, womanizers, free spirits, we have ‘em all; and together we toured the city, enjoyed three-hour-long meals, and even saw a buck-naked man doing yoga next to the Guadalquivir.
The city is beautiful, as are the people. The food is delicious, and the culture is ideal. There are so many things here that America lacks, which becomes apparent as soon as you are immersed, but I won’t get into that at this time.
On Sunday, my roommates Kevin and Clayton, and I moved in with Manoli, our Spanish mother. She is my homegirl. She speaks no English, and makes sure to poke fun at us as we butcher her language. She cooks us three meals a day, all of which are delicious, and calls us babies when we don’t eat enough. She is not married so we are her only children, however she is in no shortage of family. Her niece stays in the home during the week while going to school, and she keeps in close contact with her brother and other extended family.
Living with Manoli is top notch. Her spirit brings energy and warmth to the house, and her motherly tendencies and sense of humor help us along in learning the language and culture.
I’ve found that I can speak just fine, however struggle to understand others. Work needs to be done on vocabulary as well as being able to process the words of others without first translating them into English. Within a few weeks, I think I’ll be fine; or at least I hope so since school starts tomorrow.