“Your own culture is not better or worse than this one. It is only different. Use this experience to become not only bilingual, but bilcultural” -Ibon Zamanillo, USAC Bilbao Program Director
To avoid making one long, boring, run-on post about updates on various subjects, I have divided my updates into a few categories. Read them all, or read those which pique your interest most 🙂
School…I put this category first so I don’t forget about it….just kidding! (Relax, Mom and Dad!) Our FANTASTIC program director, Ibon, has a lot of wise words for us all the time (which I will from this point on refer to as Ibon-isms), and one is that his motto for this program is simply, “Learn AND Enjoy!” I’d say that I’m doing equal parts learning and enjoying. I’ve always been a good student, but so much of this experience isn’t about classroom learning. I’m learning Spanish in the streets, in stores, restaurants and bars. I’m almost never home, so other than “reflecting”, as I’m doing now, I’m learning, enjoying, or sleeping (un poquito) at all other times.
I was placed in the highest track of Spanish of this program which is a little intimidating, but I’m always up for a challenge. There are even a few US students that are native speakers here, and I end up interacting with them quite a bit which is very beneficial for me. There are only a few students in my “track”, so my biggest class is only 5 students. There is definitely no room for dozing off or zoning out as the classes all depend on almost constant interaction. All of my professors are superb. I’m lucky: I’ve always liked school, and I love Spanish, so…I’m in heaven!
Weather…I’m obviously loving the weather here because no matter how rainy or windy it gets, it is still not -40 degrees. Ever. I can always feel my fingers and my face, and that is quite the luxury for me. I will say that I am 100% thankful that I am a North Dakotan though. Really. The students here from the Southern US think its too cold, and the students from other temperate maritime climates think its normal. We Mid-Westerners, however, are on vacation. This is balmy for us. We’d break out the shorts if that was acceptable in Europe. This is the first time in my life that I am thankful for being accustomed to sub-zero temperatures.
The only downfall of the drastic climate change is that is has wreaked havoc on my allergies and minor asthma symptoms. I went very quickly from dry, dead Grand Forks to very humid, blossoming Getxo, and my sinuses are quite perturbed about it. I will adjust though, with a little help from my friends albuterol and Zyrtec.
Social life...It’s funny to consider this its own category because really, in Spain, there is no other life. Everything is social. Spending a quiet afternoon or evening in complete solitude is almost unheard of. This has taken some getting used to for me, as I regularly go into home-body mode and need some convincing to get me to go out. I will use this cultural custom as my excuse for not blogging too frequently–I’m not allowed to sit at home, okay?!?
Life is definitely more interesting and exciting here. There is always something to do, at all times day or night. Last Friday most of us USACers attended “Art After Dark”, an event mostly for the younger crowd during which you can visit the current exhibit at the Guggenheim museum while listening to a DJ brought in from somewhere in Europe. There was one interesting room in the museum that had tall poles with multilingual scrolling marquees, so we had a good time taking some pictures:
On Saturday day night in downtown Bilbao, Team Athletic de Bilbao (soccer, obviously) was playing Real Madrid, the team considered to be the best in the country. Several students from the group decided to fork over the large chunk of change to attend, but the others of us opted for the next most exciting option: watching the game on the TVs at the bars surrounding the stadium. It was really an interesting experience– hundreds of fans gathered in the streets and crowded around several TVs to watch a game that was going on just a few feet away from us. Somehow, Bilbao ended up taking the victory over Madrid 1-0….for the first time in 6 years! All hell broke loose at the end of the game and we ended up rushing into the stadium at the end of the game with the rest of the “street fans”, and we even got to stand on the field…just for a moment. It was quite the rush! Spanish people are not jokin’ around about their love for soccer. Or calimocho: the popular red wine and coke mix (sounds gross, but is not) served and homemade everywhere around here. See my Youtube channel for a couple of videos from our crazy night outside the stadium.
Adjustments…I think the biggest obstacle for me right now is that I still get lost almost every time I try to go somewhere new in town. I’m just used to streets being laid out in a convenient grid, with no confusing roundabouts or plazas turning everything around. I end up asking strangers where things are at least 5 times a day. I’m not sure how many times I’ve had to ask, ¿Dónde está el metro?, just because I know how to get home once I can find the metro. It makes every moment an adventure. They are just very time-consuming adventures. That is the other main adjustment: time management. Transportation in Grand Forks takes, maximum, 15 minutes. If you had to go all the way across town at 5pm, it might take you that long. To get to school here, I have to catch a bus 45 minutes before my class. I’ve been the crazy American girl running through the streets to barely catch (or just miss completely) my bus almost every day. I’ve promised myself to put an end to that. Wish me luck.
As always, be sure to check my Picasa albums and Youtube channel, linked on the right side-bar, for new pictures and videos.
Thanks for reading!