Week One: Settling In!


It is Sunday afternoon, meaning that I have now lived for just over a week in the beautiful city of Alcalá. A great deal has happened in that week, and I will try to recount some of my thoughts on the week here. I am sure to ramble, so it will probably take multiple posts to say all that I want to about this amazing week!

One of the biggest things that I have realized is that it will take me some time to adjust to the Spanish timetable. If my host family is any indication, Spaniards do not enjoy rising earlier, much preferring to both stay up and wake up late. All of my classes will start at 10:30, so I will wake up around 9, late by American standards, but very much within the norm here.

Then come classes. I have two a day, one from 10:30 to 12:00 and one from 12:30 to 2:00. I assumed that the 30 minute break was for lunch, and as my host mom sent me to class the first day with a sandwich and an apple, I thought that my assumption was confirmed. Oh, how wrong I was! As it turns out, normal lunchtime here is at 2 in the afternoon, and what I thought was my lunch was simply a mid-afternoon snack!

My host mom is constantly bemoaning the fact that I eat what is, by her standards, very little, and this cross-cultural miscommunication only confirmed that – what I thought was an ample lunch she considered nothing but a supplement. Apparently, I really need to work on my appetite if I want to fit in here!

Disagreements in how much food is enough aside, I feel so welcomed and cared for by my host mother. From day one, she has constantly worked to make me feel as at home as possible, and my host sister has done the same. It is a bit mind-blowing to me, because these people have opened their home to me, a complete stranger, for four months of their lives and are doing it so graciously! They get to see me throughout my whole adjustment period, enchanted with Spain but at times missing home, slowly but surely adjusting to my new life here. They are my culture and language guides, and I am so grateful for all that they have already done for me.

After lunch, on weekends, the Spanish take a siesta from 3 to 5 or 6. This can mean napping, watching TV, reading, or any form of relaxation, and I think it is an excellent idea. In the United States, life is so fast-paced, and people barely have time to slow down and enjoy themselves. I was the stressed-out United States mentality incarnate last semester, and as a result, I was excited to experience the more laid-back mentality of Spain. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have learned that I need to re-learn how to really relax, but I am confident that in time, I will be able to adequately take advantage of the Spanish miracle that is the siesta!

Because Spaniards eat breakfast and lunch later than Americans, it should come as no surprise to you that they eat dinner later as well. I was prepared to eat around 8, but the actual Spanish dinnertime is more like 9:30 or 10! I am still not fully adjusted to this, but I know that I will soon get there, and then I’ll be confused when I return home as to why we eat so early! My host mom was shocked when I told her that we dine at 5 or 6 in the states. And I’m beginning to see her point – this way, you have enough time before bed to digest but not enough to become hungry enough to need a snack. The Spaniards might be on to something…

Before I had applied to any study abroad programs, I knew that I wanted to choose one that would allow me to live with a host family, and I will be forever grateful that I followed through with that dream. I already LOVE the city of Alcalá, and I cannot wait to explore more of Spain and Europe, but so far, my host family is my favorite part of this adventure. More than anything, I wanted to practice my Spanish and integrate myself into the Spanish culture, and with their help, I will be hard pressed to do anything but succeed.

(I realize that this recap of my week turned into a commentary on the Spanish timetable and me gushing about my host family, but I’m not too sad about it. I will definitely be back to describe more of what I have done, but, if only for posterity, I think it is even more important to describe what daily life is like for me here. The grand events and the explorations of new cities will likely stick out in my mind for years to come, but the details of everyday life, which some might call mundane, are just as important to me. I chose Spain for the whole experience, the grand things and the small, and I don’t want to let any of it fade from my memory!)

¡Bienvenidos a España!


The sun has set on my second day in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, my first full day here, and the start of the grand adventure that this semester will become. It is almost surreal to be living out the dream I have held since I was fourteen. And a bit stressful at times. But so exhilarating and rewarding that it has already made all the discomfort of diving headfirst out of my comfort zone so worth it.

I have heard over and over from people that the way to become fluent in a language is total immersion, and after living with a host family for less than two days, I can tell you that those people are not wrong. I am already more confident and can speak more quickly than before. On a related note, it feels INCREDIBLE to speak in a language I have held in my head for so long and to be understood, and complimented, by native speakers. It is one of the most gratifying feelings that I have ever experienced!

I have a host mother and a host sister, and they are both nice and hospitable to a fault. I particularly like eating with my host mom, because we talk about differences between the US and Spain and she teaches me all about Spanish culture and corrects my grammar. And she teaches me slang! Already, we laugh a lot, and she is constantly mothering me and making sure I am happy and comfortable (also, the stereotype of a Spanish mother forcing more and more food on her children and guests is true – she often complains that I am not eating enough and proceeds to pile more food on my plate. It is adorable and she is adorable).

I have never been one to love change, and I knew that I would be uncomfortable at first in such a new, strange situation. But I am amazed at how quickly I am beginning to feel at home here. My host family is fantastic. The city is beautiful and bustling and full of history. I completed my first day of orientation, met some great people, and managed to ace my Spanish placement test. Tomorrow is another day of orientation, Thursday, my classes start, and Friday, I get to tour Madrid!

I know I will miss my friends and family at home terribly at times, and that there will be challenges that come with this semester. But I get to live in Spain for four months! I get to literally live the dream! And I could not be more excited.