October 14, 2009
My name is Erin Holmes and I just turned twenty one. I’m a junior at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. I graduated from C.D. Hylton High Senior High School, where I was Secretary-General of the Model United Nation Club and Editor-in-Chief of the Promethean Literary Magazine, in 2007. At William and Mary, I’m a member of several organization, including Phi Mu Fraternity (one of the oldest sororities in the country – we’re so old, we were originally started using the term “fraternity” because the word “sorority” meant simply a feeling of sisterhood), the International Relations Club, Winged Nation Literary Magazine, and the Spotswood Society. I’ve held leadership positions in several of these groups and am presently majoring in History and after this semester I may add a minor in European Studies. I love to read everything I can get my hands on and I write poetry, essays, and short stories.
I’m presently in Spain for a number of personal and academic reasons, but I am here in large part because of my desire to have a career in the US Foreign Service after I graduate. To better prepare myself for this career (or life choice, depending upon who you ask), I’m trying to improve my Spanish. I studied Spanish for four years at Hylton before switching to Chinese once I started college, only to come to the awful realization that I have no gift for languages. This is unfortunate considering what I plan on doing with my life, so I decided to throw myself head first into the Olympic diving pool (Spain, with its large number of English speakers, isn’t exactly the ocean, but it’s certainly no neighborhood pool) and force myself to swim. After all, Spanish is the official language in some fifty-two of the world’s countries.
Some people reach a breaking point, where the current state of affairs is no longer acceptable. Most people make some effort to change things – whether it’s a small change like dyeing your hair a different color or shade or a big change like picking a college on the other side of the country. Personally, I’ve never felt the compulsion to make a major change until one evening a little less than a year ago. When I woke up that morning, I was still on my path, trying to figure out what classes to take for the next year. When I woke up the next morning, I was going to study in Spain.
A few months later, my study abroad was set in stone. One day in June, while interning at the State Department, I bought a roundtrip ticket from Dulles International Airport to Barajas Airport in Madrid by way of Heathrow Airport in London. In September, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday with friends in Williamsburg and my mother bought me luggage (it’s bright pink and apparently as loud and obnoxious as every American in Europe, but at least I’m not every other person on my interminably long flight debating whether this black bag or that black bag contains their belongings). Two weeks later, I had packed everything I would need for three months into one checked bag, a carry-on, and a purse (my high school Model UN sponsors will find this hilarious, considering I’d often take four bags on weekend conference trips) before catching my flight to Madrid.
You can see how things seemed to spiral out of control until I ended up standing at the edge of a very, very, high cliff with a British Airways flight attendant asking if I was sure I didn’t want a glass of wine with my dinner.
And now, I’ve been in Spain for two (and a half) weeks. I haven’t quite hit the ground yet, though I have knocked into a few outcroppings (and at least one very smooth set of centuries-old stairs in the Mediterranean town of Sitges) that left some bruises, but at least they slowed the fall. My Spanish is improving much more rapidly than I ever thought it would (slowed only a bit by well-meaning grammar classes that bring back all the tears and frustration I psychologically associate with language classes) and I can navigate my way around Salamanca without getting terribly lost. For all intents and purposes, I’m doing pretty well.
But now, it’s time to take things up a notch and give myself a project (I’ve never been one to be without some task and while the last couple weeks have been undeniably relaxing, time is up). This is where Classmates Connecting Cultures comes in.
I want to know what you want to know about Spain. I want to do what you would want to do if you were here. Do you want to know about simple things that are a lot more difficult here? I walked fifteen minutes from class to find a tobacconist shop. Once there, I held a conversation (in Spanish, I’m very proud to report) with the man behind the counter who didn’t seem to be aware that I was an American, and asked for two stamps with postage paid to los Estados Unidos. I then walked another five minutes to find a post box (a large, vaguely fire-hydrant shaped, yellow thing labeled “Correos”) to mail a letter to a good friend back in the US. Then, deciding I still had two much time on my hands, I wandered around and found an ATM to retrieve Euros to convert to Dirhams for my trip to Morocco at the end of this month (11 Dirhams= 1 Euro, 1 Euro=approximately 1.5 USD, I’d rather not figure out things exactly – exchange rates are depressing and rarely advantageous for Americans), before wandering further down Calle Toro (the major shopping district) and into Bijou Brigitte, which is rapidly becoming my worst habit, before heading home for la comida (lunch, the biggest meal of the day) before a nap because I am still exhausted from Monday’s 11-hour bus ride home from Barcelona. Did you know Barcelona is on the other side of Spain from Salamanca and that it takes about eleven hours to get there by bus if the driver stops four times? I do now…
I did all this in an hour wearing three-inch heels.
If you can’t tell by now, I need some direction. What do you want to know? What do you want me to see? To eat? To learn?
I never took Anthropology from Mrs. Shakley, but I took AP Comparative Government and I am deeply entrenched in Model UN besides taking history and (occasionally) anthropology classes in college, so I am interested in trying anything. Think of questions for me and I’ll do the same for you, and in the meantime, I’ll share some of my adventures. When I first arrived in Spain, I visited Madrid, Valle De Los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen), El Escorial, and Toledo. Monday, October 12th, was a holiday, so this past Thursday, after touring the Cathedrals in Salamanca (I’ll write you some history about these later as they are truly works of art) and going to my class for the day, I got on a bus to Barcelona with three friends to cross the country by bus. I’ve never considered doing this in the US because it seemed too much trouble, but crossing Spain, eh, you gotta do what you gotta do to get to the beach and world famous works of art, right? This coming weekend, I’ll be in Sierra de Francia and Ciudad Rodrigo with ISA (International Studies abroad) so if there’s anything there you think I should see, please let me know
Here’s some food for thought:
1.) What can you tell me about Spain’s political system and current events? I knew some when I got here, and I’m learning more, but a little help never hurts.
2.) How long ago was Spain considered a developing country? Eleven hours through the Spanish countryside is an interesting glimpse into economic development.
3.) My Spanish Culture profesora recently taught us about clichés about Spain and Spaniards – which ones can you think of? Are any based in fact and to what degree?
4.) Anthropology often considers language acquisition – how is Spanish related to other languages? The more I hear Spanish, the more I find words that seem to be related to English words with which I’m already familiar.
5.) How does one make una neopolitana? For a week, I toyed with the idea of trying one from every bakery in Salamanca, but that just seemed like a bad (not to mention unhealthy) idea.
My favorite Spanish words (the variety of which may give you some idea why it’s taking me so long to learn vocabulary):
Arces: Maple tree
Traicionar: to betray
¡Que mono!: How cute! (My host senora has the most adorable grandson, Danny, and I want this to be my immediate reaction, instead of having to consciously switch from English – the language seems to lose its emotion)