3 Things to Know When Getting Ready for Spain

I was scheduled to leave for Salamanca, Spain in early September of 2013, but had one foot out the door in June.

Sitting in my parent’s house in Boulder, Colorado, I was itching to rediscover the freedom I so coveted while in college and excited to explore Spain and Western Europe, where I’d never been before. I had worked all summer, leaving  all my worldly possessions strewn across the floor of my childhood room, knowing that those 3 months were just a stop gap to where I really wanted to be.

In my sagely, and immensely humble, 20 years on this planet, at that point, I’d learned if you got an itch, you’d better scratch it. And so I did just that, I scratched that study abroad itch and was consumed by the desire to leave. Instant gratification definitely got the best of me.

In all that scratching, though, left me without a few key pieces of information that would have been really valuable before leaving for my trip.

tortilla de patata
The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is love. The Spanish Tortilla de Patata is life.

First, improvising will get you a long way, but some structure is both nice and necessary.

I arrived in Spain at around 8:30pm, with the last bus leaving for Salamanca from Madrid around 9:00pm. I thought it would be easy to simply walk off my flight, find the bus station, buy a ticket, and that would be that.

In short, I was profoundly, utterly, and horribly wrong. In Spain, you are supposed to buy your ticket well before you arrive, something I realized as the ticket office was closed and I watched my bus drive away. This, however, is where structure comes in. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time to make my bus, I researched the departure times of trains leaving for Salamanca from Madrid. The last train left at 9:37 from Chamartín station in southern Madrid, which I decided was my last shot.

I ended up needing it. After realizing I missed my bus, I ran to a taxi. The old man driving the taxi was one of the most kind individuals I had ever met in my life. I explained my predicament to him, he flew to the station, then jumped out of his cab to walk me to the ticket counter and make sure I got on the right train. Having flexibility in a loose structure quickly became my mantra.

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Me after the Barcelona, Real Madrid match in Barcelona

Secondly, arrange what you need for your extended trip, get rid of half of it, and bring an extra bag for your flight home.

In packing, especially, I found that I could have packed much more efficiently than I did, and I only brought one suitcase and a carry-on backpack. If you’re studying abroad for a few months, mine was a total of four, often times you’re going to span two seasons. This leaves you with a slight predicament, in the sense that there generally isn’t a one-size-fits wardrobe that you can wear throughout your entire trip. In my case, coming from Colorado, I expect 60-70 degree days to extend through October and the occasional day in November. Moreover, I thought, when the sun is out, it’s always warm, so I’ll need plenty of shorts.Spain is notorious for being hot and I thought I was in the clear.

Not only did I find that wearing shorts was largely looked down upon by Spaniards in autumn, it never was quite warm enough to warrant wearing them anyway. So they sat and took up valuable room in my suitcase. The same principles apply towards toiletries and other non-essentials, particularly in the developed world. No, your host country may not have your preferred body wash or shampoo from home, but they will have an equivalent. Don’t pack it, there are greater things at stake, and often times, you can find higher quality items to augment what you can’t bring, like the sweater, dress shirt, and pea coat that accompanied me home.

This brings me to the last packing point, bring an extra bag for your return. When I was gone, I missed birthdays, holidays, and all sorts of other occasions that require gifts. I had accumulated a few new things myself, and was gifted more, all of which added up, slowly but surely, to take up a lot more room. Having an extra, cloth duffle bag that I folded up into my original suitcase allowed me to fit everything coming home. That being said, this only works if you have one checked bag and one carry-on when you leave home. Most international flights allow for two checked bags, so take advantage of it when you really need it: on your return flight.

Max blog post 2
Showing the Fam around Salamanca

Finally, realize that your accent will forever be tainted by the guttural, Spanish version.

It doesn’t matter how much you resist. It doesn’t matter how much you practice. It doesn’t matter how many classes you take on your return with professors from Latin America. The Spanish accent sticks like a tongue to a flagpole on a blustery winter day.

Give into it. Learn that joder, with that scratchy “j”, is the most descriptive, utilitarian word in the Castilian dialect. Resign yourself to the bizarre existence of vosotros, and forgive yourself for the first time you say zapato as your tongue slithers its way through your front teeth.

And more than just resign yourself to it, practice and immerse yourself in a Spanish dialect that you’re not necessarily familiar with. Websites such as Matador Network have lists of Spanish idioms that are really useful. Watch a soccer match in Spanish, if not only to count the number of seconds the announcer screams “GOL!!!!”. Practice your vosotros. Watch a Spanish movie, there are a plethora of wonderful ones, my favorites being “Mar adentro”, “Hable con ella”, and “El laberinto del fauno”.

Joder tío, obviously, there are many more ways to prepare, but I hope this helps with a few aspects that may have slipped under the radar.

-Max Spiro, Graduate Study Abroad Assistant

 

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Kiswaspanglish?

Hamjambo!

Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.

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Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead

Whoops!

I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.

Clothing: 

One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…

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Prayer: 

I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.

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Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado

Hajj:

Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.

Food:

The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0BbxG89gA

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger