If one were interested in a lesson in humility, I would invite them to join me in a conversation about photojournalism theory with five Spanish college students, like the one I was a part of several days ago. Despite my best efforts to nod along in the background and pretend to understand half of what they were saying, they took it upon themselves to haul me into their discussion and encourage me to contribute. The exchange started with me explaining in my unique garbled Spanish/Galician hybrid that I was an exchange student from the United States. As one of the students started enthusiastically drilling me for my biography, another interrupted and scolded him for speaking too quickly for me. I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it, but I felt like a kindergartner hanging out with the big kids for the first time.
Breaking through the language barrier in classes has been unsuccessful so far. I’ve noticed improvement in my conversation skills, but listening to a professor lecture in Spanish or Galician without context to help me understand has been nothing but frustrating. One morning, I walked the 20 minutes it takes to get to campus and the building was empty when I arrived. I assume the professor told everyone that there wouldn’t be class that day and it went completely over my head. I think that’s a good indication of my abilities. I’ve been told that classes will switch to a more interactive style after the first couple weeks, but for now I remain confused and left out.
The apartment is turning out to be less of the dream I was hoping for. I’m still impressed by the building and happy about the central location, but living in a centuries old stone building has its drawbacks, namely mold and an inability to heat it above 45 degrees. I’m getting an authentic medieval experience, hopefully without the plague.
Thankfully, my roommate situation has been only positive. I live with two Italians, Nicola and Sara, and a Bolivian named Lisandro. Nicola and Sara’s Spanish skills are close to same level as mine, which leads to exchanges that Lisandro can’t help but laugh at. As clumsy as our conversations are, I think the dynamic between the four of us is perfect for learning a new language. The Italians and I talk at a slow, understandable pace and Lisandro acts as our human dictionary.
For a city of only 96,000 people, Santiago has a wild nightlife. I can leave my apartment at midnight on any night of the week and find a packed club within 100 yards of my front door. It’s expected for people to stay out past 2 a.m. and be in class by 9 the next morning. It’s a lifestyle I’m not quite used to, being a kid from an island in Maine. Lisandro looked at me like I was crazy when I turned down his offer to go dancing at 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday night. I had already been asleep for an hour and a half and was awakened by him knocking on my door. I didn’t know it was possible to feel like a kindergartner and an old curmudgeon simultaneously.