The past three months have been some of the most challenging of my life, rivaling my first semester of college, when I failed all but one class. When I applied to study in Spain for a semester I had been taking Spanish language classes for the better part of a decade. I assumed five months of immersion would be the trial by fire that I needed to force me to fluency. Upon arrival and learning that Castilian Spanish wasn’t even the language used in the university I was attending, let alone the first language of most people I would meet, I realized that the semester would be more difficult than I imagined.
I’m two weeks past the halfway mark of my time in Santiago de Compostela and I’m still unsure of what I’m going to come away with when I return home. It’s not that I’m doubting my growth and experiences here, but that I haven’t figured out how I’ve grown.
In regards to learning Spanish and Galician, it’s difficult to qualify my progress because my only points of reference are the other international students here who are also speaking Spanish as a learned language. The majority of our conversations are casual, so I have no knowledge of Spanish in an academic context. It’s the complete opposite with Galician, the language in which all my classes are taught. I can understand chunks of a lecture, but I find myself lost trying to comprehend a conversation between two native speakers.
It would be ignorant to write off the non-linguistic aspects of my time here. Examples of Galician culture have been hard to find, usually tucked away in cramped basement pubs. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure I have found the cultural ties that hold the Galician people together. I’m not an outgoing person and the coldness of the general public has been uninviting. Spain holds a reputation for being full of some of the friendliest people on Earth, but it seems Galicia would rather be left out of that stereotype.
Normally I would blame my own introverted tendencies, but through my short trips to southern Spain, I’ve found most Spaniards to be incredibly welcoming. Either through the blind bullfighter showing my family around the arena without being asked, or just the simple tradition of free tapas with a drink at a bar, the south has outdone Galicia with its hospitality.
For the next two months, I think my goal needs to be to get out of this city as much as possible. Two months is a long time, too long to write off the entire region of Galicia as inhospitable, but it’s also short enough that I can’t let any more of it slip away while I try to figure out how to make my time in Europe memorable. My plan is to go back to Granada for the month between the end of classes and finals to absorb as much of sunny weather and dispositions as I can.
It’s still raining in Santiago.