In honour of Día de la Hispanidad in Spain, I thought it might be interesting to write about how I came to fall in love with Spanish and the land of Jamón Serrano.
Maybe I thought wrong, eh?
When I was just six years old, my parents took me to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The trip later continued on to Miami and the Florida Keys. In Miami, I became fascinated with this cool language that was everywhere, Spanish.
I would have to wait until I was in 8th grade and 13 years old before I could undertake this journey to learn this amazing and beautiful language. I had a seven week introductory course so I could see if it were something I would be interested in taking in high school. From my first minute in Spanish, I was in love with the language and studied it as much as possible. I even was selected to take achievement tests and placed really high in the region and made honourable mention in the state. While others struggled with understanding subjunctive and preterite versus imperfect, I caught on rather quickly.
(The key to learning languages is not to bog yourself down with the WHY. Just accept languages don’t make any sense.)
In university, I quickly decided to make Spanish my minor to complement my journalism major. Most of my teachers came from various parts of Spain. I had a few madrileños, a gallega and even a vasca from Bilbao. They instilled a greater love of Spanish in me, and I had already fallen in love with Spain before I even came to the Greatest Peninsula in the World in 2003 for study abroad.
On the bus from Madrid Barajas (now known as Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas) to Toledo, I began to cry as I saw everything in Spanish and I took everything in. I was so overcome to be in place that I had read about so much in books. Everything from then seven years (I would add two more to my official Spanish studies) was finally making sense and coming to life for me. It was a truly emotional moment.
That semester in Toledo, I absorbed as much as Spain as I could. I travelled to Barcelona the last weekend in October, where standing on the Rambles de Mar, I made the decision that one day, I would live in Spain. I also travelled to Sevilla thanks to my Eurorail pass and cheap AVEs (high-speed trains). It rained the entire weekend in Sevilla, but I made the most of it.
My regret those three months was not travelling more. I went to Madrid nearly every weekend to walk around the streets and absorb Chueca, and my dream changed from living in Barcelona to living in Chueca and having a Spanish boyfriend.
I returned to the States, finished out the semester and university, and dreamed for five long years of returning to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. After my journalism degree got me no farther than the nearest Hollister folding clothes, I decided to return to school to make my Spanish minor a second major with the hopes of graduate school. I found a way to do it in a year and picked up Italian 101 and 102. I studied Spanish Cinema, Early and Medieval Spanish Literature, Spanish in the World, and Spanish Nationalism, a graduate course I was permitted to take which discussed the ongoing debates between Spain, the Basque Country, Catalunya, Galicia and Comunitat Valenciana. (Feliç 9 d’octubre als valencians) and what exactly being Spanish means anyway.
I applied to three graduate schools, and I was rejected from all three. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. On a whim, I applied to this program from the Spanish government that placed native speakers in the classrooms. I was accepted and sent to Linares, a small city (but still “pueblo” in the heart of Jaén). My intention was to just stay a year or so in Spain to improve my Spanish so I could be accepted into grad school.
I fell so hard in love with Spain that I found it impossible to leave. Sure, Linares was NOT the place for me. I enjoyed my school, I enjoyed tostadas con tomate, and I enjoyed travelling through al-Andalus seeing all the beautiful things that exist in the south of Spain. I applied for a change to Madrid, where all my dreams turned into nightmares, but I continued travelling throughout the peninsula as I could.
Valencia drew me from the start. It was the first place I visited on my first “puente” (long weekend), and it’s a place I return to at least once a year (along with my beloved Barcelona). After being non-renewed for “being too shy and reserved”, I took off to Valencia to try to pursue a graduate degree at the Univeristat de València. The thing is, you need money for that. I didn’t have it. I fought to stay in Spain though. I knew if I didn’t fight, it would be something I would regret the rest of my life.
Luckily for me, there was a need for native speakers with that same program I was too shy and reserved for. And Madrid’s loss was Valencia’s gain. I fell in love with the city and despite payment problems, I had the best year of my Spain life so far.
I left Valencia in hopes of studying at Univeristat Autònoma de Barcelona, but the FASFA cut the student loans for UAB and although I was admitted, that pesky no money thing crept up again. The day it fell through, I was offered a job in Madrid, which I accepted.
It was the best school I’ve worked at, but Madrid and I just weren’t a match. Since I could only be there two years due to some weird visa law, it was time to move again. I loved the north, and so I applied for Catalunya, Valencia and the Basque Country. The program has been cut in Catalunya and Valencia due to lack of dinero
(yet a certain comunidad autonoma thinks they can survive as an independent country) and it was Euskadi where I’ve ended up.
I cannot explain what it is about Spain that I love so much. A Spanish friend from the States says in the US, you live to work, and in Spain you work to live. I like that philosophy, the philosophy of “mañana”, the life in the streets, the amazing food, the 17 distinct cultures in one country the size of Texas, the Spanish language (and the Catalán language!)…Spain has some amazingly beautiful places to visit and one of the most fascinating histories. It may not always be a happy history, but it is an interesting history.
I don’t know what the future has in store for me past May 2016, but I do know that no matter what, Spain will always be a major part of me. I may not have Spanish blood, but I do know that my heart and soul belong to Spain. (Tengo el alma valenciana ;))
Viva España, Visca Catalunya, Gora Euskadi, y un saludo cordial a todos desde la mejor península del mundo.