When the bus carrying us 9 American students pulled into the station in Córdoba three weeks ago, we nervously watched our soon-to-be families out the window, waiting for us. Before long, I was walking to my home for the semester with my “madre española,” Fátima. She pointed out some local landmarks during the short trip to her apartment and assured me that the oppressive heat of that day was only temporary. Then I spent the first evening in my house trying to acclimate to my new living situation. After a few hours of unpacking and setting up my new room, Fátima’s partner José came home from work. We ate a dinner of vegetables from his farm, me stumbling through a conversation about myself and my family.
I spent that first weekend half with my PRESHCO friends, half with my host family. One day I met my friend Lucy for a walk around downtown, another day I got ice cream with Lucy, Alex, and Zoe, and another day I went to get fresh-squeezed juice and shop downtown. All of us were looking for ways to beat the heat (air conditioning is uncommon) and escape our houses which still didn’t feel like home.
It took more than a week to figure out which classes to take at the University of Córdoba (UCO). After a bit of trial and error, I’ve finally decided on Contemporary History of International Relations and “Hablas Andaluzas,” a linguistics course focused on comparing the Spanish spoken in Andalucía (the comunidad – basically, province – where I’m living this semester) to the Spanish spoken in Latin America, in addition to the two classes I’m taking through my program: Spanish geography and Spanish pragmatics. I’m also taking four “culture classes” through PRESHCO, learning the local sevillanas dance style, flamenco guitar, theater, and photography. Hopefully I’ll come back to the U.S. in December with some new skills as well as a new language in my back pocket!
The beginning of semester has been relatively relaxed homework-wise, but I have been in constant adjustment-mode since I first arrived in Córdoba. I try to get out and interact with native speakers as often as possible, but that has the consequence of making it clear – sometimes painfully so – just how much learning I have ahead of me. During the first few weeks of classes I felt like I was in a constant state of confusion. After a few weeks, the confusion is no longer constant, but I’m definitely learning to be comfortable with the discomfort of not always knowing what’s going on. Each class comes with its own set of challenges, the largest being understanding the language – in particular, the unique Cordobés accent – and a lack of general Spain knowledge. I have to repeatedly remind myself to be patient, but I can tell that it’s getting easier.
Definitely one of the more challenging adjustments – perhaps even more so than the language – has been the unique schedule in Spain, especially with regard to meals. Breakfast is at the traditional American time, but lunch – the biggest meal of the day here – isn’t until 2 or 3, and everyone comes home from work to eat together. We eat dinner at 9 or 9:30 in my house and bedtime is around midnight; later, if I go out with friends after dinner. A midnight bedtime is nothing new for the typical college student, but I’m still surprised every time I see young kids out on the streets with their families after 11 or midnight.
Despite these challenges, I truly have been having a blast and learning a lot. There are frequent gatherings with my program – including a tour of the Mezquita-Cathedral, a tour of the oldest part of the city, a celebration of the beginning of classes with all PRESHCO students, professors, and host families, and an excursion to the ruins of Medina Azahara. I see my friends nearly every day, whether at the gym, the “Anexo” (a ‘student center’/hang-out for PRESHCO students), or to meet up for ice cream or take a walk.
I’ve spent plenty of time with Fátima and José as well. Every evening after dinner we hang out in the living room together until bedtime and once in a while pass the day at José’s farm or with Fátima’s family, including her two year-old grandson, Sergio. They’re so patient with my clumsy Spanish, are always willing to answer my numerous questions, and sometimes ask me to teach them a few English phrases as well.
Now that I’ve settled into a routine in Córdoba I finally feel like it’s time to do some more traveling. This weekend a few friends and I head to Málaga… more to come!