¿Ya es otoño?

This might be a bit long because a lot has happened in the last few weeks, including a trip to Portugal, a 15-minute history presentation (in Spanish!), and the celebration of my third-favorite holiday. I suppose this post is also a bit of a halftime report. Last week marked the halfway point of my time in Cordoba; the week before that, of my time in Spain. It’s crazy how the time is flying by and I’ve been trying to reflect on the progress I’ve made since I arrived, as well as think about my priorities for the next two months.

In my last post, I wrote something about how fall just wasn’t coming and that I sort of doubted that it ever would. Well, mere days later, the first crisp weather of the season arrived and, with it, a little bit of a cold. Luckily, my few sick days passed just in time for my program’s trip to Galicia (the north-eastern region of Spain) and Portugal.

We took planes, trains, and automobiles to get from Cordoba to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, and the only way I can describe the city is Ireland, but make it Spain. It was completely different from Andalucía: rainy and gray and full of cathedrals. The town has an interesting history; it’s an important Catholic pilgrimage site and during my time there I saw dozens of people walking in and out of the city with huge backpacks and hiking sticks.

I liked Santiago, but Portugal was the real highlight of the trip. Our first stop was Porto, the city that gave Portugal its name (not to mention Port wine). We arrived at night, when it was already dark, but my friends and I were immediately charmed by the steep streets and the river lined by shops and restaurants. The next day we enjoyed some beautiful views of the city from up high and had a tour and tasting at a winery. When we left Porto, I thought I couldn’t like the country any more… but then we got to Lisbon.

I loooooved Lisbon. In a conversation with the director of my program last week, my Spanish was not sufficient to describe what I liked so much about it. Now I’m realizing that maybe English isn’t either. I liked the architecture, the art, and, in general, the feel of the city. The weather might have influenced me a little bit; the day we spent in Lisbon was beautiful and sunny, unlike rainy and chilly Porto and Santiago. I can’t wait to go back someday.

The other week was my hardest so far, homework-wise. On Wednesday I had to give a fifteen-minute presentation in my international relations history class on the conflict of Western Sahara. It was intimidating, to say the least, to speak in front of a class of Spanish natives, but I made it through, and if you ever are curious about the conflict, I’m an expert now (but only in Spanish). If the presentation wasn’t enough, I also had a huge project for my linguistics class due the following weekend. It was interesting; my partner and I wrote a survey about differences in the vocabulary of people of different ages and regions in the United States, then analyzed the results and turned in a 36(!)-page paper. That’s another topic I could talk about for a while if prompted! 🙂

After all of that stress, I’ve been able to squeeze in some fun in the last week. Last weekend, on Friday night, a few friends and I went to a paisaje del terror (haunted house) in the building where our classes are held (the one I got locked inside of, the one that’s apparently “actually” haunted, etc.), and on Saturday, Lucy, Zoe, Alex, and I went to dinner at a sushi restaurant. Afterwards, we walked around the center of the city, including a trip to the roof of a hotel in the Plaza de las Tendillas with some pretty nice views. On Sunday, I got to go to my first European soccer, ahem, fútbol, game. The Córdoba team is not the best, but we were lucky enough to go on a good day and saw them win. To cross another activity off my Spanish bucket list, last week I saw a movie in the theater (Maleficent) for the first time since I’ve been here with a group of PRESHCO and Spanish students. Even though Angelina Jolie was dubbed in Spanish, I was able to follow (and enjoy!) it without too much difficulty.

That brings us to Halloween, my third-favorite holiday (following my birthday and Christmas). Throughout all of the month of October, I was a little bit concerned about the lack of Halloween cheer I observed — there were no fake cobwebs strung through tree branches and no pumpkins appearing on porch steps, or even in grocery stores. The bakeries didn’t sell donuts shaped like jack-o-lanterns, the supermarkets didn’t sell jumbo-sized bags of candy, and I saw no pop-up costume stores. Some important fall indicators were missing, too; there were no leaves littering the sidewalks or pumpkin-spiced anything.

I found all of this a bit distressing.

Eventually I started to ask around. Through conversations with Spanish students, one of my professors, and my host family, I was relieved to learn that Halloween does exist here in Spain (on a much smaller scale than in the U.S.) and grows bigger every year, although its proximity to All Saints’ Day on November 1 has caused it to be a bit overlooked.

I decided to celebrate the best I could. The night before, Zoe and I went hunting for pumpkins and bought half of the stock of the supermarket that carried them. That’s to say, we bought two pumpkins. The morning of Halloween, thanks to the ridiculous patience of the PRESHCO staff, we carved them using the two knives we could find in the Anexo’s kitchen.

That afternoon, I ran all over the city trying to find some cat ears and a choker necklace for my black cat costume, and then I had fun dressing up and going out with friends that night. True to the Spanish schedule, we technically did most of our celebrating on November 1.

Some things here are remarkably the same as in the U.S. November 1 was a holiday, then it was the weekend, but, November 4? Christmas. Christmas everywhere.

Even though my classes are difficult and I still spend each evening in my culture classes (sevillanas dancing, flamenco guitar, theater, and photography) and choir rehearsals, I guess I’ve decided I’m not busy enough, so this week I started volunteering at a local school, helping the students with English. Tuesday was my first day there and I helped a class of third graders with their earth science projects; they would speak to me in Spanish, and I would respond in (slow, simple) English, and now I’m an expert on the solar system and the layers of the Earth. Although I don’t get to work on speaking Spanish during these three hours each week, I know I’ll learn a lot from being immersed in a different classroom culture and interacting with younger students.

Finally, thanks to my photography class, I’ve been taking lots of photos of Cordoba. Here are a few of my favorites from our last two classes…

This weekend I’m headed to Granada with the whole PRESHCO group, but, actually, every day is an adventure here in Spain. I’m looking forward to making the most of these next two months!

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