Ashley in Madrid

Ashley is a junior majoring in Spanish and psychology in Dedman College and an SMU Distinguished Scholar. During 2011-12 she is participating in SMU-in-Spain. She is eager to improve her Spanish, to get to know other students in the program and to explore Madrid and the rest of Europe.

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At home in Madrid

My first churros con chocolate

I’ve been enjoying spending time home in Madrid since our return from Andalucía. On the Monday after we got back, I went to a local public high school, where I’m going to be volunteering as an assistant with English classes, to meet with the professors and figure out my schedule. They learn British English here, so I was amused to hear that these Spanish English professors speak English with a British accent! I guess it’s the same as if a person from Mexico heard me speaking Spain Spanish, but it’s funny nonetheless.

The following day, Tuesday, I went and helped with my first two classes! I basically just did whatever the teachers asked me to do, which was to introduce myself and have a little dialogue with the students, and teach vocab words about professions in one of them, and verbally go over their homework in the other. They liked having me speak to the classes as much as possible since I can pronounce all the words correctly.

One of the English teachers didn’t have the most fantastic English ever. It was good, just a little bit slow, and she had a thick accent. She told me that her real career is in Latin but because of the problems in Spain right now, I guess with the economy and education system, teachers are being forced to learn how to teach new subjects. I thought that was really interesting and sad.

On the following Monday I went for the second time to help with classes, and I got there early and waited in the teachers’ lounge for the professor to meet me and take me to her classroom. After I had been waiting for awhile, and the bell to start classes had rung about 10 minutes earlier, I decided to hunt down the classroom myself. I asked someone in the office and they walked with me, but when we got to the classroom, it was teacherless! So I just jumped in and started introducing myself to them and then asking them comprehension questions about my life. Then one of the directors came and told me that the teacher who was supposed to be there had fallen on some stairs somewhere so she wouldn’t be coming in to class, but they would send in another teacher.

The teacher next door, whom I had worked with the previous day, called me over and told me about how some people from different countries were visiting their school that week so I could teach my class vocabulary about meeting new people and then have them practice conversations, so I just jumped in and started teaching an English class to a group of 13- and 14-year-olds by myself off the top of my head, and I absolutely adored it!

A couple of teachers poked their heads in every so often, but no one ever came to take over as had been promised, so I taught the entire class by myself (which is one of the primary things that they told me would never happen whenever I met with them the first day, but whatever. I really enjoyed it). I just pretended like I knew what to do and like I wasn’t scared of them, and took charge and it was just such a cool feeling. Definitely one of the highlights of my week. I’m going to be volunteering at this school every Monday and Tuesday morning for the rest of the year, and I’m really excited about it since I have no clue what I want to do with my life and I’ll be able to see if teaching might be something that I’m interested in.

After my exciting class, I got to meet some of the people at the high school who were visiting from different countries. They were English teachers from different places in Europe, and when I told some people from Estonia and Lithuania that I’m from Texas, they were very interested. It was the best reaction that I’ve gotten from anyone yet, just sort of surprised and excited, so that was fun.

For my Spanish Culture and Civilization class, we have to do a group project in which we compare a neighborhood within the city of Madrid to another city within the autonomous community of Madrid. Last week, my friend Regi and I went to explore our city for the project, Alcobendas. It was about 40 minutes away by metro. While there we had to interview 10 people about their impressions of the city, visit the town hall, and go to all the important places in the city and take pictures.

It took us about nine hours including travel, so it was quite an exhausting day, but I really enjoyed it. I feel like we got to see everything there was to see in the city and really got a good feel for it. Interviewing the 10 people was time-consuming and awkward, but not horrible. My impression of Alcobendas was that it was convenient because it was close to Madrid, but so much more peaceful and quiet (and smaller) and full of really pretty parks! I liked it.

This past week was midterm week for us, so I spent all of last weekend and week studying nonstop, which was rough. In general, I don’t have to study as much here as I do in Dallas, so last week was a change of pace. Midterms here were different from how they are in Dallas because it was much more structured and formal, more like a finals week in that I had one in every class and they were scheduled at specific times. It was stressful, but I survived and am so excited to return to my typical stress-free Spanish life!

I am also glad for the end of nonstop studying because it means that I can stop spending my life’s savings at Starbucks. I didn’t want to study in my room all day every day, nor did I want to walk 20 minutes to the library at school, so that means that I spent a lot of time this week at Starbucks, and it was just painfully expensive.

On Saturday of last weekend, Regi and I were studying at Retiro Park, and on our walk home we saw a giant protest taking up all of Paseo del Prado, a big main street. Then later that night, when my roommates and Carmen and I attempted to get churros con chocolate in Sol, it was absolutely packed with people and we could get nowhere. After some googling, I’ve learned that these protesters are Spain’s indignados and they seem to be protesting a democracy that is not representative enough and corrupt politicians. It also might have something to do with the Occupy protests, but I’m not sure. Here’s an article about these protesters, and here’s a video of what was going on in Sol when we were trying to walk there.

As mentioned above, I had my first churros con chocolate on Saturday night! We walked for what felt like forever through crowds of people just to find that Sol was way too packed (if you looked at that video, you realize that this is an understatement), so we basically made a circle and ended up getting churros right by our house. They were pretty good! They were basically sticks of fried dough that we dipped into chocolate that was more chocolate-y than just hot chocolate, but less chocolate-y than just straight-up melted chocolate.

Anyways, they were good, and after we finished our first servings, we were full. Carmen asked us if we wanted more, and we said no, so naturally she ordered more, which we then had to eat. I was painfully full by the end of the “meal,” if fried dough dipped in chocolate can count as a meal.

One day last week when I was walking through the metro, someone stopped me to try to get me to enroll in a program of donating a certain amount of money per month toward ending world hunger, which is obviously a great cause, but as a college student studying abroad, obviously not something that I can afford to do. Anyway, I let him go on with his spiel instead of just cutting him off like I might normally do because I was so excited that I could understand him explaining this complex concept in Spanish! I’m realizing that my Spanish comprehension and speaking are both definitely improving even though they’re not where I want them to be and I still don’t have much confidence.

As I’ve mentioned before, speaking English is definitely getting harder. Yesterday was especially rough. I feel like over and over yesterday as I was trying to say something to someone in English I just had to give up because I couldn’t think of the words for what I wanted to say. And as I was writing something in English tonight, I kept spelling words wrong. So annoying, but at least I know I’m not alone in this struggle. It’s become pretty common to hear someone in our group end a sentence with “well, I can’t speak English anymore, but you know what I mean.”

After my English tutoring session with Blanca and Guillermo, my 6- and 8-year-old students, on Tuesday of this week, they invited me to stay at their house for dinner, which I did, and which was lovely! We had a yummy fish dish and rice and I had fun talking to them in Spanish. We all had a good laugh about how much of a struggle it is for me to roll my r’s and Blanca entertained herself by thinking that she was teaching me Spanish by telling me words that I already knew.

My roommates and I had a hilarious experience with Carmen the other night at dinner. Because I’m the tallest and I eat the quickest out of the three of us, she has decided that I naturally must be the hungriest. She is always sneaking me cookies or offering snacks to me but not my roommates, which is pretty funny. So at dinner the other night, she brought out our plates of pasta. Mine was the biggest to begin with, but not by too much so I wasn’t worried about it. Then she asked Fati if she wanted all of the pasta on her plate, and Fati said that she would like a little bit less, so Carmen then announced to the table, “Whenever anyone doesn’t want all their food, we will just give it to Ashley because she is the tallest and eats the most.”

Then, without consulting either of us, she picked up Fati’s plate and dumped like 1/3 of her pasta onto mine. I then had a veritable mountain of pasta on my plate, like more than I have ever seen on a single plate possibly ever. It was all I could not to just die laughing. Once she left the room, I put half of what she had added to my plate onto Hayley’s, but I still had a significant amount of pasta left! I was so full after finishing it.

Yesterday we went on a group excursion to El Escorial and El Pardo, a monastery and a palace a little bit outside of the city. I think the most memorable thing that we saw was the Pantheon of the Kings in El Escorial, which consists of 26 marble sepulchers containing the remains of former kings, queen regnants, and royal consorts who were parents of monarchs. It even has two empty spots in it, one for the current king, Juan Carlos I, and one for his wife, Sofía de Grecia (provided that their son, Felipe, eventually becomes king. If he doesn’t, she does not end up being the mother of a king, she ends up somewhere else). It was pretty creepy but also cool.

El Pardo is the palace that Franco lived in when he was the dictator of Spain for almost 40 years, so we got to see his old bedroom and some of his clothes, and that was interesting. Now the palace is half museum and half residence for any foreign heads of state that come on official visits to Spain. It’s interesting for me to think about all the palaces and such that we visit actually being used and lived in by people 400 or 500 years ago. I can’t really picture it.

Also, the ETA, a terrorist organization from País Vasco that has been using violence to convey their message about their desire of statehood for their autonomous community for four decades, just announced a “definitive cessation of its armed activity” so that is very exciting! And as far as Gaddafi’s death goes, I have seen multiple pictures of his dead body in Spanish newspapers, which was pretty surprising/disturbing for me since I don’t think that pictures like those would be published in American newspapers.

Yesterday I reorganized my armoire and added all my winter clothes in because it is starting to get chilly here! Spaniards I’ve spoken to have been pretty surprised that it hasn’t gotten cold yet, because apparently by this time it usually has. So now we’re looking at highs in the 60s, with some days in the 50s next week. It’s pretty chilly at night and in the morning, and the heat in the apartment buildings doesn’t get turned on until November 1, so I spend my nights roaming the house in a fleece pullover and slippers, which is quite comfy. And I have some good blankets in my bed, so I’m not cold at all!

It’s not even too cold yet, but I don’t know what I’m going to do when actual winter starts since I don’t really do cold and we have to walk around outside so much here. It also might rain sometime in the next few days, which would be interesting since I have literally not seen a drop of rain in Madrid since I got here.

I’m looking forward to a Coldplay concert here in Madrid on Wednesday and a trip to Dublin this weekend! ¡Hasta luego!

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