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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Feeling more at home

This week I’ve been hanging out with some half-Spanish/half-American people, and that has left me with an overwhelming feeling of jealousy. They. Are. So. Cool. They’ve grown up in both places, they speak English and Spanish (and more) perfectly, they know how to live/survive/thrive in both countries, and I just basically want to be them. These people are the friends of my friends and I’ve been loving getting to form relationships with them so that I can hopefully continue to hang out with them over winter break and next semester, when the group of SMU students that is here with me now will be back in Texas.

How to look like a tourist: 1. Wear a backpack 2. Take pictures on the Metro

In other news, I love the Metro! It’s so efficient and cheap and clean and easy and coooool! I feel like I’ve ridden it a million times this week (but it’s only actually been like 10) and so I am now a Metro pro.

Walking is also great. You seriously do not need a car in this city. Just about everything that we need is within walking distance. It’s different in America (in Austin and Dallas at least) because everything is just so big and spread out. Here, they use the space they have much more efficiently, which we saw in the grocery store the other day, with the small building and narrow aisles. It’s interesting to see how we do the same things differently.

After school one day this week we went on a walking tour of Madrid with one of our professors. We saw some cool stuff, like the Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, Puerta del Sol, and the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Botín. I’m not even exactly sure what everything that we saw was because our tour guide was one of the professors from the Fundación and I can’t always understand everything that she says. She’s the one who’s going to be taking my art history class to the Prado every Wednesday, though, so I better learn to figure it out quick so I can pass my tests!

El Palacio Real

With one week of classes at the Fundación under my belt, I’m feeling pretty good about this semester. None of my classes seem terribly difficult, and so far the homework has been a breeze. Hopefully it stays that way!

Earlier this week, one of the directors of the Fundación offered to set us up with her friends/friends of friends as English tutors for their kids. So I’m going to be working with two to three families every week this year as an English teacher! When she gave us the names and numbers of the families that she had paired us up with, she told us that we had to call them to set up meeting times, and I was terrifieddd … I have to try really hard to understand people when they’re speaking Spanish in person, so I figured that I would be completely lost on the phone without the aid of any body language.

I was pretty much right. I called the first family and floundered around in Spanish for about a minute before she asked if I would rather speak in English and put her son on the phone. We set the date for my first class with her daughter to be on Monday! The second family that I called spoke to me in English right from the start, so that was easy. They wanted me to come over that afternoon, to get acquainted and talk about our schedules, so I hopped on the Metro and went to meet them.

After accidentally buzzing the wrong apartment (Friends can’t teach you everything) and thoroughly confusing the woman who answered when I told her that I was “Ashley, la profe de inglés,” I got into the building and went up to meet the family. They were absolutely precious and are my new favorite people ever. They were so kind and I felt like I was being welcomed into their family, which will be a nice support to be able to rely on for these next eight months. I met their kids, Guillermo, who is nine, and Blanca, who is seven, and talked to the parents, Juan and Mercedes, for over an hour. They explained how the classes will work: I’ll come over for one hour twice a week, working with each child individually for 30 minutes. Some days I’ll help the kids with homework, but mostly we’ll just get to play together, and so long as I am speaking English and having them repeat words back to me, I’m doing my job.

I had my first class with Guillermo and Blanca on Thursday after school. I was a little nervous, but it was great! We played Go Fish with cards that had animals on them and made sentences using flash cards. Really easy and fun. And once the hour was up, Blanca held my hand and walked me to the door and then kissed me on the cheek. I’m looking forward to getting to spend time with them every week!

It’s fun teaching English since I’ve always taken my knowledge of it for granted, and haven’t thought about speaking it as one of my skills. But here, it is! That knowledge is something that I have and that other people want. It’s fun to feel like an expert. I can’t really understand the kids (at least not Guillermo) when they speak in Spanish, though. They just talk so quickly and definitely overestimate my Spanish skills. I’ve been having basically no trouble listening and understanding in my classes and when Carmen talks to me, but I have more trouble with just about everyone else, like waiters, taxi drivers, and people I’m getting directions from. And speaking is proving to be more challenging than listening for me. It takes me a while to form sentences, and I can’t wait to get better at it.

That’s all that’s new here! I’ve had a very relaxing (see: lazy) Friday since we don’t have class on Fridays. Yay for a year of four-day weekends! It’s now Friday night, and I have the doors to my balcony open so I can hear lots of people in the street below me talking and singing and generally having a grand ol’ time.

I’m looking forward to what the rest of the weekend has in store for me! I hope to make my first trip to Parque del Retiro and visit El Rastro, which is apparently Europe’s largest open market. Adiós!

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