Bilingual fly on the wall

1528511_10152824540132524_1341709040_nIn my peripheral vision I could see Valencia, but I was more focused on what Raquel, one of my study abroad group’s directors, was saying.

“After you unpack your things and your host mom has given you a set of keys, many students feel a sense of, ‘well, what now? Why am I here?’”

The thought confused me mostly because I hadn’t thought much about that moment. For the past few days of exploring Madrid and Toledo, I hadn’t worried about anything except for how I seemed to have been the only person who brought more than one suitcase to Spain. But now, after months of preparation, I was about to meet the woman who would host me in her home, make authentic Valencian meals for me and do my laundry for the next four months. I hadn’t thought about the moment where I would settle in. Is there downtime on a study abroad program? I had been going, going, going for five days – I had almost forgotten what it would be like to just sit down.

But from the moment my shoes scraped the sidewalks of Valencia, sitting down was not something I did. From exploring the nightlife to touring the city, I could count the hours of sleep I got in the first week on two hands.

For my third Spanish class, the professor took our class to a high school in Valencia for an “intercambio,” where we would have conversations speaking in Spanish to them and they would reply in English. The whole experience was pretty cool, but I kept wondering what we sounded like to a person who was completely fluent in both languages. If a bilingual person were listening to our conversation, would they laugh at the stupidity? Did we actually understand each other or were we just pretending?

At the dinner table, I have the same thoughts. When I first arrived, having conversations with my host mom, Amparo, who does not speak any English, was very stressful and confusing. But after a couple of weeks, we have begun to understand each other better. But still, as my roommates and I tell stories and laugh at Amparo’s jokes, I wonder what the bilingual fly on the wall is thinking. Do our Spanglish conversations make sense or are we all just giggling to pass the time?

Even though my Spanish has already improved tenfold, it’s sometimes nice to not understand what people are saying. The other day I purchased a “Valenbisi” card to rent bikes and ride around the city quickly. I was waiting at a crosswalk in my first few minutes on the bike when the walk signal was about to turn green. The people in Valencia are worse drivers than those in Boston – and that’s saying a lot. They act like there is no speed limit and seem to have no care for pedestrians. As I was about to cross the street on my bike, an old woman began yelling something at me in Spanish; I was able to just nod my head and ignore her… because I had no idea what she was saying.

But sometimes it’s frustrating, like when my Spanish teacher refuses to speak in English, even to answer an important question.

In general, though, the Spanish language is beginning to sound more and more familiar to me.

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