Reflections

Just about one week into my journey, I thought now would be a good time to offer some thoughts and reflections on my experience so far.  In many ways, this trip has been exactly what I expected, but in other ways, it is quite a departure from what I thought I would experience.  It’s still too early to say whether I like the whole thing or not, and when I say the whole thing, I am referring to much more than simply the country of Spain.  From what I have seen thus far, the center of Madrid is beautiful, well maintained, and full of friendly people.  I have yet to run across anyone who tries to push me aside while walking, nor have I been approached by any unsavory people, unless you count someone looking for donations for deaf and blind children.  (I gave her 50 cents.)  As far as me being away from home and living among the Spaniards, well, I’m not sure how well I am adjusting to that.  I still try to go to bed very early and I have spent a lot of time communicating with my friends and family back home through Facebook.  Originally, I wanted to isolate myself entirely from anything back home, but that would have been a huge mistake.  The problem I am having is finding the balance between staying connected and not letting go.

If you look at what I have done so far, you’d think I was wasting my time here, but I’d like to think with a full 27 days to do anything I want, I should space things out a bit.  I have already seen two major museums, (from the outside only, but I plan to go in later on) and I walked along the Gran Via, basically the Times Square of Madrid.  I still have The Plaza Mayor, which I almost ended up at by accident today (more on that in a bit) The Royal Palace, a huge park that I could spend the entire day in, and several other little spots I can hit throughout the week.  No, I haven’t taken any bus tours or eaten much of the local cuisine, but I have reasons for that too.  My plan has always been and will always be to simply leave this country both with a better grasp on the language, but also the confidence in myself to take on any challenge that may confront me and meet it head on.  If I don’t see all the famous landmarks, I’ll be OK.

The frustrations have been minimal for the most part, but that’s not to say they have not been aggravating.  My first weekend here, I managed to get myself quite lost.  Today, once again I missed the spot I wanted to get to and found myself once again in the hub of the city.  Clearly, that’s not the worst place to end up, but I had specific reasons for going to this place this afternoon and when I couldn’t find it, I was very discouraged.  The spot was a bar which tonight will be hosting an intercambio event.  People come with the specific intent of practicing the language they are learning.  Ana told me about it last night and since then I have been determined to get there, but there were two problems facing me, the first being finding it, and the second being the time in which the event takes place.  It starts tonight at 9:30.  If I were at home on my day off, going out at 9:30 would be no big deal, but suddenly the idea of walking around Madrid alone at night leaves me a little uneasy.  That is precisely why I decided to walk the path this afternoon in the daylight so when I come home later tonight I would be familiar with where I had to go.  Well, like I said, I managed to get lost in the daylight and when I finally gave up and decided to head back to the apartment, I was angry at myself for giving up and angry that I was potentially going to miss this event.  I tried to make excuses in my head to validate not going and I even tried to think of other things I could do to replace the event, but then I stopped myself.  I didn’t come all the way to Spain just so I could chicken out of the one event that exactly matches everything I want to do while I am here. I regrouped back at the apartment and, after going over the map again, much more carefully, I headed out, and this time, I found the place with no problem.  I was very excited that I did it and was confident I could make it there this evening.  I stumbled coming back, but found myself in a place I had been to several times before and made it home no problem.  Yes, it’s scary to get lost, and even scarier to get lost in a foreign country, but so far I have made it back each time without a scratch on me,  Amazing, isn’t it?

My biggest barrier so far has not been speaking, as I have been able to do it anytime I have had to, but being more outgoing in starting conversations.  I have had what I consider to be three successful attempts at brief conversations in Spanish.  On Saturday, I placed my order at Starbucks in Spanish and then talked briefly with the barista.  I asked him how many languages he needed to know to work there, as they were located in the heart of a tourist area, and he laughed and said four or five.  On Monday, after being unable to buy my dinner at a tiny Indian restaurant (the owner refused to let me place a to-go order.  I don’t know why) I walked to a pizza place and talked for a good five to ten minutes with Faisal, an Indian gentleman who ran the place.  He was incredibly nice and enjoyed our conversation, as neither one of us spoke Spanish as our first language.  On Tuesday, I introduced myself to the manager at McDonald’s and she was thrilled to show me around when she learned I worked at a McDonald’s in the United States.  I also talked a little bit to the cashier.  All in all, my conversations have gone well, but they are incredibly brief and nothing that is going to push me towards greater fluency.

The event tonight will truly be my first solid opportunity to talk in Spanish and I hope I don’t panic and ruin it.  I know how to get to the place and I seem to know more or less how to get home.  I don’t know how long I will stay, but hopefully I will be able to talk to at least two or three people before running home.  I am a little nervous about it being in a bar, only because I would prefer not to drink a lot.  My plan is to nurse one drink as long as I can and once it’s gone I may have to find the exit.  I still have three hours to ready myself.  This should be good.

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~ by James on May 7, 2015.

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