My three favorite moments from my first week in Spain as a Language Assistant were:
1) jumping in salty waves on Barcelona’s coast before orientation
2) being greeted by all four members of my host family and my school’s English tutor at the train station in my town
3) being bombarded by cute kids screaming “teacher!” and running up to hug me the first time I entered each classroom
In short: at only a week in, I was thrilled with my placement. I was pumped to get the year going. And, of course, I was exhausted from the travel and transition.
First Day in Barcelona
I flew into Barcelona for my orientation a few days early to give myself time to explore. Prior to my flight, I joined a WhatsApp group of other Meddeas folks — which I found through our Facebook group — who also wanted to adventure around the city. One of my now closest friends in Spain was on the same flight as me and recognized me from my WhatsApp photo while we were in line for currency exchange!
Once I was settled in my hostel, I debated whether to meet up with the group. I was exhausted from lugging around my luggage and navigating a new city and wasn’t sure I was up for being social. Now, of course, that very group are some of my closest friends and I can’t imagine how different my experience would be if I hadn’t gone to meet them for a glass of wine and some tapas!
Exploring the City
We spent the rest of that day walking around Barcelona’s streets through the Gothic Quarter, trying tapas at probably five different restaurants, running into a parade, meeting up with even more Meddeas people, and sharing the stories of how we ended up here. I’ll admit: I’d imagined my first night in Spain would be spent alone, feeling anxious about my decision to come, but instead, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, looking forward to another day exploring the city with my new friends.
The next day provided perfect weather for hiking in Parc Güell, swimming in the Balearic Sea, and enjoying more tapas once every couple of hours. As a tight-knit group, we hiked for a 360-degree view of the city, found a beach-side restaurant, and a few of us even squeezed in a few songs at a karaoke bar before calling it a night.
Meddeas Induction Meeting
The Meddeas orientation, itself, was a very full day of learning. The schedule managed to fit in how to teach English lessons, how to get our residency, medical, and social security card, host-family etiquette, and more – all within one day. The best part was meeting people with placements all over Spain and planning to travel accordingly!
My New Home, Granada
The only thing left to do was traveling to my new home, a town called Santa Cruz de Mudela. I wasn’t sure what to expect from such a small town — population of about 4,000 — about halfway between Madrid and Granada, in the South of Spain. I’d got the sense that there weren’t too many English speakers, and that the language barrier might make the first few days pretty difficult, so I was trying to be prepared for anything.
Actually, traveling there took basically a whole day. Picture a young woman with a 40L backpack on her back, another pack on her front, wheeling two hard-shell suitcases behind her, trying to use her phone to navigate her way to and from the bus to the airport, and doing her best to text her host family in Spanish with updates.
Meeting My New Spanish Family
Finally, the actual moment of arrival came and it was, of course, a little awkward, but mostly it was wonderful. All four members of my host family greeted me at the train station and after we took a tour of their beautiful home (with the English tutor from the school to help translate the basics), we strolled around the town. Being so small, it’s hard not to know everyone, so as soon as we walked into the plaza we were swarmed by curious folks wanting to meet me. It was lovely.
On my first full day in the village, I went to a restaurant (and then a bar, and then another restaurant) with Toñi, the mother of my household, Lucía and Álvaro, the kids, Toñi’s seven friends, and their collective 16 kids. It was such a scene, I felt like I’d been dropped into a chaotic Renaissance painting.
Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!
My first day at school was also a bit chaotic, but joyful. I can’t make up the fact that every time I entered a room — no matter the grade — kids would come up and hug me one-at-a-time or even as a group. By the second day, I learned that I’d see five kids at a time for 15-minute intervals in the main classroom: a pretty perfect placement, I think.
There were many moments where the language barrier was a struggle. For example, when I tried to explain to my colleagues that my dad owns a therapeutic business focused on attachment and instead said something probably equivalent to “He is a boss and works with families who take children with problems of their head.” However, the moments in which my host family or my colleagues and I were able to understand each other felt so good. Crazily, a week in, I felt like I’d already grown comfortable making mistakes and had even corrected a few.
I’d never done anything like this before. I’d never really traveled abroad in any significant way and had definitely never traveled alone. I’m also not the most extraverted person, and while one of my main reasons for choosing this adventure was to push myself out of my comfort zone, I was particularly worried about the first few days.
Now, of course, I feel accomplished for navigating so many new experiences in such a short period of time. After only the first week, Meddeas was fulfilling my desire to become a more confident and flexible person. The thing I remember thinking the most during that first week was how lucky I felt to be in Spain, and how much I was looking forward to all the adventures to come.
By Hannah K., 2019-2020