I was 21-years old the first time I came to Madrid. In fact, that was the first time I ever left the country. I am now 30 and Madrid keeps up with my expectations. Malasaña, my favorite neighborhood, keeps speaking to me in even new ways as I and the neighborhood evolve year after year. The Madrileños (people from Madrid), who remain just as exuberant as I remember, keep me full of energy, even when I’m about to pass out from exhaustion. The buzz of this city is infectious and reminds my why I’ve dedicated a life to learning and absorbing all I can from this place.
So, let’s back up and paint the landscape of this adventure so far:
The trip here
I met the students in the JFK airport in New York (along with some of their families), and luckily, we had only minor hiccups on the way to Madrid. For some, it was their first time on an airplane as we embarked for Spain. When we finally arrived, everyone was drained, but full of curiosity and excitement to have finally made the journey.
My host family
The first day was jam-packed, despite the hovering eyelids from lack of sleep. We completed the orientation, went out for tapas dinner, and then finally, we crashed in the hotel. The next day we finally got to meet our families. The students were full of questions and wonder as to what their families would be like — and I admittedly had the same thoughts. Luckily for me, the family I’ve been assigned to is warm, inviting, and well-traveled, which makes me feel right at home. The family consists of Chavela, the mother, Pedro, the father, and Laura and Lucía, my two host sisters.
The mother, who picked me up with her youngest daughter, has been the perfect host and has ensured I am well fed and comfortable at home. She loves to host people and it shows. She’s been invaluable to me and is going above and beyond to make sure that I’ve got everything I need. She even prepared a welcome package for me, for which I’m very gracious.
The father Pedro is a geography professor at a university here and is an avid mountaineer who loves to hike and be outdoors. He is so well travelled that he’s been to Antarctica three times.
For the first time in my life, I have two sisters. Lucía, the youngest, plays guitar and sings Spanish songs (several that I know!), and Laura is about to head out to Turin, Italy where she’ll be continuing her education of International Studies.
I couldn’t be happier at home with them all. I’m also glad to have a larger family with whom I can converse regularly. My flow of Spanish is coming right back, although a bit clumsily, and I’m learning many new expressions and words that I hadn’t learned before. On top of that, I’m getting the true Spanish treatment – we’ve already eaten gazpacho, tortilla de patatas, and jamón everyday. To add, every morning this week, I woke up at 7:55am to watch the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona with Pedro (the father). It occurs every morning Monday through Saturday for a week, and luckily I was able to catch them all.
Through my interactions with the family, I’ve learned what music is popular today (which is great to add to my constantly-growing Spotify playlists), the entire history of the Royal Spanish family, and then some. It’s sensational to be with such a well-rounded family because I’m able to learn not just about Spain, the language and culture, but about other perspectives that will make me a more global person by the end of my stay here.
School and the students
School was a little rocky this week as me and students navigate our own responsibilities. Now that we’ve got one week under our belts, I think we’re all getting the hang of it. There’s a total of 50 students on the program, but I’m mainly responsible for two groups; the first group is ten girls who live in the same part of Madrid as me and the other is my Spanish language level group, another set of about 13 individuals. They’ve been the most wonderful groups! My neighborhood group in particular is punctual, respectful, and I’m loving getting to know each of them. My Spnaish language group is at an intermediate low level and this is the group that I’ve been leading into the community to practice what they’re studying in their classes taught by local teachers. I’ve been connecting with these students and am so fortunate that they’re participatory, punctual, and willing to try.
What we’ve seen so far
Our first day, we walked around the city to get acquainted. The heat here is tremendous but the students were in awe of the architecture and some of the cultural differences that they’ve already started to pick up on.
We’ve visited the Plaza de Toros, which was a place I had never visited before (or even wanted to visit), but luckily it was during the day when they weren’t tormenting the bulls in the ring.
We’ve also taken a bike tour along Río Manzanares, which got off to a rocky start, but in the end I was able to enjoy a solo cruise along the river past the soon-to-be demolished Calderón stadium of Atlético Madrid, all the way up to the Palacio Real and a view of the rest of Spain’s classic skyline.
The first excursion – Kayaks and Segovia
Yesterday, we went to a canyon in the middle of nowhere Spain to go kayaking on a condor reservation. We were required to keep our voices low so as to not disturb the vultures, which were seen resting on the precipices that surrounded us. Some would take flight with a wing span of about 4-5 feet, which left me in awe.
After a few hours of kayaking, we returned to the bus and spent the rest of the afternoon in Segovia, a town I had visited when I was last living in Madrid. From what I gathered, the students were impressed by its ancient aqueducts, which were constructed by the Romans before the birth of Jesus. They were such incredible engineers that they didn’t even use mortar to lay the stones; they were cut so perfectly that they all balance together and are still standing today.
Meeting up with old friends
So far, I haven’t had a chance to take a breath (or sleep for that matter), so I haven’t reconnected with my group of friends quite yet; however, I got to see Federica, Carlo’s sister, a few days ago who was here for a music festival. It was great reconnecting with her, especially since I’ve now seen her more than Carlo in recent years. Olivia and I stayed with her in Barcelona last summer, and now I’ve gotten to see her again this year in Madrid.
Soon I’ll be seeing others.
More updates to come!