What. A. Week.
I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by saying that this is the first time that I’ve had time to sit down and really take everything in. I’ve been in the country for 10 days and sometimes I still look out my window and can’t believe it. With the view I have, how could I not?
But before I get into all of that, I’ll start from where I left off:
The Journey to Spain
After I had what I considered to be sufficient battery in my phone for the next 12 hours of my life, I left the Helsinki gate and went off to wander around and hopefully find the gate of my own. It was still about an hour and a half before we were supposed to board so I wasn’t in any particular hurry, but I wanted to make sure that I figured out where I was supposed to be to avoid any and all issues. I picked a random hallway and started to walk down it, checking signs for Madrid as I passed. By pure chance, I ran straight into the gate in less than five minutes. Little did I know at the time that this would be the beginning of my long string of good luck that I somehow managed to carry from JFK to Málaga.
I hung out in the gate for a while, recharging my phone for good measure and looking around at the people in the terminal. Do you ever wonder about who you’re surrounded by? I looked at person after person, wondering if they were going home, flying to Madrid as a layover, or if they were just like me. Who else was doing something new that they hadn’t ever before? Who else was a scrambled combination of giddiness and worry? I was brought back from my daze only moments later when a guy who looked to be about my age asked if he could sit down to plug his phone in too. Of course I obliged, and a little while later we got into the “Where are you headed?” conversation that I’d had so many times that day. I gave him my spiel and then asked what he’d be doing in Madrid, but it turned out that he was pulling a Helsinki hangout like I had earlier and was waiting for the next flight out of the gate at 9PM to Qatar with a final destination of Sri Lanka for a medical internship. Having someone to talk to that was doing essentially the same thing that I was definitely welcoming, though simultaneously realized even further what I was about to do. But destinations aside, here’s the kicker: He asked me where I was from and where I went to school, and upon the reply of Penn State made a snicker. Without missing a beat, I rhetorically asked if he went to Ohio State, even though I already knew the answer by his initial response. Though rivals, I think that we both found a sense of comfort in the fact that someone else was also about to jump in a plane and set off for a strange land.
By the time that the conversation began to wind down, my ticket group was being called so I wished the unnamed Buckeye luck and headed for the boarding line.
Navigating through the Madrid Airport ¡Hola, España!
After an hour delay in takeoff due to a burnt out light bulb in the pilot’s cabin, we left JFK. After an entertaining seven and a half hours of sleeping on and off, eating free airplane food, and listening to a section of German women clap and sing, we arrived in Madrid. It is at this point in the trip that I like to describe myself as a ping pong ball bouncing around or a puzzle piece trying different spots in the frame to find its place. To put it briefly: My conversational Spanish was sub par. I managed to make it to security before I actually spoke with anyone. While my two backpacks and other various contents passed through machine, the guards stared intently at a screen that beheld none other than my Epi-Pens. I’m allergic to a few things and have to carry them in case anything happens, so as I’m sure you can imagine I had an internal uh-oh-what-do-I-do-if-they-ask-me-about-these-I-have-no-vocabulary-for-such-things conversation with myself. Sure enough, the guard asked me what they were in Spanish and I began to fumble over words to describe what they were for. She then asked me for a medical ID, which (thanks to a last minute addition to my belongings by my precautionary mother ) I pulled out with a welcome sense of relief. THANKS MOM.
Once I’d dodged that bullet, I waited for my flight to Málaga. It was only supposed to be an hour in duration, and since the distance was so short they used a smaller plane since not many people were flying there at the time. Instead of using a tunnel, the passengers all had to go outside and then follow up the stairs as seen here:
I sat next to a happy Spanish man who whistled for majority of the flight while I slept. Upon arrival to Málaga, I picked up my luggage and headed towards customs. To my surprise, customs really weren’t the kind of customs that I was expecting. In Madrid, they at least stamped my passport and asked a few questions, but in Málaga, they said hi to me and pointed me to the airport exit. I never thought that it would’ve been so relaxed, but was too sleepy at the time to really think about it too deeply.
Since I arrived a day earlier than everyone else in my program, the next step was to try to find out how to locate the bus stop at the airport and navigate through the city to arrive at the hotel that I’d booked for the night. After wandering around for a little while, I found the stop and a bus came shortly after. Looking back now, a lot of the transportation from the beginning was based on being in the right place at the right time. I had read online that the bus was supposed to go from the airport to the hotel, but wasn’t particularly sure how to get to the hotel once I got off the stop. I had assumed that I would walk, but the site said that the hotel was slightly far from where the bus let its passengers off. My dad had looked at it in a previous day and said there was a “footbridge” to cross the street. Until I got there, I didn’t understand the caliber of what he meant. This is what I saw:
So here I am, in a strange country, with a language that I don’t yet fluently speak, pushing a three foot tall suitcase at its maximum capacity allowed while also toting two equally heavy backpacks up this HUGE “footbridge”. Even though it was the middle of the day, I was the only one on it at the time. And I couldn’t help but to burst out laughing at myself at the oddity of my situation. I had just successfully navigated halfway across the world on my own and the combination of that and the exhaustion that comes with a time difference was just too funny to me. Needless to say, after I closed the distance between the bridge and the hotel and checked in (successfully using some uncommon vocab from my Spanish classes, who knew it’d come in handy so soon?) I fell right asleep, still in my clothes from the day before.
En Route to Ronda
The next day I met the rest of the group at the airport when their flights came in and we drove to Ronda. I was so excited to finally meet my host family! When we arrived at the station, all of the host moms were eagerly waiting outside of the bus to meet us. Another student in the program and I were paired with the same family, so we waited together until ours found us. We took a walk from the bus station to her house, which was only a few short blocks away.
Inside, we met her dog, Ciro (THEE-roh) which is a mix between a black labrador and a daschund. Picture the face of a lab and the body of a daschund (or as they say here, salchicha, pronounced sal-chee-cha).
Shortly after, her son came downstairs. I had previously assumed that I’d be doing the typical cheek-kissing Spanish greeting, but I forgot that it was both cheeks and not just one like it is with Spanish speakers from Latin America that I’ve met. I felt weird about it at first after only doing one side, but it served as a good ice breaker and we all laughed about it later on. My host brother’s name is Pablo and he works from home in a realm of the business world. After getting to know them after this week, a few things are clear: they’re both incredibly nice, Pablo speaks some English, and my mom is a fantastic cook. Pablo helps to close the language gap and supply Spanish words when I don’t know the translation, and my host mom makes the greatest food. The first day that we arrived we had what she told us was a traditional Spanish dish, called tortilla española. It’s made from potatoes and eggs and is much different from the typical tortilla that most are familiar with in the United States. Instead of being completely flat, this one is about two inches tall. When eaten with tomatoes on the side, it’s a wonderful combination. I also have another host brother named Juan who is coming home this upcoming weekend to celebrate his birthday. We also go to Madrid this weekend for a few days, so there’s a lot to look forward to in the coming days.
As for what I’ve been up to since arrival, I don’t know where to begin. There’s so much to do, to see, to hear about. We’ve put a week of classes behind us and have seen and done tons of incredible things. Stay tuned for an insight to them in the following posts!