From Tourist to Tour Guide

Sarah E. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Potomac School in Virginia.

When I first arrived here in Zaragoza, I felt like a tourist. An outsider and a stranger to the city and its many different streets and sights. I used Google Maps while walking around, and always listened to the speakers on the tranvía to tell me what stop was up next. There have been many proud moments here where I’ve successfully arrived at places just from seeing a landmark, but I didn’t understand how much I really knew about this city until my family and friends came to visit me during these past two weeks of winter break. 

After sleeping off the jet lag from the seven-hour flight from Washington D.C to Madrid and then the train ride to Zaragoza, it was my job to give a tour of Zaragoza to my mom. Aside from the obvious (but necessary!) visit to Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, I took my mom on my tranvía route from school to my host family’s house and showed her my favorite restaurants and cafes. Later, when my friend from home arrived, I took her to the Puente de Piedra bridge overlooking Rio Ebro which in my opinion, has the best view of the basilica at night. 

A few days later I went with my (American) friend, Isabella, to see the new Jumanji movie. We originally intended to see it in English, but when we searched for “V.O.S.E” tickets online, everything was sold out. Refusing to give up on our plans, we impulsively bought tickets for the next show that was supposed to start in five minutes. The only catch? It was in Spanish, and there were no subtitles. Before seeing the movie I definitely did not think I was going to be able to keep up with how fast they would be speaking, but I was wrong! I was able to understand almost everything, and explained what was going on to my friend when she had questions. Even though it was a little odd hearing Dwayne The Rock Johnson with a high Spanish voice over, it was overall an eye-opening experience just knowing I could keep up. 

There was another moment during the trip where a woman and her Spanish-speaking family who weren’t from Zaragoza approached my mom asking her for directions to the theater. However, given that my mom never took Spanish, she simply gestured to me and I was able to successfully remember what street you have to walk down to get there and explained the directions to her. Even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal, switching so quickly from speaking English with my mom to explaining directions in Spanish made me realize how far I’ve come with my linguistic ability these past few months.

Since Zaragoza is a small, not-so-commercial city, you’re forced to speak Spanish. I remember at the beginning of the program the teachers explaining to us how December was a big milestone for SYA students in their language development. At first, it felt unnatural, and I couldn’t ever see myself feeling that comfortable with this other language. Nevertheless, here I am, five months later, telling this woman what streets to take in a city and language to which I once felt like a stranger. Even though I still have a long way to go with my Spanish, it doesn’t feel so impossible now. These moments are just a few reminders of how far I’ve come, and I’m excited to have many more!

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