Pia Labalme is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for our Campus Reporter program. Pia comes to SYA from The Hotchkiss School (CT). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
It is almost impossible to believe that only six short weeks ago I was standing in line at the Boston Logan airport waiting to board a flight that would take me far away from home and right to the start of the exciting new adventure that lay before me. My excitement and nerves both grew exponentially as my new classmates and I neared our home to be, the beautiful and welcoming city of Zaragoza. To be honest, at that point I wasn't sure I could do it—dive right into a new life in a foreign country with a new family and a language I really couldn't speak or understand. Yet, here I am almost fifty days later writing about completing my first month. So, what has my first month in Zaragoza been like? Well, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that there is no simple answer to this question.
Laughing At Yourself Is Key
Upon my arrival, the most obvious and overwhelming issue was the language barrier. As you can imagine, this led to a series of unfortunate miscommunications and normally avoidable issues in my following days. I remember after our first day of school, we had an assignment to go out into the city and watch the sunset. Alone. "This should be easy enough," I thought—my family had shown me the way to the Pilar earlier in the week, and I was confident I could find my way there and back without a problem. Well, sure enough, I thought wrong. Actually finding the Pilar was only part of the issue however, and it hardly seemed to matter that I had in fact missed the sunset when I returned home and realized I was locked out of my apartment. As hard as I tried, the door would not open. Defeated, I sat down outside the door and waited 30 minutes for my family to return from looking for me.
However, despite my heavy sense of failure, my host family reassured and comforted me. "No pasa nada! No te preocupes!" They told me. Of course, I had no idea what these phrases meant, but I gathered they were some form of "don't worry" from their gestures and tones. Later at dinner, they laughed endearingly at me for not being able to use the key correctly, and I was only partially embarrassed when my thirteen-year-old host brother had to spend 10 minutes giving me a lesson. Since then, however, I have never had a problem opening the sticky door, and it made me realize something essential: that problems are inevitable, but being able to laugh at yourself and communicate with those around you is a much better learning experience then getting everything right the first time around.
In With The New
This is to say that my first few weeks in Zaragoza have been hard and messy and definitely not ordinary. However, they have also already opened my mind up to a completely new world filled with amazing people, a historic city and a beautiful language. While I'm still only part way up the climb that is assimilating to a new culture, while I still only have a small grasp on the language so far, it's all a process. And the beauty of a process is that you feel yourself progressing—every day understanding just a little bit more of the conversation at dinner, or feeling even more confident ordering a café con leche at El Criollo during descanso. Or when your host-relatives say your Spanish has really improved since they last saw you, or when you actually got a joke that your brother told at dinner and could laugh with the family, instead of just laughing nervously to make it look like you understood.
Cliché as it might be, the small moments like this are what make this experience so valuable. It goes without saying that SYA is a challenge. However, all of us have taken this bull by the horns (with technique learned by watching las vaquillas during Pilares!) and are improving every single day. Poco a poco y de día a día.
Love from Zaragoza,
Pia Labalme, SYA Spain