Flipping the Switch




You would think that writing a blog post in my native language would be relatively simple, right? Or that with just over two months of my summer spent in Spain I would be ready for a day on the lake with my friends. Of course it’s still easy to let my thoughts flow in English instead of Spanish and of course I miss my home, but I’ve been noticing throughout my time in Spain that everyone has to flip the switch sometimes. Much like when I’m at home I think and speak in English, in Seville I think and speak mostly in Spanish. By doing this, I think my Spanish has improved immensely! But as I write in my journal or talk to friends and family, I notice myself struggling to stay in one language. As a Spanish major and an ESL teacher, I have seen that languages often differ in word order, colloquial mannerisms, and the importance of context. It’s also very easy to live in the moment and enjoy time here while I am living with new friends and visiting new places. It’s so cliché but it’s true: I’ve grown a lot during my time in Spain and that’s because I flipped a switch.

First off, linguistically, it’s no secret that the professors and everyone at TCCSevilla wants for us as students to become better and more confident Spanish speakers. Most everything from working out phone issues, explaining travel plans, and chatting about our lives all happens in Spanish. But if something needs to be translated into English by someone at the school, a switch gets flipped! Everyone’s mind turns to English! I know it seems like a weak work word but “extraño” or “weird” is the only word that I feel can even begin to articulate this experience. For the students and native language speakers the challenge is formulating the closest and most effective translation possible from Spanish to English. We sift through the contexts, vocabulary, grammar, and emotions involved in Spanish to recreate the sentence in our native language, often without even realizing that’s what we’re doing! Pretty cool, right? This is one benefit of being immersed in a language: it gets easier!

The other place I’ve seen this, linguistically, is in my relationship with the intercambios. For those who don’t know, intercambios are Spaniards who so graciously become friends with us students. They help us explore their favorite sites, take us to church, show us the best tapas, and help us guiris (sounds like giddies) seem a little more like Spaniards than Americans during our time here. A part of the fun in having an intercambio (or a few!) is that we practice both Spanish and English together! Through my friendships I have realized that many young Spaniards are taking English competency tests in their school and work so it’s as important to know English here as it is to know Spanish in the States! Without fail, every time I spend time with Spaniards I notice the switch flip when we start changing languages. Sometimes we even flow in and out of English and Spanish!

On the other hand, as excited as I am to be with friends and family again, I am a little nervous to flip the switch culturally back to the American way of life. Life here is not fast pace, I don’t work, and I’m only in class for a few hours a day. A coffee in Seville costs a little more than a euro and possibly a 20 minute conversation with a Spaniard who is interested in what you’re reading. We eat dinner at 9:45 pm and the golden rule is “thou shall always wear shoes in the house.” When I go back to Minnesota, I’ll shop in one grocery store instead of a market or a frutaría. I might even end up at Target where I can find all my favorite things in one place. I won’t get lost while walking flower and pedestrian filled streets, and I won’t be planning a weekend trip to Africa. And tragically, I’ll need to clean my house, do my laundry, and cook! Will I even remember how? While neither place is inherently better or worse, I feel like I carry a heavy burden of explaining life in Seville to the people that will never fully understand my experience. How will I explain tapas, siesta, or vale? Will I adequately describe the sunflower fields and outdoor gyms? Will I misrepresent this city and country that I have come to love with simple words like “cool” or “awesome”? How will I explain the memories I made with my new friends?  I’ll need to flip the switch.

I understand this is only a glimpse, but life in Seville is very different than life stateside. I’m going to need to flip the switch and change parts of my life just like I did when I arrived in Spain. I’ve become a more independent individual. I travel alone, I read in strange cafés, I ride my bike up and down the river just because, and I go with the flow. I’m looking forward to returning to the United States with new friends, new skills, new knowledge, and new experiences. Although I still lack the words to articulate my experiences, I’m excited to try! I know every student that has been on this program feels some of the same emotions in different ways. As we continue to reflect on our time in Spain, be patient with us, ask us questions, be excited to hear some Spanish, and know that we’re trying to make sense of it too. Who knows… maybe you’ll just have to visit Seville for yourself.

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