I am officially more than halfway through my program here in Madrid. It’s still pretty surreal that I am living and working here. I often have to remind myself “I’m actually in Spain right now. Disfrutalo.”
It’s been a little difficult trying to keep up my momentum and remember that there are still things here that I need to see. I still need to visit El Museo del Prado, and La Reina Sofia. I still need to ride a cable car in La Casa de Campo. I have gotten very stuck in my routine of going to work everyday and coming back home only to sleep. The mixture of the heat and working a full-time job is very tiring. I have also been traveling almost every weekend, but I’m trying to maximize my time here and see all that I can see. This weekend I got very sunburnt in Valencia. It was hot, and beautiful. The ocean was the perfect temperature and crystal clear. The city was very charming as well.
I made some new friends on the trip too. I met a girl named Vivian. She amazed me when she asked if I preferred English or Spanish, and then proceeded to talk on the phone in Hungarian. She was really cool and helped me understand some phrases in the book I’m reading in Spanish. I think that trip gave me a bit more confidence with my Spanish speaking abilities just because I was able to talk to so many people and they didn’t automatically assume I spoke English! Someone was even surprised that I did, which was all I ever hoped for.
Luckily, I have a good grasp on the Spanish language, and it is definitely in part because of my Pitt education. I think my academic minor in Spanish has well prepared me to be able to speak the native language here. However, in some ways, I do think it has failed me as well. Learning Spanish at Pitt has been sort of a wild ride for me, and I think this is true of other students as well. Some of it has been really good, but there have been downsides as well.
I have had some amazing Spanish teachers that have taught me a lot and really helped me gain more confidence in my Spanish speaking abilities. They taught me all the basics I needed to know and forced me outside of my comfort zone by assigning presentations and video recordings of myself.
Unfortunately, I have also had some not-so-great teachers. I have felt like some of my ability decreased after taking certain classes, and there was one point where the school had to apologize on behalf of a teacher for not teaching us adequately. That was a low point in my academic career. There were times that I felt very discouraged by being called out on in class and just being embarrassed because I had no idea what to say. It can be intimidating with a large class size, especially when you think you’re progressing at a slower rate than some of your peers.
I have had to do a lot of work to bridge this gap between where my education has and hasn’t prepared me. And I can’t entirely blame Pitt, because a lot of what I just described are things that I have internalized: feeling discouraged, embarrassed, intimidated. Not that one teacher though. That was not an internalization. He would teach us Portuguese instead of Spanish… But, moving on, I have had to overcome this a lot by just changing my way of thinking. I would always tell everyone who asked me if I know Spanish: “Puedo hablar, pero no entiendo bien.” This means “I can speak it, but I can’t understand it very well.” And that has been my way of thinking this entire time. I kept telling myself, I can’t understand well. But if I think that way, then I’m never going to understand well. I will subconsciously not even try to understand well. So this week, I’m going to tell myself, “Entiendo todo”, or “I understand everything”. And although I’m sure I won’t understand everything, I will definitely understand a lot. I have already seen results today. On my way to work this morning, I kept telling myself, I’m going to understand everything. Consequently, I am working on a video of interviews from parents of the children that go to school here. Most of them speak Spanish. I asked my co-worker to help me to make sure I understood everything. We would watch one, and I would try to explain what I heard and everytime she would say, “That’s exactly right. See, you understand everything!” And it was pretty incredible! Just by changing my way of thought, I was able to improve my ability of understanding so much!
The way we think impacts so much of how we live our daily lives, but it can be a process to completely rewire your brain to think that way. Especially when it’s so easy to get caught up in negative thinking. I have been thinking negatively about my Spanish for far too long, and now I’m changing how I think. And I will see improvement in my ability.