My final week in Madrid was very bittersweet. It was one of the busiest weeks of the program in a social sense because everyone always wanted to be doing things and take advantage of our final days there. We all went out to salsa class, karaoke, and (of course) our farewell lunch on Friday. At work, I found myself spending more time talking to my co-workers and paying attention to the different conservations going on in the office throughout the day. I went out with the group of interns on Wednesday to celebrate the last day of another intern. Then on my last day, one of my co-workers, Erika, took me and the other interns out for a coffee. She was one of my favorites in the office, so it was nice to get to go out with her and here about her life and how she ended up in Madrid (she’s originally from Chile). She explained that she went to Madrid for love after meeting her now husband at an English school in London. Her husband is Italian and they now live in Madrid with their two children. I found this story to be so beautiful and it made me so happy because after hearing this story I realized how much I was now able to connect with people in a different language and to understand different aspects of their lives. This moment was a really important example of how much my Spanish improved while in Madrid. At the beginning of the trip, I probably would not have understood every detail so this story showed how much improvement my Spanish has seen.
I left work an hour after my break in order to make it to lunch on time. It was really sad to leave my office and everyone there. Everyone was so kind throughout the past two months and really did their best to help me succeed and be comfortable in the organization. My co-workers helped me in a lot of different ways throughout my time with Manos Unidas. At the beginning, everyone was very willing to explain things to me so that I could properly understand everything I needed to know. Throughout my time there, my ability to understand grew immensely but sometimes I still did not understand the entire set of instructions or explanations. In order to make up for what I didn’t directly understand verbally, I relied heavily on non-verbal clues and context. Observance was key to understanding these clues. I began to pick up on verbal patterns and words that were different in Spain than in what I had learned in my classes. For example, I began to understand that the word venga, which translates to the command “come on”, is actually something said to finish off a description of plans. I discovered that venga is not an instruction after following someone when I wasn’t supposed to. But I also really figured out its actual context and cleared up my confusion by observing the conversations of others. The context and observance of other conversations is how I cleared up a lot of my initial confusions about the language and manners of speaking in Spain. Throughout my time there, I picked up on a lot of slang and new words and manners of speaking by listening to what I consistently heard and practices applying them.
In addition to context clues, I also relied a lot on the corrections that my coworkers would give. I personally loved when people in Spain would correct my pronunciation or sentence set up so that I could learn and improve. I think that at first people thought that it would be insulting, but I always really welcomed the constructive criticism because it made it easier for people to understand me and for my Spanish to improve. I learned a lot and improved a lot through this different type of context, and am super grateful that I was able to build a relationship with my co-workers in which those suggestions were welcomed.
Overall, my Spanish improved greatly throughout my two months in Madrid. My work was reading and writing focused, which increased my literacy greatly and has made me a much more efficient worker in the language. I gained exposure to speaking during my breaks and by spending time in my homestay and the city in general (in different stores and restaurants). The exposure to speaking was more difficult to find and to feel comfortable taking part in; however, once I became more confident and began to join in on conversations, my speaking and understanding skills improved as well. Now, I am really proud of how far my Spanish has come and look forward to continuing to work and improve it so that I can use this skill for the rest of my life. Back home in the States, it is much more difficult to find this exposure, but I am determined to find ways to make it work so that I can keep moving forward.