Putting down roots in Valencia—getting to know the city and its opportunities, our host families, and Taronja, our school—has greatly enriched these past few weeks. As we face our last week here, we wanted to share reflections on past moments, enjoyable activities, those who have been kind enough to open their homes to us, and the school we’ve been attending.
Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Place
We left Madrid about two weeks ago and have been in Valencia ever since, staying with host families and studying Spanish. However, one of my favorite experiences from the trip so far happened in Madrid, so I would like to share a little bit about that experience (even if it is a little bit of a step back in terms of the timeline of our trip.)
This experience happened in, of all places, a laundromat, a day or so before we were slated to leave Madrid. It was later in the evening when I somehow struck up conversation with the only other person in the laundromat. He didn’t have enough change to start the washer so I lent him some so he could get his clothes started before going to get some change at a nearby store. He did so and came back with something to drink for both of us. We sat and talked for a while until two couples came in with the same problem. They both went to the store and got some change and came back to chat while we all waited for our laundry. It turns out that the first man is from Chile and one couple is from Brazil while the other is from Honduras—so six people from all over the Americas met up in, of all places, a laundromat in Madrid, and enjoyed time together.
I personally had a great time and think this is something that I probably will never forget. I think it goes to show how simple, unexpected, things like this can be some of the most fruitful and I’m encouraged to look for more experiences like it in the remaining three or so weeks of our trip.
- This past Tuesday we had our weekly paella party where we were able to all have a meal together in the beautiful streets of Valencia. On top of that, there were many other students from Taronja, our school, at the dinner. After about 30-45 minutes of talking, relaxing, and drinking with those around us, the paellas were ready. After waiting in a short line, I received the Valencian style paella which included chicken, rabbit, and, most of all, rice. After eating one plateful of paella I was more than satisfied with the amount of food I ate. However, for those who wanted it, there was plenty of paella for seconds or even thirds. After eating, relaxing, and conversing with those around me, I called it a night as others had already started to trickle out.
- This past Thursday, most of our EMU group signed up for paddle boarding. When I got there, I made sure that the first thing I did was lather myself in sunscreen. Immediately after I finished putting on the sunscreen they informed us we would be wearing these tight wet-shirts they had for us—essentially negating the sunscreen process I had just gone through. I soon got over the fact that I had wasted 2 euros-worth of sunscreen, and they taught us how to use the paddle boards. We made our way into the Mediterranean sea where the “waves” were slightly bigger than you would find in the Great Lakes—in other words, the waves were big enough to make paddle boarding challenging, but not impossible. I found it to be pretty easy to stand up on the board; however, I also found myself to be pretty challenged with staying on the board once I was standing. I fell many times, and found it impossible to stand up while going in the direction of the waves. If you were to go against the waves, attacking them head on, it was much easier. Seeing the waves come at you made the movements of the board predictable, enabling me to stand for longer than 5 seconds. After about an hour, me, Jackson, Jason, and Morgan decided we needed something more to do on our boards; therefore, we started attempting front flips off of the paddle board into the sea. As it turned out, it’s difficult to get much height jumping off of a paddle board, but it was fun nonetheless. We ended up being out in the sea, not too far off shore, for a little over an hour. Overall, I personally had a blast with our group and getting the opportunity to paddle board for the first time.
- The next activity on Thursday was a tortilla-making class at the school—tortillas in Spain are much different than a tortilla you would find in Central America. The only ingredients in Spanish tortillas are potatoes, onions, eggs, olive oil, and salt. So immediately after paddle boarding I zoomed over to the school with 5 other EMU students (Jonathan, Kate, Zach, Laura, and Jonas) in order to participate in the class. Altogether, there were probably 20 students in this smallish room with a small kitchen in it. Chef Nando starts off by playing an intro song for himself as he busts out of the pantry. Chef Nando just had this unbelievable energy to him as he informed us about the Spanish tortilla and demonstrated how it’s made. After Chef Nando’s demonstration, he sat us all down in the next room around this large table. Chef Nando then explained that the best way to eat the tortilla is when it’s room temperature, with a slim piece of bread, and then a spread of tomato paste on the bread. When it is all put together, I can truly say that it tastes amazing. As we all ate, it was great to be able to intermingle with other people in the school and hear their stories. I was blessed with the opportunity to talk to Crystal, a student from Switzerland, for about an hour as we ate. It was fun to hear differences in our cultures, countries, and lives.
- The last event we had on Thursday was a flamenco show in this not-too-small but definitely not-too-large bar. There’s a small wooden stage and tables full of people surrounding it. One by one the three flamenco performers came out from a back hallway. First was the guitar player who started the guitar a little. Next was a fellow who primarily does the flamenco tap dancing, and then finally came the singer who also performed a fair amount of tap dancing. They performed for about an hour, sharing a number of songs ranging from slow to extremely fast and quiet to extremely loud. I was quite intrigued throughout the entire show. The show finished up around 11:40 which left me with a short 42 minute walk back home. 🙂
As we begin our last week with our host families, I’ve done some reflecting on how I’ve appreciated the relationships we’ve built with them. From our conversations every evening about our days to playing with our host dog Luna, I am so thankful for every moment of it. Two ways we really connected with our host family were through food and Lord of the Rings. Our host mom loves to cook and has made us many delicious traditional Spanish dishes for dinner. She has also expressed to us how much it means to her that we always eat all of the food she’s made and are not picky eaters. As for Lord of the Rings, one of our first nights here our host dad invited us to watch Lord of the Rings with him—little did he know Elizabeth is an avid Lord of the Rings fan. We picked up a little ways into the second movie with the audio in Spanish and English subtitles. Since Laura and I have never seen Lord of the Rings this was a bit confusing for us, but we have loved this special time to bond with our host dad. Now we are working through the third movie in bits every few nights and it makes our host dad thrilled every time we ask if he wants to watch some more.
Attending Taronja language school has added stability to our routine here in Valencia. The school provides about 4 hours of language learning a day but it’s not all textbook learning; there is a real emphasis on getting students out of the classroom and into the streets to use their Spanish and observe how it is being used around them. The other 4 hours of the day are free for students to do personal exploration to see the city: museums, parks, art exhibits or whatever else they desire.
Our group is broken up into three different levels of Spanish instruction: beginner, intermediate and advanced. However, for all skill levels the school is run with a language immersion philosophy. This means that there is essentially no English spoken during class time. The strictness to which this rule is adhered to varies a bit based on the skill level. It may seem counterintuitive to teach in the very language we’re trying to learn, but immersion is actually well known to increase comprehension and language retention.