The beginning was simple – enrolling in a Spanish class to fulfill a language requirement; a passing comment from my teacher about an upcoming trip to Spain. Never could I have anticipated the impact it would have on my life.
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Throughout my first three years of studying Spanish, I fell in love with it. I was conversing in the language at work, watching movies in Spanish, even following blogs of people living in Mexico. I’d never traveled far from home, but had always felt a sense of wanderlust. I knew that the upcoming trip to Spain would be a dream come true. I had a significant amount saved up from working summers, so I could afford it myself. About nine other kids chose to come along as well, most of whom had only studied Spanish for one year. Several informational meetings and much studying later, I found myself on the 24 hour journey from miniature Wasilla, Alaska to Madrid.
The second our exhausted cohort stepped off the plane, we were whisked onto a shuttle and went on a whirlwind tour of Madrid. I was immediately taken with the beauty of the city; everything was perfectly maintained, the people dressed incredibly well, and bright flowers were in sight everywhere you looked. The street names were pronounced by painted mosaic tiles, and the streets bustled with those who chose to commute by bike or foot. In the center of the city was a plaza; people there dressed as cartoon characters and hugged children, or painted themselves as faded copper statues and would hold so perfectly still that you weren’t sure if they truly were real. I’d never seen anything so vibrant and alive; I was in love.
However, even with how much I’d studied my Spanish, I had little confidence in it. I was a timid person to begin with, and Spaniards spoke quickly and with accents very different from that of my El Salvadorian teacher. I was dying to dive into the energy of the city, and I was determined not to let my fears hold me back from this amazing opportunity. Right away, we were given a challenge by our guide; along with other “scavenger hunt tasks”, we had to exchange some money. This was terrifying; it necessitated effectively conveying a message and understanding the response. The last thing we wanted to do was be the clueless tourists who gave up all of their money.
“Perdoname, puedo cambiar dinero aquí? Tengo veinte dolares, necesito pesos.” With that stammering request, I had passed the first exam. I couldn’t help but be filled with pride at this small success, especially as more people asked for my help accomplishing their own exchange. This bolstered me with the confidence that made this trip an incredible experience.
I’ll never forget the countless miles we walked over cobblestone streets to markets and street shops, the lights and music of the city at night, and the beautiful architecture and art that could be found within walking distance. By the final day, I’d made incredible friendships and fallen head over heels for the beauty of the city. On the flight home, I realized I truly had changed. The woman next to me spoke only Spanish, and needed to fill out a form in English. I translated all of it for her, and she successfully filled it out. Afterwards, we talked all about her life. I felt more confidence than I ever had; I was a new person. From a simple beginning grew a life changing experience; I couldn’t be more grateful for what Spain taught me.
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