It’s the end of another lively Level 1 Spanish class at the International Language School in Madrid.
Me and my front-row friends, Bang Bang and Soonim, are packing our bags and giggling while trying to share in Spanish our happenings for the rest of the day.
Soonim was a professor for 30 years in Seoul. Her husband’s an international engineer, so she’s here in Spain with him – learning a new language, going to museums, and taking weekend trips around Europe.
I’m impressed with Soonim’s ability to make the jump from Korean to Spanish – it’s like learning two languages because of the whole new alphabet.
Bang Bang is no-BS Thai Masseuse from Bangkok. Her massages cost 45 euro an hour (a bit different than the $3/hour massages we picked up in Pattaya).
Bang Bang loves to correct people’s bad Spanish with her (expert) Spanish, laughs a lot, and holds onto my arm which makes me feel like we’ve been friends for a while.
Our class is made up of 15 women hailing from countries like Libya, Syria, Iran, China, Ukraine, and Russia.
Before my first class, I envisioned becoming friends with other American girls abroad. I think it was because I was missing my American girl friends. And while I still miss them, I’m constantly filled by the diverse friendships and learnings of new friends from faraway places.
My favorite thing about the whole class is that everyone is from a bunch of different countries and speaks in a bunch of different accents.
And the only language we all can speak is really, really bad Spanish.
Imagine the tower of Babel. It’s something like that but with friendly women who are desperately trying to express themselves and can’t figure how to conjugate the word for “I try.”
The scene of all this is hilarious to me and I’m surprised our professor doesn’t burst out laughing mid-class.
After the two-hour class, I take my subway/walking commute back to our flat, which sits on the Madrid River Park, housing miles and miles of walking and biking trails through the city.
About 7 years ago, the city planners in Madrid decided to bury the entire highway underground and transform the old grounds into a massive park (we’re talking miles!).
And that’s the Madrid River Park we live on.
A real estate agent told us it was the most expensive undertaking for a city… in the world… ever.
And he said Madrid is the second greenest capital city in the world after Tokyo.
Madrid’s filled with incredible architecture, culture, and temperate weather. The museums and churches are stunning – and have so much history to them.
*this picture may or may not be stolen from my brother in law, Neal.
The restaurants serve lots of tapas, seafood, and paellas. But try not to be hungry between 4-8:30pm because nearly every restaurant will be closed for siesta.
Joe’s teaching in a suburb a few miles outside of downtown Madrid and seems to be
a true natural.
I know this because I’ve heard stories of him spinning around like a planet in biology class, making sweeping body gestures during English pronunciation, drawing out insights from the shiest girl in class, and having long-time teachers seek him out for advice.
Most importantly, he’s beaming at the end of his days.
My afternoons are filled with writing and developing content for clients in Australia, Mexico, Milwaukee, and San Diego. I take breaks to walk the city, grab coffee with a friend, or attempt something called cooking.
Joe had the idea for me to bake 10 loaves of banana bread for our building neighbors.
It turned out to be brilliant.
When you knock on someone’s door in Spain, it’s custom to invite them in. They’ll say, “Pasa pasa,” and wave you inside.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 10pm on a Thursday. (Granted, people are usually finishing dinner around this time).
But an older woman who had just been put to bed by her caregiver invited us to “Pasa pasa” and come speak with her while she lay nestled in bed. (I was sure to tell her I really liked the notebook on her wall – which of course, was a picture and not a notebook).
I also later learned in my Spanish class that bringing over a dessert is the ideal thing to do when visiting someone in Spain.
So with our mini loaves of banana bread (which may or may not have been slightly burnt), we entered the homes of Spanish families and neighbors. They would visit with us for 15 to 30 minutes or even up to an hour.
Everyone was open and greeted us right away. They were ready and relaxed to have us in their home – as if they had been waiting for us.
At first, I thought it may be a generational thing.
But as we moved downstairs, a young Spanish guy about our age invited us to come in on a Friday night.
Even though he was clearly relaxing by himself and watching a movie, he gave us a tour of his whole place and chit-chatted with us for a while.
After that, we hit lucky door number 4 and found a few young roomies living together – two Spanish guys and a girl from Romania (who’s doing an internship in human resources!).
We chatted for an hour in a mix of Spanish and English – and had them up for homemade Pizza Thursday the following week.
With all of this interaction,
it’s likely my Spanish skills are improving. It must be true because every now and then, I manage to say brilliant things to bank tellers like, “I want to touch the money.”
That’s right, I want to grab that euro and fondle it.
The deli guys at our grocery store get smiles on their faces when I’m back again to ask for chicken fillets. Each time our conversations get longer by one or two words.
We’re having a lot of fun living in Europe.
I get excited every day to be here.
From the ease of walking to the grand Cathedral to buying bananas from a local fruit stand, the settling peace of being where I want to be softens me like a melting stick of refrigerated butter.
And really, I find it’s the simple things I get the most joy out of – the things I can do anywhere: have a relaxing dinner in with Joe, explore a new place, take a train ride, learn a language, walk outside, connect with family, sip tea.
There’s a lot of joy
and overflowing in the everyday.
My hope is that I do a good job realizing it and taking it all in.