Settling in and Touring Towns like Toledo


David, Me, Donya, Eliza, and Mason in Toledo, Spain.

Ever since I was little, I’ve heard about this mythical country from which my ancestors left, Spain. To me, it’s always felt like I’ve had some sort of pull to this place, anytime my mom mentioned our Spanish heritage, anytime my grandma would break into Spanish, and anytime the subject of Spain was mentioned in school, I’d perk up, always knowing that in my veins runs Spanish blood, or rather Sangre. Yet, I’m not a native Spanish speaker, despite every one of my four grandparents speaking fluent Spanish, my parents never learned how to speak the language and thus neither did I, creating an immediate barrier between me and this beautiful country, a language barrier to be exact.

Parque del Oeste, Madrid.

It is for that exact reason that I decided to embark on this journey, and it is why Spain is now the first country out of the United States that I’ve been to. However, no amount of prepping in Spanish class could have prepared me for the immersion that I experienced my first week here. Upon landing, the language barrier quite literally hit me in the face as I went through customs. For some reason, I was expecting the customs agent to speak both English and Spanish (spoiler alert: he did not), and needless to say I was quite shocked to find out that I would be tasked with explaining my reasoning for visiting Spain in Spanish, and boy was that an experience I will remember.

Casa de Campo, Madrid.

However, just like with swimming, being thrown into the deep end of Spanish has definitely helped me with my Spanish and communication skills in general. Every day I understand a little bit more that my host mom says than the previous, everyday I pick up a new word or phrase that I didn’t know before, and everyday I feel a bit more comfortable with my communication as a whole.

I was very nervous to leave the United States for the first time and was very overwhelmed when I first landed, but I’m starting to feel more and more connected to this place, España, as I continue my studies and continue to learn the language of my ancestors, Español. Whether that include hiking up the ancient history filled streets of Toledo, visiting La Catedral, or going out and ordering a Menu del Día in Spanish from a little restaurant after class. With this in mind, I have a little bit of advice for anybody else looking to visit their very own “motherland” like me.

Jardines de Sabatini.
  • Go. Just do it, especially if you’re scared about it. One of my favorite quotes goes, “If you’re not scared, you’re not taking a chance, and if you’re not taking a chance, then what are you doing?” Leaving the U.S. for the first time scared me so much, but I took the leap and after a week of being here I’m not sure I ever really want to leave!
  • Talk to people, and more importantly be prepared to listen. Some of my favorite interactions in Spain have been the authentic ones that I didn’t expect. For example, I had a 20-minute-long conversation in Spanish with my Cabify driver in Spanish about local bars and tourist attractions, and I’m still checking off some of the places she told me about. People have been more than willing to share their individual stories with me in Spanish, and this has helped tremendously with the immersion.
  • Make a journal and take lots of pictures. In this past week I’ve visited Parque de Oeste, La Casa de Campo, el Palacio Real de Madrid, Jardínes de Sabatine, and the ancient city of Toledo. These experiences have been filled to the brim with moments I never want to forget, and the best way to make that happen is by writing it down for future me to look back and reflect on.
  • Do your research and plan ahead. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a group in my program that are just as excited to travel across the Iberian Peninsula on the weekends like me, and we already have the next three weekends planned out. Putting in the effort ahead of time to figure out which places hold cultural significance to you, such as possible ancestral homes, will help out with costs and stress in the long run. With that in mind, I’ll be going to Sevilla next weekend, so stay tuned for next week’s blog post! ¡Hasta luego!
Toledo, Spain.