My oh my, where do I even begin? March has brought so much new and so much endearing routine. Thankfully the new includes the arrival (more or less) of Spring!
Since I still hadn’t been to the El Faro Cabo Mayor, the lighthouse in Santander, nor tried rabas, basically fried calamari, my friend Ana took on a little adventure one Sunday afternoon. She picked me up from my flat and drove to the lighthouse which has a teeny café next to it so we sat outside by the ocean, soaking up the newfound sunshine and sharing a plate of rabas. We took a stroll through the surrounding parks and ventured out to a narrow strip of land that juts out just past the lighthouse itself, from which you can see the ocean, the coast all the way to the East, and most of the city. I think it might be my new favorite place in Santander.
That Tuesday while I was taking the bus to one of the families I work for, we were sitting at a stop light and it was raining relatively heavily, and suddenly a window on the opposite side of the bus from me completely shattered and collapsed. There was an older lady sitting right up next to it and thankfully she wasn’t hurt but I’m sure she got a terrible fright with the noise and all the glass falling on her. It was completely out of the blue. The bus driver went over to inspect it but the bus continued its route and we all just stayed away from it. Just something to spice up a Tuesday I guess!
The first Wednesday of March was ash Wednesday so, like any remotely-Catholic, I went to mass that morning before class. Since Spain is more culturally Catholic than spiritually, I was trying to mentally prepare to explain in Spanish why I’d be walking around with dirt on my forehead all day, but as it turns out I didn’t need to. Normally the priest gives you a generous smear of ashes mixed with a bit of water, but instead I had some dry gray ash sprinkled on my hairline. I’m not sure if it was that particular priest, that particular church, or just Spain in general that does it differently but I found it rather bothersome because it looked like I had some dust falling from my hair every time I moved. Ah Spain.
That weekend I went on a weekend trip with an Erasmus (the European study abroad program) group to León and Burgos. Normally I steer clear of Erasmus trips because they mostly consist of drinking and pulling all-nighters partying, but this one seemed to have a pretty solid itinerary and it had been a while since I’d visited elsewhere within Spain. On the bus ride there I ended up next to a girl from Brazil who was super sweet and it was great to be able to speak Spanish with someone (not all, but many of the english-speaking Erasmus kids don’t really put any effort into Spanish). And in front of us was one of my classmates who’s from Barbados but studies in England and a boy from Mexico, so we all ended up talking about food from our respective countries which was super interesting. León was first stop of the weekend and some students from Leon’s university gave us a basic (like really basic) tour/history lesson of the city and then we went to visit the Cathedral. Like all churches in my opinion, it was beautiful, and they gave us audioguides that told us the complete history of the construction and architecture of the church, so my history geek/civil engineer/nearly architecture major was really happy.
We had some free time after that and since it was pretty cold, we took a coffee break and went back to the hostel for a bit. I was sharing a room with Catrina and Paula and, being Floridians, we were kind of cold so we had varying layers of sweaters and blankets, dreading the time when we would have to go back outside. I think Catrina won though because she was basically a blanket cocoon on the couch.
The whole group met back up in the main square but, being Spain, everyone was super late so we were the first ones there. While we waited a group of people wearing tradition dress came marching up the street dancing and playing music. They stopped and performed for a few minutes in the square and then proceeded on through the town. We had know idea who they were or what the performance was so we asked a lady and she said they were a group of people from León who simply liked to practice the traditional song and dance and did performances like these throughout the city every so often. It was a nice tidbit of culture. When the rest of the group finally came, we did a pub crawl (which was also technically dinner). We were split into groups randomly and I was with a few German kids, a Chinese girl who actually wasn’t a student but had been living in Spain for 7 years and came on the trip, and a couple others. At each bar we got a pinxto, a drink, and a challenge. These included being required to feed each other, limbo, passing an ice cube, etc. And one boy in my group couldn’t eat gluten so instead of getting beer at each place they gave us wine, which I was super happy with. Then we went to a club for lots and lots of dancing. I left around 2 AM because we had to be up at 8, but that was considered early, even though I ended up only sleeping for about 4 hours.
Unfortunately Spaniards are Spaniards and some people are just generally inconsiderate so we were several hours late getting to Burgos (and we were only going to be there for a day to start with). We had just enough time to explore the beautiful Cathedral before we headed back to Santander, but let me tell you, it might just be the most beautiful Cathedral I’ve ever seen (before anyone calls me out, the Sagrada Familia is not a Cathedral [yet]).
March, like November for first semester, was also my month of exams. From the week after the trip to León and Burgos to the first week of April right before Easter break I had an exam each week. In a way it’s better that they’re all evenly spaced, but after the third week I was also really tired of studying all the time and just wanted it to be over.
The only bump in the road there was my first Ingeniería Sanitaria exam. The Spanish classes are slightly different from the Cornell Program ones and I had never taken a exam in Spanish (that wasn’t simply about Spanish language) so I was a bit nervous to start with. For some reason the professor arbitrarily decided to have the exam outside of class (not the norm here) and told us it would be held on a Thursday at 1PM because the Spanish classes have a break from 1-3:30. The Cornell Program classes, however, have the break from 2-4 (because that was the old system and the Cornell Program never updated for some reason…) so I immediately informed him that I have class during that time. He said I could just take it at 2 then, which was kind of annoying, but I thought it would be fine. I know that the exam had a 15-minute theory section and then a math problem section that would also be timed. I started right as the last of my classmates finished so I was the only one in the room. My professor gave me the theory part and I tried to keep a good pace because even though I knew the material really well, it takes me a bit longer to read thoroughly through questions in Spanish. I looked around after a bit and realized there was no clock and I didn’t have a watch, but I figured the professor would tell me when my time was up, the same as during all exams I had taken up to that point. He didn’t. I got through it relatively quickly and, thinking I still had time, double checked everything thoroughly. When I handed in the theory and asked if I could start the next part he looked confused, looked at his watch, and said that I had gone ten minutes over (so I took nearly double the time allotted). I was dumbfounded and tried to tell him that I had no way of knowing how much time had passed or had left because there was no clock anywhere and that I thought he would tell me when I was out of time, but he didn’t let me finish and said it was fine and to just start the math part. I was so embarrassed, confused, and even more nervous because I still didn’t have any way of knowing how much time I had and I didn’t know if he would subtract that time from my math section or even let me know when that time was up. A few minutes in I asked him a question about the given information and he told me that I was using the information for problem one to try to solve problem two, which was why I was having problems. At that point I was so embarrassed, confused, nervous, irritated, and generally upset that I was trying to hold back tears as I erased everything I had written down so far and started over. Once again, he did not tell me how much time was left, nor when I was supposed to finish so I went as quickly as possible, worried that he was going to suddenly stop me before I had finished, handed him the exam, and left before I really started tearing up.
I knew it could’ve gone better, but I was pretty confident that I had the right idea and did everything correctly for the most part at least. Exactly a week later I got an email saying that the grades were posted. In all other classes, both Cantabria and Cornell Program, either our grades were available on our individual Moodle accounts, or we were sent an email with every person’s grades but with only ID numbers instead of names. For whatever reason, for this class they posted the grades of the entire class on one document, with the breakdown of points for each section and everything, with full names listed next to each score. Lovely. I almost passed…but not quite. I had aced the theory, but hadn’t done very well on the math. Surprise, surprise. Clearly I knew the material and my score had nothing to do with the langauge barrier because otherwise the theory part also would’ve been really low. At that point I wasn’t even disappointed, I was just mad. The professor, however, later told me that I was actually above the mean, which was a bit concerning considering it wasn’t a passing grade.
Thankfully the second exam was during class so I took it with everyone else and the professor gave us warnings with respect to how much time we had. I was the first one finished with both parts and it went much better than the first one.
In much happier and more exciting news, as you may have seen in my last post, I’ll be spending (or spent, depending on when I finally post this) Easter in Rome and I miraculously was able to get tickets to all the Holy Week masses, even this late in the game. I am ecstatic for the holiest Holy Week ever!
Fluency update: In my IS class, the one I’m taking in Spanish, one day my teacher put up a slide with a diagram on it. My professor read all the lables and titles out loud as he explained the stages of the particular process, meanwhile I started copying the diagram. It took me a full 2-3 minutes, until I was about halfway through labeling, to realize that the words I was thinking in my head and the ones I was writing down were not the same but at the same time they were all the same in my understanding and processing of the information (if that makes any sense). In other words, the word I was saying in my head and the word written on my paper weren’t matching up but my brain couldn’t tell the difference between them. As you can see, I was really confused for a second. I looked back up at the slide and realized that the diagram was in English but my professor was of course reading and explaining it in Spanish. Therefore, my mind was repeating what it was hearing while my hand was copying what my eyes were seeing, but my brain extracted the same meaning from both so naturally that it didn’t even notice they were different.
I also sometimes find myself trying to explain or express something in English an the word or phrase that comes to mind is a Spanish one. Even though all the ones (so far at least) have had some sort of English equivalent, for some reason I feel like the Spanish version is more fitting for what I’m trying to say. A few examples have been lo que me dé la gana, agradable, and si te apetece. Out of curiosity,* maybe another Spanish-speaker has felt the same way about any of these?
*Wow, actually I was just about to write por curiosidad and then had to put it into google translate because I couldn’t even think of how the English phrase would be worded. I’m losin’ it guys.
The last weekend of March I also went to visit my granddad and uncle in Dublin (a relatively last-minute decision), but it was so wonderful that I’m actually going to make a separate post about it, so keep an eye out.
And shoutout to a family friend through Girl Scouts, Martha (whose granddaughters troops I used to volunteer with and whose son-in-law was my APUSH teacher junior year of high school (that was an interesting student-teacher relationship haha)) for sending me Girl Scout cookies (like she does so thoughtfully every year) despite my geographical distance!
Last bit of news so far but certainly not the least: I recently accepted an offer to work as a Civil Engineer intern for Cornell’s Facilities Engineering team in Ithaca this summer! I am over the moon because I miss Cornell dearly (except for the stress, but anyway) and I’m so glad that I get to extend what little time I have left just a little bit more. If you’ll be in Ithaca this summer please tell me so we can hang out!!
See you all super soon 🙂