For el amor of Spanish: On Becoming Españolita

WARNING: This post is going to get cursi, like muy cursi (really sappy). And, there will be muchas fotos of me. With really red hair.

This is the story of how I fell in love with Spanish.

Yo en el Parque Montjüic, Barcelona. 2001.

Yo en el Parque Güell, Barcelona. 2001.

I did not grow up bilingual. My parents don’t speak Spanish (well, my mom is currently studying it – way to keep that brain young!). And, I didn’t grow up abroad. So, why the passion for all things Spain and Spanish? Where did it all start?

In middle school. Seventh grade Spanish class with Señora-no-me-acuerdo-como-se-llamaba-pero–se-teñía-el-pelo-de-color-púrpura-y-se-mordía-las-uñas-mientras-enseñaba (translation: Mrs. What’s-Her-Name).

It was either French or Spanish, and all my friends were signing up for Spanish, so I followed the crowd. That’s the one time I’m glad that I did.

Spanish was like a puzzle whose pieces I knew how to connect. It all clicked. I got it (That was NOT the same for math. Oh, the nights I cried over math homework.).

I understood how putting a certain subject pronoun with a verb changed that verb’s conjugation. Guay! If I said Si yo tuviera más dinero iría de vacaciones that meant “If I had more money, I’d go on vacation.” To my twelve-year old brain, it was a like a code that I had cracked.

spanish_notebook

At the dinner table that first day of Spanish class, I remember interrupting my two younger sisters (as I was oft to do – sorry!), blurting out my first memorized set of phrases: “Hola, me llamo Audrey y toco el piano.” (Oh, Dios mío, what a dork!)

Skip ahead to fall of twelfth-grade IB Spanish. Every kid in my class had already applied to like ten schools and had declared three majors (it was an insane high school!). This chica had no clue where to apply or what to study.

That was, until my profesora, Señora Solernou, asked, “¿Por qué no estudias español?”

“You mean, I can MAJOR in Spanish, my favorite subject in school??”

My life was set on a new course.

georgetown

I went on to major in Spanish, and during my time at Georgetown, I was pushed further and harder out of my linguistic comfort zone than I had ever been. I was surrounded by el hijo del embajador de no sé donde and the primo del hijo de no sé quien and hundreds of other NATIVE Spanish-speakers. This little white girl from Silver Spring, MD was in the big leagues now.

My amor for Spanish was temporarily overshadowed by my late-teenage angst at discutiendo el simbolismo of the “pupil” en la poesía de Bécquer in class lest I be judged for incorrectly using the subjunctive (now, ironically, my favorite verb tense. Yes, I know. I’m a nerd.). But, I charged ahead, completing every sentence tree diagram I was assigned. For el amor of Spanish.

photo 1

Evidence of my college-years obsession with making editorialized scrapbooks.

As a Spanish major I was required to spend my junior abroad. It came down to a choice between Argentina and Spain.

Boy, am I glad I chose Spain! So is D.!

The summer before my year abroad in Madrid, I worked three jobs and furiously saved EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY. I checked out all the books on Spain from the public library and would take them to work to read (I kid you not. Ask my mother.). I even made a “motivational wall” next to my bed: I taped up photos and magazine clippings of Spain together with motivational phrases like “Don’t buy another t-shirt at the GAP.” For el amor of Spanish.

I got on the plane in early September with $4,000 in my bank account. Today, that would be the equivalent of…well, you do the math (you, not me). My youngest sister bid me farewell in the airport, joking, “Bring me back a brother-in-law.” (How I met D. in a future post.)

La Puerta de Alcala in Madrid, Spain

Although the first month or so was a rough transition to life in another country (wait, vosotros who? ¿Cómo estAIS??), that year in Spain I came alive. Estuve en mi salsa (literally, “I was in my sauce.”). I felt like I had been waiting all of my 19-and-a-half years of life to be here (look, I warned you this would get cursi).

I attended every tapas tasting, every tableau flamenco, every Zarzuela performance, and every museum tour that our study abroad director offered. I got a job tutoring English to Spanish children. I would take the bus just. to. take. the bus. And, yes, I even got a Spanish boyfriend (no, not D…yet.) All for el amor of Spanish.

And, I never – I mean never – went to a bar or a club or out for copas without my trusty cuadernito (“little notebook”), tucked away in my purse. I would whip it out at 4 a.m. in a discoteca in Malasaña and shout to mi amigo español (our study abroad director would literally pay poor Spanish university students to hang out with us Georgetown students), “¿Cómo se dice ….?” “Queremos marcha means …. what?.”

All for el amor of Spanish.

photo 5

There really is no such thing as “too much ham.”

To make a long blog post short, I finished my year abroad, returned to the States to complete my degree and a year later moved back to Madrid. In that time, I met and married D., who through learning all of the above (in the MUCH longer version), nicknamed me ESPAÑOLITA. “Little Spanish lady.”

For el amor of Spanish.

mallorca

D. and me. Young and in love. Mallorca, 2001.

Do you remember when you fell in love with another culture? What do you love about language? Drop me a line!

11 thoughts on “For el amor of Spanish: On Becoming Españolita

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