Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Speed Test

Hello all!

It´s 11:00 on Saturday morning, my first full day at Valdelavilla. I had my first 1:1 session, and there is a surplus of Anglos in this group, so I actually have free time from now until noon. I´m seizing the moment to type as quickly as I can on the group computer, although it is a Spanish keyboard, so I have to backtrack occasionally to delete a mistaken ç-stroke.

So much to tell!

You may have noticed (especially those of you with a slow connection) the many photo posts I´ve been making. Although there is absolutely no cell phone signal of any kind up here, there is wifi in the reception/bar area. So I took those photos yesterday all around Val. and sent them off last night while hanging out at the bar. You should be able to expect more, then, so I go. Hurrah for wifi!

We met up yesterday at that fantastic yellow statue-adorned building at 9:30 and piled into the bus for a 4-hour drive to the Soria region. Valdelavilla is this teeny-tiny restored little village up in the mountains. It is totally remote - the next closest village (which is also the nearest store) is at least 10k away. Essentially, this acts like a hotel which is filled exclusively by our PI group.

Our program director is a lovely, composed young woman named Sabela, who is a Spaniard with perfect English. The MC is Jez, a lively Englishman who has been living in Spain and working for Pueblo Ingles for three years, since the first time he came here as a volunteer. They take care of us all.

The rest of the group is divided as Anglos and Spaniards. There are a few more Anglos, as I mentioned, and we come from a range of places - there are at least three Austrailians, several Brits, a few Canadians, and a smattering of Americans. The Spaniards come from all over the country, altough there is a large group from Madrid. They are a mix of people sent by their companies and people who paid privately for the program. According to Jez, this is the first program in a long while with no repeat Anglos - apparently, it is very popular for people to come back again and again as volunteers, and I can see why!

The morning officially began with breakfast at 9:00. There was a spread of salamis and ham and cheese, croissants, yogert, cereal, fruit, and a sundried tomato and olive oil spread. For each meal, we are to sit with two Anglos and two Spaniards at each table, and we are encouraged to constantly change who we sit with. Part of the program´s appeal to the Spaniards is the range of accents they get to interact with.

Oh, speaking of which, I was talking to Claire yesterday and she said something I thought was rather funny - "You Americans," she said in her thick British accent, "you all say you have such different accents! You can even tell where each of you are from in America just by listening to your accents, but to us Brits, you all sound the same!" I pointed out that the British are able to do the same with their accents, but it was an odd bit of Pygmalion-in-America!

After breakfast, we were divided up into our first one-on-one sessions. For each of those, we are given a "verb phrasal" (a phrase where the verb changes meaning depending on what preposition you pair it with) and an idiom to discuss with our partners, and then we are supposed to just have normal converstaion about anything you both want to discuss. To my delight, I was paired with Esther - a very pretty, gracious, and very well-spoken woman from Madrid. She is a P.R. person for Kraft Foods, and she often has to write press releases and speak to the media in English, so she was eager to do this.

We picked a table on the lawn across from the reception building (one in the sun - it´s actually chilly up here!) and we talked about the given phrases (the verbal phrase was "ask for" verses ¨as out¨and the idiom "all ears") and then Esther said, "I know you are not supposed to correct us today" (we had been told to avoid making any corrections the first day or two, lest the Spaniard be put off from speaking altogether by that intimidation), "but I want you to correct me." She explained that she was going to a conference in London in July, and she said she always feels like the Spanish are the worst of the Europeans at speaking English. She was very excited to hear that I am an English teacher, and she liked the detail I could go into with explanations.

"For example," she said, pulling out a notebook, "let´s talk about the genitive case."

Which is an intimidating sentence for most Americans to hear, I bet. It is for me!

Her question was a good one, though. She said that when she writes memos she´ll say "Kraft´s employees", but then she´ll get back corrections that say "Kraft employees", and she wanted to know when you use the ´s. Awesome question!

The hour flew by for me and Esther, and when we finished we walked back to the board outside of the reception building to see who we´re paire up with next. That´s when I discovered I was free until a conference call later this morning.

After that conference call, we have lunch at 2:00, then siesta (which is the only Spanish word we´re allowed to use this week. They´re very strict about the "no Spanish" rule and even insist we talk to the hotel staff in English) until 5:00. Then a group session, more 1:1, and then the "variety hour". Dinner is at 9:00, and we´re free after that.

There´s a lot to tell, but not a ton of time left. Hmm.

We´re divided up into "houses", which are very charming and rustic, which also means full of bugs. I saw a spider in the bathroom that was the size of my thumb, and I warily watch three more spiders of different varieties crawl across the wall next to my bed before I turned off the lamp last night. After the heat and the noise of the hotsel in Madrid, I was looking forward to a good night´s sleep (yesterday morning I was woken up at 5am by the sounds of an accordian playing outside the window, and the revelers who were still out bar-hopping joining in in song). Actually, it was so dark and so quiet, I had a hard time falling asleep!

I have my own room, on the same level as Laura, a special ed teacher from Washington, DC. Susan and Chris are upstairs (from New Mexico and Australia, respectively). There are a lot of fun people here. For example, Justin and Heather have been interesting to talk to - they´re a couple from Las Vegas who just finished a two-year tour of service through the Peace Corps in Romania, and are couch surfing their way across Europe before heading back to the States.

It´s a little disconcerting. We did the usual ice-breakers last night, and typically when I´m sharing something interesting about myself, I talk about my travels. Here, though, everyone´s traveled like me. It´s kind of like when you´ve grown up Mormon outside of Utah, and then you suddenly find yourself at a party in Provo. All of the things you are used to explaining or avoiding in conversation are no longer necessary, and the things that usually make you the most unique are now commonplace.

Although being Mormon did make for some dinner conversation last night. My dinner companions (Armando, Justin, and Chris), offered to fill my wine glass (There´s red wine aplenty at lunch, dinner, and snacks here). I declined, and Armando jovially protested, "but it´s Spanish wine!" I explained that I didn´t drink at all, and Justin asked if it was religious reasons. "Oh, you took the pledge!" Chris said, which confused me a little untli she explained. Then it confused Armando, who pointed out that he was Catholic and he enjoyed his wine. It was a good little topic to discuss, but then Justin mentioned my trip to Istanbul (which I had talked to him about earlier), and Armando got very excited. He was full of suggestions for me, since Istanbul is his favorite city and he´s been there often. I told him I would bring my guidebook for our 1:1 and he can give me all the pointers then.

Okay, time to end. Essentially, I´m having a fantastic time, I feel very lucky to be here, people are fantastic everywhere, and keep looking for photo posts from me if I don´t get the chance to sit down and type again for a while.

Love you all!

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