INDEPENDENT SCHOOL GUIDE A light knock on the door. “estoy despiertA,” i mumbled As i tugged the covers over my heAd. Another knock. “estoy despiertA!” the knocking stopped. it wAs time to begin the lAst dAy of my summerfuel summer progrAm in nerjA. i hAd mistAkenly believed thAt living with A fAmily in spAin for A month would simply be A test of my mAny yeArs of spAnish. so, i prepAred like Any other test. i wAtched telemundo every night for three weeks, bought three spAnish dictionAries, two tour guidebooks on AndAlusiA, And reAd them furiously on the plAne. i thought i wAs reAdy. I stepped off the air-conditioned coach bus into the warm, exotic, Mediterranean air. From the second I spotted my host mother, she was bubbling over, speaking incredibly fast Spanish with an incomprehensible Andalusian accent. I suddenly realized she had stopped talking and was waiting for me to respond. I was trapped. Wide-eyed and open mouthed, the only thing that came out was a quiet “Si...gracias;” I had no idea what she had even asked me. A man picked us up in a car, and sped off to the apartment. My host mother, Isabel, started speaking even faster to the driver. I stared silently out the window, wishing I could pull out my pocket Spanish dictionary that was packed at the bottom of my suitcase. She turned around from the passenger seat and muttered something slowly. I appreciated the effort, but the only word I could make out was “perro,” meaning “dog.” Maybe they had a dog? I mumbled “Si” and forced a smile in an attempt to cover up my panic. The first day of class, I arrived at the institute for Spanish instruction with twenty-five other American students. I listened attentively and prepared to say something of substance to my family. A friend and I had been assigned an oral presentation about Spanish fashion. Thinking my family would be the perfect source for props, I formulated my sentence: “Necesito moda típica de España para mi clase.” I repeated it in my head over and over again on my way home. As soon as I entered the house, before I could lose my nerve, I quietly muttered my prized sentence. Isabel overflowed with a whirlwind of Spanish. Suddenly, she ran into the bedroom, my miniature Spanish grandmother waddling after her. They returned with a frilly neon green and orange flamenco dress and a pageant ribbon and Isabel forced the frills over my head.
What had I done? 18-year-old Jose Alberto and his friends were trying to get into the kitchen. My aunt struggled to push the door closed as I hid behind the refrigerator door. Tiny, wrinkled grandmother Abuelita started flamenco dancing around the kitchen, beckoning for me to dance with her, shaking her hips and snapping her fingers. My embarrassment silenced me for two days. Over the next few days I would listen very attentively to all of the conversations, and understanding became easier. However, I still felt the burn in my stomach when I was with my host family, as if I had walked into class and forgotten I had a final exam. I studied my dictionary before I went to bed, but every day felt the same. The following Sunday it was my Spanish aunt’s birthday, and in traditional Spanish fashion we went to the grandparents’ house and sat on the roof and ate tapas. The summer air was thick with the smell of chorizo and incomprehensible Spanish voices conversing; a traffic jam in another language. I remained silent and perplexed, attempting to remove the head from my shrimp. “Allie, que dices?” Isabel had stopped talking and was eagerly anticipating a response. Completely unaware of the question, I mumbled my usual “Si… gracias.” Isabel chuckled. “She’s very shy,” she said in Spanish to the others. That I understood. Me, Shy? I had created a frustrating fiasco because I was terrified of making mistakes. I realized that a month could pass and my family would never know what I was really like. It was the push I needed to break my silence. I stood up, took a deep breath and burst forth with “Pasame las gambas!” Silence. They seemed a little surprised that I was so emotional about the shrimp. But the relief was so wonderful that once I started to talk I could not stop. By the end of the night the family knew all about America, my school, and my family. From then on, I enjoyed the challenge of trying to place the words in the correct order as quickly and accurately as possible. Even when I made a mistake, I was glad to be corrected in order to better my Spanish. That night they taught me when to use “ese” instead of “este,” how to make grilled sardines, and that communication just isn’t that hard, no matter what language it’s in. The last Sunday we went to their farm just outside of town. The old whitewashed terrace looked over the fields and hills, which gave way to the blue of the ocean that blended upwards into the sky. Underneath the shade of a canopy humbly constructed of several floral sheets, we laughed and relived the past month. I spoke enthusiastically and comfortably as my father cooked the traditional sardines on spits. My mother commented on how little I spoke in the beginning compared to my ease now. I smiled.
Allie Silver currently lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she has managed a record label for the past two years and relishes the challenge of working in Spanish every day! WESTONMAGAZINEGROUP.COM
Published on Apr 5, 2013
celebrating our 50th issue July 2013, the upper east side magazine is 1 of 12 upscale, hyper-local regional lifestyle publications published...