Salamanca

Anniversary

Today is October 1st, and that is significant for two reasons:

1) Mario’s been at his job—the job that brought us to Madrid—for one year now. Yipee, hooray, and all that stuff.

2) Four years ago, I started dating him.

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Our first date, our first picture!

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Denied Entry—Or How an Expired Tourist Visa Got Me Deported

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Okay, it wasn’t technically deportation, but I wasn’t allowed into Spain.

In 2009, I was blissfully unaware of all things Schengen. I came over to Spain in September to work a campus organization at the University of Salamanca. Before coming over, my then-future employers had advised me not to worry about a visa, as it “had never been a problem before.”

Famous last words.

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Why Are You in Spain?

Ah, the question. The question. I ask it a lot of others; they in turn ask it of me. I love and hate this question, because I love knowing other people’s stories, but I have no idea how to answer it without starting off on some ten-minute-long storytelling session, leaving my questioner with his/her mouth agape and mind reeling by it all.

So, let me just ask you, readers:

Why are you here?

Now that I’ve asked that, I can tell you why I’m here. As it says on my about page, I came to learn Spanish. I stayed for a boy. Mainly.

Would it shock you to know I kinda sorta hated study abroad? I was old enough not to get homesick, but I still did. I did not like living in a teeny-tiny room in an old nunnery with walls so thin you could hear your roommate typing late at night. I didn’t like having to wash my clothes in the shower because the laundry room charged upwards of $10 a load. (This was back when the one euro equaled something like $1.50.) I didn’t like feeling as if it were impossible to make friends except for drinking buddies and intercambios who weren’t really interested in hanging out with me after hours. I didn’t like seeing my bank account drain slowly down to almost nothing.

But I did like learning Spanish. I did like that, and so I dove in headfirst, as much as I could. I got another intercambio because one just wasn’t enough. I spoke to all the waiters in Spanish, even if they insisted on speaking to me in English (the bastards). I studied vigorously, even when all of my classmates were basically taking a semester off. I traveled as much as my budget would allow. I learned to love red wine, olives, and tortilla de patata.

But there was so much I didn’t know at the end of my stay! I didn’t know how to tapear, I hadn’t mastered the subjunctive, I had never had a real Spanish friend that I could text and ask to hang out with. This bothered me. I went back for my senior year unsure of the future and what would happen after May 2009.

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As senior year wore on, I had a decision to make—find a job or go back to Spain? I chose Spain, specifically Salamanca. I was excited to experience a new side of Spain, to live in my own apartment, and meet Spaniards. Oh yeah, and improve my Spanish.

I got back to Spain in September 2009, a year and three months after I’d left Toledo. A few days later, I met Mario. He came to the door of the place I was interning, and I was unintentionally rude to his friend and him, but he still went out to dinner with us. The next day, I pretty much asked him out, and the rest was history. My mother waited patiently by the computer to hear updates about this guy I talked about all the time, even though she’d warned me not to fall in love with any Spaniard (only because that could keep me far away from her). Oops! I was head over heels after a few weeks. After a month, I met the family. After three, I was ready to stay indefinitely, if it meant we could be together.

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Staying in Spain is not an easy task for many reasons. There’s bureaucracy. There’s homesickness. There’s cultural differences that drive me crazy at times. There’s times when I get so sick of Spanish, of struggling to find the word that I just want to scream, pack my suitcase, and get on the next plane to Chicago. Get me outta here! Mario knows this more than anyone. Luckily, although he wouldn’t feel the same way, he sympathizes as best he can.

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There are some expats that love Spain much more than I do (although, don’t get me wrong, I do love it), and they’d stay forever if it were up to them, boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife / lover or not. I wouldn’t, though. If not for this husband of mine, I’d be in the States, where my family is, where my friends are, where my history is. Living in another country wears on me, and I’d love to be able to just hop in my car and drive to my parents’, but right now it’s just not possible.

Right now we’re here; right now this is our home. It may not be for forever. That’s okay. When I married a Spaniard, I gave up that right to certainty about where home is. Home is here. Home is there. Home is Zamora, it’s Crawfordsville, it’s Bloomington, it’s Salamanca. It’s Spain and it’s the US. That’s why I’m here.

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What about you?

On the Road to Salamanca

The bus rumbled along the highway, dusk quickly approaching. We sat side by side, our fingers curled together, leaving the day behind us. Weary but content, we sat in silence, the silence of two people who have everything to say to each other, but not necessarily at that moment. It had been a long day: up early to catch a morning bus, a long walk around town as they wind bit at our cheeks and hands, a hearty lunch, and all of the things that go along with meeting someone, someone special, for the very first time. By that point, I was exhausted but we glanced at each other and smiled with a sigh.

The evening sun tinged the horizon amaranth, gold, and orange. I grasped his hand, searching for the words I wanted, needed, to say to him. I hadn’t picked out a special place or time to say them, hadn’t analyzed my feelings, hadn’t thought about his reaction. I only knew that I loved him. And so I told him—there, in the bus, speeding along the A-66 towards Salamanca: “Te quiero.”

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I didn’t start learning Spanish for love. I did it out of curiosity, because I needed a language to complete my high-school degree, because it was what was expected of me. But I mastered it for other reasons: it challenged me, it made me think about the world differently, it allowed me to see into the soul of another nation, of another people. I mastered it in the end because of Mario, because for him I stayed here, because for him I made my second home in Spain, because for him I packed up my whole life and changed it forever when I told him, standing in front of our friends and family in a church built in the 13th century, right in the heart of Zamora: “Sí, quiero.”

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Yes, I do.  I do promise to love you, to be there for you, to remember the important things for you. For you I will overcome the frustration that I sometimes feel when I can’t think of the right word, when I can’t remember the proper phrasing. Yes, I do.

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My motivation for learning Spanish has varied over the years, but my one constant has been love. Some may consider it cliché to say that love makes you do crazy things, and it is, a bit. But love can also make you do daring things, things you would never have had the chance to do had you not bitten the bullet, got right back on the horse after it threw you off, and said to life and learning, “Sí, quiero.”

On the day we were married, the priest—a friend of Mario’s—talked to us and all our guests about love. Moving to another country for someone? he said with an intensity shining in his dark-brown eyes. That’s love. That’s love, friends.

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Learning a language is frustrating. The first part is enthralling, when you learn by leaps and bounds, huge gulps of knowledge. But then comes the slow part, when you feel as though you’re dreaming about running, desperately trying to move your legs faster, but you just can’t. It’s a slow slog; it can seem fruitless. I know this feeling all too well. I still struggle with fast speech and gender; I still slip up almost every time I open my mouth. But with Mario there, and his family alongside him, I see the purpose. Without him—without them—I’d haven given up already.

Here’s to learning a language for love, whether it be love for a significant other, for a husband or a wife, for the little English-learning children who attend your local elementary schools, for a fellow church member, for the person who lives down your street. Learn a language for a love, and learn it for a lifetime.

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This entry is a part of Kaplan’s Inspire Language Learning Blogger Competition. I’m not that interested in winning a Macbook, but I am interested in sharing my story. After October 29, you’ll be able to vote for me on their Facebook page if you so choose. Thanks, readers.

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Also, please visit Vaya Madrid—I’ve just had my first article published: Tales of a Transplant.