Beginning the Journey: La Pandilla de Spring 2012

Hola hola! My name’s Veronica Richter, and I’m a proud/lucky member of Tufts in Madrid’s Spring 2012 pandilla (pandilla literally means gang, but in Spain it also means group of friends—though we’re more like a gang. JUST KIDDING). We’re about three weeks into our adventure and just began to settle into our new homes and routines. Since I was born and raised in Perù (I only lived there for 9 years so I don’t have that big an advantage!), my experiences in Spain are a tad different from my compañeros. I’ve taken to sitting back a bit and love watching them improve their Spanish as they learn and grow in the culture. Last week, my friend Felipe (Phil) and I went out with our Spanish intercambios, pen pals assigned to us through an arrangement between the Tufts-Skidmore program and Autonoma University in Madrid, and within a couple of hours, Felipe was talking with ease and excitement to a group of Spaniards about everything from hook up culture in Spain vs. the US to his love of indie music. Some of my guy friends in Alcala have embraced Spanish culture so much they know and love Michel Telo’s Ai Se Eu Te Pego more than I do! Though we’re all having a blast, the past three weeks have brought the obligatory culture shock, and improving your conocimiento de una lengua in a natural setting means making lots of embarrassing mistakes in front of real people. My girl Neethu, an Alcalamiga (friend from the pandilla in Alcala), recently wrote about her first experiences dealing with this in her personal blog. Check it out:

No puedo creer la cantidad que mi Español ha mejorado desde he estado aquí.
I can’t believe the amount that my Spanish has improved since I’ve been here.

I’m pretty sure it would’ve taken me about 2 hours to write that sentence just one week ago. Now, I can write it without checking my Spanish-English dictionary (ok, ok, it’s an online dictionary…) every two seconds. Impressed?

But I’ll admit it, there have definitely been some things lost in translation due to false conjugates/words that sound alike. You can’t improve your language skills without a few embarrassing bumps along the road!

Probably the funniest example thus far:
I walk into a restaurant craving a cup of coffee, but see that there are few seats available. So, I ask the bartender: “¡Hola! ¿Podemos sentir aquí?” “Hay sientos aquí?”
I meant to say sentarse (to sit). And asientos (seats). In other words, I wanted to ask: “Hi! Can we sit here? Are there seats?” Instead what I said was, “Hi! Can we feel here?” Are there feelings here?”

….yeah. That bartender didn’t understand me at all. The important thing is that I’m learning. Right? Right.

Veronica Richter, Tufts in Madrid 2012

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