A bazillion years ago, it seems, I was a sophomore at Tufts. I sat in lecture halls, ate in dining halls, slept in a residence hall, and spoke a lot of English. The sitting, eating, sleeping, and speaking all felt very natural, very normal, very nonresistant.
And then, one day, the director of the unfamiliar Tufts-Skidmore Spain program came and told me about all of the sitting, eating, sleeping, and speaking that I’d be doing the following semester. Which is now this semester. The one that I’m experiencing right now. I’m sleeping in my host family’s apartment, eating at their table and often in one particular restaurant, and speaking one particular language with high frequency. Everything, everything around me is Spanish, and as the semester has progressed, it has come to feel more natural, normal, and familiar.
Except for the cushion on the chair of my writing desk in my bedroom. It remains foreign; it boasts a collage of black-and-white images of France. I have never seen the Eiffel Tower in person, but I can now say that I’ve sat on it to write a number of blogs.
Another statement that our program director made was that we’d have to be more patient in Madrid because the Wi-Fi networks abroad are less reliable than the blazingly fast, dependable services to which we’re accustomed in the States. She said that with our host families, we might sometimes experience unexpected internet failures that would make us want to pull out our hair and shake our fists at the uncaring routers. But, she assured us, in time we would come to accept the spotty service as an endearing, if somewhat irksome, idiosyncrasy of life in Spain.
At this point, I can safely vouch that yes, I have grown more or less acclimated to the lags and lulls in Wi-Fi service. Most of my hair remains on my head, and even though I sometimes shake my fists, when the Wi-Fi goes missing, I’m no longer so #shook. When my host brother is playing a computer game and I can’t write my essay, life goes on. When he downloads music and I can’t write to my family, life goes on.
But when the Wi-Fi goes out at the Tufts-Skidmore Spain program center, life stops. Everyone freaks out, gripes and grouses about the injustice of the inconvenience, and laughs in English about how Spanish the situation is. See, our program director told us that the Wi-Fi would fail us with our host families, but she didn’t mention that we’d be let down at the brand-new program center, too.
Still, if at first the ubiquity of the Wi-Fi problem bothered us to no end, now, I do think that we students trend toward amusement. We sit in the common room at the center, some of us on couches, some on comfy armchairs, some at computer counters and others at sleek white tables, and we poke fun at both the Wi-Fi and ourselves. Maybe we complain that we really need to print this gosh-darn paper RIGHT NOW!!!, as was my case just this week, but if the internet doesn’t flicker back into life in the next minute or so, we adjust. We switch to other assignments. We show that we can be flexible. And we don’t leave the common room.
The common room is a place of merriment, of togetherness. Sure, we students work on separate assignments — reports about recent trips to the Spanish congress, commentaries about plays by Federico Garcia Lorca, and sketches of the very tables at which we’re sitting – but even when silence descends over the room, it is a shared silence. A purposeful silence. A silence broken only occasionally by the groans of the generally happy students who really need to print their papers.
Honestly, I (normally) don’t mind that the Wi-Fi doesn’t work well at the program center. The engaged program staff greet us when we walk in. The walls are painted in bright colors. The rooms are named in honor of social activists and important voices for justice, and the rooms are filled with my friends.
That being said, I’m still writing this blog at my host family’s apartment. I really need the Wi-Fi to work because I need to submit this blog, like, now.
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