On Wednesday, I began my academic journey in Spain at the Centro de Idiomas (Center of Languages) in León. This center, in fact, is not located on the actual campus of the University of León, which is located in the northern part of the city; but rather, the language center is situated closer to the middle of the city. From my apartment, it is a good 15 minute walk which is a little long, but it gives me 30 minutes of exercise a day. In León, like many other European cities, walking is a crucial element to the culture and lifestyle; therefore, as a car-loving American I will be forced to adjust to this cultural dynamic as I anticipated.
I arrived at the language center, on Wednesday, at 9:30 a.m. and was directed to a small auditorium for a presentation. The auditorium looked as if it doubled as a chapel as a balcony hung over the seats and a small stage was placed in the front of the room. Above the stage, a huge, projectile screen hung from the ceiling with the word "Bienvenidos" (Welcome). In the auditorium, I took a seat among perhaps 15 other students, mostly Americans, Europeans and Asians. Then, five or six Spanish professors entered and a small, introductory presentation began. After this, we were told that everyone would be taking an oral and written exam to specify our level of Spanish. Quite the welcome indeed.
El Centro de Idiomas
I was a little nervous for the oral exam, as most everyone was, but in the end it wasn't too difficult, merely a conversation about who I was, how long I've been in León and how long I've been studying Spanish. After this 5 minute exam, the professor placed me at a level and I proceeded to another room to take a written exam based on that level. The written exam, all multiple choice, was significantly challenging but many concepts began to recollect in my head and I finished in about 35 minutes. Afterward, it was about 11 a.m. and everyone was given an hour break before we reconvened and would be given a small tour of León by a professor. The short tour, which was slightly diminished by rain, involved a quick history lesson of León and a visit to a few notable landmarks, all of which will be discussed in the next blog. After the tour, the day was over in terms of school, classes would actually begin the following day.
The main foyer of the language center
The following day I arrived at the language center at 9:30 a.m. for my first class of the day. The structure of school for the next six months will involve two classes per day, one from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and the other from 12-2 p.m. For both classes I am with the same students, who tested into the same level. There are only nine students in my classes, three Chinese students, two Japanese and four American students including myself. Both classes are strictly in Spanish and I find myself nowadays speaking Spanish to the other Asian students, which becomes quite an interesting encounter since they don't speak any English. For example, I spoke with a Japanese student, Suichiro, over a cup of coffee and a sandwich about his winter vacation, all in Spanish. The conversation was limited and somewhat grammatically incorrect; however, we did understand each other despite several moments of confusion.
Furthermore, the morning class focuses on grammar and some writing and the afternoon class involves oral communication, Spanish culture and writing. The professors are knowledgeable, nice and funny although listening to their extremely fast Spanish can be a little difficult at times. However, I can already notice a difference in my listening abilities and I've only had two classes. The next six months of class will certainly test and improve my knowledge of the grammar, pronunciation and writing of the Spanish language. Although it will be difficult, I look forward to this endeavor for it is my number one goal for being in Spain.
In addition to my class and our group of students, there are three other Spanish classes at different levels. There 9-12 students in these classes as well, with individuals from the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, U.K., Russia, Ireland and the Netherlands. Speaking only in Spanish to international students is certainly a new experience for me; however, I gladly welcome the challenge as it will not only introduce me to new individuals from around the world but also improve my Spanish at the same time. And these are two things that I thoroughly enjoy and intend on doing more beginning next week.
After two days of classes, I have met several international students, learned a few things about León and improved my listening skills substantially. Lastly, all of this knowledge will greatly enhance my living experience with my three Spanish roommates as I begin to gain more confidence with speaking and listening. I have already engaged in several conversations with my roommates only in Spanish and they will be great influences on my time here.
Hasta la proxima.
"If you speak languages, the world is not so big"