The beginning of any new, life-changing adventure is what I imagine it would feel like to walk blindfolded to the end of a pirate’s plank and plunge into the mysterious waters below—hoping, of course, to be met only by dark and murky ocean depths and not some hungry shark or ticking crocodile… Departing for college, buying a house, and finally tying the knot with a long-time sweetheart…all are perfect, qualifying examples. Yet as grand and exciting as each of those are, none quite possess the stark, splash-of-ice-water change that distinguishes embarking on the study abroad experience.
Arriving in Spain was something altogether foreign—in every sense of the word. Becca and I were leaving behind the comfort of our simple American lives in order to assimilate into an entirely different culture, language, and—most frightening of all—family.
As the two of us silently unpacked our belongings in the small Spanish apartment the first night, the reality of our new lives began to finally soak into our overwhelmed hearts and minds.
Our host father—Felipe—is a traditional Spanish father, husband, and—as of a few days ago—grandpapá. Yet that first evening, he spoke little, criticized our feeble attempts at conversation, and managed to insult my less-than-hefty appetite.
Tell us how you really feel Dad…
The worries that had taken root during the months of swelling anticipation were finally coming to fruition. With every awkward and forced interaction with mi papá, my worst fears were being fulfilled. I longed to meet my host mother, if for no other reason than to change my already-tainted perception of the household. But, alas, Christina was unable to be present for her host daughters’ grand arrival. Instead, the señora chose to be at the hospital, her attentions fully dedicated to her daughter (now mother) and brand-new grandson, Javier.
I suppose becoming a grandma is a reasonable excuse for showing up your host kids.
To my relief, the dynamics here changed fast. Becca and I eat every meal with Felipe, who—I can tell—thoroughly enjoys our company. We talk long after all of us are finished, and already it has done so much to improve our speaking and comprehension.
And all that small-talk stuff? Our dad preferred to skip right over that. Our conversation topics range anywhere from personal political and religious philosophies, to the injustices of abortion, to even in-depth explanations of Spanish cuss words and phrases. But besides all that deep talk, Felipe also really finds pleasure joking around with us. I can now say I’ve experienced authentic Spanish sarcasm in its purest form.
Sometimes Becca and I have to clarify certain American words and concepts for our dad and vice versa for Spanish ones. Once, Felipe commented on how the English form of llaves (keys) sounds exactly like the word for beso (kiss). When he demonstrated by pronouncing both like keeees, Becca and I couldn’t help but crack up.
The two of us did, at last, get to meet our mom, who just happens to be as cute as a Spanish button. She’s small and has sandy hair that she wears pulled back in a “hip grandma” clip. She’s been under the weather since our first encounter, so I can’t say I’ve gotten to know her quite as well as our dad yet, but every time she speaks to me in that café con leche sweet voice of hers, I can’t help but grin like a fool.
With every passing day, the relationship between me and my two new caregivers is growing in fondness and strength.
So these foreign Spanish waters I’ve jumped into? I feel it is now safe to assume they are void of any and all ticking crocs.