In just under two days Residencia Augustinus-Nebrija has experienced an enormous increase in residents of the American persuasion. I’m pretty well convinced that the permanent residents–male, 20-something, Spanish aeronautical engineers in training–are shitting themselves at all of the American women flitting around their halls, showering in their bathrooms, giggling and screeching up their stairwells and poisoning their tiny elevators with miasmas of Calgon body splash.
The opening session of our Fulbright orientation was conducted by assistant director of the Spanish Fulbright Commission, María Jesus Pablos. If I’d ever met Celia Cruz in person, I’d have imagined her energy to be something like that of M.J. Pablos. Full of energy, smiles, and enough sass for two women, María Jesus is one of those women who is old friends with everyone she meets and all that she knows and can rap out a smartass comment in English and Spanish with equal alacrity and comedic force. All in all, she’s my kind of woman.
María Jesus reminded us that we are responsible for being good guests of this country and for teaching English well, all with a subtle, sparkling charm, but what her talk most emphasized was that we are here not just to teach, but to enjoy. Spain, M.J. told us, will open its arms to us if we open ours to it–and it will offer a wealth of outstanding opportunities for fun and learning. Basically, she spent the better part of her talk issuing directives for us to be social and not to work all the time. For a room full of 45ish high-powered overachievers between 21 and 50, this is an entirely new concept. Nonetheless, I think I’ll grow to like it. 🙂
As is general knowledge amongst my body of friends, I am a very soft, sentimental little creature. The end of M.J.’s talk affected me in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time, and may have had to do a lot with my level of exhaustion. As I sat there I felt myself tearing up and finally realized that I am no longer at home, and i have a pretty important job to do here. “To your students you will be very important,” she said. “you will have girls, boys with all kinds of iron thing in their faces,” (this elicited a giggle from the audience) “in their nose, chin, and they will sit and stare at you with big eyes, trying to hear, trying to listen, trying to know what you are teaching them. For that boy or that girl you are not just their teacher. You are going to be the U.S.” That’s a pretty big job, but considering that all Spaniards know of the U.S. is George Bush and hamburgers–two things for which they have absolutely no respect–I’m happy to give them an alternative.
M.J. really got me with this comment: “This year,” she said, “will give you plenty of time to think. A chance to think about yourself, your set of values, your home country, what you left behind and how it’s changing. Because don’t think that it isn’t–that will happen for the rest of your life.” It struck me then that as permanent and unshakeable as all of the relationships I have at home may feel, and as permanent and fully known as everything about my home country may seem, nothing is static and when I get back, it will be to hold familiar people who are internally very different and to walk streets that have seen things I’ll have entirely missed in nearly 10 months away from them. The world will be different, and the lens of experience I use to focus in on it will be, too.
As you may have guessed at this point, I’ve slept so little and stressed out so much for the past week that I’m pretty worn out. I think I’m experiencing task-withdrawl which tends to get me over-emotional. Let me explain: when your attention is so focused on achieving a certain set of goals it’s easy to discount a weariness of body, mind and spirit. Attention to the end result is the prime concern and you can truck through pretty much everything. However, yesterday, with my housing search finally at an end and nothing to orchestrate myself, but instead to float through a prescribed (and relatively light) schedule, it all caught up to me. By lunch I felt completely overwhelmed by tiredness and newness–previous I hadn’t really given pause to think about how very different all of this is–and as soon as I got back to my room I indulged in a lovely little hysteria cry that lasted a good four minutes–until, is, before I realized how ridiculous I actually am and that sleepiness had caught up to me. The burst of tears was followed by about 15 minutes worth of a nap and then, feeling the need for some time on my own, I went down to the first floor café owned by the residencia and ordered myself a latte, planning to write in my notebook.
At first I was disappointed to be joined within five minutes by fellow Fulbrighters, Ryan and Juan, but as we began to talk, I realized that contact with people like them was exactly what I needed. Ryan told me about his research project in Seville and his wife who will accompany him for his year in Spain, and Juan talked with me about everything from orientation scheduling to the coffee we were drinking. They were intelligent, perceptive, and invested in having a conversation. It was really, really nice. The afternoon conclued in the same vein. After the close of our afternoon orientation sessions at around 5:30, all of us and the Fulbright staff headed to the café downstairs to drink orange Fanta, Mahou beer and Coca Cola better than you’d get anywhere in the states, stuff our mouths with olives, calamari, tortilla and tiny empanadas, and make connections with one another. After another soothing hour of talking with Ryan, Talia, Nicole and Jordan, Monica and Morgan and getting to know others (plus finally meeting Rachel!), I felt better than I had in days. Welcome back to the middle, Caitlin Schiller. 🙂
My day concluded with the adventure walk with Talia that has now become tradition. I love her company and her conversation and I’m very thankful to have found her here. On the way back from Avenida de América we found a chocolateria where we bought an incredibly dark chocolate bar and, like the ugly Americans we are, violated social codes by eating it on the trip back.
Last night I finally got a full, delicious 8 hours of sleep and all too briefly talked with my boy. Life is generally good, and I’m anxious to go sign my apartment contract tonight.