I woke up but dreaded getting out of bed. It wasn’t even light out but, more prohibitive even than the darkness that greeted me, was how cold it was! Temperatures have dropped here over the past month and, on top of that, we have discovered that our apartment becomes an ice box in the winter. But it was a big day and I had no choice but to get out of bed. Shivering, I grudgingly got up and took a shower. And then I waited for David to take his. He didn’t have to come with me, but, because he knew how nervous I was, he was accompanying me. I grabbed the notebook that David had found for me the day before, looked at the clock with dismay, and headed out the door. I was going to be late on my very first day.
As I quickly walked along the cobbled roads of the old town, David looked at me and laughed. He found it amusing that I was so worried about being late. For me, it was only natural. I didn’t want to make a bad first impression. And so I continued to scurry along, and, as we passed the church in the square at the top, the bells tolled 9:00. I should already be there, but, instead, I still had to reach the center of town at the very bottom of the hill. And so we raced along the streets that overall lead down but, at times, meander left and right. And then we were at the bottom and were soon arriving at the building. And then, much to my relief, we spotted a group of people in the lobby. Perhaps, I wasn’t late after all? Perhaps, things hadn’t yet begun?
It was my very first day of Spanish class, and, seemingly, I was right on time. The teacher was leading the group of students to the classroom, and David stopped him to tell him that I was new to the class. He looked at me and asked if I had studied Spanish before. “No, never,” David responded for me. I had enrolled in the basic course but apparently there weren’t enough totally beginner students to start a new class so they had put me in a higher level. The teacher looked doubtful. I chimed in (in Spanish) that I had lived in Spain for six months. That seemed to convince him and he waved me along. I could try out the class. Having safely delivered me to my new Spanish class, David left, and I went to join the 8 or so other students in the classroom.
Phase two of the test: oral examination in front of the class. The teacher asked me a series of questions. Where was I from, why had I come to Altea, how did I learn Spanish? And as I understood and answered each question in Spanish, my confidence grew and I elaborated, throwing in details about my in-laws and how they only speak Spanish and French. And, as I continued speaking, I noticed that my new Danish, Norwegian and Russian classmates were nodding in admiration and then they even started to say out loud how good my Spanish was. Really?! I was on Cloud 9 as I was showered with approval from my peers.
Since arriving in Spain, I hadn’t had a way of measuring my level of Spanish. But here, in a class that was already in session and, in fact, already halfway through the book, I could officially confirm that I was more advanced than basic. In fact, as I sat through the class, I understood more than most and assessed that I was one of the best in the group! And, as the hour drew to a close, the teacher looked at me and said that I could stay in the class. I had officially passed the test. I didn’t know what level this was, but it definitely wasn’t zero.
I left the room delighted with my progress and couldn’t wait to tell David about how well I had done. And, as I giddily told him everything, he smiled. He was proud of me. And when we arrived home, I spoke to him in Spanish to show him just how much I knew and I happily told him how I felt that the Spanish had started to click ever since we had returned from the US. And then I diligently sat down to do my homework, renewed with energy and motivation to learn this language once and for all and determined to remain one of the best in the class.
That was last Tuesday.
Then, over the weekend, we got invited to David’s aunt and uncle’s house for lunch. We went for lunch but ended up staying for two days. And, for two days, it was a conversation marathon and the Spanish words flowed and swirled around me until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had arrived, excited to show David’s family the progress that I had made, but I soon realized how little I really knew. It was the Vodafone experience when I couldn’t understand the lady and ended up getting disconnected from the internet all over again. I tried to concentrate on the sounds but, even when I could grasp several words, I couldn’t string them together to make sense of the sentence. I had to readjust to their accent and the speed at which they spoke and I got buried in new vocabulary as they excitedly made plans for one of my just-engaged cousin’s upcoming wedding – including who would come to the bachelorette party and what kind of strippers to hire – and the arrival of my other cousin’s baby and what she had bought so far in preparation and how the baby bump really starts to show at 7 months.
And, as David and I traveled on the 3 hour train and bus ride home, I plummeted from Cloud 9 and despairingly complained to David how hard it was to be with his family for such intense stretches of time. I was mentally exhausted.
And then I realized what a roller coaster learning a new language really is. It has ups and down and twists and turns. And all you can do is relish the up moments – those moments when you’re climbing high in the sky – so that you can survive those instances when it all comes crashing down.