The main reason I decided to come to San Sebastián was because I wanted to learn Spanish. Not “taught in a classroom in Massachusetts” Spanish, but real Spanish. I was excited to take classes and learn a language and improve my own skills.
Now. One day in and my goals for the entire trip have already changed. I still want to learn Spanish, but my self centered intentions have shifted immensely. Although language is something you share everyday with every person you speak to, it is also an extremely personal aspect of your life. Finding someone that you can communicate with and share that language creates a bond that not everyone can be part of.
For our first day of class, we were put into groups of two and given a short speaking assignment. The assignment involved introducing ourselves to our partner, and our partner then would introduce you to the class. My partner, a 16 year old from Italy, spoke little English. I speak no Italian, so we were both relying on Spanish, a language neither of us were fluent in, to communicate and connect with each other. This moment resonated with me so strongly because if either of us decided to pursue other interests or sit idly and expect others to adapt to our customs and norms, that relationship, though brief, wouldn’t have been able to exist at all.
I personally believe that the first step in immersing yourself in a new culture is to learn the language. That opens doors to a multitude of other things. For example, you can listen to Spanish music without learning the language and focus purely on the beats and rhythms. But by adding an understanding of the words the artist is singing, you can now begin to understand the meaning of the song, which can snowball into a deeper personal connection with the song and what the artist is trying to convey.
I think studying abroad has already deepened the connection between myself and Spain. Today, a few friends and I stopped into a bakery to grab some lunch. After we ate our “rascacielos” and “estrellas de chocolate” we returned our plates to the counter and on our way out, one of my friends thanked the baker in basque, a language local to San Sebastián (eskerrik asko, for those who are curious). Everyone in the bakery seemed super impressed, and I think that moment alone is the reason it’s necessary to truly invest your time into fully immersing yourself in the culture,and being able to appreciate it.
After class, we were lead through the city and exposed to numerous buildings and monuments with a deep history, and it was clear to see why Basque people are so proud of where they come from. The first site we stopped at was a park across the street from the school. Our tour guide explained that because the king had no children, he gave the park to the city as a gift, under two conditions. The park was to always remain free and open to the public, and must never be reconfigured.
This fact interested me for two reasons. 1. The king was respected enough by the people to obey these laws long after the king passed, and 2. The king valued the people of his city so highly that he passed along a piece of his own property so others can benefit. This highlights two values that San Sebastián holds on to, and the rest of the world (in my opinion) should as well: loyalty and selflessness.
With that, my goals for learning Spanish have become less about benefiting my own life and self improvement, and giving myself the gift of being able to connect with others on a more personal level.