Burgos, Spain

Throughout my five years of Spanish courses, I have always been strong with grammar and writing, even reading aloud in an authentic accent, but engaging in spontaneous conversation was certainly a different story. I went to Spain this summer with a desperate need to improve my conversational abilities. After completing Spanish 400 and going into my Senior year, I decided it was time for a crash course in speaking the language with native speakers. So, on July 6, I hopped on a plane with 30 other students and jetted off to Burgos, Spain to live with a host family for a month of total immersion. Nearly every weekday we had classes from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with local professors and Andover’s very own Dr. Maier. Around 11:30 a.m., they allowed us a brief “recreational” free period, which we usually spent in a nearby café eating pastries and drinking homemade orange juice. In class, we studied the architecture of the medieval city, Spanish pop culture, and the geography of the country. Once classes ended, we would return to our homes for lunch, and after our “siesta,” we had the afternoon off to explore the city or hang out with our host siblings. We toured Las Huelgas, a monestary, and La Catedral, the main cathedral in Burgos. I was astounded by how much time and effort was poured into the construction and decoration of the buildings. Las Huelgas was a combination of Roman architecture and Arabic design, built to house the tombs of the family of King Alfonso VIII. La Catedral was incredibly ornate, adorned with stone-carved murals, elaborate stained glass windows, enormous gold centerpieces and hundreds of choir chairs (on which a different biblical or mythological scene was depicted) – all of this done by hand, causing the construction of the cathedral to last for more than 400 years. For our day trips, they took us to the beach in Santander (located in northern Spain) and Madrid. The beach was a blast, but I must say, it was a bit strange to see women young and old bathing topless and have to pay to use the rest room. The excursion to Madrid was a bit too brief to truly explore the city and soak it all in. But, we were able to view famous paintings such as “Las Meninas” by Diego Velásquez, “The Family of Charles IV” by Francisco Goya and “La Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. The Spanish cuisine features two staples: bread and ham. There is a Spanish saying that translates, “Without bread, it’s impossible to eat.” Every day locals buy a fresh, delicious, new loaf of bread. All of our host families would laugh at us because we ate so much bread; we simply couldn’t get enough. Also, the Spanish people’s obsession with ham continued to amaze me the entire month I was there. In every grocery store, cured pig legs would hang from the ceiling, and they even gave them out as prizes at carnivals. To top it all off, they have a world-famous “Museum of Ham” in Madrid. So, if you aren’t a ham fan, you’re out of luck. The most memorable (and the most grueling) experience of the trip was the Camino de Santiago, a three-day, 50-mile trek across the Spanish countryside. We carried everything we needed on our backs and slept in youth hostels and gyms at night. All of us, whether we walked the entire way or rode in the support van, experienced the fatigue, the heat, the blisters, the frustration, the joy and the ultimate satisfaction that we would probably never do anything like that again in our natural born lives. Over those three days, we, a group of Spaniards and Americans, bonded so much as a group, sharing stories and encouraging one another to continue; the teamwork was incredible as were the friendships formed. On the morning of our departure, all the families gathered to say goodbye to their American “hijos.” As we hugged our friends and thanked our families for all their hospitality, the tears were simply inevitable. The American students and the Spanish siblings could relate on more than one might imagine, because deep down, we were all teenagers who have had similar experiences, no matter which side of the globe we were from. My conversational skills improved as drastically as I had hoped, but I also gained a newfound respect for a once foreign culture. Looking out the bus window, it was hard to believe that the journey had ended when it felt like only yesterday it had begun. Some day, perhaps even next summer, many of us will venture back across the Great Pond to revisit our second home, Burgos.