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Foreign Correspondence: Calle classroom: Learning to Walk the Walk Spanish Style

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When I look at my schedule for my quarter in Madrid, I still am a bit skeptical of my seemingly miniscule course load. Twelve units? Never in my time at Stanford did I think I would be taking the minimum. There’s always been somewhere between six and 100 classes that I want to take each quarter and there’s also this little voice in my head telling me that to not take classes is to miss an invaluable opportunity. So, tuning that voice out here in Spain hasn’t been easy, but each and every day I am thankful that I’ve made the decision. And no, it’s not because I get to hit the snooze button a few times — flamenco class is making sure that doesn’t happen. It’s because more and more, I am coming to realize that the classroom here is not in a classroom.

Having taken years of Spanish courses, I fell easily into conversation with my Stanford peers. Most of us fall in the “learning a second language” category, meaning we share the same pronunciation and word choice problems, as well as a good humor when things don’t come out as planned. Dinner time conversations with my host mom, getting lost in Letras and being taught how to swing dance in El Parque de Retiro, pues — that has been a different matter. Malentendidos become the norm, but so does the ability to laugh at oneself and make gestures to make up for gaps in vocabulary. Many times on campus, I’ve caught myself jumping on the Stanford bandwagon of complaint — what we’re learning in the classroom doesn’t seem to connect to the real world sometimes. Well, here in Madrid, every moment of the day is a test of what I’ve learned and better yet, what I still need to learn. Yes, the streets and bars can be a cacophony at times, but the euphony of completing a conversation in Spanish without any completely awkward moments of silence is more noteworthy than any good letter grade. The automatic feedback of conversation and the human connection of conversation are both unparalleled experiences in my academic career.

But it’s not just the language that has met me in the calle. The calle is literally a classroom. I’ve yet to have the nerve to start taking photos of strangers, but people watching is definitely a part of the curriculum. The stylish Spaniards know how to make the sidewalk a catwalk. Beyond fashion, eavesdropping on conversation, peaking at what people are reading in the Metro and simply observing gives you enough to fill an entire afternoon. Perhaps my favorite thing about Madrid is that it is a city built for walking. With spacious sidewalks and tree-laden paseos, you’re bound to run into something wonderful to visit. Madrid boasts over a hundred museums. One walk can land you at the Prado, Museo Thyssen and Caixa Forum. Or you might stumble onto a hidden treasure, like the Casa-Museo de Lope de Vega. Moreover, there are the infinite number of plazas to tomar un café con leche or cervesa. You can’t walk two blocks without finding a local’s hang out. No matter how much I love the Metro (being a Las Vegan and never having experienced good public transportation), I make myself walk to wherever because I know that I am missing out on so much. Even if drivers here aren’t too pedestrian friendly, the sights, smells and sounds of the Madrid city streets have quickly become my new homework assignments.

So really, I feel like I’m still one of “those” people taking 20 plus units — it’s just that I’ve got 10 units of BOSP: Walking City Streets on my schedule. And I know at the end of this quarter, I won’t be complaining that I simply learned how to the talk the Spanish talk. I will walk the Spanish walk, hopefully having had a bit of accent and style rub off on me. Who knows? My whole perspective on Stanford may have changed. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in the classroom and too little in San Francisco, Yosemite or the even the streets of Palo Alto. Right now, however, it’s time to turn off my laptop and hit the calle.

 

Ashley Artmann, ‘12

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