Chris Oldham ’17
This past June and July, a group of ten Woodberry Spanish students and two teachers made Spain our home. We stayed in hotels in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, and stayed with host families in Sevilla and San Sebastian. The longer of the two homestays was in Sevilla and was over two weeks long.
When we hopped off of the bus into the hundred-degree Sevilla heat after a week of air-conditioned hotel rooms in Madrid, our host families were waiting for us in the shade of the Plaza de Cuba. Tan, smiling faces looked us over, and the loving host mothers pointed and giggled. Mr. Collier directed us to our respective mothers and they gave us big hugs and kisses on the cheeks. My sweet mother, Ana Duque, was an old woman with gray hair and short strides. We walked in the shade of the apartments on the streets until we reached a corner building and made our way up to the flat. She pointed out my room and gave me two big bowls of gazpacho and enough bread to fill me up after a long day of train rides and taxis. I met her husband, Henrique, her two sons, Fernando and Quique, and her many grandchildren, all under the age of ten. The little ones hung on my feet and brought me toys to play with. After getting situated in the house, I left to meet my friends who all told of their large families and satisfying, home-cooked meals.
We explored the city’s many twisting streets and alleys, crossed a centuries-old bridge, and navigated around large cathedrals and medieval-looking towers. This unfamiliar sprawl would soon feel like home to us.
An average day in Sevilla consisted of waking up to coffee and toast at the table with my host mother, crossing the river Guadalquivir and walking twenty minutes to our school in the downtown part of the city, and starting the school day. Our small group was divided into two smaller classes, which rotated between lessons from both Mr. Collier and Mr. Handelsman. There we learned grammar, vocabulary, culture, and history of the area. We then broke for a forty-five minutes to walk around and enjoy an espresso and talk to locals. Next came a lesson from an invited teacher—a local expert in a certain part of the culture. These sessions included a private concert from a flamenco guitarist, a lesson in the soccer culture of Spain, and a walking tour of the Roman, Arabic, and Christian architecture that together formed a mixed personality that makes Sevilla unique. After class, we walked to our apartments, and enjoyed special Andalucian dishes that our families prepared for us at home. The diet was heavy on soups, bread, fish, and Spanish egg and potato tortilla. The conversation at the table never disappointed. Next came my personal favorite: an hour-long siesta that recharged after a hot and active morning.
The rest of the day was free time. Every day we met in the streets and decided on the day’s activity. Usually it was to walk for about thirty minutes to a public basketball court where we played against locals and talked about what we admired about their culture. Usually they turned the conversation on us, though, and we ended up telling them all about Woodberry, American hip-hop culture, and sports. They wanted to know every detail about our lives in America, and we wanted to know every detail about their lives in Andalucía. We’d sit in the shade and talk when the heat was too much for us and we had sweated out all of the coffee and soup of the day. When we were too tired to play any longer, we wandered some new route back to our neighborhoods, and stopped at cafes for refreshments before coming home and cleaning up for dinner. Dinner was always hot, and usually incorporated pork prepared some special way. The whole family would sit around the table and talk about politics, traditions, former host-students, and futbol. The conversation long outlasted the meal, and by the time the little ones scurried off to bed, all the adults went their separate ways to knit, watch TV, or clean up. This is when I would meet my friends in the street again, and we’d go explore in the cool evenings. We’d go to different restaurants and clubs, and meet young people from all over the world who were out and about doing the same thing we were. Some evenings we’d run into the same people and socialize. We learned about different goings on all over the area, but after a relaxing night on the town we’d return home after checking in with Mr. Collier or Mr. Handelsman. Somewhere in the busy day we made time for homework, which every day included reading newspaper articles and asking different Sevillans their opinions on the matters at hand.
On the weekends we traveled to different locations in southern Spain, which included the beaches of Cadiz, the aqueduct and famous restaurants in Segovia, a honeybee farm, and a ranch of Bulls that would later see their first fights in the bullrings around the South of Spain. We even got to try our hand at fighting young steers that would grow up to compete with the country’s top matadors.
When we packed up to leave Sevilla, I was excited to see the rest of the country, but it was hard to say goodbye to the family that had welcomed me into their home, been so attentive to me, and taught me so much about their lives. It was also bittersweet to say goodbye to the waiters at the places at which we were regular customers, and the people we passed every day that we had gotten to know. After loading up our luggage into the taxis that would take us far away, we passed the river Guadalquivir, the historic bridges, monuments, and ornate buildings, and the whitewashed bullfighting stadium for the last time. I know I’ll return someday, but a piece of me still lives in Sevilla. ¡Viva España!