Mary Treacy Toledo
¡Hola amigos! As I approach the completion of my first full month abroad, it’s crazy to think about everything that has happened so far here in Toledo, Spain. Toledo is a small Spanish city less than an hour from Madrid, and it’s full of history, culture, and beauty. Built upon a hill and surrounded by walls and a natural moat, it was a former capital of Spain and has sectors for each of three religions that have had significant influence on the city: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
Getting around Toledo has been an interesting experience... the narrow, winding streets up and down hills are picturesque but difficult to navigate, and the cars that try to make their way through despite the tight fit can be very annoying. The school building is right in central Toledo, but I live with a host family about 6 miles outside of Toledo, and the family has been great so far. I mostly talk with the mother, but there’s also a father and a 24-year-old daughter who have both been nice as well. There’s even a dog, Ron (names after Ron Weasley from Harry Potter), who is mostly friendly but has lots of energy and can be very irritating at times, especially since he loves to chew shoes, socks, and pretty much anything he can find. I chose to live in a home instead of a dorm so that I can have a more authentic experience, but I feel like I barely see my host family. I usually leave by 9:15 in the morning for classes and don’t get home until 8:30 at night. Other students may go home for lunch, but I don’t have time since I live so far outside the city. Typically I only see my family at dinner time on weeknights. Meals here are very different. Most people have a very small breakfast on the go, a big lunch around 2:30 followed by a nap (I love siestas), and then dinner between 8:00 and 10:00. Also, dessert is typically some pudding or a piece of fruit. There are so many cultural differences that I didn’t expect or even consider, such as having to pay a lot for water at a restaurant or turning the lights off every single time you leave a room (even if you’re coming right back).
The classes have been very different also. There are only classes Monday through Thursday, and you only have each class one day a week, but twice a day. So, for example, I have Spain and the European Union on Tuesday morning and afternoon for 75 minutes each. My other courses are Master Painters of Spain, Spain since 1936, Hispanic-American Colonial Literature, and Theology of Spanish Mysticism. It’s a full course load, but it’ll help me finish up my university requirements before I head into my senior year at ND. The classes have been alright, but I’ve never been a fan of long classes - I tend to get bored or distracted. However, all of my classes are taught in Spanish, so I have to concentrate the whole time in order to understand what they’re saying. It’s not easy, and I’m always afraid that I missed an important piece of information or misunderstood something that I’ll need to know for an exam. I think my Spanish listening skills are improving, but I don’t think my overall skills have improved that much, which has been disappointing. One of the reasons I chose this program was that I thought I’d be speaking Spanish almost 24/7 and be almost fluent by May, but now I’m not super optimistic. We practice listening in classes, but they’re typically lecture-based without much room for participation. Outside of class with friends (lunch, hallways, walking around city, etc.), we’re supposed to only speak Spanish among each other, but instead most of the students just use English. I’m hoping things will change soon, and at least my Spanish isn’t getting worse.
Overall, it hasn’t completely lived up to my expectations, but I’m still fairly happy with my program choice. When I first was looking at the study abroad options, I had two main preferences: location in Europe and Spanish language usage. No other options fit this criteria, so that’s what led me to pick Toledo. There are definitely things I’d like to change about my experience so far, but I need to remind myself that I’m here studying in Spain for a semester... that’s pretty amazing. In my next post, I’ll probably talk about my travels (Salamanca, Madrid, Belgium, and Portugal so far!!!) and give an update on my classes after midterms. ¡Hasta luego!