Spain: First Week: Success

It has been an eventful week. The days have flown by, and each one has been as exciting as the last. Between the culture, classes, people, and the now-common feeling of being lost, I find myself exhausted but happy. I had said that I only wanted to write for the blog every two weeks, but so much has been happening that I want to put it all down while I have some free time. As I sit here on our personal wi-fi for the apartment (so refreshing), I need to recap just so I can sort out the experiences from the first week in Pamplona. With that, I begin where I left off with arriving and living in student housing.

Our first housing with the university was not permanent. It was only meant for us to stay while we searched for accommodations around town; after four nights, we should have a place of our own. It seemed a very short amount of time for all of us to find a place to live for the semester, but hopefully we could manage. On our first day there was an orientation and information session at the university. It was after this that we were able to go to student information services and get a list of all the apartment housing for rent in town. Most of the international students teamed up to live with speakers of their native language with at least one fluent Spanish speaker to help with talking to landlords and practice speaking Spanish in the house. I and the other two American students looking for an apartment decided to live together since the search began on such short notice and we hadn’t had the opportunity of meeting all of the other international students. One of the Mexican exchange students had also wanted to live with us, but a group of Romanian girls who had trouble speaking both English and Spanish (becoming a more common occurrence with the international students) wanted him to live with them “so we can practice better speaking in Spanish and English”. We were a bit miffed by this slight, but I really don’t blame him for jumping on the opportunity to live with three attractive Romanian girls.

The apartments have certain things about them we had never experienced as Americans. First, most of the living spaces are small. This was something we began to realize while looking through apartments. The living rooms have enough space for a couple couches and a dresser and television, and kitchens aren’t roomy enough for many people to be cooking at the same time. That being said, many families live in these conditions. I know this well, since I can easily hear the couple and their children on the floor above every morning. Also, water and heat are at a premium. While it is great to have a warm room as cold as it is here, it isn’t worth a great hike in the price of utilities to leave it running at all times. There is no central heating in the buildings, so you have to take care in conserving it. Also, wi-fi seems to be a coveted thing. Everywhere I go I can find plenty of networks, but only a few that are unlocked and open to use. When we finally found the apartment we wanted, the landlady seemed reluctant to give us the password to access the network until we signed the final contract.

Considering all of this, prices for rent are cheap. I had been told that it may cost up to $700 US for an apartment, but it turns out that is in total, not per person. The landlords we talked to gave a sense of urgency in selling their places as well. One got upset when we said we would need one or two days while we considered our options. It is first come/first serve on the apartments, so we really didn’t have the opportunity to sit around and discuss which was better. The one we ultimately chose had two other groups of international students waiting outside that were looking at it, which contributed to our making an agreement on the spot. After looking at another apartment earlier in the day, we knew we would not be able to find much better accommodation with such a great location. We are now situated two blocks from a plaza where all the buses pass and a simple fifteen minute walk to the school. We also are very close to to the city center, where you can find the Ciudadela and the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona.

I’ve also figured out the bus routes now. Jake was the first to understand how and when they operate while going to and from his host family’s home, and after getting turned around a couple times and ending up on the wrong side of town, the rest of us have caught on as well. We are in walking distance of everything we need, but it is good to have a bus card to go to other areas like the mall and San Juan- the area close to the University of Navarra and where a lot of the discotecas are located. It’s only one euro and thirty cents to ride, but it adds up quickly. Using a bus card is easier than trying to keep change on your person and the fare is cheaper. Now that it isn’t raining as much, though, I think I’ll just walk to class. We Mississippians just weren’t used to walking to class while it was snowing, and it really was not as enjoyable as you would think.

The nightlife has come to be very exciting, but also very tiring. People eat around eight or eight-thirty at night, but they don’t darken the doors of the clubs until midnight. The normal schedule would consist of going to eat at a cafe or bar and have a couple drinks, then go to the club after. On the weekends, it isn’t surprising to make it back to the apartment until five in the morning. These places don’t seem so foreign, though. A lot of their music is American Top 40 along with Spanish pop music. Except for the drink that I order at the bar (whiskey straight, just as a preference to Spanish beer), I don’t stand out that much. According to an old lady we met and a couple guys, I have the features of a Basque person. It’s nice to know that people don’t think us tourists, but disappointing when we have to respond in our American style of Spanish. Back on topic, the bars as we think of them are different than bars here. Most that we have seen around the center are what we would think of a cafe that sells alcohol. Drinks are very cheap, but are accompanied by tapas or a dessert. The clubs are more of the atmosphere I am used to in Oxford (Considering The Library Bar, The Corner, or Taylor’s Pub) with large bars on one side and roomy dance floors. These do not close until four in the morning, so clubbing on school nights is ill-advised. This past weekend was a bit strange, though, since there were a lot of people dressed up in celebration of Carnaval. Things get out of hand when you are drinking and dancing with furry creatures.

So far, class has not been tough. I was placed in the top proficiency class for the free intensive language course, and am hoping to be placed in at least a 300-level equivalent for the semester. Even though classes for the semester officially start tomorrow, we do not have to be enrolled in them until March. Their idea of courses by level is a bit confusing to me. They categorize certain levels in “de grado” and others “de ciclo”. I haven’t found much of a difference between the categories, and we can choose to take classes from both. I’ll have more to discuss on classes once they start.

It’s getting late, which would suggest it is about time to hit up a cafe for food and “coffee”. The semester officially begins tomorrow, so there will be much to take care of in the next couple of days. Until next time, Hotty Toddy and good night.

Thomas Womble

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