¡Hola a todos! I had a really fun day today, despite waking up to a torrential downpour outside my window. I reluctantly hauled myself out of my cozy bed and onto the micro to class, grumbling at the sky from under the umbrella I bought from a man outside the metro station for 1.500 pesos (USD$3.00). Class was interesting as usual, but nothing too exciting.
After class, my friend Tabea invited me to her house to partake in a traditional rainy day Chilean pastime: making and eating sopaipillas. Sopaipillas are a kind of fried dough made with squash. They can be topped with a variety of things or eaten plain; we made ours plain with pebre (a spicy salsa) and also soaked with chancaca (a sweet sauce made of raw unrefined sugar crystallized with honey and flavored with orange peels). I’m a terrible chef so I was more of an observer while Tabea made the dough from scratch and fried them in oil, and made pebre and the chancaca to top them with. If you want to try your hand at sopaipillas, here’s a good recipe.
More than the sopaipillas, which we delicious, I enjoyed the company and the conversation. Because we have different native languages the temptation to speak English (or in her case, German) wasn’t an issue, and for me listening to non-native but fluent speakers is easier because they tend to speak more slowly and deliberately than native speakers.
The temptation to speak one’s native language when abroad is strong and requires a great deal of willpower to resist, especially with a group of people who are also native speakers of your language such as in my exchange program. Many an evening or outing has started in Spanish only to quickly deteriorate into English. It’s only natural to want to express oneself with the ease and precision that one’s mother tongue offers, and to want a momentary sanctuary from the foreign culture that you are immersed in night and day. All the same, it is of vital importance that you resist the urge and make friends who do not share that language with you so that you won’t be tempted. Living with a host family helps with this immensely, of course, which is why I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about improving language skills and learning about the cultural context in which it is spoken.
Thinking about my own language skills, I am extremely impressed at how much I’ve advanced over the semester. Sometimes my brain doesn’t even notice which language I’m reading/listening/speaking/writing/thinking in at the moment, and it is an exhilarating feeling to realize you’ve been planning your day effortlessly in Spanish without even noticing. On the other hand, as I am writing this I have to continuously proofread for little Spanish words, especially prepositions, that have started to sneak into my English. Tricky prepositions!
Another encouraging sign of my improvement are those words that, unbidden, spring to your lips when things go wrong. For example, yesterday I woke up and blearily squinted at my phone. Realizing that I should have left for class five minutes ago, I swore loudly in Spanish. It was only after my frenzied dash out the door, onto the micro to the metro and then to class twenty minutes late did I realize what I had done. In my moment of panic, my mind still clouded with sleep, the first word of the day that my brain reached for was Spanish and I didn’t even notice! Now to you kids out there, I’m not condoning swearing, but I think the words your brain reflexively reaches for to express fright or pain or panic speak volumes about its subconscious processes.
That’s all I have for now. Tomorrow I’m going on a volunteer excursion to help some of the folks affected by the rainstorm we had a few days ago that experienced some flooding issues so it’s off to bed for me! ¡Buenas noches!