Upon my arrival in Salamanca, I decided to bite the bullet and get some last-minute Spanish tuition. My reasoning was two-fold: primarily, I’d be able to brush up on my Spanish before diving headlong into class; and secondly, I’d meet other Erasmus students grappling with this wonderful, popular language.
Hola. Me gustaría matricularme en los cursos intensivos de español para los estudiantes Erasmus.
(Hi. I’d like to enrol for the intensive Spanish classes for Erasmus students.)
The woman looked at me over her glasses – I got the sense she had been subjected to this phrase in a number of broken, twisted Spanish accents over the last couple of days. She requested my passport and my acceptance letter in order to bring up my profile on the University system. There was a tense moment of silence, punctuated only by the sporadic battering of a keyboard and the click of a mouse. After a few moments, I began to get nervous.
Lo siento – no tengo su información aquí. Quizás usted esté perdido en la sistema.
(I’m sorry – I don’t have your information here. Perhaps you are lost in the system.)
She didn’t have my details and I was lost in the system. Great – a leitmotif of my time in this new culture so far.
“¿Perdón?” I stammered, using a remarkably versatile phrase, heavily relied on since my arrival in Salamanca a few days previously. I realised that the chances of my details miraculously appearing on her screen were so slim that only divine intervention would solve the problem for me, and given that I could see the city’s breathtaking sandstone Cathedral out the office window, the idea didn’t seem too far-fetched.
Alas, after a few more attempts – si, Iain es mi nombre (“yes, Iain is my name”); si, estoy seguro de que tengo una plaza en la universidad (“yes, I’m sure I have a place in the university”) – I left the office frustrated, and not yet matriculated. I did the only decent thing and pitched up at a café to drown my sorrows in one of Spain’s delicious thick hot chocolates. I was informed to return after the siesta with my additional documents and eventually the problem was solved.
I’m consoling myself with the thought that while things at the University aren’t quite going to plan, at least Salamanca is already exceeding my expectations. It is buzzing with the ferias (“festivals”), and the architecture is truly stunning: particular highlights include the Plaza Mayor, the aforementioned Cathedrals and the Casa de las Conchas, a University building with a facade of sculpted sandstone shells. I also realise that I am rapidly falling for the Spanish way of life: the food, the people and the drink combine to make Salamanca the polar opposite of the coastal tourist resorts which so many seem to associate with Spain.
I’m looking forward to spending my year here in Salamanca – my new home, and indeed, my new Spanish classroom.