Basque through Spanish, Spanish through Basque

They say that whoever doesn’t speak a second language, does not truly know his first language. Can we take this further? Will learning a third language, Euskera, through Spanish help me to better understand my second language?

Don't I look studious?

I’m two classes in now. Tonight we learned a handful of vocabulary words but mostly just charged ahead with cases, learning what happens to them when you throw in adjectives and more. And I was learning almost as much about Spanish as I was about Euskera – that it was more difficult for my classmates to break the sentences into clear semantic ‘chunks’, because word order is more flexible in Spanish, that they feel more comfortable pretending the definite and indefinite articles are embedded in the case ending, rather than just ceasing to exist in Basque. I’d never really thought about the ambiguity of saying ‘un coche’ in Spanish before, until I got a Basque question wrong because I went for what would translate to English as ‘a car’, instead of ‘one car’.

I kind of think that, when I go back to Mizzou, they should just hand me a linguistics minor for getting through this class, no questions asked. 🙂 With every language that I study, I become more amazed at the diversity of humanity’s linguistic landscape, more conscious of what a small part of our potential is used in a specific language, more ready for whatever the next language will have to throw at me. In some ways, Euskera is the holy grail for linguistics geeks – it’s so famous for its difficulty, its strangeness, its isolation. If, at the end of the class, I can read a sign or two, maybe say a sentence or two, it’ll be a bonus, a side effect. But what I’m there to do is experience the language, witness it in all of its unique glory.


Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.

Mood Swings and Making Friends

It’s hard to avoid having mood swings here. You do something right, something goes well, and you feel absolutely amazing, like you can take on the world. Five minutes later and inevitably you’re faced with a new challenge, and sometimes you fail – sometimes the man at the library explains to you five times in a row that you should have made sure no one was logged in on the computer before you ordered your books, sometimes a professor asks you something and you have no idea what the question was, much less the answer, sometimes some little thing happens to make you realize how alone and far away you really are.

Jaime says they stare at her here, even laugh sometimes. I haven’t noticed that. I’m lucky – I can slip under the radar, go undetected – until I open my mouth. This is mostly a good thing. I think. There’s often, then, a flicker of surprise… and then anything can happen. They might become annoyed at the delay and added frustration of dealing with a foreigner, or else apologetic that they spoke to me too quickly, or they might start smiling, asking me where I’m from in the U.S. (although they never know Missouri), and offering me help. Once, during a relatively quiet passing period, I asked a girl what she thought of Wuthering Heights. We were about to have one of my first genuine peer-to-peer conversations in Spanish, when another girl came out of nowhere, cornered me, and started speaking English. She studied abroad in Canada and wants to go to America for her masters, and is desperate to speak English. That makes her the exception here, which is mostly a good thing. I think.

I don’t know anymore… pero no pasa nada.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 15:33  Leave a Comment  
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Matriculation, Part III

Looks like I might finally have the majority of my schedule fixed up. Cultura Visual, Literatura y Cine, Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion, and Language and Communication all seem like they’re going to be passable and transfer easily enough back to Mizzou. So far, so good. I’m a little bit annoyed/concerned about the fact that the majority of classes here seem to be 4.5 ECTS, which unless I’m mistaken, is .5 below the cut off to count for 3 credits instead of 2 back home. 😡 It’s not fair, but ultimately, I should still come in with just barely enough credits.

The trouble now is with Spanish Lit classes. I need to take at least one more class, and I’ve maxed out the number of Journalism credits I can get abroad, so I’m trying to find a Spanish class I can transfer in for credit. There are basically two options for this – taking a course through the school of philology, or through ILCE (Institute of Spanish Language and Culture).

The advantages to the school of philology are that I would take my classes with Spanish students, and there are no additional fees. Basically, it would be part of the ordinary exchange agreement. The problem is that all the classes that would probably be logical choices, like Contemporary Hispanic Literature, are only offered second semester (including Latin American Literature 1 and 2, bizarrely enough). The single exception conflicts badly with my Journalism classes. I looked into the higher level courses, which would transfer back very favourably, but I would be in them with third and fourth year native speakers who are studying this stuff full time… meaning I’d have to work insanely hard and still have a decent chance of failing out. The best chance I have is to take Literatura Universal, which is generally for first and second year students and which I think I could probably manage… the issue is whether or not I can get Spanish credit for it back home, since only 1/3 of the readings are originally in Spanish.

ILCE is generally what International Students do, but there are several issues with it… the only one that really matters being that its insanely expensive! Somehow, no one bothered to mention that even though you pay Mizzou full time enrollment while you’re gone, if you want to do something as silly and unusual as taking Spanish literature or culture classes while in Spain, you have to pay 100 euros extra, PER ECTS! That means for a ordinary, 3 credit course, I’d be out almost 1,000$!!

Fun times, that’s about all I can say.

Published in: on September 3, 2010 at 11:07  Leave a Comment  
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Matriculation, Part II

Today was a series of failures. I meant to have class at 11. I finally bothered to time how long it took me to get from my flat to the communications building – 10 minutes at a leisurely stroll. Not bad at all. I’d given myself a half hour, so I had plenty of time to go looking for the University Bookstore, or so I figured. I knew it was in the library right next door, but for some reason I looked down every possible interior corridor for it before leaving in defeat and realizing the entrance was outside that to the library itself. I still had time to buy a notebook and a pen before dashing back to the Communications Building with a few minutes left to find the right classroom.

I looked on the bulletin board for the room assignment, but where other classes listed Aula 2 or Aula 7, it only said OB. Perhaps that was the name of an auditorium, I thought, so I went to the desk at the front and asked what OB meant. He didn’t know. I said it didn’t show a room number, it only said OB. I was getting nervous – I only had a minute to find the right room now. Finally he asked me if I was a first year student, and I said I was looking for a third year class. He sent me off to Aula 5, and I went in and looked at the students notebooks, which mostly said Empresa Informatica. That wasn’t my class, so I got nervous and left the room right as the lecture was starting.

I went back to the board and read it more closely. This time it made sense – all the classes listed on that paper were supposed to be in the same room – the one I just left! I checked the clock again an it was 11 on the dot. I decided I’d psyched myself out – probably Empresa Informatica just ended or something. I snuck back into the classroom and sat down – but guess what? The material didn’t sound like Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion, it sounded like Empresa Informatica. 😦 So I left when they took a break, but I still didn’t understand what I had done wrong.

Next, I walked to the institute of modern languages to ask about Basque classes. It was such a long way! It didn’t look so far on the map, but it took me about half an hour to reach it. When I did arrive, I noticed that the bulletin board listed a Basque 1 class, and the time was compatible with my schedule, so I went in to talk to the secretary and try to register for it. Apparently, though, courses are numbered here just like floors in a building – 1 is the equivalent of our 2, meaning I should already know some Basque to enroll in that course. She took down my name in case they get enough people to start a Basque 0 class, but I’m not optimistic.

When I got home, I called the University and asked about the class I had gone to – they were just as confused as I was about why it wasn’t Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion! But after that I did sit down for another hour, putting my classes into a little schedule I made in excel… and I have a quite possible new plan now, that will send me to three classes tomorrow.

My Maybe Schedule:

Literatura y Cine
Fundamentos Culturales de la Comunicacion III
Cultura Visual
Literatura Mideival y Renacentista
Language and Communication

Language and Communication is taught in English, or so I can tell… the rest in Spanish. I’ve only been to Cultura Visual so far but I think I can handle it, and Literatura y Cine and Fundamentos Culturales seem pretty similar from their course descriptions. Literatura Mideival y Renacentista will almost certainly be my most challenging class, but I have it tomorrow, so there’s nothing for it but to show up and see if it sounds possible.

Published in: on September 2, 2010 at 14:11  Leave a Comment  
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Matriculation, Part I

They told me that the VISA was the hard part. Then I decided that finding an apartment was the hard part. Now, as I face matriculation, or class registration, I have to reevaluate my assessment of ‘the hard part’ once more.

Matriculation. They have to call it that, don’t they? Registration doesn’t sound complicated or mysterious enough.

I filled out a learning contract last semester, and that was basically an exercise in futility. I knew that even at the time, as I ran around collecting signatures and stamps from various offices at Mizzou. They told me classes could and would change somewhat before the semester actually started, that this was just to give me a starting point. Still, it stings a little that it is almost absolutely useless – that of the eight classes I wrote down just a few months ago, two are no longer offered, four are offered only during Spring semester, one is too difficult and involved to really be appropriate for an international student, and one has had its name changed.

On Monday they basically told us that, although we were starting classes on Wednesday, we wouldn’t be ‘matriculated’ for another two weeks. They gave us information about courses offered within the communications faculty, but it seemed as though they’d held a contest to come up with different ways to show timetables, and used a different one on each page, the online information was again totally different, and we were all confused about which classes would be appropriate for us, how many credits they were, whether we could take classes outside of our faculty, which courses incurred additional fees, which were taught in Spanish, which in English, which in Basque.

I could probably have spent Monday night and all day Tuesday wading through the information, but instead they kept us out all night Monday and on Tuesday sent us off to San Sebastian, where we forgot about academics for a long, fun day by the seashore. It wasn’t until I got home from that, late at night and with a headache from the salt and the waves, that I realized I had no idea which classes I was meant to go to the next morning.

I woke up at eight and was at the University by nine. I spent the first hour wandering around almost directionless, reading the papers we had been given again and again as if they would suddenly start making sense (in retrospect, Myzou is a real beauty of a system). Finally I decided the best first move would be to go see Christina, my International Coordinator. Her business card said she was in the Social Science Building, so I left the Communications Building in search of that, and on the way ran into Vanessa, who told me that for some reason she’d heard that the Communications Building and the Social Science Building were one and the same. Meanwhile, her whole morning had been a series of Catch 22s, as she’d been told she needed an ID to get into the Economics Building to get her ID, and that she needed WIFI in order to set up her WIFI connection!

Well, I could help her with the ID card situation, and I wanted to get my WIFI set up too, so we teamed up for a little while. We went to the International Office first, where they made us feel a wee bit incompetent for coming in, but did help us out by giving us our UNAV email addresses, directions to the IT department, and the name of the woman who had Vanessa’s ID. Then I let us both in to the Economics Building, and Vanessa got her ID and an appointment with her adviser. So far so good.

We went next to the IT department, but it was closed for another hour, so we went looking for Christina again. We found out where her office was from the front desk, but even simple things, like getting to the 2nd floor (3rd floor in America) can be surprisingly difficult here. The main stairwell got us to the 1st floor, but the way up to the 3rd floor was blocked by construction. Someone advised us to take the elevator, but it took us a while to find this as well, hidden as it was behind an almost unmarked door in the far corner of the building.

Christina met with me right away, and the session helped me a lot, although perhaps not in the ways I expected. She stopped short of giving me almost any advice, telling me that my classes had to be my decision – which wasn’t the most helpful response, as I was trying to determine which classes I would have a genuine chance of passing! But watching her maneuver the online system helped me figure out how it worked – it wasn’t exactly intuitive, and could definitely use some hyperlinking, but it did have a certain logic to it. She also showed me the information desk on the third floor where I could find out information about schedules and room assignments for classes not listed online. In short, she didn’t tell me what I should do, but she showed me some of the resources I needed to figure it out myself.

Vanessa and I went back to IT when it opened and got connected to the WIFI network. It was and still is surprisingly tricky – with two levels of password protection and a proxy – and it kept booting me off and requiring me to start from scratch, at one point going 20 minutes without recognizing my password! Still, I felt good that we had gotten somewhere at least.

I went back home, and after an hour of looking at all of my new materials and notes from my meeting with Christina, I’d cobbled together a tentative half schedule…

Published in: on September 1, 2010 at 12:28  Leave a Comment  
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