through the central college study abroad program in granada, students are required to have an intercambio. an intercambio is an organized group session between us (native english speakers) and a local spanish-speaking student with whom we can practice our spanish that also wants to practice their english. we met our intercambios last week and were organized into our groups of five of our students to one spanish student. during our first program, we met and got to know our intercambios over tapas. "going out for tapas" is very common in spain - a tapa is a small plate of free food that you receive with the purchase of any beverage. almost all restaurants offer them and the tradition makes for a great social outing for minimal cost. often times you don't get to choose your tapa, but i've yet to be served something i didn't like. different dishes i've gotten include croquetas, a tangy potato salad served with olives and onions and dressed in olive oil, breaded fish bites, french fries, mini burgers, spanish tortillas... if you can imagine it, it's probably been tapatized!

(and that concludes our spanish culture lesson for the day ;)

so yes! our intercambio! and tapas! at the same time! an authentic experience, it was. our intercambio is tamara, a kind, bubbly, caring spaniard who studies and has perfected the english language and loves meeting new people. the perfect kind of intercambio.
our group, from left to right: frances, tamara, me, hana, bethany, genevieve
we're required to meet with our intercambios one weekend a month, but are encouraged to spend time together outside of the designated meeting time. we didn't waste any time taking this suggestion seriously and made plans the next night to meet up and go out with our intercambios. tamara brought an irish friend who brought german friends and we ended up hanging out in a mass of very superficially different people who quickly learned they actually had a lot in common. it was a neat opportunity to learn about each other and compare and contrast our different cultures. and a personal feat: i got to show off my impressive german skills. (okay the germans were anything but impressed. don't tell my professor. i tried).

not long after our first intercambio experience, hana and i had a discussion about what a beneficial thing the intercambio set-up will be for both learning the city and practicing the language. in that moment, by some magical twist of fate, we were approached by a sweet spanish girl named devora and her mom one afternoon as we were leaving our latest class session in the center for modern languages. they'd set out on a mission to find a foreign english-speaking student (or lucky for her, two ;) that would be interested in having an intercambio. in devora's case, she is out of college and currently works as a cosmetology school teacher and has decided to independently continue her english studies on the side. as we had been eager to make more local connections, we promptly agreed, swapped contact information, and proceeded to get to know the pair as we walked home for lunch.
we had our first get-together yesterday morning. hana and i met up with devora and she took us to one of her favorite local cafeterías for cappuccinos, juice, and toast. devora practically transformed into superfriendtourguide right before our very eyes! she made a mental plan and took us on a little excursion, weaving us through all of the best moroccan shops, up to the city's famous royal chapel, and hiked us all the way up the mini mountain, near the ahlambra, into a beautiful scenic garden called carmen de los mártires. i was panting, sweaty, and buzzing with caffeine by the time i reached the top, but all of that faded as i took in the serene, charming, secluded area tucked into the mountain with its breathtaking view of granada. i'm eager to return with my journal and a sack lunch and spend a day meditating there. (ha so! apparently spanish raquel meditates. it seems fitting?).
so that both parties are able to get some solid second-language communication practice in, we typically alternate languages: hana and i will speak in spanish and devora responds in english, etc. if we get stuck or have questions, we sometimes clarify in our native tongue, but we do pretty well using circumlocution and elaboration. it's such good practice and i for some reason feel less nervous and more relaxed in this setting and have an easier time casually conversing than i do in the home or classroom settings. i'm hoping that with time my anxiety and nerves will ease up and i gain more confidence in speaking in these more formal environments, too.
i already feel i've been so blessed by the connections made here in granada, both with my fellow classmates and the locals, including my host family. i'm hoping to continue to broaden my horizons and expand my network so that i have as many opportunities to (have an excuse to go out to eat, grab coffee, go on an adventure. i mean!) improve my spanish as possible. that is why i'm here, after all! ;)

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