Located three hours by bus northwest of Madrid, Gredos is a quiet farming community surrounded by snow capped mountains. My husband and I went there with 21 other Anglos to converse in English with an equal number of Spanish business people and students. We were part of a program in which people learn the language by being immersed in conversation with English speaking folks. The program was the most unusual experience I’ve had. It’s not that our activities were so different, no rock climbing or mountain summiting, but nonstop conversation with strangers for one week was outside of my usual comfort zone. There were great variations in the amount of English each Spaniard knew, but all were there to improve their skills.
Our daily routine began with an 8 am wake up call so we could get ready for breakfast at 9 am sharp and begin conversation. After that we spent the morning meeting one-on-one, switching partners on the hour. During this time we could take a walk, sit in the lobby, have coffee, or do whatever else we desired, as long as we were conversing. Talking for an hour allowed us to get past just commenting on the weather and into meatier subjects such as whether there is life after death. We ate a late lunch and had a break from 3-5 pm. Then it was back to work, participating in group activities, more one-on-one, and for some, planning entertainment for the rest of the group.
What made this trip so unique? I hardly saw any of the surrounding area and pretty much spent my time cooped up in the hotel. However, I have one special memory that will stay with me. We arrived on a Friday and the following Monday a party was scheduled. It was held in a room cleared for dancing, with low lighting and recorded music provided (Elvis to Disco to Hip Hop). The decorations looked leftover from a kindergarten class and the sangria was only drinkable if you were already drunk. But it was the best party I’ve ever attended. Everyone and I mean all 46 of us, took part and danced. I have been to parties with people I’ve known much better than this and we never danced. Everyone seemed at ease moving to the music. Not that we moved very well – there were probably two or three who could really dance and the rest of us could’ve used a few lessons. We all hung out together too, no breaking up into smaller groups separate from the others. It was such an eye opener to the power of communication. I thought to myself, three days ago I first met these people and now we’re partying like good friends.
That night is the best way I can simply describe the special aspect of that week. We learned plenty from each other and it was more than just language. We shared stories, culture, and best of all, ourselves.
That experience has been my inspiration for feeling free to be myself. I saw that large group of people come together and unite in spite of differences. Feeling free is a state of mind and I got a glimpse of how wonderful it can be.
About the author: Marikay is a world traveler sharing her passion with others through her stories. She has been a cost estimator, college instructor, accounting assistant and currently, an academic advisor. Travelling has enhanced all areas of her life.
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