My First Day of School in Primero de Bachillerato - Badajoz, Spain
My host sisters wanted to take pictures with me in my uniform :) We had to rush to take these in the morning before I left.
Yesterday was my first day of school here in Spain, and the experience as a whole was both nerve-wrecking and wholesome all at once. My day started rather early, as I could barely sleep due to the severity of jet lag that hit me all at once (I'm living 9 hours away from home!). One of my kind neighbors offered to walk me to school and he showed up at my door exactly at 8am so we could leave together. School days in Spain are typically shorter; for the Bachillerato years (11th and 12th grade in the US), school starts at 8:20am and goes till 2:20pm (only 6 hours).
At school, I met the director at the front gate, and he was to take me to my class to meet my tutor. A tutor in Spain is like a specific class's counselor; the tutor handles the student's problems, gives advice, and fosters class bonding. My tutor fortunately happened to be the kind English teacher Juan who of course proved to be a very helpful translator for me around the school. The tutor met me outside the school, and he offered to give me a brief tour of the campus. As part of the tour, I met my PE teacher, my human anatomy teacher, and my spanish teacher as well. The tour culminated with a brief interview in his office and after, he took me to class to meet my classmates.
Oddly enough, I didn't feel shy entering the classroom but I certainly was intimidated by all my classmates. My English teacher told me to introduce myself to the class, and fortunately, I was able to do so in English because the students were in their English period in the moment. I remember I didn't say much but the class applauded loudly when I finished upon hearing what I said; they were all fascinated by my American accent. The teacher then asked each of them to introduce themselves to me in very slow Spanish; he stressed the severity of the accent in Extremadura (people speak very fast and often swallow the letters at the end of the word). The students went around the classroom one by one introducing themselves, although we only got halfway through the class by the time the bell rang. Class ended with Juan telling the class to take care of me, to which the class enthusiastically responded. I remember being pleasantly surprised by the bond of the classmates in the Spanish classroom and feeling safe where I was when I heard Juan say "Teneis que cuidarla, ¿vale?" ("You have to take care of her, okay?"). As soon as English ended, the majority of the class crowded around my desk trying to ask me questions and introduce themselves. Most of them simply observed me, as the language barrier was rather evident. They managed to communicate with me in simple English and even asked for my phone number to add me to a group chat they had between all their classmates for things related to school.
After English, I had math. The math substitute, who is the wife of my English teacher, was the literature teacher for the class next door, and she spoke very well in English. She was very kind to me as well and told me that I could go to her if I needed anything at all. Because the teacher was absent in math, we had to complete a worksheet for topics like vectors and finding equations of lines. Given I joined in the middle of the year, the topics were rather random for me but one of my classmates kindly gave me his math notes so I could take pictures of them. Following mathematics, we had human anatomy. The human anatomy teacher Carmen was incredibly sweet and she asked the class to make sure I was not left behind during the recess break. There was no lecture; instead the majority of the class was spent reviewing the format and date of the upcoming exam.
In the Spanish bachillerato program, students have three classes in the morning following by a recreo. The recreo is like the recess period of school. Bachillerato students are allowed to venture outside campus and my friends decided to take me out to a candy store. They asked me questions during the break, like the music I listened to, and we discovered that among all the music artists we listen to, we have more than a few in common. Walking back to school took more time than expected, as so many people tried to speak to me in English. We barely made it back by the time the bell rang.
My friends were impressed by the iPhone camera that I had because most students here have Android phones. This is the only picture they took during the school day (and it was during the recreo) because taking photos in schools in prohibited in Spain by law.
Philosophy followed el recreo and was undoubtedly the moment when I experienced my first wave of culture shock. Until philosophy, everyone tried to speak to me slowly and say things in English. The assignment that the teacher had given students the previous day for homework was to answer comprehension questions; as the class reviewed the questions and people volunteered to give their answers, I remember feeling so lost upon hearing how fast they read. I had no material to follow either, and the fact that I had barely slept the night prior was really not helping my situation either. I vividly remember a moment when one of my classmates read out one of her correct answers and the whole class proceeded to applaud her for the clarity and intellectual cadence of her thoughts. Being caught up in translating the last of her words in my head (which I was unable to do anyway because her rate of speech was too fast for me), I forgot to applaud and the teacher gestured me to clap anyway to show my support; I remember some of my classmates laughing and sympathizing because they clearly saw I did not understand anything but I applauded anyway.
Philosophy soon passed and I entered biology in a more dull state. The initial excitement of the day for me had passed and I felt more confused. The biology teacher introduced himself to me, telling me that he was just as embarrassed to speak in English as I was to speak in Spanish. Biology was a group project and a couple of my classmates graciously offered to include me in their group. The final class of my day was Spanish literature, and again, I found myself feeling incredibly lost. The class was reading Don Quijote in its original form and they were learning the historical context of the book as well as the complexity of the characters. Again, I felt extremely sleepy, and the next thing I knew, the bell rang and my neighbor offered to walk me back.
I left the school day not knowing how to feel. People had been so friendly yet, I was so lost in my new world. The intensity of subjects such as philosophy combined with the severity of the heavy accent in Extremadura made comprehension all of the more difficult. I'm nervous to go back to class now, but I know these initial stages will pass. Everyone (people here and people back home) has been so much more helpful than I could have ever imagined, and I could not be more grateful.