Right Swiping Your Way to a Second Language

Well guys, I can officially call myself a paid writer. Honored and humbled by the opportunity to write for Listen & Learn. Here’s my first blog post for them:

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Aaron and I am an American living and studying in Barcelona, Spain.

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Ever since moving abroad, my answer to the inescapable “de donde eres” question has strategically shifted from ‘the U.S.’ to ‘California.’ I must admit, it’s a great strategy. As soon as the word leaves my lips, smiles ensue. The Golden State truly is a golden word that invites much more, well, pleasant and often hilarious queries, like…

“OMG do you surf?”

Or

“Why would you ever leave Cali?” (People who aren’t from California love saying Cali)

And

“Why Barcelona? What do you love about it here?”

My answer is always the same: options.

Barcelona offers so many options. Whether it’s visiting an art exhibit or museum, sunbathing on the beach with friends, catching an outdoor movie on Montjuic, or dancing the night away at a free concert, Barcelona is a cultural and social goldmine. Throw in the fact that the most expensive event I listed will cost you a whopping six Euro and you can start to see why I’m on the constant lookout for a wife with an EU passport. I never want to leave.

Unfortunately, for those who come to immerse themselves in a second language, speaking Spanish is also an option in this great city by the sea. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, Barcelona is teeming with English speakers and a local population whose native tongue is Catalan, not Castellano (Castilian Spanish). Even the courses at my university, Pompeu Fabra, named after the linguist who developed the Catalan language, were offered in English.

Want to check your skill level before heading overseas for study? Take a free placement test to see how your level measures up!

One month into my stay I realized that if I wanted to improve my Spanish I would need to make a conscious effort to capitalize on every speaking opportunity afforded. For some examples and tips on how to make the most of your language learning experience while abroad checkout fellow blogger Katie’s post. As Katie alluded to in her piece, the most progress comes when stepping out of your comfort zone and staying there. And what’s more uncomfortable than an awkward first date?

With over 50 million active users, Tinder is one of the most popular dating applications in the world. Let’s pretend you’ve never heard of it so I can give you the basics.

Pulling bio information and pictures from Facebook, Tinder users sift through profiles in their vicinity, swiping their way to romance through their smartphones. A left swipe on a profile means that you are not interested or simply “nope.” A right swipe signifies interest. When two users ‘right swipe’ each other, a ‘match’ is created and a lovely push notification is sent to your phone. The process is a bit shallow, I know, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing a little dance every time my phone lights up and says “Congratulations! You have a new match.”

No rookie to the dating app scene (I once met a girlfriend, now ex-girlfriend, through a similar app called Bumble. Heeey Nikki), I initially used Tinder to engage with other Americans living in or passing through Barcelona. While abroad, there is a level of comfort that comes from spending time with people from ‘back home.’ But in the spirit of growth, and like Katie already told you, FORGET your comfort.

Determined to shake off the shackles of complacency, I updated my Tinder profile, switching all of my bio text from English to Spanish. I began left swiping any user from the U.S. or England. I never thought my quest to perfect a second language would lead me down the dark path of racial profiling, but hey… by any means necessary, right? If I got a match, I made sure to always send my first message in Castellano, establishing my ability and desire to communicate in Spanish.

And it worked.

I soon found myself sipping café con leche and speaking Spanish through entire dates. Initially, I was a sweaty mess, stumbling over words as I struggled to communicate with the vocabulary of a nine year old. I’m sure the double shots of espresso didn’t help. However, a couple of months into my Tinder experiment, I noticed that my confidence had greatly increased while speaking Spanish. I am proud to say that my vocabulary grew from that of a nine year old to the level of pubescent teenager, one awkward Tinder date at a time.

Interestingly, my language skills were not the only thing that Tinder helped to improve. As I connected with more local girls, my cultural experience in Barcelona was also enriched. I gained insight into Catalan traditions, cuisine, celebrations, and festivals. Catalans love their festivals. I’ve even managed to learn a bit of the Catalan language through the process.

Yesterday I was giving a tour through the Barrí Gótic (I give street art tours in the city center in an effort to support my Tinder coffee date habit), when I met a beautiful and very Ukrainian looking gal by the name of Justina. I know, I know, racial profiling. Since Tinder has yet to teach me Ukrainian, I addressed Justina in English. Her face strained as I spoke, clearly struggling to interpret my Californian.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Hablas Español?”

“Of course,” she replied, relieved. “I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish,” she continued in perfect Castellano.

Surprised, I asked how she, a recent arrival from the Ukraine, had learned the language so fluently.

“My husband of course.”

“Oh wow,” I responded, “and how did you meet your husband?”

Justina blushed and replied through grinning teeth, “Tinder.”

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The Hostel World

 

When my brother travels, he travels in style.

Dapper Dan stays in five star hotels and orders room service.

He buys VIP tables at exclusive night clubs and always drinks from the top shelf.

I’m more of a Circus Circus and sneak through the backdoor kind of guy.

So when I told him my plan to work and live in hostels during my travels, his lack of enthusiasm was expected.

Sounds pretty cool bro,” he replied, trying to match my excitement with a hint of obligation in his voice. No one wants to be a joy killer. Plus, he’s my little brother, he’s been conditioned to go along with my stupid ideas since birth.

I recently left the great city of Barcelona where I spent six weeks living in a cramped and claustrophobic dorm-style room with seven other staff members. The smell: a lovely essence of dirty feet, butt crack and Axe body spray. It was like living in my seventh grade gym locker. But the strong bonds I formed with my flatmates made the smell much more tolerable. It also helped that I was the only snorer in the group.

Sorry guys.

I’ve received a few emails from readers asking my opinion on hostels so I’ve put together a little list for your reading pleasure. Stinky feet aside, I assure you… there are plenty of benefits to staying in hostels during your travels.

Wait, what are you talking about?

That’s a fair question. Prior to my Europe trip last year, I only had a vague, and mostly inaccurate conceptualization about hostels and was less than optimistic when my friend suggested we utilize them during our trip. Then she told me the price…

Hostels are lodging establishments that offer low-cost accommodations to travelers (generally young travelers) who stay in shared rooms and often share amenities.

No, You Won’t Get Murdered

Okay I can’t guarantee that. But I am shocked by the number of people that have looked at me in horror when discussing my travels and said something like, “Oh my God! I would never stay there. Haven’t you seen the movie Hostel?”

Seriously, at least five people have said that to me. Yes, there is a crazy Dutchman with tranquilizers and a drill waiting for you at every hostel in Europe. Look out.

Camaraderie

Don’t let my social media accounts fool you, it’s not all camel rides and rainbows. Traveling can be a lonely endeavor. One step off the plane and you’re thousands of miles from your friends and family in a new city where you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the language, don’t have a Wi-Fi connection and all you want is a fucking carne asada burrito.

Staying in a hostel provides an immediate network of like-minded travelers and a helpful source of information about local happenings and attractions. If you’re looking for some company at that museum you’ve been dying to visit, chances are there’s someone at the hostel who’s interested in joining. You’ll soon find yourself making deep connections with people from all over the world in a matter of days.

My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!
My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!

Save Money

Need I say more?

Traveling isn’t cheap and aside from plane tickets, nothing hits your wallet like accommodations. A bed at my hostel in the heart of Barcelona, depending on the night of the week, can cost as little as 7 Euro. Hotels and Airbnb’s start at nearly ten times that amount. Skip the fancy room and go out and explore that new city you find yourself in.

Cook it Yourself

I am definitely a street food advocate but you can only eat so many tacos and kababs. Eating healthy on the road can be damn near impossible. While visiting Rome, I lost two things very dear to me: my favorite pair of socks and my six pack.

Every hostel I’ve visited has some sort cooking area for it’s guests and not a single one of those kitchens has a decent non-stick pan. However, utilizing the hostel kitchen can save you some cash and provide unique insight into the local culture and economy. A quick visit to the neighborhood grocery store will leave you with a general idea on the area’s cost of living and how the locals eat. For example, one step into a Mercadona and you will understand just how much Spaniards love their pork. Want some cheap eggs? Head over to Lisbon where you can get a dozen for less than a Euro. Needless to say, I ate a lot of eggs in Portugal.

Find a Balance

I’ve come to realize that Americans travel a bit differently than most. Our work obsessed culture awards minimal vacation time, forcing us to take crammed, sprint-style vacations, visiting as many locations as possible in week or if we’re fortunate, two week intervals.

My extended experience abroad is rare for an American and I am truly grateful for the luxury of time that I have been given. That being said, four months of hostel living will leave the most patient of men begging for a respite of privacy. When small talk and friendly encounters with guests begin feeling like forced conversations that annoy the hell out of you, it might be time to give Airbnb a look. Just be sure to time your luxurious stays appropriately. A private apartment for a week in Paris could wind up costing you a month’s rent back home. I recommend splurging in more affordable cities and getting the most out of your hard earned money.