Mi Familia Española

While Addy and I often joke about how our family is crazy and our house is basically always a three-ring circus, we most definitely have the best family in Salamanca. Some people in our program have families that are just them and their parents or other versions of a small family. Some people have medium-sized families and relatives that visit at various times. Then there is our family. There are always various relatives in the house, talking, yelling, and making chaos in general. So here’s to our crazy family.

Part of the family at a 5K

Part of the family at a 5K

To Ana, our mom. She is constantly doing something; from cooking delicious meals, cleaning, talking to our host sister in London, talking to everyone in Spain, or just running around the house for reasons Addy and I have yet to figure out.

To Luis, our dad, who can express entire novels with one look. Ana can talk. A lot. So Luis doesn’t always have the opportunity to say anything, so while Ana is talking away at a meal we can look to Luis who can express anything from boredom to exasperation (all the time) to humor with one shake of his head or roll of the eyes.

To abuela who once babysat us for a week. We may be adults but we apparently still babysitters while our parents are gone. From her declaration that all of her kids and grandkids are “fatal” at art to her catchphrase “venga,” abuela is amazing. I know she is in the house when the word venga comes floating into my bedroom as she wanders past, probably thinking about how her, “10-year-old grandson draws like a 3-year-old.”

To tío and tía who live across the street and randomly show up in the house and babysit us when everyone, including abuela, go to London.

To tío from Germany who came last weekend too and showed us all 20 of his drawings of the family and made us guess who they were. Who also believes that wine is a good substitute for fruit or yogurt because it is the water of youth.

To Marcos, our host cousin, who is the reason Addy and I know the word for swallow. Addy made him laugh while eating yogurt and we just had to tell to make it, “go to his stomach” so that he didn’t spit it up. The cousin who knows exactly how to push Ana’s buttons and make her even more scattered and panicked than normal. Who tells Addy and I jokes that we never understand the first time… Or the second time, because he omits all extra words and just gives us the important verbs that do not form a full thought. Who, along with his friend, is the reason why Addy and I know how to play tag in Spanish.

To Luisjo, our host brother, his girlfriend Lettie, and their dog Kira, who come on the weekends. Kira is always excited to see everyone, Lettie wins almost every race she is in, and Luisjo who, according to Marcos, looks like the owl from his English textbook.



To Sol, our host cat, who knows I don’t like cats and expressed her distaste for me by throwing up in my room and outside my door and then hid under my bed.

Addy and Sol

Addy and Sol

And finally, to rest of the family and friends who have shown up in our house at random times and Addy and I sit in our rooms and wonder exactly how many people can fit in our house at one time and have made our Spanish experience crazy but amazing.


Mackenzie is a morning person?

This is Mackenzie. As much as she hates to admit it, she is a morning person.


This is Spain. The only time Spain sees 6 A.M. is on the tail end of a night out.


I am not, admittedly, the stereotypical, extremely happy morning person that walks around with sunshine coming out of every bodily orifice. That would be my uncle. I like to have silence in the morning which has worked out pretty well here in Spain because no one else is up in the house when I am. This means I can eat my breakfast and get to the pool in peace (yes mother, that is directed at you).

I spent the entire summer getting up at 5 and going to bed around 9:30 so the whole going to bed late and getting up late is rough. The first couple of weeks we were here I thought, “Oh I’ll get used to eating lunch at 2:30 and dinner at 9:30, I’m just experiencing this culture shock stuff that we’ve heard so much about.” Three months later I am still not used to it. My body is still wondering why we are eating dinner when we should be going to bed.

Once the pool opened up I started going to swim in the morning. Which is fun. Getting a stern talking to by an angry old lap swimmer is always a joyful experience. (It was something along the lines of how I needed to swim slower so that I did not endanger anybody in the lane) After that fun chat I decided to go earlier so as to avoid offending anybody. I have succeeded in this, but my host parents think I am absolutely insane for getting up that early to go swim.

There have been a couple of times where Addy and I have had to walk pretty early to our program center to leave for a field trip. Walking through the Plaza Mayor at 7 on a Friday is quite the experience because there are still an amazing number of people who have not yet gone to bed. This is a foreign concept to me. I like my bed and sleep. A lot. I also like to avoid as much unnecessary social interaction as possible so that fact that people have been partying all night short-circuits my brain. It also kind of impresses me.

All in all I think it is fair to say that I have found my place as a morning person in Spain amongst the older generation of 7:15 AM lap swimmers. We exchange the perfect amount of words for the morning (buenas then hasta luego, adios) and in between we all go about swimming in peace.

Kenzie, Your favorite elderly lap swimmer

Buses and spices and camels, oh my!

According to my calculations, I spent a million hours on a bus last weekend.

It actually may have been closer to 30, but I felt like I could take the liberty of rounding up a little. All of that time on a bus was worth it though; I got to go to Morocco! It was an amazing trip and one that was completely different from any other I have been on.

First off, I got to ride a camel.  I GOT TO RIDE A CAMEL, GUYS.

Me on a camel. Photo cred to Ramon!

Me on a camel. Photo cred to Ramon!

This was the first trip where I have felt extremely out of place. In Spain I can more or less blend in. I can get by in the language and  dress in a manner that is only slightly out of the ordinary. In Morocco this is not the case. I/our group in general stood out like sore thumbs. It was an odd experience walking around and feeling completely and utterly like an outsider.

Clearly the most important part of any trip is the food. It was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spanish food, but there honestly isn’t that much variance of spice. Spain is not like the U.S. in that in the states you can walk down a street and pass ten different types of restaurants in as many steps. In Salamanca you may find the occasional Chinese or Mexican restaurant, but they have been “Spanishized” more than Azteca has been Americanized. Having some different flavors was definitely great.

On the last day there, I got henna that covers my hand and goes up a little past my wrist. It is different from any henna that I have gotten before because instead of being brown/orange it’s black. It also actually basically says my name in Arabic; I checked with my friend who speaks it to make sure that I was not walking around with something like “poop head” written on my hand.


That´s my hand on top

The day after we got back to Salamanca we were on a class excursion with one of my program classes and we walked past this older middle-aged couple who were obviously tourists because, for one, the were speaking in English. It was very clear that they did not think that we spoke English by the way they were talking about us. The lady made a very disgusted remark about “kids these days and their distasteful tattoos that can’t be hidden.” Unfortunately by the time it dawned on me that she was talking about me and my henna I was too far past to turn around and make a witty comment in English. It was an extremely disappointing moment for me. Also, I had been speaking to my friend in Spanish, so either the couple was too oblivious to realize that we are not native speakers, or I can actually speak passable Spanish now. Either way I’m taking it as a win.

Kenzie, tattooed heathen and camel rider

A short story about pens

My housemate and I were talking about our days last night. It had been a long day.


Me: I was upset, our professor made us use bibliografias instead of pencils for our test today.

Addy: Bibliography? What?

Me: Biografía?

Addy: That’s biography

Me: boiapokasdngnsdjfkh

Addy: Bolígrafo. I believe the word you want is bolígrafo.

Me: Right. Bilografio. Balígrafo. Bolígrafio. Bikjaheoishdf. I can’t

Addy: Please don’t hurt yourself.


In all fairness it’s midterm week. 

Mackenzie doesn’t like ham

After a little over a month in Salamanca, I have had several reoccurring conversations with the local people. For some reason these two things seem to really fluster the Spaniards.

1. My name

Some version of this conversation happens almost every time I introduce myself to someone new.

Me: Hi, my name is Mackenzie.

Them: ¿huh?

Me: M a c k e n z i e

Them: Mah-what?

Me: Mackenzie

Them: Wait, isn’t that a boy’s name?

Me: *in my head* I still love my parents. I still love my parents. *outloud* Not anymore chicos. Not. Any. More.


A special note to the kind German man in the airport: thank you for telling me my name is pretty after you asked, “Is that really your first name?”

Also, I do like my name, don´t worry.


 2. I don’t like ham (jamón)

For some reason this is the hardest thing for Spaniards to understand/accept.

Scene: Having just completed the above conversation; I am now being offered something with jamón.

Me: No thanks.

Them: Are you sure?

Me: Yeah, I don’t really like jamón.

Them: *gasp* You don’t like jamón? Have you even tried Spanish jamón? It’s the greatest in the world. There is literally nothing better than jamón! It has been the best thing since before and after sliced bread. If herbivorous aliens landed on Earth and tried the jamón, they would instantly become jamón-ivorous. It’s a fact.

Me: Ummm… Sorry… I didn’t mean to upset you so much… I think I’ll have a chicken croqueta instead. (A.K.A. the actual best thing to have ever been created)

For the record, I have tried the jamón of Salamanca, and I feel almost guilty for not liking it.


Kensie, disliker of ham and confuser of Spaniards

Grandmas are the same everywhere

My host parents are in London right now dropping their daughter off for a year of studying there. As a result of this Addy (my housemate) and I have a babysitter. Our grandma has been babysitting us since last Thursday and Addy and I have noticed that grandmas are basically the same everywhere.

A (paraphrased) conversation:

Grandma- “Eat more!”

Us-“We are literally so full right now we could explode”

Grandma- “Eat more!”

Us- “We are dying from food overdose”

Grandma- “You need to finish it off! There’s only a little left!”

Us-“Ok. But just a little bit… An itsy bitsy tiny little portion.”

Grandma- “Here’s an entire other serving that is probably bigger than your first one! Enjoy!”

Us (later) – “We really need to put our foot next time and not eat so much.”

Us (after the next meal) – “We put in a good effort, but she’s just so convincing…”

Because how can you say no to grandma? The only time I can say no is when it comes to shopping, much to the chagrin of my grandma Marrs, but even then I feel guilty.

So here’s to all of the grandmas out there who are hopefully trying to fatten us up out of the goodness of their heart and not to toss us in the oven.

I Solemnly Swear to Only Speak in Spanish

I've always learned about how important a "hook" is to draw in your reader. Although I would understand if you ended up just staring at this forever and never read the post.

Chocolate and churros- a life-changing experience

Now that I have gotten your attention with chocolate and churros I am going to talk about less exciting things, like classes. Sorry.

After my longest summer of the past 15 years, the classes that I am taking through my program began this week. Luckily only two of the three are new; the grammar class is the same from orientation week. This meant only two classes where I had to wait in agony while we went around the class introducing ourselves. No matter what language or how comfortable I am with the people surrounding me, these introduction/icebreakers never fail to wipe my mind of all words. I have no idea why, but as my turn gets closer and closer my heart beats harder and my hands get sweaty and when my turn comes I invariably forget my name.

I did, however, manage to make it through those two classes, Regionalism in Spain: Political Union and Cultural Intersections and Reading the City: Literature and Art in Salamanca, without making a fool of myself (I hope). The Regionalism class should be interesting since I am not a huge political person, but I am super excited for the Reading the City. My university classes, Music History and Drawing, start next week.

Kaela and I at the Uffizi. For my dad and others who are interested, "a Uffizi" is a museum that once a Medici palace

Kaela and I at the Uffizi. For my dad and others who are interested, “an Uffizi” is a museum that once a Medici palace

Before classes started we had a week break. I used the time to take a trip to Florence to visit my friend Kaela who is studying there. When I got there she was still in class so I found my hostel and the street where her school is, then just wandered around for a little while. It took a moment to realize, “Holy cow I am just casually wandering the streets of Italy right now.”

Even though I do not speak Italian, it was very easy to get by because basically everyone speaks English.  It was a little weird to hear so many people on the street speaking in English because I have gotten used to only hearing Spanish in the streets of Salamanca.

The rest of my time there was spent eating (pizza, pasta, and course, gelato), going to museums (the Uffizi and Bargello), and eating more gelato. While at the Uffizi I had another, “Holy cow I am standing in front of the real The Birth of Venus” moment.

Florence is a beautiful city with tons of amazing art, but I am going to be honest and say that I like Salamanca better. No offense, Florence.

It's like the Dark Mark of the Spanish Club

It’s like the Dark Mark of the Spanish Club

Lastly, starting today, I have joined the program’s Spanish Club. Until the end of the semester I will wear the bracelet pictured above and only speak in Spanish. Clearly I can use English when I am talking to people who do not speak Spanish, but other than that… Todo es Español.

Mackenzie, Hablante de Español y (soon to be) Master Artist

P.S. I apologize for the all of the Harry Potter references, I just can’t help it.

Top Ten Thing I Learned During Orientation Week

Since lists seem to be all the rage on the internet these days, I will continue the trend with a list of the top ten things I learned during the longest, yet one of the best (so far), weeks of my life. It was difficult to come up with just 10 things since so much was thrown at us last week, but I narrowed it down to these ones. Things are listed loosely in chronological order.

  1. Dubbed English shows/movies are the weirdest things ever. Spanish Hagrid sounds nothing like British Hagrid. You also never realize how intertwined a characters voice is with their personality, like Sheldon, Raj, or Howard from Big Bang Theory, until you hear it dubbed.
  2. There are about 500 different ways to say, “Orientation,” and you can have a meeting about every single one. Every. Single. One. It also best to have them in uncomfortable rooms just after all the students have eaten large lunches and didn’t have time for siesta.
  3. That I really suck at navigation. I mean, I already knew I was bad, but I never knew I was this bad. Hopefully with time I will get better at knowing Salamanca. Then again I can still get myself turned around in Seattle, so there may be very little hope for me.
  4. That the time between 8 am and 2:30 pm is really long. The food is fantastic but lunch is so late, it’s been hard adjusting to that. Eating lunch is very different than what I am used to in the U.S. All summer I would eat lunch as fast as I could so that I could get back to work and thus leave as early as possible. In Spain, everyone goes home for lunch and takes time to eat. We watch the news most days while eating, which sparks conversation around the table. I have noticed in general that life is much less rushed here. Also, eating dinner at 9:30 means my bedtime is much later than normal.
  5. Coffee is really cheap and really good. Sorry Starbucks.
  6. That Spaniards stare at people. So basically we have permission for hardcore people watching.
  7. Salsa dancing a lot of fun. Especially when you and your partner can laugh about how un-coordinated you are. In all fairness though, we were actually pretty awesome.
  8. Where Christopher Columbus stood and asked Queen Isabella for funding for an expedition. Yes, I stood in that spot. I also really wanted to sit on the throne because it looked much more comfy than the Iron Throne, but I decided I would like to stay in Spain for the time being.
  9. That casetas (food stands) might be the greatest invention of all time. 2 € for a drink and a tapa (small plate of food)? Yes please. Unfortunately, they are just here for the Fiesta y Feria (festival and fair) that is going on right now in honor of Santa María de la Vega.
  10. Where the cheap toiletries can be purchased, because 9 € for shampoo is ridiculous. In case anyone was wondering, El Árbol is the way to go.

Mackenzie, People Watcher and Navigator Extraordinaire

The 8 Stages of Traveling (Grief)

  1. Excitement: You wake up ready travel and conquer the world
  2. Shock: Your flight is canceled? But… That doesn’t happen to you!
  3. Denial: Your re-booked flight is canceled? No, that’s ridiculous! Lufthansa is playing with us.
  4. Depression: Hypothetically in this stage there might be tears. But that’s only hypothetical of course (however, people do feel bad for you and are really nice, hypothetically speaking).
  5. Ecstasy: By flying from Seattle to L.A. to Paris to Madrid you might just make it to your final destination! (This stage, unfortunately, does not last long)
  6. Boredom: 6 hours into a 10 hour flight time stands still.
  7. Pure exhaustion: Yes you may sit on the tarmac before your last flight but you may never know, as falling asleep immediately after sitting down is not uncommon.
  8. Victory: After an additional 2.5 hours on a bus, a short taxi ride, and dinner, there aren’t really words that can describe the feeling of lying down in a bed for the first time in over 24 hours.

After an incredibly crazy trip, I did, in fact, make it to Salamanca in one piece and with much more confidence about my traveling abilities. After less than a week here I have regained most of my Spanish and even use vosotros (here’s a quick shout out to all the Spanish teachers who said, “You will never use vosotros so don’t worry about it”). Since Sunday our schedules have been packed with super fun (or long and repetitive, it’s really a toss-up) orientation activities, but I did get to show off all of my grace and amazing dancing skills during a flamenco dance class, which was definitely the high point of the week.

I have lots more to write about but I don’t want to do long posts because I have a short attention span. So, in the next couple of days I will post again with awesome pictures and more things that I have learned during orientation week!


Accomplished traveler and Flamenco dancer