I slipped on my dress and a pair of leggings, thinking that the constant cold drizzle hadn’t let up yet, and quickly ran a brush through my unruly hair that I had just dyed strawberry blonde before I left. The rain was going to make it even wavier but I didn’t care. What was London without rain, even though the temperatures were slightly below average for it being almost June.
I grabbed my sweater coat and leather purse and headed out of the dorm room, stopping by the bathroom on the way outside. I ran into a few familiar faces in the hallways and could hear a raucous game of pool going on in the common room but I kept my head down and headed out into the grey night.
Even though the sun had gone down a few hours ago, I was relieved to see there were still crowds milling along the Thames. I kept to the well-lit parts—I wasn’t about to get mugged my first week traveling overseas—as I scuttled across the Victoria Embankment, stopping at Cleopatra’s Needle. The rain had tapered off and there was a spring freshness in the air. I leaned against one of the bronze sphinxes and stared at the lights of the nearest bridge as it sparkled on the dark river.
I let my mind wander. That’s what it did best.
I still couldn’t really grasp that I was here. It took a few days to get over my horrendous jet lag, then after that I was on the go, taking a million photos and drinking a lot of beer. Now, it still didn’t feel real, even with the lights of London all around me. Maybe I just couldn’t believe that something that I planned actually went through and happened. I know that the minute I saw the travel blog post about the language program (help Spaniards with their conversational English and stay in Spain for free!) and told my family I was doing it this summer, forgoing my astronomy internship, none of them believed I’d actually follow through.
Well, my brother Josh believed me, as he always did, and my dad thought it was fine as long as I was careful. It was my sister Mercy and my mother who thought it was another harebrained and totally irresponsible scheme of mine that would never ever happen and I was better off hunkered down in an observation station deep in the BC Rockies, charting the heavens.
In hindsight, I should have made a few bets with them and won some travel money. After all, London wasn’t cheap and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be heading to Madrid tomorrow and embarking on a program that would take care of all my expenses until July 1st, I’d be shit out of luck in the money department. Working at a coffee shop part-time while I studied only let me save up so much. Fucking hipsters were terrible tippers.
There was a niggling feeling in the back of my head about the next month. I couldn’t tell if it was fear, excitement or nerves. Or all three combined. In some ways, the program “Casa de las Palabras” sounded too good to be true; I would be spending a month in an exclusive resort at the base of a mountain just a few hours outside of Madrid. During that month I would have all my food and lodging and excursion expenses taken care of. The catch? I have to speak English with a bunch of Spaniards. Not teach—just speak. Apparently that’s the beauty of the program. The “students” are usually business men and women who have a basic understanding of the language and just need to brush up on their conversational skills. My job as one of the twenty English-speakers was to be paired with different people throughout the day and just…talk. The only rule was there was no Spanish allowed for the entire time.
Which was fine with me since I didn’t know a word of Spanish. I just hoped that wouldn’t be a problem once I arrived in Madrid.
I watched the boats putter up and down the Thames, lost in my thoughts and dreams and the possibilities that the next month held. I didn’t even know what I wanted or expected. I just wanted the next month to give me something new.