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2002-10-30 - 8:42 a.m.

When talking with Martin, a newly arrived Swiss student, he asked me if in Texas, people said "Si" instead of "Yes." I hadnt realized that Id gotten into the habit of saying "Si" several times in succession, loudly and ecstatically, every time someone asked or said something that I understood, regardless of whether it was in Spanish or English. The conversation was in English.

I know this is hard to believe, but I am actually speaking Spanish. Less than a week and a half of classes, and I can carry on simple conversations. I understand more than I ever thought I would, although I still sometimes use the Italian word when I dont know the word in Spanish. When I was in Italy and France, I was so nervous about using the language that I just resorted to pointing to things and smiling nervously a lot. But now, I dive right in. The people are so friendly here, and dont seem to mind the way I butcher the language.

Im in class for about four hours a day, in the afternoon, from 3 pm to 7:15 pm. My first week of classes, there were only three people in the class: me, Marianne (a 37-year old social worker from Switzerland), and Melchior (a 26-year old tree surgeon, also from Switzerland, who speaks five languages). Marianne arrived the same day that I did; she doesnt speak any English, so weve only been able to communicate in broken Spanish, with a few Italian words thrown in for good measure. Despite that, Ive gotten to know her pretty well (we both like Pedro Almodovar films), and I think my Spanish has improved the most by talking to her. Melchior is handy to have in the class; he can translate the Spanish to Swiss German (for Marianne) and to English (for me), and hes always telling jokes (in Spanish, no less).

Ive met tons of people here already, mostly other students in my school. Ive met so many Swiss that Im in danger of learning some Swiss German while Im here as well (Ive also learned that Swiss German is almost a different language than German - and also that Switzerland is not in the European Union and that military service is mandatory for males - did anyone else know that?). Most of the students speak English (in addition to several other languages), but we do practice our Spanish on each other. It makes it easier, because we actually speak slowly enough to understand each other. And there is always, always, someone to grab a beer with, or someone who knows the right bus to the market, or who knows a good place to go for the weekend, or needs someone to eat dinner with. Perhaps this is why I like travelling so much - instant community. I could stay here for a good long while yet.

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