Mr. HalfFull and I participated in VaughanTown (an English immersion program for Spanish business people) as English-speaking volunteers. And boy did we speak! It was a heck of a lot of talking for an introvert like myself, but even Mr. HalfFull’s extroverted social battery was happily drained by the end of our week.
When we applied for VaughanTown as we were planning our 30/40 World Tour, we were excited at the prospect of cultural exchange with Spaniards. After traveling for an extended period of time, all the churches, monuments, and town squares start to blend together. What you really want is the human story and the insider’s perspective.
As a tourist, it’s hard to meet natives; you don’t travel in the same circles. But even if you did happen to meet each other, how would you start a deep and meaningful conversation? It’s unlikely to happen, so VaughanTown is a great way to capture real Spaniards and make them talk to us!
Each day at VaughanTown, we were required to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in groups of 4 or 6 with even numbers of Spaniards and Anglos to keep the conversation going. Lunch and dinner were always full service meals at the 4-star hotel with an abundance of wine.
But the majority of our time was spent in One-On-One Sessions with one Anglo and one Spaniard. Anglos were given an idiom to explain to the Spaniard, but aside from that we were just supposed to talk about anything for 50 minutes. As you can imagine from normal life, this can be easy or excruciating depending on the person.
I learned a lot about the lives of these Spaniards from the personal to the cultural. I even got to ask my burning questions about Spanish life. I was supremely disappointed to find out that most working Spaniards do not take a siesta in modern life.
My favorite part of Spanish life was just shattered! But the Spaniards explained that it’s not really practical to drive home for lunch and siesta if you have a long commute. It just extends the day, and they would rather finish their workday earlier. Makes sense, but still disappointing.
Remember when I said we did a lot of talking? There was also a lot of walking. The grounds around the hotel were beautiful, so we would often walk and chat for our session.
The closest town, El Barco de Ávila, was cleverly located a 25-minute walk away from the hotel. So just as you approached the edge of town (with all the Spanish speakers), it was time to return to the English enclave at the hotel.
After a 10 minute break, it was time to move to your next One-On-One Session. Sometimes, there were more Anglos than Spaniards and we would get a session of free time. My introverted self loved these breaks. I often used them for another siesta, in addition to the one after lunch.
El Barco de Ávila
Mr. HalfFull was able to game his way into town. Some of the Spaniards requested permission to buy fruit during their One-On-One Sessions. So 2 Spaniard and 2 Anglos (including Mr. HalfFull) spent their session driving to town.
They were supposed to buy fruit and come back to our English oasis. But instead, they stopped for some beers. When the program organizer found out, she wasn’t pleased. But it actually turned out to be a serendipitous occasion.
One Anglo traveled to VaughanTown from India. His trip ended up taking 3 days, so he missed the group bus from Madrid. He had to find his own transportation to the nearby town, but never made it to the hotel. Apparently, the program sent a taxi to town to pick him up, but they missed each other.
So what is a weary traveler to do? Grab a beer, of course!
Somehow Mr. HalfFull heard the Indian man speaking English in the bar and had a feeling it was the missing Anglo from VaughanTown. Mr. HalfFull introduced himself and bear hugs ensued! The Indian traveler was so relieved to be rescued by VaughanTown comrades.
The rest of us got to town later in the week on a group outing. We all walked to town on perhaps the hottest day during at the sun’s peak!
El Barco de Ávila is a quaint village with Roman and Arab influences. It contains a small aqueduct, a castle, chapels, and even an old prison. It was fun to finally enter the town we had been walking toward and peering at from afar all week.
Sometimes, instead of One-On-One Sessions, you would be pulled into a group to prepare entertainment — a skit, dance, etc. Mr. HalfFull often got roped into these.
In his first performance, he was a bull. He really took this role to heart. He tore through the space running into chairs. He even knocked over a floor lamp, that I was able to catch from my seat. The other characters from his skit were Carrie from Sex & the City, Lady Gaga, Darth Vader, the famous Spanish bull fighter Enrique Ponce, and Big Bird. Hilarity ensued.
Mr. HalfFull also started his training as a Bollywood dancer at VaughanTown. If you know Mr. HalfFull, you know that he believes that nothing good can come from a man dancing past age 25 (unless it’s his wedding). So you can imagine my surprise when he danced to “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.
My contribution to the entertainment was to teach Lindy Hop, the original swing dance from the late 1930s. I taught Lindy-style Charleston to the group and ended with a mini-performance.
On our final night, Mr. MC brewed queimada for the group in the Galician tradition. The base of this concoction is aguardente, a spirit with high alcohol content, that burns to a fiery blue. While Mr. MC was preparing the punch, others read a spell to confer special powers to the queimada and those drinking it. It was a rather spooky affair.
When I saw that the queimada was flavored with coffee, I was quite excited to try it! But it was terrible. I couldn’t even finish my little cup.
By the end of the week, I was worn out! But I am glad that I had the chance to get to know all sorts of Spaniards from recent college graduates to medical doctors and government workers. Plus, I also got a chance to get out of the city, see a bit of the idyllic country-side, make some personal connections, and even learn about my namesake for free.
- How do you meet natives while traveling? Do you enjoy making deeper connections?
- Have you ever found your limit on interaction?
- What ridiculous characters have you played?
- If you went to a place like VaughanTown, what talent would you share?