Galego Sen Fronteiras: Week 1 Program Review

Nobody freak out! Yes, I’m alive. And yes I’m still blogging. Sorry for such a long hiatus from posting anything. This summer has been going 100 miles per hour since it began and somehow it’s now August. So far this summer I’ve traveled to London, País Vasco, the south of France, and the Cíes Islands, all of which I’ll be writing about very soon. But my best excuse of all is that I spent the month of July living in Santiago de Compostela and becoming trilingual! (Slow clap for completing one of my life goals!) I just finished the Galego Sen Fronteiras language course and I’ve been speaking Galician since. Here’s my “Week 1 Program Review,” the first of three posts where I tell you everything you need to know about this awesome experience.

But wait, what’s Galician? If you’ve never heard of it, Galician is the co-official language spoken in the northwest region of Galicia, Spain. Since it’s a Romance language it shares many similarities to Spanish, Italian, and French, but it’s NOT a dialect of Spanish like some claim. Galician is actually older than Spanish and is where Portuguese originates from as well. Today there are between 3-4 million Galician speakers worldwide. But still, why learn such a small language?

Although Galician is beautiful and rich with history, this question gets asked all the time, even by some Galicians! If you read my blog you know I’ve lived in Galicia for years and I’ve dated a Galician for even longer. When I heard about the “Galician Without Borders” program for foreigners, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to finally begin speaking my region’s and boyfriend’s native tongue. I wanted to improve my standard of living here in Galicia and, of course, make my boyfriend and his family proud. But it turns out many other people did the program for lots of other reasons.

In total, 80 people from 20 countries came to the capital of Galicia this year to take the course. Some were linguistic majors or teachers; some had Galician relatives and wanted to better communicate with family; others were just language junkies, here to add another language to the list they already speak. The group ranged from 18 (minimum requirement) to around 60 years old. Many participants came thanks to scholarships offered by the Galician government. If you’d like to apply, here are the course details from 2017 (in Galician and English.)

Without further ado, let’s dive into week 1!

Luns – Monday

10:00-12:00 Sign-in and reception

12:30-13:30 Inauguration to the program

16:00-17:00 Placement exam

Monday went like any typical first day: we met, mingled, and got a feel for the program. We signed in at the office in the Praza da Universidade in Santiago and received a folder of program details. Around noon the inauguration started in the Facultade de Filosofía across the street where the president and directors of the Real Academia Galega welcomed us to the course. They put on a nice reception for us in the most Galician way possible: with empanada, tapas, and Estrella Galicia beers! Right away I met people from all over the world—girls from Italy, Cuba, and Brasil and guys from Mexico, England, and Israel—who ended up being my best friends throughout the program. Here’s a video from the Nós Television channel of that morning.

In the afternoon we returned to the Facultade de Filosofía to take a placement exam to find out our level. The test had a listening section, a short writing about that recording, and a few fill-in-the-blank exercises. Overall the exam was fairly easy, but I was surprised there was no oral test. After about 40 minutes I was finished, and that was it for day 1!

Martes – Tuesday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: O galego alén das fronteiras (Galician beyond borders), Francisco Calvo

16:00-17:30 Conversation class

I’m not going to lie—I had been nervously anticipating this day since I signed up for the program. Let’s face it, jumping into an intensive course of a language you can’t speak is nothing but terrifying. It’s really sink or swim. But like always, I’m glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone because I not only had two great professors, but my class was the nicest group of people you could meet. Of the three levels—elemental, medio, and superior—I tested into medio. Our daily schedule consisted of a grammar class, a (mandatory) conference by a famous Galician author, actor, singer, etc., and a conversational class.

At noon we attended the first conference with the Galician author Francisco Calvo (pen name Coimbra) who talked about his book Crónica Crónica. He discussed a topic that I’ve found is as important to understanding Galician as the grammar itself: the oppression and dismissal of the language throughout history. (I plan to write an entire article about this, so I’ll just summarize here.) Since Medieval times, Galician began to get the reputation of being a language of “poor, uneducated” farmers due to the influence of Spanish nobility. This only worsened with the dictator Franco who outlawed the language all together, including its literature. Though it’s now officially recognized, there are still very strong, mixed emotions about Galician today.

The conference was incredibly interesting and empowering with the idea of “letting your voice be heard in whatever language you choose.” It seems nearly impossible to imagine as a native-English speaker what it’d be like if suddenly English was illegal. It definitely puts into perspective the privilege that comes with speaking the “universal language.”

Mércores – Wednesday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conversation class

On the second day of classes I could clearly see how much living in Galicia for years helped me in this course. Of my classmates my Canadian friend, a fellow auxiliar de conversación, was the only other person that had lived here before. From listening to my boyfriend’s family and our friends speaking Galician everyday, I was able to understand almost everything even though I couldn’t speak it. It’s both amazing and frustrating and a big reason I did the program—to finally start speaking! So I made that my goal for the first week and most importantly, to speak confidently.

Xoves – Thursday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: Entre un galo e un polbo (Between a rooster and an octopus), anecdotes by Carlos Casares told by Avelino González

16:00-17:30 Conversation class

By Thursday classes seemed to flow very naturally. We’d learn grammar points like articles and prepositions in the morning and practice using new vocabulary words in the afternoon.

This day for our conference the Galician actor and director, Avelino González, gave by far the best presentation of the entire program. I’ve never seen a more animated person in my life—he’d even give Jim Carrey a run for his money! For almost two hours he bounced around the stage acting out stories from the late, Carlos Casares, an influential Galician author. The quirky title of the conference, “Between a Rooster and an Octopus” is in reference to two novels written by Casares, The Rooster of Antioquía and A Giant Octopus. The titles of these books about Galician life allude to the region’s unique geographical characteristic of having both countryside (“rooster”) and ocean (“octopus”).

Venres – Friday

9:30-11:30 Theoretical grammar class

12:00-13:30 Conference: Cultura galega na rede (Galician culture on the web), Manuel Gago

Grazas a Deus é o venres! TGIF indeed because after spending a week speaking and thinking in a new language, your head just hurts. It didn’t help that during the conference this day the speaker basically just showed us graphs of internet usage in Galicia. Sorry, but Zzz! However, he did show us some helpful websites if you’re studying Galician such as academia.galculturagalega.org, and two useful apps, ConxuGalego and Dicionario RAG. I recommend downloading them for anyone trying to learn the language.

Sábado – Saturday

All day Class trip to the Rías Baixas: Cambados, O Grove, Toxa, Combarro

Last but not least, on Saturday there was a day trip that visited towns in the province of Pontevedra in the Rías Baixas. This guided excursión wasn’t mandatory but was included in the cost of the program.

The first stop was in Cambados, a small fishing town on the coast famous for its seafood and Albariño. Albariño is arguably the most popular white wine in Galicia and is made in this zone. Every August Cambados holds the oldest wine festival of the region.

Next up was a short stop at Lanzada beach. Here the guide explained about the legend of the beach. “Nine circles, nine waves, nine months.” If you circle the solo pine tree on the isle nine times, you’ll cleanse yourself of bad spirits. If you sit in the water and let nine waves wash over you, you’ll get pregnant, hence the nine months. Needless to say I’ll be staying out of that water!

Then our group visited the small town of Toxa that has a church that’s entirely covered in white shells. These are vieira shells, or scallops, which are also the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.

After lunch in O Grove, it was siesta time on the Major beach. Finally, we finished the day in Combarro. As I mentioned before, Galicia’s unique for having both the ocean and countryside. Combarro is famous for being the spot where the two meet. Right beside the sea in this 12th century town are old stone structures called hórreos. Pronounced almost exactly like the double-stuffed chocolate cookies, these small structures were where people stored corn to keep it dry and safe from mice.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed hearing a little about my life here in Galicia. Would you like to study Galician? Look out for my Week 2 Review coming soon! Happy travels!

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I'm an American expat living in Galicia. I want to inspire travel, learn a dozen languages, and try every food in the world.

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