Day 1: Languages in DC

Plane ride to DC from Boston!

Either my malaria pills are really messing with me, or this woman is yelling at me in Spanish…

Okay, well, it is the end of my first day in DC. Quick (hahaha not really) little run down on the day:

I was boarding my flight when I checked my NSLI-Y Xi’an group chat and noticed that one of the girls was on the same flight that I was about to board. Not only were we on the same flight, but she sat behind me. The universe is a strange place full of weird coincidences.

I stayed with her throughout the flight and we found our way together to baggage claim; where we spotted a grinning woman carrying a bright “ACES” sign. Not only did we recognize the logo, but she also looked straight at us and called us by our first names (the staff is very thorough here (see, mom? Nothing to worry about)).

We were herded off to our shuttle and arrived at our hotel in a few minutes, where we met our program director and a few other important Xi’an people (they also recognized us immediately, and even asked me how my past tennis season turned out…)

After receiving our program shirts and water bottles, other students started streaming in through the hotel doors between the hours of 10-3. We all gathered in the lobby and ranted about our home towns for hours while exchanging numbers, making friend requests and setting up group chats. It was complete chaos, but wonderful chaos. Everyone there was new, so everyone was accepted. No cliques, no judgment, just 23 students mingling before being shipped off to Chinese host families (hey, that rhymed!) We also did a little exploring, and discovered a horrible hallway leading to the pool in which the air was so thick with steam that every mirror was opaque. But, eventually we were all handed our room keys and scurried off to seek naps and showers before evening classes.

I was the youngest of the original group that arrived at 3. So, of course, for roommates, I was paired with the oldest group member (she will be turning 19 a day after the program finishes). However, another girl popped her head in the door and explained that her flight from Texas had been delayed, causing her to miss the informal introductions earlier in the day. She became my second roommate. Soon we officially discovered that she is also the youngest in the group (born in 2001), so that’s a bit of a relief. The three of us get along swimmingly (not much of a surprise after meeting all of the other students).

Later in the evening, the 23 of us were stuffed into a small conference room for formal introductions, group activities, dinner and a short briefing on the material we will be covering tomorrow. Today was basically foreshadowing all of the information that would be thrown our way in the next 24 hours. And then what? Oh, yeah, and then we leave. It’s strange that the instructors were warning us of the limited PDO (Pre Departure Orientation) time, while half of that precious time is spent telling us what we will cover later in the PDO…

Anyway, then a bunch of us huddled up around the hot tub and discussed old movies, Americans and their pet addictions, host family shenanigans, exchange rates, and all the things we should have been doing (like summer reading) instead of talking.

But here’s the best part:

So after a night of socializing with the group, I joined my two roommates in the suite. Well, no, not a suite. Not a suite at all. The room consisted of two oversized beds crammed into corners with giant desks covering the opposite wall. There was no room between the beds and the desk. Try fitting three exhausted teens, their overweight luggage, and all of our additional program supplies into a room with a total of 2 square feet of empty floor space. Well, housekeeping soon stopped by and also delivered a folded bed (there were three of us sleeping in the room, and only two beds). Where the heck did they expect us to put this bed???

Well, after much contemplation, and an excessive amount of whining, we gave up. While my younger roommate showered, my older roommate called down to the front desk and asked if there was a staff member who could assist us with our little bed problem. Upon hanging up the phone, she declared that ACES was sending an engineer to help us.

15 minutes later (and after a random check up from a man disturbingly identical to Norman Bates), a woman knocked on the door. I scurried over the haphazardly arranged luggage littering whatever floorspace was available, and leaped to open the door. A small woman, no taller than 5’1, stood awkwardly in the door frame.

And then she started sputtering to me in Spanish… For about a minute… and then she stopped.

Now, at this point, half of my brain was asking “Is she really speaking to me in Spanish?” But when she finished her little lecture, and was clearly waiting for me to answer (’cause this was apparently rather normal for her), my brain flipped to “Holy crap, I’m exhausted and everything she said just flew over my head what’s wrong with me why can’t I understand English?”

BUT THEN she stared at me blankly and simply asked “non?”

So, I tentatively replied “no…”, and she walked away.

So, I spun on my heels and was about to close the door when my older roommate sprang to her feet and told me to call the woman back. This I did, very awkwardly. The small woman turned around and started rambling on in Spanish again to my roommate, so I was thinking “Yeah, great job roomie, what are you going to say to a woman that doesn’t speak eng-”

And then my roommate responded in almost fluent Spanish. Now, this roommate is Vietnamese. She was raised in Vietnam, and then moved to Kentucky. Mandarin is her only other language interest she told me of. So when she started speaking in colloquial Spanish to this random woman, and the woman responded casually in her native tongue, I just stared. Then my roommate invited the woman into the room, and they started setting up the bed…

Now, I was still standing at the open door in utter confusion as my Vietnamese friend (whom I had met only a few hours ago) was speaking effortlessly in Spanish to a small Latino woman that had showed up by our door and was now setting up the folding bed. But then my roommate chimed in and said “Ana, she wants you to move the bench into the far corner over there and put your luggage on top of the desk.”

Okay. Sure, I can do that. So then the Spanish woman unfolded the bed right in front of the door (because the minuscule strip of hallway between the front door and the bathroom was the only floorspace available) and just left with a simple “gracias” from my roommate.

THEN my younger roommate burst out of the bathroom, tripping over the bed blocking the doorway, and just saw my older roommate and I laughing our butts off because I was so completely dazed from what had just happened. I noticed my younger roommate and said “You have no idea what just happened,” to which she responded, “Yes, I do. I heard the whole thing. You know, ingeniero is Spanish for engineer. She was the engineer they sent up.”

Does everyone secretly know Spanish here except for me????

Well, that’s the kind of stuff that happens on a language immersion program.

I offered to take the fold out bed tonight, so if that Bates guys shows up again, at least he’ll trip on the unexpected bed in the middle of the foyer.

More later,



2 thoughts on “Day 1: Languages in DC

  1. Ana – what a wonderful narrative about the first day of your journey – You didn’t notice me but I was sitting on the edge of the desk where you put your luggage – it will be a bit heavier as you take me on your trip – but I love it that I’m along for the ride! Grandma O


  2. Ana-what a great first day! I can’t wait for the next installment. Just talked to your mom and glad the trip went well! Hang on to your heart!! Grandma D


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