by Noelia Barbolla Báez
Noelia Barbolla Báez is a Spanish language assistant from El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, working with students at Central this year. She recounts her experience as a teacher, student, friend, traveler and survivor of the Central College “jungle.”
The day I had to get on the plane, I didn’t believe it. It had seemed like that day wouldn’t arrive. I said goodbye to my
family and got in. The ride was long; I don’t even remember how many hours I spent in the plane. Then I took a car from Des Moines to Pella. I felt like I was in a movie. I couldn’t believe I was here, that I was actually in the States.
The first couple weeks were really busy: getting IDs, bank accounts, a Social Security number. Even trying to get around campus at times was difficult. In Spain, we don’t have campus, so getting used to that wasn’t easy. But little by little, I got used to everything.
Classes were another thing I had to try to adjust to. There are fewer people in the classes, and they are shorter—only one hour or 90 minutes. I like it this way because teachers remember your name, and there is a better bond between the student and the teacher and among classmates.
When I had to start labs, I was nervous. I was afraid that my students wouldn’t understand me or that I was doing things wrong. But, step by step, I got used to the labs and speaking to students without that much of my Spanish accent. I also memorized their names, which was the difficult part! I learned a lot from every single person I had labs with, and I hope they learned from me, too.
Making American friends was a challenge that I wanted to face. That was why I came here in the first place. I started hanging out with Seygbai, the girl who lives next door. We have become good friends; I spent some of my Christmas break at her house. Thanks to her, I also met Coral, a really good friend who has become a brother to me.
My group of friends got bigger when I met Taylor, a junior that cheers everyone up with his crazy hats, and three first-year students: Jasmine; Emily, with whom I had French class; and Danielle, with whom I spent my Thanksgiving. We are a peculiar group, and we always try to eat dinner together. Sometimes we are the last to leave Central Market because we’re having such good discussions.
Holidays here let me experience some of the big cities in the U.S. It is different from the calm life in Pella. Visiting Dallas, Texas, over winter break was a big change from the cold weather in Iowa. Visiting Chicago was the moment when I got close with Salma, the French language assistant from Tunisia, with whom I am still good friends. The East Coast showed me the real differences between small towns and big cities. It also showed me how overrated some cities are. As much as everyone loves New York City, I would never live there!
In second semester, I am much more confident with everything; I do not worry that much about fitting in or acting one way or another to please people. I have learned over the first semester how to survive this jungle. I have found a group of friends I am comfortable with, and labs are going great—even though I have days with a non-stop schedule. There are only four months left here. Instead of thinking that in four months I have to go back, I am going to enjoy every single minute I am here.
People ask me if I ever feel homesick. They are surprised that I always say no. I am the kind of person who thinks home is where you make it. And that is what I did: I made Central my home and the people here my family. My time here is coming to an end, and I just wanted to thank everyone that made my stay here a wonderful experience. I have learned a lot from you.
I will miss you all. GO DUTCH!