We have been here living in the heart of Alicante for almost two weeks now, and the experience thus far has been everything but “normal”… but in the best way possible. The Sunday evening we arrived, we all gathered at a hotel to meet our host families, and off we went. It has been so fun to talk with the other UWT students about their families and living situation is far, because even as we are all becoming accustomed to the Spanish culture, we are all experiencing different family cultures as well! Personally, I am thoroughly enjoying my host family and the immense hospitality they have shown me, I really feel part of the family and have been quickly reminded of the direct but cariñoso (affectionate) culture here. My host parents have definitely challenged my Spanish by correcting me and have already spent countless hours talking with me over lunch, and the little kids have taught me so much too!
Although we are all adjusting to our new families, transportation to school, classes at the university, and the fact that we live fifteen minutes from the beach, the reason the adjustment has been a bit chaotic is due to Los Hogueras de San Juan – the largest festival of the year in Alicante! This festival that lasts about nine days is dedicated to the fire with many events such as firecracker competitions daily at 2:00, parades, tents (barracas) set up all around the city to eat, drink, and dance, and the most important… the fires! The main event was on the 24th of June and is in honor of Saint John the Baptist and is known as the night of burning. There have been breathtaking sculptures put up all around the city with profound meanings that we all got a chance to look at every day. The night of June 24th, these are all set on fire (seriously) and firefighters have to put out the blazes with their firehoses. As you can imagine, the sizes of the crowds are something I’ve never seen before, as people fly in from all over Europe, and if you’re too close to the fires, you’ll get sprayed!
It’s hard to choose which experiences have been my favorite, but there definitely have been a few highlights throughout these festivals. One of these was the bonfires and fireworks at the beach one evening. We all walked down to the beach at midnight, not sure what to expect, and there was music, dancing, hundreds of people with bonfires, and some even swimming! There has been a nonstop celebration here, and it has been fun to witness the passion and excitement from the Alicantinos and Spaniards participating. Another incredible experience was the different parades that were held in the streets, that went for about 3-4 hours. The details of the costumes and beautiful colors were beautiful to look at, and it is clear there is representation and participation from all ages! The first parade I attended was full of real, fresh flowers held by those walking, which were then all hung up on a wall of the cathedral. Lastly, a fun fact about this Mediterranean city is that there is a castle – called the Castle of Santa Barbara – on a huge hill right in front of the beach and the city! We had the opportunity to visit the castle as a group on a tour where we learned so much about the history behind it. Some of us are also planning on hiking back up as a good workout one of these days!
Of course, I am a bit overwhelmed with all the grammar, language, and culture I am learning in my classes, but I could not be happier with the amount of history I am learning about the Spanish language and culture of Spain. After all of these very late nights during the festivals (seriously, it’s pretty normal for people to stay out until 3:00-4:00 AM!) I am definitely thankful for the daily siestas.