Short cuts into a Culture: Activity Courses worth Travelling to

There is no point learning to speak Spanish if you don’t go to Spain, so after school I packed my bags and went off to see how well I’d really done learning the language. What I hadn’t considered is how little I knew about the culture and my first, tentative steps outside of my hostel in Madrid were much more foreign than I hoped they would be. My first really successful conversation in Spanish was with a girl staying in the hostel who was from Barcelona and she offered to take me out for dinner and dancing. That’s where I saw what I was missing – the Spanish flair for the passionate and dramatic! I was speaking Spanish but the things I was saying must have sounded terribly proper and British – I needed more than just the language, I needed the body language and the flair. So as a way in I decided to enroll myself into Flamenco School.

My first days were dizzying, and it wasn’t just from the turning and spinning across the studio, it was also from trying to get my castanets trilling in time with my heels and my head and eyes looking anywhere other than at the girl in front of me!

But by the third day I was starting to get the hang of it and the rhythms started to make sense in my hands and feet, not just in my head. The lessons were all in Spanish, but I went to a school where they did lessons in English as well, but it wouldn’t have mattered much, a lot of Flamenco is taught in movement and demonstrations and part of the experience was learning the Spanish names for the movements and the positions.

I don’t know what people could see from the outside but inside I felt a little bit more graceful, and as if my movements were that little bit more purposeful. My new friend, who had also joined the classes with me thought I was more confident, but that may just have been because she got used to me or because everyone looks more confident in heels, a swirling black, floor length skirt and their hair up! But it was definitely a great way to absorb myself in the culture and get to know a place - my classmates would take me out after class to restaurants and bars I would never have found without them and made me eat and drink things I would never have tried.

I kept up with my Flamenco and I still go to lessons once a week. It got me into Madrid, but now I think of it as giving me that extra flair walking down the streets at home. Now when I travel I look for similar ways to absorb myself in a place, it makes it so much easier to meet people and it’s always a crash course in the local culture. Since then I’ve gone to Geisha School in Kyoto, taken Capoeira Lessons in Brazil and attended l’Ecole Chocolat in Belgium and each time it’s opened a lot of doors for me so I would definitely recommend it, even if you don’t have any of the language, it didn’t seem to matter in Japan!

More Great things to Learn on Location

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