Spanish lessons? Put a bird on it

Deacon Blog

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My single biggest regret about my academic life at Wake Forest is that I failed to spend a semester abroad at Casa Artom or Worrell House. Alumni I meet never hesitate to wax nostalgic about their happy days during their semester abroad and, in some cases, will tell you how they fell in love with their spouse during those months across the pond.

You will find a shortage as acute as cheap Facebook stock shares if you look for recent alumni and current students who made my mistake. Study abroad is de rigueur these days at Wake Forest, and abundant choices include Flow House in Vienna and various programs that can be tailored to our students’ aspirations, from Managua to Madrid.

This semester I heard an entirely fresh take on the study-abroad experience that will have our Wake Forest heroine telling tales for the rest of her days. As far as I know, Clare Rizer, a rising senior from Charlotte, N.C., did not meet her future spouse during her semester in Madrid last fall. She did, however, meet one very nosey, sassy parrot.

“Last night was a blast, eh?”

I’ll let Clare tell you her story. (By the way, she  is a rising senior majoring in history with a minor in Spanish and sociology. She’ll be a Wake Forest Magazine intern next fall.):

“While it is common for Wake Forest students to study abroad in a country with a language barrier and experience firsthand the difficulties of grappling with the unfamiliar, it is uncommon, however, to learn a new language from the mouth, no, beak, of a caged, avian amiga. Cuckoo was my sister abroad, my very loud, obnoxious and narcissistic sister. She was an African Grey Parrot with a red tail and, for some inexplicable reason, she chose to pluck herself of all hairs on her breast. Comical appearance aside, Cuckoo had a voice that filled the apartment (and that of our upstairs neighbors) with daily, intermittent cackles, questions … and even catcalls.

“Cuckoo lived in the parlor of my host mother, Elisa’s, apartment. As her husband was living in the southern region of Spain with his ill mother for the majority of the fall, Eliza found in Cuckoo a joy: her pet, companion and child all wrapped into one. I first encountered Cuckoo as I strolled down the apartment entrance hall for the first time. I heard a mysterious voice say “Hola, Guapa” (“Hello, beautiful”) in Spanish. I immediately assumed it was an overzealous male of the household, but then glanced over to see the thing that, in a few short weeks, would become both my teacher and my nemesis.

“Spain is a country that never sleeps. Or, in my opinion, sleeps at the most inconvenient hours of the day (don’t even get me started on the pitfalls of siesta). I experienced this aggravation firsthand. Cuckoo enjoyed the hours between dusk and dawn and used the quiet time to her personal advantage. When all the lights were out and the house was silent, Cuckoo began to coo. She had a whistle that I can still mock perfectly to this day. She made her own music while I simultaneously attempted to drown out her late-night noises. One night, however, she silenced her whistling and instead began to speak Spanish words. It was that night that I realized this bird and I would form a special bond. I removed my headphones, eagerly absorbing her impressive dialogue.

” From that day forward, I embraced Cukoo as my personal tutor, and we gabbed away many afternoons together.

“Cuckoo: ‘Hola, guapa.’ Como estas? (Hi, pretty. How are you?)

“I : ‘Muy bien chica. Y tu?’ (Very well, and you?)

“She taught me Spanish sarcasm and slang — ‘Noche fue una juerga, eh’ (Last night was a blast, eh?)  — and through her guidance as my renegade tutor, I was the most ‘in the know’ study-abroad student at my school. The incessant ‘Hola, guapa’ chants were also an exciting self-esteem boost each day before and after school, and I do selfishly miss that daily comfort and frequent question: ‘Es tu tarea muy muema?’ (Is your homework very dull? I would respond, ‘Obviamente, chica.’ Obviously, girlfriend!)

“At my ‘last supper’ on my final day in Spain, Elisa let Cuckoo out of her cage for the first time since my arrival and, as dignified as ever, my little friend pranced around the living room, accentuating her human qualities in full. Tipsy on Spanish wine, Elisa, my roommate and I laughed until our stomachs hurt, giggling at our pompous and loquacious companion. This semester, bookended by the antics of a small bird, was truly what I would call, ‘unrivaled by any.'”

There you have it. While Cuckoo will remain a singular pal, Clare experienced a study-abroad semester that is typical from what I hear from Wake Foresters everywhere. It was “una juerga” alright — a blast.

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