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Immersion Spanish

‘It is true that the Philosopher’s stone cannot be found. But it is good to search for it’                Fontanelle

I don’t know what it is about having a zero in your age but it frightens even the most level headed of people. Often we are unprepared for the fast approaching crossing of the decade frontier. Zero birthday celebrations are frequently spent in the self-help section of ‘Waterstones’ or poring over a list of ‘things to do before 40’, written wine-soaked, aged nineteen when forty was the oldest age imaginable. However, this window of self-questioning and evaluation can give us sufficient courage to follow long forgotten dreams or to put into action newly invented ones.

A few weeks after turning thirty, to the consternation of family and colleagues, I made the decision to take a year’s sabbatical from my job as a hepatology registrar in a University hospital and to follow a plan hatched during my final year of college – to live in a foreign country and to learn the language to competency.

Choosing to learn Spanish was an easy decision, after Chinese and English it is the third most commonly spoken language and is the official language spoken in twenty countries in America, Europe, Asia and Africa. It is rumoured to be one of the easier languages to master but more importantly Spanish speaking cultures are renowned for their passion and colour and celebration of life.

The next question, however, where to study? was a little more complicated. During my research I came across a quote by Cervantes, one of Spain’s most renowned writers – ‘Take heed, daughter, that you are in Salamanca, which is known all over the world as mother of science and of ordinary things. There, eleven or twelve thousand students live and study, among whom you’ll find those who are young, enthusiastic, capricious, enterprising, wasteful, discreet, fiendish and good-natured people.’ My mind was made up – I was going to live and learn Spanish in Salamanca, Spain.

At the beginning of February, after a two hour flight from London to Madrid followed by a two and a half hour coach trip, I arrived in the cultural capitol of Europe 2002 – Salamanca. The following day I found myself, twenty minutes late, standing in the beautiful courtyard of don Quijote Language School waiting for Jesus. Coming from Ireland the prospect of meeting Jesus filled me with terror but Jesus (pronounced Haysoos) turned out to be the director of studies at the school. After assessing my Spanish ability (which took all of five seconds – he said ‘Hola’ and I said’ I’m sorry but I don’t understand’), he directed me up a narrow flight of stone stairs and into a classroom with five other students. Our ages ranged from fifty-four to twenty-one, our nationalities were English, Irish, Swiss, Dutch, German and French, and we all came from a variety of working backgrounds – philosophy lecturer, doctor, teacher, wine importer and college students, and experiences – the six of us made up the beginners class – inicio A1. My Spanish journey had begun…

Sara Woods studies at don Quijote in Salamanca. For more information about don Quijote, visit

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