On March of this year, I received an email from Spanish Minister of Education, about a scholarship, participating in an English summer camp for a week in some city inside Spain, full-board, paying only 100 euros and costs of transport.
Talk with native English speakers for a whole week? I had never done that before, not even for a day. I wasn’t sure if I should sign up for it. At the same time, I had already got a summer job for two months, and I had to figure out a way to put them together.
After doing some research, the reviews from the Internet finally convinced me. In the end, it’s my last chance (an undergraduate can’t apply for it). The result came out at the end of April. But it wasn’t until the middle of May when I could see all the available locations.
All of them are located in the South of Spain, in cities like Cuenca, Cordoba, Jaen, etc., where the temperature goes pretty high during the summer. None of the nine locations was near the beach. We were able to pick from four weeks of July. The camp starts on Sunday’s afternoon and ends on Saturday’s morning.
I had three days to decide the location and do the payment. I can’t drive, neither someone could give a ride, so my only chance was to take a bus or a train. I feel very dizzy on cars, especially when most of the bus trips would take at least four hours from Madrid.
So I decided to take a high-speed train (AVE). It goes much faster as you could guess, and the price goes higher too. Never tried one of these before, but it would be definitely better than a bus.
I had to investigate which place of nine had the best transport options. From Madrid is easy to reach all of those locations, but the number of the train is also an important factor for me. I had to be there on Sunday at 5 pm. It would be much better if the train drops me off like 30 minutes earlier. And I picked Cordoba - Canada Verde. It has more than ten trains from Madrid every day, and there is one with arrives at 16:17, perfect.
The ticket was booked on the 10th of June after I had finished the University Entrance Exam (a.k.a Selectividad). And all I had to do was to wait, until the 30th of June.
Day 1 - Sunday
I headed to Atocha station around 1 pm. It was my first time travelling alone, so I was really excited and nervous at the same time. The underground took me about 1 hour to get there. The machine printed my tickets and I started looking for where should I be at.
The train starts at 14:35, but the entrance was open like fifteen minutes earlier. I didn’t found my seat for the first time, because I went to the wrong car (the next one). But everything else came out flawlessly.
The trip took almost 2 hours. It was really pleasant. No dizzy feeling, nothing uncomfortable. Wi-Fi was available on during the ride, and the connection was good enough to watch videos. The landscape was enjoyable.
We had created before a WhatsApp group with Spanish people who are participating in this project. As soon as I arrived I sent a message asking for their location. Turned out that a girl, Lucia, took the same train, but she was on the car next to mine.
It was much easier and less panicking with someone beside you. We found the rest of the Spanish students and monitors, Bryan and Nicolas. We headed to a cafeteria inside Cordoba train station, and we started introducing ourselves.
At 5 pm we got inside a bus which took us to the camp. It didn’t start until 17:40 due to some people were still absent. (Some of them took the wrong train)
We arrived at 6:50 pm. We were assigned to different rooms. In my case, with another Spanish student Mario, plus three Irish guys: Jack, Aodhan and Adam. Actually, I didn’t know their nationality until this moment.
After we left all our suitcases in the room, we were asked to take an “English level test”, which is a part of Cambridge C1 exam according to the paper’s header. I didn’t take it seriously, after all, I’m taking a break from the summer job.
The landscape of this place is amazing, surrounded by mountains. Goats were walking around when we arrived. The weather was much better than in Madrid. I expected Cordoba to be hotter, and it felt really smooth and nice.
Talking in Spanish was something inevitable for the first day. I tried to talk in English, and it didn’t feel right.
The dinner time was at 9 pm. We had to sit face to face with a native speaker. It was the first attempt to break the ice between us.
But the real attempt came after dinner. We stood in two circles outside the facility, inside there were Irish people, and outside Spanish people, doing a huge Speed Date. We were like sixty people there, and it was really loud. I had to shout to make hear the person in front of me. I remember the feeling of wind touching gently my skin.
To be honest, there were almost thirty Irish people, and the place was getting darker every time. I forgot their name and face as soon as the next person kicked in. And when we finished, it was already 11 pm.
The bathroom gave me a shock. It didn’t even have a lock from the inside, so everyone could just get in during the middle of your shower (or whatever you are doing inside). I had to take the shower quickly.
The pillow wasn’t firm at all, and it was really unpleasant for me. I guess this is what you have to take when you are living out of a suitcase.
Day 2 - Monday
It was a tough night. I woke up many times because of the buzzing sound of mosquitoes, and the cold air. I checked the air conditioning after the loud wake-up music kicked in, it was set to 17 degrees, which is the lowest temperature. No wonder why I couldn’t sleep well.
The breakfast was at nine o’clock. The same rule, sit with a native speaker. It was toast plus cereals. I wasn’t awake at all.
There were five monitors. Each one of them had to lead a team. I was assigned to John’s team, 10 people, with an equal number of Spanish and Irish. The first task we were asked to do was to create a team name and slogan. I wasn’t creative in this area, so I left all in the hands of my teammates. And we were Shreddies. (I wasn’t aware of its meaning at that moment)
Obviously, we had to do a kind of “introduction” to our team, which allows us to win points for having the most creative team name or poster. And I had no idea what purpose had those points (which, at the moment that I’m writing this article, I still don’t get it. )
Before the lovely swimming pool time at one o’clock, we had a simple snack (croissant plus fruit juice). Everybody was looking forward to it. It’s summertime, and the swimming pool was indispensable.
But I wasn’t ready to touch the water. If you ask me why, then I’ll tell you the truth: I did not know how to swim, at the age of 19. Sounds embarrassing, and I know it.
I made my first step, convincing myself just to chill out and have the fun of this moment. The pool doesn’t have a rectangular shape, and its deepness increases slowly. So there was a small area where you can just lay down and relax.
Watching people having fun in the pool, I came up with something, a thought that I had buried for a long time: I have to learn how to swim.
Time flies when you are having fun. The lunch was penne plus chips and nuggets. Not a healthy diet, but who cares when it was delicious.
We had one hour of free time after lunch. I decided to take a nap since I hadn’t slept very well last night.
At 4 o’clock we had to go to each team’s location, which, in my case, was a big hall with a screen projector. We had to prepare some “project” to present at the end of this week, but it did not have to be something serious, and we were split into smaller teams.
I was with Karla and Ily, and we decided to do an acapella singing. We picked the cup song, and I was going to do the singing, while Karla making the cup rhythm and Ily doing some Beat Box.
There was an hour before dinner for taking a shower. I preferred to take it before sleep, so I was with the rest of the people in the garden.
In order to avoid talking in Spanish during the camp, the monitors came up with something which I’ll never forget about: peg. There were 6 pegs, and each monitor had at least one. If they caught someone talking in Spanish, the peg was given to them. That person could do the same to the next one. The one who had the peg at 22:00 had to do something embarrassing in front of people.
22:00. After dinner. The punishment came. People who had the peg were asked to leave, and the rest of us were with Luke, the director of the camp. That day’s punishment was to propose to Connor, one of the monitors. It was a little bit embarrassing.
The sky was amazing. It was clear enough to see stars and lights of Cordoba Capital from the balcony. I tried to take a few photos using my phone, but it didn’t come out well.
Day 3 - Tuesday
I asked my roommate Aodhan to teach me how to swim. He was part of a swimming club in Ireland and had participated in competitions. The first thing he tried to teach me was to float up.
“The trick is to relax your body, and the water will float you up”, he said. Sounded simple, but I was never confident enough to pull my legs up. I was scared of drowning, as something instinctive. I had to be near to the border of the pool, holding something in order to make myself feel safer.
I tried so many times until the rough surface made a wound on my elbow, and it started to be itchy. I took a break from it, hoping it would be better the next day. But I knew if I couldn’t overcome my fear of drowning, I won’t be able to move forward.
After siesta time, we started practising again our performance. This time, we wanted to add a new song to it, because singing the whole cup song would be too boring. Karla proposed We can’t stop by Miley Cyrus. I thought it was a good and well-known song, and Ily was able to add some BeatBox to it.
We played Room 101 before dinner. There were five categories, and each team had to come up with something that they hated the most related to it. I went there and talked about a dirty toilet, which is something really common, but it disgusted many people.
Today’s punishment for speaking in Spanish was to walk through a path covered by our cell phones with eyes covered. Obviously it won’t be like that: once the person had its eye covered, we picked all out phones up, and we had to pretend that there were still phones all over the floor, trying to guide him, and finally, that person would step into a plastic basin full of water.
None of us was expecting a crime scene investigation game after such fun punishment: one of the monitors were murdered and we had to find out the cure and the killer. The whole facility went dark, and it felt spooky. When we decrypted the secret code (licence plate number, it was obfuscated), another team had already reached the destiny about 20 seconds earlier.
Day 4 - Wednesday
Today’s main task was to make a Lip dub video, which will be submitted to Youtube like previous years. Each monitor suggested a song, and we picked Connor’s: Shut up and Dance - Walk the moon.
A part of the song was assigned to us, and we had to come up with something which fit with the music. The whole process went faster than I expected: the final take was done within 2 hours. (It was a good song, but hearing it repeatedly for so long made me hate it.)
I tried again the technique to float up, and I still couldn’t let my legs go. No advance at all that day and it really made me feel angry with myself.
Afternoon’s task was to prepare a shadow play for that night. We had to invent a story and tell it using some puppet made by paper (which would create a shadow on the screen). The story we told was really disgusting, related to last day’s Room 101 activity.
The biggest thing that happened that day was the killer game. Luke introduced this to us after snack time, and everyone was part of this game. There were two boxes of papers: the first one had names written on, and the second one had names of items on.
The rule of the game was simple: give to the person you had to kill the item specified, and that person would be dead or eliminated from the game, and their target would become yours.
Everyone was part of this game, which means nobody could be trusted, even the monitors. And that could become the most exciting or the worst part of this game.
The game escalated really quickly: two people were already dead within one hour after the announcement. My target was Leanne, the monitor, and I had to give her a pillow. The game is forbidden on rooms, so I couldn’t get inside it and give her one.
After many simulations and thinking possible ways to accomplish the objective, I decided to take a break from it, focusing on surviving first: don’t take anything at all from everyone. Sounds ridiculous, but it was the way to win this game: be cautious all the time. I lose my guard for seconds, and that why I lost two days after.
Day 5 - Thursday
I figured out a way to get Leanne: ask her for some pillow as something that I needed to kill somebody else, and then return one of them to her because “I didn’t need it anymore”. And the plan worked, she regretted the second she put her hand on the pillow and gave me her target: Juan Antonio with a box.
I realised that this game was about ruining the trust between us, and it made me feel nervous.
Today’s swimming lesson was far more than I had expected: Juanan, Adhoan, Adriana, Islem, Ana… all of them were ready to teach me, and they really did it: I learned how to swim backwards and to float up. The feeling was strange and exciting at the same time. All the water I had swallowed was worth it.
I smiled, and done it once more before we left the pool for lunch.
It was time to do our performance after siesta. I wasn’t quite ready for it, to sing in front of people for the first time. When it was our turn, I put the recorder on and started to sing as we had done the day before.
It came out well. Except for the last part of We can’t stop which I went too high, and couldn’t handle well the voice. But I liked it.
Day 6 - Friday
There were many things that I was unsure of, except for one thing: I wasn’t ready to leave this place yet.
It was the last swimming pool session, and I invested all of my strength to it. That day, Adriana was with me all the time, and I did make some improvements. I was confident enough to let my legs go and started to learn how to swim forward.
Last day, Mario, my roommate, show up at night dressed up as a girl. Maybe it had inspired the monitors, and all of us were asked to do the same: girls dressed as boys, and boys as girls.
So many girls knocked on our door asking for male clothes. I got a blue dress from Alysia, and Karla did makeup for me. It was my first time dressed up as a girl, and to be honest, it wasn’t uncomfortable, except for the feeling of lip paint.
We showed up like this during dinner, and it might be the best one for the whole week. We were so talkative and open, like we had known about each other for a long time.
But the real show came after dinner: competition between boys and girls about songs, like guessing a slowed-down song. I lost my voice after shouting for more than two hours. (Actually, I had it already damaged because of Tuesday night disco).
The stars were so bright that night. A sky full of stars.
Day 7 - Saturday
I woke up earlier this morning because we had planned the night before to do some morning workout. Turned out that the exit door was locked, and no monitor was awake.
At 8:30, we turned up the big speaker, and started to “wake up” monitors as they had done to us, or much more than that: we were shouting and jumping all over the corridor like a farewell party.
Spanish students received a certificate for participating in this project. Tears were inevitable at that moment. I, like the rest of the Spanish students, started taking photos with the Irish people, knowing that it was probably the last time seeing all these people together.
I asked monitors if I could say something before everything ends, and I took out the speech that I prepared the last night:
Dear all monitors, Irish and Spanish people.
Here we are, on the last day of our English summer camp at Hornachuelos. I guess none of us is ready to leave this place, to leave the friendship that we just created, to leave all that we have built during the last 6 days.
But the time has come, and I’m sorry to say that we all have to let it go. I probably won’t see you again together for the rest of my life. And I don’t want to accept that. I have to say something that I think most of us agree with me: this summer camp is too short. A week is just not enough, it has to be at least 2 weeks, one week for getting to know about each other, and another one for having fun. We have just got to know about each other, and we have to leave already. Come, guys.
Thank you so much for making this week amazing and unforgettable. It’s my first time participating in an English summer camp, and I loved it. Thanks to monitors for your hard work. And a big thanks to those people who taught me swimming, helping me get through it. I love you.
I wish all the best for you guys. This is not a goodbye, it’s a see you later. Remember me as I do to you guys.
The bus to Cordoba came at 12 o’clock. We stepped on it unwillingly. It took almost 1 hour to get to the train station. I had booked the ticket for 15:04. 4 of us were on the same train but on different sections.
And I saw my bed again at six o’clock.
I wasn’t comfortable when I woke up the next day, seeing something different than what I had been seeing the last seven days. I missed my roommates. I missed those moments we shared together. I missed Hornachuelos.
All of this was like a dream, a long dream that lasted for seven days. I wish I could be there again, with all of them.
In memories of Segovian Grasshopper, Invictus, Scary Fairies, Spirland; and last, but not least, Shreddies.