Monday, September 14, 2015

On Being Abroad: 2 Week Reflections

Ok, so really it's two weeks and a few days, but both my computer access and wifi have been spotty at best so we're just going to call it two weeks. Tomorrow I'm headed off on the first of several trips with my program, so I thought I'd take a little bit of time to reflect and share a bit of my abroad experience with you!

I'm currently studying at the University of Salamanca (the third oldest university in the world, which is pretty rad) and am participating in a full-immersion program. They take that promise very seriously- since I stepped off the plane, it's been all Spanish all the time. I'm living with a host family which certainly has it's ups and downs and all of my classes are in Spanish which can be remarkably challenging, but I've also learned a lot about the culture. Some of the things that stand out to me the most?

1. We (collectively as Americans) are really f*ing nice all the time.
Have you ever noticed how much we apologize when someone else bumps into us and we thank our waiter every single time they top off our water glass? Yeah, that doesn't happen here. The other day, my host mother held up a pleather, bedazzled purse that I personally thought was hideous and asked me, "What do you think?" I, like many Americans, would rather meet the same fate as that guy whose helmet broke in Gravity or be forced to live out my days as a Nickleback groupie than tell someone directly that I don't like their bag, I gushed about how lovely it was and how well it would go with her cardigan. She agreed and went so far as to tell me how much nicer it was than any of my purses. #cool

2. Apparently no one in the world else understands the art of subtlety. 
Ok, so the Brits do it even better than us, but no one understands the eye roll, the side-eye, the exasperated sigh, the tight-lipped nod, or any other social cue that is widely accepted as a form of communication in the United States. Trying to get somewhere in a hurry? No matter how much you stomp/huff/puff/cough, no one is going to move out of the way for you. My host mother is a genuinely horrendous cook, so I started buying my own cereal and leaving everything she made me on my plate, assuming she would eventually pick up on the fact that I hate 90% of the things she puts in front of me without me having to tell her that directly. The other day, she accused me of having an eating disorder because apparently that is the only explanation for me eating 3 bowls of Special K with berries (#NoKashiStruggle) and then not eating anything else for the rest of the day.

3. The U.S. is remarkable wasteful.
The average person here lives with far, far less than most people in the U.S. could even fathom. Our entire apartment is about the size of my 6-person dorm suite last year, I shit you not. In fact, my room here is significantly smaller than any dorm I've ever had. People take shorter showers, electricity is on a timer, and there isn't much new construction happening.

4. The U.S. is also really f*ing expensive. 
I went to a restaurant the other day and got a piece of Spanish tortilla (an egg and potato frittata sort of thing) and cafe con leche for $2.25 (after conversion). Do you know what I could get in the U.S. for $2.25? Like 1/4 of a stale bagel from Starbucks or a pack of gum. Here I got a MEAL. Right now there's an enormous festival going on, so 2 euros will get you beer or wine and a tapa at most of the restaurants in town. Yes, the dollar is slightly weaker than the euro, but the prices here more than make up for it.

5. Personal space? Who needs that?
LOL JK I DO. Seriously, you might be one of two people on a beautiful, wide sidewalk and that one other person will walk right. next. to. you. My host mom opens the door without knocking ever and has walked in on me multiple times while changing. People will stand so close to you that they are literally breathing down your neck. Personal space is just not a concept that exists here and it's killing me.

6. We get to cut ourselves a little bit of slack for not knowing more about the world. 
People love telling Americans how ignorant they are, yet the vast majority of people I've met in Spain are far more ignorant about anything concerning the United States. My host mother was INSISTENT that I lived through Hurricane Katrina because I'm from California and that Ohio and Florida have the most expensive real estate in the country. According to her, we're also suffering an attack of bird-sized bees. Other things I've heard? There's a ditch along the border of California so anyone trying to illegally enter the country will fall into it, Texas fought for their own independence during the Revolutionary War, and we eat corn for breakfast!

Also, all the clothes/stores are branded with English words that are either a) completely out of context or b) just poorly translated. There's a store that's just called "Very Nice" and another called "Pull & Bear", and if I had a dollar for every person I've seen in a t-shirt that says something like 'Sunset Boulevard' or 'State of Rhode Island' I could drop out of school to travel full time. Also, I'm pretty sure people accept Google translate as gospel here. Need evidence?

If you couldn't tell, there are quite a few things I miss about the United States. Whole Foods, people understanding what a vegetarian is, peanut butter, not having random people breathe down my neck while waiting to cross the street. Even with all those things, Salamanca is amazing. I've got to get up bright and early for Madrid tomorrow and for more trip planning (Lexi and I have a couple super exciting trips in the works!) so I'm signing off for now but am officially back on the grid! Can't wait to share more of my adventures with you.

Yasi "But my food vocabulary has improved dramatically so #silverlining"