Lexi Cox-Contributing Writer (Off Campus:Spain)
Wow! I have spent almost an entire semester abroad! This has easily been the craziest thing I have ever done in my life. Throughout this semester, I have tried new, amazing (and not so amazing) foods and seen so many crazy things. Studying abroad has been nothing like I ever expected, and so I decided to make a list of things you can expect if you decide to study abroad in Spain, too.
1. Terrifying conversations
Spaniards will very bluntly interrupt and yell what Americans consider to be insults during normal conversations with each other. This does not necessarily mean that they are angry or think badly of anyone; this is simply how they are taught to communicate. I was once told, “If you don’t yell, you won’t be heard, and if you don’t interrupt, then they won’t stop talking.” I have also been told that I do not eat enough vegetables and that I will have heart problems. Most of the time receiving “insults” from a Spaniard only means that they care about you, so you have to try and understand that while immersed in Spanish culture.
2. Making friends
This is a given, but still so crucial. This semester can be difficult for anyone, and, without friends or some sort of support system, it will be even harder. You have friends and family back home, but they will not always be awake at the same time as you to support you when you need it. And even then, long distance communication is simply not the same. The language barrier can be tough when speaking to people around you, but it is still nice to have someone to sit by you or give you a hug when you are down. Everyone is capable of communicating care and love in that way. For everyday life, if your Spanish is not very good and communicating with adults is a little awkward in general because you can’t understand each other, I suggest making friends with children. They have an easier vocabulary and are learning the language themselves. I have found that the least creepy way to accomplish this is to meet them at church.
3. Mystery food
Bread, bread and more bread. Every meal will have bread served with it. They like potatoes, fish and bread. Depending on the family, you may get a lot of French fries and fish. You will be served food you do not recognize, and, if your Spanish is anywhere near my level, you learn to accept that you will never know what that new food is, exactly. But sometimes it is better that way. One day, for instance, I was served baby eels, and another day I was served pig’s face, a food that, for the record, is very spiny and consists of literally only cartilage. I decided to stop asking my hosts to tell me about my food after that incident.
4. Midnight supper, not snack
I ate breakfast at 8:30 AM, lunch at 3 PM and supper at 10 PM, sometimes 11 PM. My family ate the latest out of anyone I knew, but I did not know of anyone who ate lunch earlier than 2 and supper later than 9. To survive this change in eating schedule you have to utilize snacks, and I suggest using Spain’s delicious oranges to fill the need. It’s really not as horrifying as it sounds; your stomach adapts.
5. Walking miles
If you think walking from Covenant is horrid, I have some news for you: most students in Spain have to walk 30 minutes or more to get to school each day. In Spanish culture, walking everywhere is expected. If it takes less than 30 minutes to walk somewhere, it makes little sense to Spaniards to do anything other than to walk. There are streets made only for pedestrians, but because walking is so popular these roads are the same size as normal streets. This is not that bad, either—after the first week. Your body will adapt to it.
6. Seeing the world
Studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity to see different parts of the world, but do it wisely. If you travel, know that staying in a hostel is good for meeting other travelers, an Airbnb is good for getting local insight on where to go and a hotel is good for nothing. Budget and plan early on so you know that you will have enough money to make it to the end of the semester. Seeing different cultures and experiencing what each country has to offer opens up your worldview and allows you to understand others more. It is a very valuable experience.
My experience studying in Spain has been full of surprises, to say the least! However, the biggest piece of advice and the biggest lesson I have learned this semester is this: do not care too much about stuff that does not matter. In the grand scheme of life, I will not care if I got a C or an A in a class, as long as it got me the credit I needed. I will not care if I saw all the things I said I wanted to see. I will not care if I did the grandest things and had the most exciting stories. All I will care about is if what I did brought me joy and happiness. So, you might as well enjoy all the situations you are in to the fullest, because that is what you will care about in the long run.
¡Buena suerte con su aventura!