Even after the last blog post and after my plane landed in the United States, it is still hard to believe that I have left Spain. The fact that I am still in disbelief that I have left my host country relates to my biggest surprise over the course of the experience. For you see, the biggest surprise I encountered did not immediately sink in until I had arrived in the United States. I did not at all expect how easy I would fit in the Spanish culture, even coming from a Latin American background. Now that I have returned to the U.S., this experience makes me excited about my next opportunity to be back in Spain.
As my semester abroad comes to an end, there are many important things about my experience that I’d like to share with my friends. For starters, to any friend who is already thinking about participating in any kind of study abroad experience, my advice is to think carefully about the city you choose! You see, although at first I wished that I could have been at a bigger city like Madrid or Spain, after doing some weekend traveling to these big cities and other European capitals, I am thankful that I chose to study abroad in Valencia instead. Spending these past 5 months in Valencia has enabled me to familiarize myself with the city enough that I am familiar with the major roads and with local customs to an extend that I don’t think would have been possible in a much larger city. Moreover, whenever I came back home from a weekend trip or during one of my 2 spring breaks, in Valencia you have one for Easter and another one for Fallas, it truly felt like I was coming back home. However, because Valencia is a medium sized city, the third largest city in Spain, I’ve never felt like there is nothing to do on a given day or night so I feel like I can still enjoy the advantages of living in a big city.
It’s hard to process that in less than a week I’ll have left Valencia, my home for the last 5 months, and be on my way back to the United States. When I think about going back as leaving my host country rather than returning to my home country, I feel conflicted because although going back home and being in familiar environment appeals to me especially during times I have faced cultural shocks or difficulties. I have also become accustomed to my new environment and I’m sad that my experience here is coming to an end because I’m not entirely sure when it is that I’ll be back here
As a Latin American coming to Spain, I fully expected everything in the country to be in Spanish as it is in other Latin American countries. However, to my initial surprise there are 4 languages in Spain that sometimes take precedence over Spanish in their respective regions. Valencia is no exception as all street signs and public information is written in Valenciano, a dialect of Catalan, and sometimes Castillian (what we call Spanish) is also included, but not always.
After two months of living in Valencia, Spain, I have finally gotten into a daily routine. I think developing a daily routine for my typical weekdays speaks to how accustomed I have grown to life here in Spain. Although on the weekends, my routine changes as I take the opportunity to travel to other cities and countries within Europe, I always feel relief when I return Sunday night or even early Monday morning in some cases and am able to get back into the routine I have grown used to.
Although I think that I have been able to successfully adapt to the new culture I am immersing myself in, the Valencia culture, I have had experiences during my weekend trips to cities in other countries, where I have encountered cultural differences. I think that the short 2-3 days I am able to spend on my independent travel increases the chances of me encountering a cultural difference as I am not able to spend enough time in the new culture to comfortably adjust to it. For example, three weekends ago, I encountered many cultural differences in Geneva, Switzerland.
I can’t believe it as I am typing this reflection but I have been outside of the United States for almost two months and in Valencia for a month! I think that not being able to fully fathom how long I have been abroad shows how much I have adapted to Spanish culture and Southern European culture in general. I think that my Latin American background has helped me transition into life in Spain as I on a daily basis think about how similar Valencia and even Madrid are to cities in South America. Moreover, living here and witnessing these similarities has enabled me to see the lasting impact of the Spanish colonization of Latin America. However, that is not to say that I have perfectly adjusted to my new culture as I have still encountered issues when I was faced with a cultural difference.
It has offically been two weeks since I have arrived in Valencia and after the first hour of arriving it could not have been a better start. That first hour, however, was horrendous. Upon arrival I found that my bags were lost and my computer had inexplicably stopped turning on or charging. Since I did not take the group flight to Valencia I was alone in the ariport with a baggage claim service that did not speak english so I was immediately forced to start using Spanish to express myself. Well in reality I only kind of expressed myself in Spanish. Since the sheet she gave me to fill out was full of spanish abbreviations for my address, my expression took the form of shoving the one bag I did have against the glass of her cube so she could read my address and put the street, apt number, zip code and city in the right areas.
Having spent a week and the most time in one city since New Year’s eve, has allowed me to learn about the local culture and environment in a much greater for way. As a result, I have been able to notice more differences between my new environment and the one back at in the US. For starters, when I was backpacking 2 weeks before my program started, things such as the time one eats meals was completely up to me so I hadn’t encountered or thought there were going to be any substantial differences between US times and local time for meals. However, because I am a homestay student and therefore have a greater chance at experiencing local culture, I have come to learn and am currently adjusting to normal Valencian times, 2-4pm for lunch, and 9-11pm for dinner. Although it might not seem to a great challenge, the few days I have anxiously waiting for the clock to hit 9pm have shown me that eating meals early is something I am extremely adjusted and used to. Apart from this, I have also faced situations in which I have been faced with cultural differences. For example, last weekend, me, my hostmate, and my host mother took our first walking trip to school. During this walk, I have learned that Spanish and American notions of a short walk are extremely different as I don’t think any of my friends would consider a 40 minute walk to be short. However, me and my hostmate handled the situation well and kept smiling before we reached the UVA center and agreed we were going to commute using the bus. Fortunately, although I am in a foreign country I have not had much trouble in expressing myself in the host language as Spanish is one of my native languages. However, although I have great Spanish speaking skills, I have not had much opportunities to connect with local students and local people because all my classes are with American students and because it is the beginning of the semester, I have not yet started extracurricular activities through the school. Even throughout prior backpacking adventures, I have found that connecting with local people to be very challenging as when you are staying in hostels and visiting tourist sites, it is likely for you to only interact with other people traveling. Since a major part of learning about a new place and culture is to interact with local people, I will make more efforts in finding opportunities to do so.