One thing I have grown to love during my time in the Netherlands is the cheese sandwiches.
That admittedly doesn’t sound like a huge feat of cultural adaptation. However, on a broader scale I think the sandwich represents a lot about the culture here and how it differs from life in the US.
You see, when I say “cheese sandwich”, I mean literally, bread and cheese and maybe some arugula on top. That’s all – no condiments, no tomatoes or pickles, no meat. If you did want a meat, you could get it – but that would probably mean a tradeoff, meat instead of cheese.
I have now been to four Italian cities. I travelled to Florence earlier in the semester, and this past weekend I travelled to three cities in Italy: Cinque Terre, Milan, and Venice. I am going to write about some of my experiences in Venice, and how they surprised me and frustrated me at the same time.
In just one month in Spain, I have gone through orientation, met tons of new people (both American and Spanish), finished a two week intensive Spanish course, finalized my class schedule for the semester, and visited four different Spanish towns/cities. Yet, the lens that I viewed all of that through changed after reading an assigned article last week in one of my classes. The title of the piece is “The View from the Veranda.” The writing compares American study abroad students to colonial settlers. Years ago, settlers left their home countries to move to new colonial lands. They sought the adventure and excitement of travel and a new land. However, most only experienced colonial life through the view from their verandas: they engaged with the colonies enough to enjoy the excitement of something new, but they brought the amenities of their home countries and never immersed themselves into the native culture at a level that would be uncomfortable. Though I had never though of travel abroad in this sense, I see the truth in it. American students studying abroad expect the conveniences of home (internet, their own room, hot water, classes structured in American form, classes with the same dates as American semesters, etc.), even when it may not be the norm of the host culture. I definitely fall victim to many of these demands, as I don’t believe I could truly give up ties with my life back in the US. However, my goal is to strike a balance in which I leave my comfort zone on a daily basis. So far, I have accomplished this through my classes, my internship, and my travels.
Who: After much back and forth about what kind of housing I should choose, I can now say that I made the right decision in doing a homestay. I live in a modest sized apartment in the Nervion neighborhood with a 68 year old madre and her 39 year old daughter and 30 year old son-in-law (here, it is normal for children to live with their parents for a long time). My biggest trepidation in choosing a homestay was the fear of losing my independence, but that has not been the case at all. I am free to come and go as much as I want, and to my surprise, it is completely normal for kids my age to come back at 4am or 6am from the discotecas… I often feel more judged for coming back early on a weekend night than for staying out that late! I eat all of my meals with the family, and since I speak English with most of my friends in the program, this is a great chance to practice Spanish and learn more about each other’s cultures. Though frustrating at times because my madre speaks so quickly, I like that she doesn’t know any English because it forces me to use my language skills more. The son-in-law often tries to practice his English at the dinner table with me, but my madre yells at him that I won’t learn Spanish that way.
I love living in Barcelona! I feel so comfortable here, navigating the city via metro, walking when the weather is nice, visiting my regular restaurant and bakery. People are friendly, the area is safe, and I learn something new about Barcelona and myself every day. I have developed a routine and I feel comfortable sticking with it, but I also enjoy changing plans last minute, trying out new sites, restaurants, etc. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to avoid getting too comfortable because my time here is limited. But I think the finality of my semester inspires me to take advantage of everyday.
My first two weeks here have been an absolute whirlwind of emotions and experiences. Before coming to Copenhagen, to be honest, I hadn’t thought of how different the culture was going to be. Because I knew nearly everyone here speaks English (completely fluently at that), I automatically presumed that the culture couldn’t be that different. Ignorant, I know, but that was my thought process. After having arrived, I can say that boy was I mistaken. While many things are similar, the Danish way of doing things is much different. Here are a few things I’ve noticed.
Though I’ve only been in Bath for eight days, I feel like I’ve been living abroad for months! I expected to be surrounded by British culture, but I’ve truly had a global experience so far. I live in Carpenter House, which is mainly an international student building. In my flat, there are eight of us, hailing from Portugal, Finland, Australia, Holland, Singapore, Canada, and Australia. Our melting pot of culture usually collides in the kitchen, where we often spend time making dinner, sharing stories from the night before or our lives at home.
My first week is Barcelona was amazing but exhausting! I fell in love with the city at first sight, with its beautiful architecture, wide streets, and location right on the Mediterranean. However, I had no idea how tiring it would be finding an apartment, navigating the metro system, and speaking Spanish. I cannot imagine trying to navigate Barcelona without any Spanish background, because of all the Spanish (not to mention Catalan) spoken and written on street signs, restaurant menus, etc. I have spoken more Spanish this first week than I anticipated, mainly because I (naively) thought English would be spoken here due to the abundance of exchange students. But obviously Spanish would be spoken in Spain, so I need to step out of the safety net of English and instead embrace the Spanish language.