It is hard to believe that almost fifteen months have passed since my “gran aventura” in the colorful and culturally-rich land of jamón and flamenco.
With my long hair, gringo-style “Spanglish” and an embarrassingly-inflated confidence in my multicultural communication abilities, I embarked on a quest to conquer Spain. As the story goes, I returned with longer hair, newfound humility and a profoundly expanded perspective of the world.
I’ll never forget the feeling of getting into the car with my host family for the first time… With suitcase and youthful naïveté in-hand, I was immediately inundated with a slew of questions in a language that was not my own. Struggling to decipher a central idea from the heavily-accented Andalusian dialect being spoken to me, I had the sudden realization that I was now a foreigner, that the world was actually bigger than my small American bubble, and that I better figure out how to fake some Spanish or I was going to be the laughing stock of Sevilla! Aided by the creative application of hand gestures and loose analogies (involving the approximately 20 words in my vocabulary) I did in fact survive and succeed in procuring a life-sustaining ration of tortilla española.
The five months I spent in Spain were, como mis amigos españoles dicen sobre mi, LOCO. Amid the challenges of living and studying in a distant land, I accumulated “un montón” of hilarious stories (mostly consisting of cultural misunderstandings and unintentionally-conveyed romantic advances.) However, the true impact of my Spanish experience lies in the lessons that I learned from the brave Sevillanos who took me under their wing and made me feel like I belonged (though my nublado blanco skin informed rational observers that I was no less than 6000 kilometers removed from my own flock).
Making friends with “actual Spanish people” was truthfully one of my greatest hopes at the outset of the journey. Though saying it will probably convict me of at least one stereotype about Americans, I was initially incredibly curious about what a Spanish college person would be like, and how they would be different from me as a result of growing up outside the direct influences that I had experienced in the United States. (***This is not to say that I harbored any sentiments of American Exceptionalism or cultural superiority ok? I just hadn’t met anybody from Spain in my life yet ).
Anyway, I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend an Intercambio party at the beloved UPO, where I met a number of outgoing Spanish people (incidentally, many of whom are distinguished H writers/staff :D)
These guay people were incredibly welcoming to me and though I’m sure they were grieved by my frequent misuse of their language, they showed me great patience and were extraordinarily willing to repeat things for the third, fourth, or fifteenth time.
As my direct connection to Spain, “mi gente” (as I call them) epitomized the openness and hospitality of the Spanish culture, and really convinced me that the heart of the nation was good. In many ways, I was reminded that people are not so different across national lines, that genuine friendship, humor, and communication exist on a level more fundamental than language. However, I also learned a lot from the perceived contrast I saw between the driven, high- stress culture that I come from, and the seemingly relaxed vibe of my Spanish friends. In Spain, life wasn’t all about getting to the next-level, it was about enjoying the people and places you found yourself in.
Upon returning home to continue my International Business studies at Drake University in Des Moines, I found that I had a profoundly different perspective about the world. With a newfound desire to seek to understand people from other places, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet international students from an array of countries including China, Malaysia, Italy, Germany, Myanmar, and Japan. As a result of my own experiences abroad I was better able to understand how these individuals might be feeling as visitors in that peculiar land called the United States. Through my job as a Resident Assistant in student housing I worked very hard to aid my international friends and to support them however I could as they adjusted to American culture and the English language.
To this day I really miss the narrow, winding streets of Spain, the mystique of the culture that celebrates tradition, life, love, and song and the equally sacred ritual of tapas. Even more so, I miss the friends I made along the way, who made me feel welcome in a place I didn’t know, and who showed me that it was ok to be lost in translation.
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