Just like any other day, my roommate and I are taking the metro to class. We quietly discuss our weeks ahead, travel plans, and joke with one another. However, we are quite different from your stereotypical abroad student. We speak at a quiet tone, just loud enough so that we can only hear one another. We also try to mix in as much Spanish as possible, using phrases and vocabulary recently learned in class. As we are having a discussion on the train, blending into the environment around us, we arrive at the next stop and a group of Americans walk on the metro. My roommate and I look at each other and roll our eyes, as the abroad students discuss, quite loudly, how drunk they had gotten at the club the night before. They’ll even discuss flaws in Barcelona’s transportation system compared to New York, as if no one else on the train could speak English. Locals’ eyes are drawn to them, and then one by one each look away with annoyance.
That scenario is something that I see far too often, and has reminded me that not all students are mindful travelers, but rather glorified tourists looking forward to seeing their other American friends at the next tourist stop and club to attend. In the text, Slimbauch discusses how Americans have a hard time adapting to new cultures, and rather feel that they do not need to, because of their American pride. While abandoning American culture is unappealing, it is necessary to try and blend with the local environment as much as possible. This is especially true with study abroad students, because we only have a limited amount of time in these new places. Three and a half months may seem long at times, but in reality it is only a small part of our college experience, and our lives. Many of us will not get the opportunity to live abroad again, so to learn and grow, time must be used wisely. Some ways that I have found helpful to adapt to the culture is to carefully observe local behavior, and then speak to locals as frequently as possible. This has given me insight on their thoughts and societal norms, making it easier for me to transition into this new place. Next, I try to speak the language as much as possible, even if it still needs tons of improvement. I have never taken a Spanish class before, so while I’m still a beginner, I try hard to adapt and blend in when possible. Lastly, my friends and I try to find local spots to go out and explore, where we meet many international students and people. All of these things are proactive steps that can be taken to gain a new prospective, as opposed to using this as a semester to drink and eat new food. As Henry Miller said, “One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.”