Arriving in my host culture was what I would like to think of as, “unreal”. I thought I prepared myself mentally, I thought I was well aware of the idea I’d be leaving home, but I kept forgetting that I really was leaving home and living in another country thousands of miles away for four months. That to me is unreal. The excitement was (and still is) so built up to a point it is like I am dreaming about something that could never really happen to me but here I am, living my dream. Mentally I am still in that phase of grasping reality and letting myself sink into my new culture, my new home. I anticipated this to happen though because thinking about the trip beforehand was even hard to grasp the idea that I really was living, it only felt like an idea. I guess that makes me the perfect example of a liminoid; I truly feel neither here nor there.
As a liminal being the most helpful, and enjoyable, thing I have found is participating in communitas. Communitas is unlikely friends facing challenges together. The only part about the definition I am not a big fan about is the word “unlikely”. I feel that when studying abroad the most important aspect is going in with an open mind and it is an open mind that makes everything “likely”. Maybe the communitas I surround myself with wouldn’t be my friends back home if we hadn’t studied abroad together, however, how would I know? If anything, they are simply something “new”. Anything is possible and anything can be new to someone. The communitas I have encountered thus far are amazing people. The laughs I have are ones I haven’t experienced in a long time and that surely says something. I do see though how communitas can be limiting in some ways. Slimbach had stated, about the communitas being double-edged, that “although it may provide vital social support, it can easily lead to stagnation in terms of cultural adjustment and learning… Until we’re able to actually risk new ways of thinking and behaving, our general well-being and field learning are likely to be hindered” (Slimbach 160). The communitas I have were the ones I surrounded myself with instantly, within the first few hours they were my friends. I am comfortable with them clearly because it was easy to adjust to each other in a matter of hours since we each were striving for the comfortable social support. My personal strength of a willingness to try new things helped me with my encounter on that end since I felt great making new friends. However, now we are all so close and only hang out with each other the majority of the time. This leads to many perks; I have a solid friend group, I have people to go out with, I have people to travel with, and I have people to laugh with. However, they are double-edged, so I feel that maybe this is limiting me from making even more new friends or pushing myself even further outside of my comfort zone. I can see other students interacting within their communitas exactly as I had described, everyone typically remains friends with those they hung around with within the first few hours of being here in the city. No one reaches outside of their communitas unless they push themselves to do so and put forth the effort.
What I have noticed is that challenges in a liminal state, when naturally encountered, can invoke more anxiety than if the challenge had risen while back in the states. Challenges are individualized trials that bring your outside of your comfort zone and make you learn something about yourself. One challenge I have encountered while being here is with housing. We had plumbing problems (still do), broken drawers so we couldn’t access our silverware, a currently still not working oven, and one shelf for storage in our double room. These challenges sound frustrating, which they were at first, however we love our apartment. It has taught us all how to be more independent and be adults. We have learned to contact people, in a foreign country, in order to come and fulfill our maintenance needs. Finding help was nerve racking because we were afraid we couldn’t do it but instead we pushed ourselves out there, fixed the problems we could, and learned to simply laugh at our apartments faults while loving our little humble abode. It instilled in us the idea that every situation is what you perceive it as. This is why we chose to be patient (something we learned about our host culture, nothing seems to be rushed here. They even find it weird we get coffee “to-go” in the states and cannot find the time to sit down and enjoy the coffee where we are) and laugh at what cannot be fixed.
The only strategy I have used to invite the unknown and cultivate a network of close-knit and supportive (international) friends is being open-minded and open to all new experiences people and things. I do not compare people to friends I have back home because I am open to having friends that are nothing like the ones I have in the states.
The picture I chose is of me in the streets of Barcelona. The face I am making perfectly describes my journey to date. I captioned the picture with, “This is the face I will make if you ask me if I love Spain”. The happiness I show in the photo is an accurate representation to my thoughts on my new host culture. I love the place, it makes me so incredibly happy and makes me reach and stretch outside of my comfort zone, even if it is by going for a simple run through these tiny narrow streets getting lost but in the end finally making it home with a whole new part of the city mapped out in my head. I cannot wait to continue my sojourn experience I have embarked on.