There were so many emotions in the car on the way to the airport. Between my parents, my sister, and me we were all excited, nervous, overwhelmed, happy, sad, and everything in between. My flight was delayed an hour and a half, so that made my walk through the gate and official separation a bit harder, but to my surprise, it was not as difficult as I expected. Luckily there were lots of words of encouragement and hugs but only a few tears. I met up with a few girls in my program at the airport, which helped feel less alone and more secure with leaving. When I arrived in Madrid 7 hours later I was a bit nervous about navigating an unfamiliar airport without the help of my parents, but the group of us were able to figure out where to go together and eventually made it to our hotel. Over the past few days we have been exploring different cities in Spain such as Madrid, Toledo, and Córdoba. Living out of a suitcase packed for 4 months has been quite difficult, but the excursions have been nothing shy of amazing. I cannot believe how much I have learned, seen, and explored in such a short period of time. I reached my final destination of Sevilla just 48 hours ago and am so excited to be settled in and living here!
Although I haven’t been in Sevilla for too long, I feel more at home here than any other city simply because I have a room with a closet and a place to call home. I’m living in what is known as a residencia, which is like a big apartment in the heart of the city. There are 20 study abroad students here including myself and we have a family that comes in and cooks, cleans, and does our laundry. Communicating with them is tough considering they only speak about 5 words of English, but the combination of my intermediate level Spanish and hand gestures help to get the point across! As far as the city goes, it’s a great size and there are such nice people here but of course I do feel out of place. People can tell I am an American within seconds of looking at me, even if I don’t open my mouth. I am trying to blend in by following tips about clothing, where to go, what to do, and what to avoid, but unfortunately I still manage to stand out in a crowd. My Spanish is getting better and I am learning new phrases and words every day. I am hoping that breaking the language barrier over the next few weeks here will assist me in my adaption to this new way of life.
Because my study abroad trip is facilitated through a program called API, I have gotten the chance to meet and spend time with tons of other American study abroad students. Going on excursions with all of them has been great because I obviously wouldn’t want to, nor would I know how to, explore all these different places completely on my own. I feel like we are all there for each other and can look to each other when experiencing a new food or gesture or even street sign that we are unfamiliar with. At the same time I feel as if having all of these people around me could hinder my study abroad experience because they are like a comfort zone that I am hesitant to leave. The shy, anxious part of me wants to cling to the American friends I have made, but the courageous and more exploratory part of me knows this isn’t a good idea. I have no doubt that the presence of this security blanket is helping me more than it will hurt me, but I need to be aware of how much time I am spending with people from my home country versus the locals if Sevilla because I don’t want to miss out on cultural involvements and opportunities that may come my way. I have noticed that some students choose to stick very closely to their friends from home and opt to have other students translate for them when they need something rather than attempting to speak Spanish on their own. I view these people as examples of what I do not want to do. They are a good reminder for me about why I came here and how I do not want to look back my time studying abroad and think that I took the easy way out or didn’t get the full cultural experience out of my journey.
I have noticed that things I would consider challenges here are much different than things I would call challenges back home. Based on what I have encountered so far, I would define my challenges here as things I took for granted when I was living in America, or things that I was so used to in America that have changed and that I now need to adapt to here. Some examples include having heat and air conditioning throughout my home, having a car, having a very limited supply of hot shower water, blending in with crowds of people, being able to eat what I want when I want it, altering my sleep and meal schedules, knowing my way around town and feeling secure with my surroundings, being unaware of cultural expectations and manners, and easily being able to communicate using the English language. (I could go on…) Although these seem like complaints, they really aren’t because I knew when I came here that I was signing up for a new life that would not be like what I am used to. Slimbach mentions a quote from Janet Bennett that I think really sums up how I feel about these challenges. “It is not merely ‘not knowing what to do’ but it is more a case of not being able to do what one has come to value doing.” (Slimbach, 154)
The more time I spend here, the more I realize how spoiled I am back home. Compared to what I have seen and experienced in Sevilla so far, I have noticed what luxurious lives most Americans live. Not everyone in Spain has a car, or heat, or air conditioning, and they are definitely way more concerned with saving water, turning off lights, and other things of that nature. I think my time here is helping me to better distinguish between wants and needs. I am definitely learning to “not sweat the small stuff” and becoming a more easygoing individual by letting the little things roll off my back.
I had an orientation for school today at La Universidad Pablo de Olavide. There they presented the many options I have as a study abroad student to get involved with Spanish students and their community. Currently I am considering going to Spanish primary schools and helping to teach young children English, babysitting for some local families, and joining the Flamenco club to take classes! Although the thought of doing these things scares me a bit because my American friends will not be there to hold my hand, I think they are great opportunities and will help to facilitate my entry into the Spanish community. As these and more cultural involvements come my way, I hope to be as open and accepting as possible to new thoughts and ways of doing things. I will try my best to put myself out there and involve myself in these events as they come along, being as flexible and comfortable as possible. (Even if I need to fake it ’till I make it!)
I chose this picture to describe my journey to date because I really feel that it highlights my liminal status. While I am here in Sevilla I am still an outsider, overlooking the happenings of the city but not truly partaking in them firsthand just yet. I feel like I am more a part of this new country than I every was before, but at the same time I am still fully aware that I do not blend in and am always conscious of my actions and how they affect my portrayal to the Spaniards. During my time here one of my goals is to work my way to the inside, so much so that tourists who visit this country are able to stand where I am in this picture and see me as someone that blends and belongs in Sevilla.