I’ve been living in Valladolid, Spain for almost two weeks. I’ve taken the first week to assimilate myself into living in another country, which, if you’ve never traveled abroad before, you must know is a difficult process. To our knowledge or not, we all get in routines in life. Even in my own life, which I frequently feel I enjoy more because I don’t do the same thing every day, I have some routines that affect my life. The last few days, I thought about all the things I’ve done and what I’d like to discuss, as there has been a lot that’s happened in the last two weeks.
In case you don’t know, cultural assimilation simply means trying to take all of my typical actions and habits and making them work in a country where many people’s daily lives have many differences from those of the United States. There are, of course, similarities as well, and these make the adjustment process easier.
A prime example of cultural differences is one that affects all of my life while here: daily scheduling. First of all, people in Europe, especially here in Spain, don’t take food or drinks to go. Eating is a priority in life, as is spending time with family, sleep, and many other scientifically proven benefits to human life that we as Americans lose in our daily rat race of work and business.
I’ve always thought that Europeans had much less stressful and healthier lifestyles than we do in America. Their food isn’t processed all the time, the have a set time to catch up on sleep in the afternoon if you’re tired, they’re generally more understanding of familial commitments, and they embed the fact that they value these things that we as Americans do not right into the schedule and culture of the country.
I absolutely love the fact that there’s an hour an a half every day (between 2:30 and 4 p.m.) that I get to return home and spend time with my host family. I do, however, miss drip coffee. If you know me, you know I have a major caffeine fix I need every day, and there’s no such thing as a black coffee to go here.
Another fun difference is the meanings of words. I speak fairly fluent Spanish, so general communication isn’t an issue, but individual vocabulary is sometimes fun. For example, bars are open in the morning when I walk to work. However, not all bars serve alcohol, because a bar is both the name of a business that serves coffee (because unlike in England, Spain doesn’t really have cafes) and the name of a bar like we would think of a bar in America.
However, I honestly enjoy a lot of these cultural differences. It’s why I like to travel.
Truthfully, the biggest difference for me has been living with a host family. I absolutely love my family; the mom and dad (Raquel and Ivan) are both younger parents who have fairly relaxed personalities and generally enjoy talking about different things, so we get along well. They have two of the cutest children I’ve ever met, named Hector and Helena. Hector is 6, and Helena is 5. Now, the majority of the time, everything is great. The kids show me their projects from school, talk to me in both Spanish and English so we all benefit from each others’ languages, and they even refer to me to their friends at school as their hermano mayor, which is Spanish for big brother.
The biggest adjustment hasn’t been living at a foreign home with people I didn’t know two weeks ago. In fact, the biggest adjustment has been living in a home with small children. The last time that I lived with children was when I was a child myself.
I’m generally very busy back home, and as a result of that and my personality, I’m not a very prompt person unless forced to be. I like to stay out late. I enjoy having my room look a certain way, which I’ve coined as being an “organized disaster”, aka it looks awful but I personally know where every important thing is if I needed it. You get the idea, so I’ll spare more examples.
Now, these things aren’t impossible by any means, and I like my family and respect them and appreciate them putting me up in their home, and as a result, am more than happy to follow their rules and do as they ask. However, I frequently feel bad about things that I don’t do or forget about, simply due to the fact that I haven’t had to consciously think about them for years. A great example is that I now make my bed in the morning because the children saw that I wasn’t and asked their parents why I don’t have to make my bed but they have to make theirs. Kids are so smart these days…
So yes, things are different, but different doesn’t always mean bad. Different, especially in my experience, usually means good.
I’m excited to see my friends and do some fun things in New York later in summer before returning to go get my Master’s degree, but I’m very much enjoying Spain right now. The city is beautiful, the people are always nice and fairly surprised to see an American that decided to actually learn another language instead of just assuming knowing English is enough and that everyone else should assimilate to it. My family is great. I’ve seen some beautiful places already that I will be reminiscing over for years to come with the photos in my phone. I couldn’t be happier to be experiencing something different.