Close your eyes for a moment. Oh wait, I take that back…you have to keep them open to read this blog post. METAPHORICALLY close your eyes and imagine you are in a land thousands of miles from home. Everyone in this land speaks a language with which you are only vaguely familiar, the food is COMPLETELY different from home, and everything down to your daily schedule does not reflect what you have been accustomed to for your entire your life.
Okay, open your metaphorically closed eyes.
How did it feel to mentally put yourself in that situation? Scary? Overwhelming? Weird? AWESOME!?!? Have you ever actually been in a situation like that? Have you ever DREAMED of being in a situation like that??
According to the ever-reliable dictionary.com, culture shock is defined as the following:
“a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.”
I don’t think “bewilderment,” “distress,” or “strange” are accurate words to describe my personal experience. Actually, “sudden exposure to a new or foreign social and cultural environment” is the only part of this definition I have found to be true. With that stated, living in Spain has definitely taken some getting used to.
In case you haven’t been following our adventures thus far, let me get you caught up. For the spring semester, along with fellow JCC student Luci Sena, I am participating in one of JCC’s international internships as an English instruction intern for United Cultures in Valladolid, Spain. We are teaching a variety of English classes as part of the internship, I am staying with a WONDERFUL host family, and we are taking advantage of our cultural immersion experience. So, what’s so “shocking,” you might ask? Let me explain.
First, the schedule. You have probably heard of the term “jet lag.” When you have previously never left the time zone in which you were born, flying to a time zone that has a 6 hour difference definitely took some getting used to. It took two full days to get my sleep schedule to a (relatively) normal state! Also, the majority of people living in Spain follow an irregular (at least to foreigners) daily schedule. As far as meals, breakfast is eaten around 8:45 a.m., lunch is eaten around 2:30 p.m., and dinner is not eaten until around 9:30 at night!
As long as we’re talking about eating, let me explain that the food here is much different from home. While I have passed both McDonald’s and Burger King multiple times, fast food is not a typical meal. Most foods here are fresh; open air markets, local butcher shops, and bakeries dominate the streets of Valladolid. I have not yet had one meal here that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. My favorite meal so far has been paella, a rice dish that my host family made for lunch one Sunday afternoon. Also in the “traditional Spanish cuisine” category are tapas. Tapas can best be explained as little snacks or appetizers. There are quite a few establishments around Valladolid that specialize in tapas, and each place usually has some sort of unique little dish.
Although I am understanding more and more each day, language continues to be a barrier…for now. As much as you can study in a classroom, the best way to actually fully comprehend and become fluent in a second language is to be engulfed in it. My Spanish is FAR from perfect, but I understand more than I did when I arrived, and I hope to be even better off after three months surrounded by the language!
I can’t believe I am already finishing up my third week abroad! I have experienced so many remarkable things in the time that I have been here, and I look forward to the next 10 weeks teaching, living, and studying in Spain!