I’m a month into studying abroad, the chaos has somewhat subsided, and my life has finally developed into some semblance of a routine. Along with that, I’ve started to notice several trends in my day to day life that reallyyy would have been awesome to know during my first week here. Without further ado, here’s my advice to my past self:
Cash is not dead. Otherwise known as “efectivo”, cash is something you’ll use far more often than you think! Before heading to Spain, I was told by everyone that transactions would be practically paperless and all I would need would be a credit card. That was only half right. It’s true that most places take credit cards (make sure yours has a low international exchange rate!), but I can’t count the number of times I have reached into my purse for a few euro coins. It’s common for customers to not split the check in restaurants, meaning you either dig out some cash for the table to pay or end up paying a friend with venmo or a few bills. Another example of where cash is very prevalent is the bus system. For the occasional bus ride using city buses, the ride is cheap but often only accepts cash instead of card. The same goes for popping into an estanco to buy stamps or postcards–it's often easiest to pay with a few coins instead of using a “tarjeta”, and half the time it’s much faster to hand over some change and be on your way.
Siesta time is a very real thing in Andalucía–make use of the mid-day lunch break as the rest period it is meant to be or else the late dinner hours and class times will have you drained by the end of the day. It turns out that maybe taking a break from work to eat and rest in the middle of the day has its perks. I have yet to learn how to fully embrace the break because I am so used to working non-stop until bed, but even just half an hour of laying on my bed with a book has been so gratifying. You also don’t have too many alternatives besides resting: many shops close between 2-4 PM, so unless you plan to go to a larger store or supermarket – stores like Zara, Mercadona, and Corte Inglés – you might as well take a break yourself until everything opens back up.
Personal space. I’m a person who doesn’t mind sitting close to others or walking so close you practically trip into the other person, but the fact that a Spanish personal bubble doesn’t really exist still caught me by surprise! There have been many moments where I went to apologize or excuse myself for brushing shoulders with someone in the street or the grocery store while the other person didn’t even notice. It is very common for people to walk shoulder to shoulder or to talk fairly close to you, and you often see Spaniards linking arms while walking down the street (which I absolutely love and makes me want to make all of my friends back home walk like we’re in the Wizard of Oz as well). Another cultural difference is that one of the most common greetings is a kiss on both cheeks when saying hello, even if you are strangers. When meeting my friend’s host mom, she immediately leaned in to touch cheeks, which caught me so off guard that I stood there buffering in place not knowing what direction to move whatsoever. The interaction ended with a few sympathetic pats on my arm, but I have since learned that the greeting is simple enough: lean to the left and touch right cheeks, then repeat on the other side. It is worth noting that in Italy the order of left then right is reversed, which may prove helpful to know before accidentally giving someone a smooch on the lips!
The energy crisis is real. I packed for Spain with the idea that no one except Americans wears hoodies and sweatpants on a day to day basis…so I only brought one of each. It turns out that with the record low temperatures in Granada and a lack of energy to keep the heating on at all times, I could have used an entire closet of warm loungewear. I also quickly learned that any contact with the floor whatsoever would have me shivering instantly, so it took less than three days for me to buy a cozy pair of house slippers from Ale-Hop for 5 euros. Another handy addition to your wardrobe is a giant scarf to have thrown around your shoulders at all times. I have seen more scarves in Spain than I have in my entire life, and I highly recommend bundling up in one yourself.
Lastly–but certainly not least–it’s okay to feel like a fish out of water.
You’re always going to feel a little silly for the first few or even hundred times you order food, use public transportation, or check out in a store…but that is okay. Growth never comes without discomfort and it is so worth it to push yourself and learn how to adjust to a new country, language, and culture. Everything is going to be new, but the best possible thing to do is to embrace it and be lenient with yourself as you stretch and grow. Studying abroad is truly a unique experience and you are going to have the time of your life.
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Hola! My name is Adah and I am a junior at North Carolina State University currently studying in Granada, Spain! Though my major is Biology, I have a passion for all things art and Spanish, and you can most likely find me sketching away during the late hours of the night. My current obsessions are gouache paints, crochet, and watching local birds! I'm so excited to share my time exploring Granada with all of you.