In the months and weeks before a trip, excessive daydreaming can be the travellers’ folly. I, like many, fell into the trap. Toward the end of summer, I wondered what my homestay, friends, and classes would be like. I thought about my future life in Spain full of fiestas and siestas, and vinos and amigos. But life rarely goes the way it is supposed to.
I asked a group of five students to compare their preconceptions of Spain with their experiences during the first two weeks. We noted responsibilities, challenges, burdens, awkward interactions, and cultural barriers — things we didn't want to think about in advance — that have become integral to the experience.
Each person responded that their experience in Spain had been different from the way they had imagined it, and wrestling with that difference was one of the first challenges of being abroad. Cole was surprised that Spaniards have a strict sense of timeliness, that being a few minutes late to class was an inexcusable offense. Emily expected the families to be more nuclear, and was surprised to see how many Spanish families are indeed non-traditional. Another student joked that he thought all Spaniards would drink wine at every lunch and nap during the afternoon.
Many of the students had framed their expectations of Spain in terms of stereotypes. One thing I quickly learned is that stereotypes are not always wrong, but they are certainly not universal. It’s important to be flexible enough to bend with the individual differences or unexpected circumstances that can’t be foreseen in advance.
For example, I had an issue with the key and lock to my apartment. I did not confront the issue as bluntly as I should have with my host family. I did not expect to have to be assertive in order to get attention for an issue. In the United States, problems can be resolved in a more passive way than in Spain. Here, you have to be obvious and state that a problem is a problem for it to be addressed. I assumed that I could handle an issue in the same that I would in the US.
From my first two weeks in Spain, and after talking with students in the program, I realized that it is important to be cognizant of the cultural differences, but not allow your preconceptions of a place hamstring your ability to adapt.
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<p>I'm a junior history major at Yale University. I enjoy traveling, writing, and spending time with my friends.</p>