Merienda: a small meal or snack eaten throughout Spain that is typically enjoyed between lunch and dinner.
In Spanish culture, there is typically a long span of time in between lunch (eaten around 3 p.m.) and dinner (eaten around 9 p.m.) where Spanish citizens will partake in la merienda. This will usually consist of a small pastry or otherwise light meal intended to hold one over until dinner. This long stretch of time between meals has proven difficult for me, as I am an avid eater with a strong passion for snacks. Thus, the merienda is my saving grace. Around 6 in the evening, I like to enjoy a small pastry or a coffee to make sure I can survive until the very late dinner. So far, so good.
Yet at this point in the day, my energy is still low. I am worn down by the heavy burden of surviving alone in an unfamiliar country. I often feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained. It’s not the sort of issue a churro con chocolate can fix.
So, I have begun to take part in what I like to think of as a mental merienda. Around the time when my spirits begin to falter, I partake in a moment of emotional reflection where I center myself and recognize the beauty and value of this unique experience abroad. I start out listing the new, interesting things I have experienced that day. Being in a completely new environment, my list is naturally very long. But it’s the smallest things that bring me the most joy. For example, one day I walked by the park near my homestay and there were dozens of adorable children speaking with Spanish accents, which was miraculous in brightening my spirits. Then I repeat to myself the idea that this emotional struggle is a blessing in and of itself, because very few people have the opportunity to experience anything like what I am experiencing. Even if at my worst I feel lonely and emotionally exhausted, I am still living someone else’s dream. Finally, I take out my iPhone and scroll through my camera roll, momentarily transporting myself back to my home and all the joyful memories I’ve created with my loved ones. It’s amazing how much comfort and warmth can be found in a picture on a phone screen. And so ends my moment of emotional reflection, and I am replenished with enough strength to continue through my day.
When studying abroad in a different country, students are often overwhelmed by the dramatic changes in cultural environment, and it can be quite difficult to find a way to cope with that pressure. Although my practice may not work for most, it has personally become a great relief. I encourage those who are faced with that same shock, stress, and emotional exhaustion to create their own sort of reflective practice to ease the transition into their abroad experience. It can become a simple reminder of one’s good fortune when faced with loneliness and culture shock abroad.
And if that doesn’t appeal to the weary study abroad student, I find a chocolate croissant with a café con leche can make any situation better.
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<p>I am a young Latina student who is passionate about travel, community empowerment, and celebration of diversity. I am the only daughter of Mexican immigrants and my life has been a colorful blending of Mexican and American cultures that has created a passion for the exploration of diverse cultures through travel. In all that I do, I try to learn about and immerse myself in worlds and communities unlike my own, because with each experience I grow as a conscious global citizen and will be able create bridges that can bring about positive social change in communities throughout the world.</p>