Unfortunately, I caught an aggressive cold at some point last week. Never thought I would start a blog post with that, but, hey. Like the underestimator that I am, I kept thinking “it’s gonna get better, you’re totally fine” because, well, old habits. Because my school is in the barren countryside that some people call upstate NY, everyone at my university is weirdly perpetually sick and no one ever really takes time off to get better. Since I wasn’t traveling this weekend and it was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe out of my nose, I decided it would be prudent to stay in my room and relax some, even though I felt insanely guilty about it. I made it a point to at least leave once a day to meet up with some friends and not be a complete hermit.
After some intense quarantine, I have some reflections to share. It is amazing what laying around and watching tv while trying to sweat out a fever and chugging liquids can do for your self-awareness. When you’re sick, you can exist without worrying about extraneous things. Your reality is ever so slightly suspended because your number one priority is getting better, as soon as possible. Everything else just floats away. The more I thought about it, in my feverish reverie, the more I realized that an unwillingness to try and learn about a new culture is a means of self-quarantine.
It has admittedly taken me awhile to compose this, but my first couple of weeks here were, obviously, a cultural shock. It wasn’t like I was just sitting around like “wow, I sure do miss everything about America” because if anyone has read current events lately, they can see why I wouldn’t say that. That being said, it takes getting outside of yourself and your country’s culture to realize how deeply entrenched in it you are. Of all people, I understand navigating the roads of culture shock. It isn’t easy and it definitely takes some time. But, wow, I’ve been here for almost a month now! Some advice: run headfirst into Spanish culture. It will embrace you, I promise.
Of course, there are roadblocks on the path towards cultural immersion. Certain things that are confusing and, at times, alarming for Americans, but are totally normal for Spaniards. And vice versa. The worst thing is, they were things I had already been doing but didn’t even know. One thing that I’ve gotten into a habit of doing from living the longer part of my life in the south and attending a school of less than 3,000 people is making eye contact with people when walking past them and offering a small smile. Apparently, when you do that here, that smile is considered being flirty. So I guess I’ve accidentally flirted with 100 people in passing..yikes.
Another thing that gets lost in translation is staring. Spanish people stare, and not just guys. I still haven’t figured out why, but after our culture shock workshop, I felt 1000x better. I’m used to people staring at me with questions lingering in their eyes: being biracial, a lot of people don’t know which box(es) to put me in. So, naturally, with the paranoia ingrained in me from the States, when people stared at me, I internalized it: “It’s like they’ve never seen someone like me before! It’s because of my tan!” One, maybe that has a bit of truth, but once I really thought about it, I realized that they really stare at everyone here. Spanish people, and Europeans in general, don’t adhere to the false sense of modesty that people in the States do, which ends up showing up in other repressed places. Ask me about the cringe-worthy cultural things I’ve noticed on American college campus later.
I realize I won’t be able to fit two theme’s worth of thoughts into one blog post, so let me cut it off here. My thesis, if you will, is self-reflection and examination. Study abroad is fun, but it also requires effort and openness, no matter how shy or outgoing you are. Whether you are the most reserved person around or the life of the party, you need to put yourself out there. Studying abroad is pointless if you don’t put yourself in new situations. I have to be mindful and remember that I didn’t come to a new country to set up a satellite version of the US. I’m not saying abandon all family and friend connections from back home, but don’t let those American connections be the anchor that keeps you from staying afloat and exploring the beautiful cultural that awaits you.
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<p>Hi! I’m a junior attending Colgate University. I’m majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish – I practice it whenever I can! As a multicultural student (half black and half Italian), I consider myself a city girl and am drawn to vibrant, diverse areas. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, traveling, going to the beach, and watching or playing sports. I can’t wait to head to Salamanca, sharpen up my Spanish and share my adventures!</p>