Category Archives: Tyler in Spain

Home Sweet Home?

When I first got on the plane to get home, I was excited to see my old friends and family again, despite having to say goodbye to everyone I had met in Spain. Yet, when I landed back in the States, I felt like a stranger. I listened to everyone speaking English and it sounded so foreign to me. It lacked that fluid, spicy sound that I’d come to adore hearing from the Spaniards. In the airport, I kept slipping into Spanish and was frustrated when almost no one understood me and kept giving me strange looks. I truly felt like a stranger in my country.

Upon getting home, my dad insisted he make me dinner, consisting of chicken, salad, some beans, and pasta. I remember tasting the salad and laying my head down on the table. My dad was confused at first, but when I explained my feeling, he understood: It wasn’t Spanish salad. It wasn’t the cuisine I was used to. The chicken tasted incredibly greasy to me, and my stomach certainly didn’t like it either. Even now, there are still certain foods I won’t eat, just because I don’t like them much now. Everything is sweeter to me now, as well. Coke tastes so syrupy and strange. It was definitely an experience adjusting back to everything. The eating schedule here in America was odd to me at first as well. I was so used to eating at 9pm for dinner, instead of 5pm. I couldn’t take a siesta (nap) every day anymore; it’s not a scheduled part of daily life here in the States, like it is in Spain. That’s definitely something I miss most. The Spanish used siesta to relax and take a break from the business of work. They see American’s work ethic as formidable, but far too exhausting and stressful, and I can’t help but agree with them now; I think Americans need to relax and learn to slow sometimes, and just enjoy the little things in life.

Presently, I feel like most of the reverse culture shock has subsided, but I know that from now on, I will have a home in Spain. There are things there that I can only experience there, things that I will always miss, and things that give me a reason to return someday.

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My Future Plans

Even before going abroad, I knew what I wanted to as a professional career: I want to become an international interpreter. My experience abroad will no doubt be invaluable to me as I continue to pursue that goal. They say that learning a language is easiest when you’re completely immersed in it. I lived with a Spanish family, who knew very little English, and had a Spanish class Monday to Friday from 9am to 1:30pm. This left me very little room to lose the idea of immersion. When I first arrived in Spain, I was incredibly shy and was afraid to make an error in my speaking ability, so I spoke very little. However, by the time I left Spain, I spoke fluidly, confidently, and happily. Sure, I was still slightly afraid of making an error, but that’s a fear that I’m going to have to overcome, if I’m going to achieve my goal of becoming an international interpreter.

While abroad, I also traveled to other countries via plane, bus, and train, often times going completely alone. Initially, I was also afraid of traveling alone. What if I got mugged? Could I navigate airport security on my own? Can I carry my luggage on my own? All of these questions buzzed through my head when I decided that I would be traveling. But, I’d promised myself that I’d take risks and put myself out there and try new things. My first trip traveling completely alone (from Zaragoza to London to Chester and back) was a complete success. I did my best to blend in and not act like a tourist, and it seemed to do the trick. After that, I had a lot more self-confidence and trusted myself to not get lost, or to find my way out of a difficult situation if necessary. I had a couple of close calls (getting on my train to London as the doors closed), but I made it to each place safe and sound. A tour group I met up while on Semana Santa (Spanish Easter holiday) even expressed their surprise and astonishment as I told them I’d been traveling alone for a few days before meeting the group. I don’t think I’d ever be able to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to travel alone if I hadn’t decided to study abroad in the first place.

Academically, the Spanish course I was enrolled in was definitely challenging! My professor had high expectations and would settle for nothing less. At first, it was incredibly overwhelming for me, and I thought that the professor was being especially hard on me. However, in hindsight, I realize that she was doing that because she knew my potential, and she knew that if I truly applied myself, I would be extremely successful. Now that the course is over, I’m very happy that I had her as my professor; I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did, had it not been for her. When it came time for the final exam, she spoke with me afterwards to offer any final comments and give me my grade. She gave me a 9/10 and said that I was a rare case because I actually speak Spanish better than I write it, and she offered me a few words of advice to help me in the future. Thanks to her, I now know what I need to focus on when I return to school in the fall in order to make myself successful, both academically and professionally.

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The Various Stages of Culture Shock, Homesickness, and Reverse Culture Shock

When I first arrived in Spain, it took a few weeks before I fully adjusted to everything: the bizarre eating schedule, the food tastes, the money, the unknown streets, not to mention the language barrier. However, I knew that if I threw myself into it, I could overcome the challenges and learn to enjoy myself. Initially, that worked. It was a new country with new people and places to see; I loved trying everything new and soaking up as much of it as quickly as I could. Eventually though, I couldn’t take it; I became overwhelmed with the differences, and the having to think in a foreign language constantly became mentally exhausting. I really started to miss home, and I’d only been abroad for a few short weeks. I missed late night Steak n Shake runs with my friends, peanut butter, mac n cheese, and going to the movies.

Honestly, one of my biggest mistakes was going to my Facebook and talking to everyone back at home. Instead of making me feel better, I felt worse. However, my parents surprised me by sending me a package full of American junk food, so that made me feel a bit better. My host sister helped me out as well. After a few weeks of staying with her, she introduced me to her friends (who were also my age) and I was invited to one of their parties. It was fun, and they kept insisting that I spoke Spanish very well, which was certainly a major confidence booster. A few weeks after that, we all went to a movie together, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could understand almost all of the movie, despite it being completely in Spanish, without subtitles.

The homesickness came and went. I had days where I really missed home and others where I felt like I could stay in Spain forever. Eventually, I had to say goodbye to all the friends I had made while in Spain, including the host family that I had grown so close to over the past few months. Saying goodbye was hard, but I still e-mail them and let them know how I am doing when I have time. When I got home though, after the first few weeks of catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in months, I wanted nothing more than to go back to Spain. English just sounded ugly to me, and my stomach turned at the sight of certain foods here. But, I now love putting olive oil in most foods now, and even though I can’t help but slip into Spanish sometimes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing! I’ve been able to successfully communicate with a few Spanish-speaking customers at my summer job as a cashier, and I’ve chatted with a friend of mine who studied abroad in Peru. We’re constantly comparing cultural differences while also improving our language skills. Though I do still miss Spain, I know that my place is here for now, and that my experience and knowledge gained while there will be invaluable in the future.

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The Conservation and Beauty of Spain

When I initially went to Spain, I expected to find an environment different from what I was accustomed to in the United States, and I wasn’t disappointed. In Zaragoza alone, where I lived, I very rarely would see trash in the streets. Every once in a while, I might spy a random plastic bag blowing in the wind, or a pop can on the sidewalk, but it wasn’t very common. It also struck me as odd that the sidewalk was wet one day, even though it hadn’t rained or anything in a few days. As I was walking to class the next day, I saw a giant machine being operated along the sidewalks. As I got closer, I realized that the machine was actually spraying and sweeping the sidewalk, gathering trash as it went as well. I thought that this was definitely a great way to keep the streets clean, and I wish I saw more of that in my hometown. As a person with a disability, who can easily trip and fall over the smallest bit of trash, clean and clear streets and sidewalks are a blessing!

Another form of conservation that I found in Spain, particularly in my host family, was the reuse of food. My host mom was an absolutely fantastic cook, and I enjoyed almost every dish she cooked. However, she would often times make large portions and I’m a smaller guy, so I don’t always eat much. If I wasn’t able to eat all of something, instead of throwing it away like I might at home, she’d insist that we could reheat it for later. Leftovers became my best friends in a sense. Even if I didn’t like the dish she had prepared (which was rare), she would try to reuse different parts of the dish in something else that I might enjoy. As she once told me, “I went to Cuba once. After seeing what little food they have, I will never waste a single bite of food, if I can help it.”

One last thing I noticed about Spain was how much Europeans in general really have learned to cherish and take care of the environment, particularly the most beautiful parts, like the beaches. For example, I visited two different beaches in Spain: the main beach in Valencia and La Concha (The Shell) in San Sebastián, named for its shell-like shape. The couple of beaches that I’ve visited in the US have been quite dirty, to be honest. The sand can be quite uncomfortable to walk on, due to miscellaneous pieces of trash. However, I particularly enjoyed the day I spent in San Sebastián because I was able to walk on a clean, beautiful beach, only having to worry about small shell pieces, instead of pieces of glass or an empty can of Coke. I really appreciate that there are still clean places like that in the world, and I hope that one day people will see the value in such places and will in turn, take better care of them.

La Concha

La Concha

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An Unexpected Friendship

When talking about what we wanted to do while in Spain, my friends and I decided that we didn’t just want to stay in Zaragoza; we wanted to see other parts of Spain as well. When my friends Angela and Kate, along with myself, arrived in Spain my friend Michael had already been studying here since August, so he was able to show us around and introduce us to a few friends that he had made, two of which were also American. We ended up becoming very good friends with the two Americans, named Preston and Jason, going to bars, playing cards, watching movies, and practicing Spanish together. However, in March, Preston and Jason had to leave Zaragoza; Preston had an internship in Pamplona, and Jason had an internship in Ibiza. When they found out, they talked to us, and we all decided that we wanted to take one last trip together. We took a weekend, and booked a train to Valencia.

It was the perfect weekend to go. The weather was great, the sun was shining, and we all enjoyed going to the local beach, and seeing some of the monuments, such as castles and cathedrals, in Valencia. However, it wasn’t just our little group hanging out together. When we got to Valencia, we checked in at a hostel, and had to share a room with a girl from Germany, who we later found out to be named Anja. She was fluent in German, English, and Spanish, and we chatted with her a bit on Friday night. On Saturday, she told us that she’d come here alone, and she politely asked us if she could tag along with us. We accepted and were really excited to have a new addition to our “study abroad family.”

My study abroad family!

My study abroad family!

We saw several tourist sights together, and got to know Anja really well. On Saturday night, we weren’t sure where to go eat for dinner, so Anja recommended a place for us that she’d been to before. It was a great restaurant, and we all got to try Paella Valenciana, which was fantastic (and a cultural must, since Valencia is where paella originated). Then, on Sunday we all went to a science museum and just hung out for a while. After that, it was time to say our good-byes, as my friends and I were going back to Zaragoza that day, and Anja would be going back to Germany on Monday. We all added Anja on Facebook, and she insisted that if we’re ever in Germany, to send her a message so she could see us again, and we told her the same thing, should she ever visit the United States, Meeting Anja made our trip to Valencia even more memorable, and I do hope to see her again someday.

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A Fish out of Water and Battling with Homesickness

I think that at some point, we all fall into some sort of routine. When I’m at home in the US, typically, I’d get up, get ready for school, go to class, try to find time to eat, do homework and relax for a while. Since coming to Spain, I’ve tried to reestablish that since of normalcy within my daily routine. However, the more I tried to make everything like home, the more I actually found that I wasn’t enjoying myself. For lack of a better phrase, you really just have to “let Spain take you away.” Oftentimes, I would just ignore random people who talked to me a bit, out of fear that they wouldn’t understand me, or that I’d possibly offend them somehow.

This feeling was especially evident when I started classes here at the Centro de Español como Lengua Extranjera. My class is quite small, consisting of 2 Americans (myself and 1 girl from Texas), 3 Chinese girls, and 4 girls from Ghana. Initially, that was a big shock for me; I was the only guy in the class. My professor later told me that boys weren’t common in the classes, and that last year she’d had a class of all girls. It was especially awkward for me because all the girls knew each other already; they’d all had the same class together last year. I was the shy, new guy who barely spoke. For the first week or so, my professor was quite understanding of this, but eventually she did force me to participate. Even then, I wouldn’t really talk to them unless I had to. After class, I’d go home and retreat to my laptop, where I could chat with my friends on Facebook and see some familiar faces. Unfortunately, this made me miss home even more, and I felt incredibly alone and isolated. However, as time passed, I did start opening up to my classmates a little more. This happened a lot when I decided to take a cooking class once a week with a few of them. The Ghanaian knew English, so we were able to communicate if Spanish became difficult, and it was a great time. Sure, there are still times that I miss home and long to do things that my friends always do together, but overall, I am starting to feel like I belong here more.

I brought up the subject of homesickness to my host mom, who completely understood. Of course, she was sad that I was sad, but as she told me, “It’s okay that you miss your family and friends, but while you’re here, you’re as family to me as my daughter, and you can think of me as your mother.” That certainly does help; to know that you are wanted and loved by someone, even though you aren’t technically related, is a great feeling. I remember another instance that happened after a particularly hard day of classes. I’d forgotten to study for a quiz, and I hadn’t done well. My professor wasn’t happy with me, and she let me have it. After that, I just wanted to hop on a plane and go home. I didn’t say anything to any of my classmates as I left, but they knew I was upset. I took a nap, and when I woke up, I had a message from the other American student on my phone. She’d messaged me just to say how happy she was that I was in her class. She’d been the new girl last year, and she knew how overwhelming that could be. She also said that overall, I seemed to know Spanish quite well, and that Esperanza (our professor), though really hard, was a really good professor, and I would learn a lot. Lastly, she told me that if I ever had any trouble in the class, I could ask her or anyone else in the class, and they would gladly help me. After that, I felt a lot more comfortable and welcomed in class, and I can proudly say that I consider my classmates to be some very good friends of mine.

Then, there are a few times where something extremely unexpected happens, and I feel overwhelmed. For example, one morning, my alarm failed to wake me up. I woke up half an hour late, and was trying to move fast so that I could still make it to class on time. However, as I left my house and started walking, I noticed that it had rained the previous night, and the sidewalk was wet. I tried to be careful, but my crutches slid on the sidewalk, I failed to catch myself, and I took a nasty fall. My chin and the inside of my mouth were bleeding and I was having trouble getting up due to the wet sidewalk. I had no idea what to do. The university was still some distance off, and I had no band-aids on me. I could walk back home, but that would mean I’d be even later to class. Fortunately, a Spanish couple had heard and seen me fall. They picked up my crutches and helped me up. One of them then told me to wait there for a second, and ran off before I could object. He came a minute later with some tissues and a small bandage. I wasn’t expecting anyone to help me, but they did. They could have easily left me to fend for myself on the ground, but they didn’t; they helped me even though they had no idea who I was. I arrived late to class, but when my professor saw the band-aid and I explained what happened, she was just glad that I was ok, and, as they say in Spain, “No pasa nada.”

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Adapting to the Mediterranean diet

Since in arriving in Spain, I have certainly had to learn to adapt and change my eating patterns, ranging from what I eat to when I eat it. Before coming to Spain, I made sure to look online and ask a few teachers and friends what some of the major differences between here and the US are, food wise. The first thing I quickly learned is that the time of certain is drastically different from the US. I was happy to see that breakfast was at 9:30am with cereal, toast, tea or coffee, maybe some fruit and a croissant. I even recognized a few of the cereals, such as Cookie Crisp, which did remind me of home a bit. Lunch, however, is a little different. The Mediterranean diet, which is what they tend to follow in Spain, is very big on seafood and fish. Typically, for lunch then, we’ll have some kind of seafood or pasta, normally served around 2:30pm, which was a little later than what I was used to. Along with this, lunch is typically a larger meal, consisting of three courses (an appetizer, main course, and dessert). For example, when I came home for lunch yesterday, my host mom surprised me by saying that we were having clams as an appetizer! Clams! I’m normally up to try anything new, but for some reason, I’d never tried clams, and I had no desire to. However, I did not want to be rude, and she insisted that I try one. Reluctantly, I took one, pulled it apart, and sucked out the meat. Surprisingly, I liked it, and ate several more. For the main course, we had fish, and dessert was a banana with pudding. At first, I wasn’t sure why we’d have such a big meal in the middle day. Then, I realized that the Spanish don’t eat dinner until around 9:30pm. According to the Mediterranean diet, it’s unhealthy to eat a big meal at the end of the day, so dinner is usually smaller. Snacking is also ok here, if you want a few chips or a piece of fruit, which helps you get adjusted to the new eating schedule.

There are two other things here that have surprised me since coming here in January. In the US, olive oil is just something used to cook something in; nothing more. Here, it’s like a way of life, food-wise! I never realized how much such a small thing can change the taste of something so dramatically! For example, one day in lunch, the appetizer was just mashed potatoes with green beans and olive oil. It was such a simple dish, but the olive oil sort of accentuated the taste of everything; it turned that simple dish into one with complex and interesting. The same thing has happened with similar dishes, and I definitely think that I will continue to use olive oil in my diet when I return to the US. The second thing, which I learned about the food here, is that everything is so fresh; all the food lacks preservatives. I remember two instances where this apparent to me. My Spanish professor was commenting on ham, and how she’d looked at a package of ham from the US, seen all the ingredients and exclaimed, “Where is the pig!?!” The other time happened to me when I was in a restaurant in Barcelona! The restaurant had just opened and the owner proclaimed that all the food was homemade, and should we not like anything, we would get our money back. The entire meal was delicious, but I think my favorite part was the appetizer– melon (cantaloupe) with ham! Unlike the cantaloupe from the US, this one was white, not orange. I cut into it and put a small piece in my mouth. I had never tasted a sweeter, more juicy or more delightful piece of fruit than I had that night. It was, by far, my favorite thing from Spain (so far!)

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