Tag Archives: cultural differences

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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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

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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Filed under Tyler in Spain, Western Europe

Road to China

Howdy world! My name is Alex Montoya and I am from Canyon, Texas. I currently am a senior (Wahoo) at West Texas A&M University studying both Broadcasting Electronic Media and Advertising/Public Relations.

As of now, I am in Shanghai, China interning for Ringier Media Company, which is based out of Switzerland. I am beyond excited to be their editorial intern for the next month. Some of the things that I do is help push online content to readers in the area, review blogs and help keep CityWeekend Magazine up to date with current information.

While being driven to my apartment, I couldn’t help but notice all the development this city is going trough and the amount of limited space going deeper into the city. At this point, the only way to house roughly 24 million people is by going up. Always living no higher than two floors back home, I was constantly hung up on how high I would be living. 26 floors later, I unpacked by bags for an experience that has already started.

Living in an enormous city, there is always something to do or somewhere to go. Every place that I have visited, I usually have no idea what I am eating, but as always, I am never disappointed. Eating out all the time has no effect on my wallet, considering every other store is a food vendor and most servings are always fulfilling. Back home, a single outing for a delicious meal could cost me 3 days of meals here. I am glad that I actually get to see people walk around both day and night instead of driving everywhere. Another thing that I am enjoying is public transportation. It is very easy to make your way around the city, unlike back home, where I would have to hop in a hot car and drive a good distance before getting somewhere.

One of my favorite things about living in this city is that no matter which direction you decide to get lost in, everything is worth snapping a picture. The amount of cleverly placed advertisement around the city makes me want to buy what they are selling. I also enjoy the fact that just about everything has gone digital, which makes navigation very smooth. Surely living in the largest city in the world, I am bound to eat great foods, take worthy travel pictures, soak up and experience a culture, and lastly connect with people from all over the world.


Alex Montoya

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Filed under Alex in China, East Asia

Diplomacy in Dahab

Today I got into an argument with my hotel owner.

Since we finished up finals and had nothing better to do, my friend and I decided that we would bask some of the joys Egypt has to offer: beautiful beaches and unlimited, free sun!

We churned out our last couple Arabic finals (we’re in an intensive Arabic program here) and flew down to a beautiful Sinai beach town called Dahab.

Long story short, our hotel room was not what we expected! There was water damage on the walls, the shower was a little janky, and sand lined the sheets. We definitely did not want to stay there, so we went over to reception to tell them we wanted to switch. The owner was perplexed, and said it was “Mish moomkin” or “not possible.” It was late, and instead of arguing with him, we decided to sleep and contact our booking agency in the morning to tell them we wanted to change hotels.

Pause scene.

In any normal American city, this would be acceptable. Generally, if you have a problem with a reservation you contact the booking agency (like orbitz) because they have to work out a deal with the hotel to fix the problem. I’m sure you agree that this was perfectly acceptable behavior!

Resume scene.

The following morning we went down to the café for our included breakfast to discover that we were not on their list—we had confirmed with the manager the previous night that we had arranged for half board.  Instead we went to another café down the way that had internet so we could make a skype call. The booking agency told us they couldn’t get a hold of the owner and we should have him call them. No problem!  We slid over the reception area to talk about switching hotels, and we got way more than we bargained for!

The owner was livid. In his eyes, there were two sides of the contract: his side to provide a room, and ours to pay. By going ‘behind his back’ to contact the agency, we had broken our side of the contract. According to him, he wasn’t mad about the money, he was mad that we hadn’t come to talk to him. Of course, we diligently explained that we indeed had come to talk to him, and he had said it wasn’t possible to switch. He didn’t seem to care.

Pause scene again.

I’m sitting there, in this guy’s makeshift office, extremely puzzled. I understand why he would be mad as a business owner that we were cancelling, but when he said it wasn’t about the money, I was at a complete loss for understanding the situation. It seemed to me there was a very simple chain of events: when the customer and the owner couldn’t come to an understanding, we called in a third party to negotiate.

Resume scene. Again.

I argued, fruitlessly, for ten minutes. It got heated to say the least.

Luckily, my friend Dillon is a much better arbitrator than myself (largely because he’s smarter), but also because he’s lived in the Middle East before and understands the culture. After I had failed miserably to solve the situation, and had actually inflamed it to the point of being nearly irrecoverable by arguing on American terms, he stepped in. In about 3 minutes he had solved the whole thing.

I stood there, in shock, as the man who had just told me nothing was possible just a few minutes ago, calmly handed us back all of our money, refused payment for the night we’d stayed, cancelled our reservation without a fuss, told us he hoped we had a wonderful stay in Dahab, and shook Dillon’s hand.

My jaw fell open, and my ego fell out onto the floor and shattered into little pieces.

Let’s just clarify something: I’m in the Middle East studying Arabic because I want to pursue a career in international law, specifically transnational arbitration and litigation.  That is, I want to pursue a career in exactly what I failed to do in the above argument. I mean, Dillon doesn’t even speak Arabic! That, and he’s three years my junior and just beginning his college career.

What he explained to me afterwards is that while my actual argument structure was solid, it was ethnocentric. What the man wanted me to do was not make it about business, but realize that I had morally offended him by insinuating that I couldn’t work it out with him directly. Dillon said, “Look Winnie, it wasn’t about the money. It was never about the money. This guy was operating on an entirely different level of argument, from person to person, saying ‘Hey look, you hurt my feelings and now you want to violate your own contract to stay here for five days, and I’m not going to give that to you’.

Dillon realized what was happening, switched his argument to one about morality. He apologized profusely for offending the owner’s pride, explained the cultural misunderstanding, and asked for leniency in the contract because there were clearly disputes on both sides and we just wanted to enjoy our vacation.

Now back to the blog: The question originally posed was something to the effect of “Is study abroad affecting your career path or what you want to do with your life?”

My answer is first to laugh, and second to say, “Yeah, literally every second, every day.”

If I want to be able to understand both cultures involved in the international arbitration, I have to get down and dirty with both sides. I get tangled up in arguments, struggle with Egyptian logic, try to fit foreign concepts into my American box of understanding, and then have to laugh at my own surprise when it doesn’t work. It’s a process, and every time I mess it up I know I’ll be just that much better in my future career. I am also reaffirmed in what I want to do with my career, because there is nothing more fascinating than studying the reasons people from different cultures react the way they do.

Many Americans (and American entities) act within the “Hubris of American reason” or assumption that everyone’s mind will be able to function within the parameters of American logic. This is a fatal flaw in international arbitration. Each country has its own moral code and hierarchy of cultural emphases, and trying to merge two systems doesn’t work as flawlessly was one would like. In the face of conflict, one has to step back and reframe their own argument to fit into the framework of the other party’s culture, and only then can one earn, or deserve, the respect of the other person.

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Filed under Culture Shock, middle east, Winnie in Egypt