There is something strange and scary about getting used to a new place while at the same time feeling so out of place. I learned it takes strength and courage to find comfort in the uncomfortable and contentment in the challenge. It also takes a certain type of person to take the leap so early in their lives to leave what they call home for a change that they knew would not be easy. Being here in Spain definitely places me in this category, especially knowing that my hiatus here would not be equivalent to a vacation nor a continuance of my 2017. For instance, what would qualify as a challenge in my American life (i.e. a 30-page research paper) does not necessarily define what a challenge means here. I am learning what it means to be challenged with basic everyday interactions and yes, the language barrier plays the most important role in making socializing a bit hard for someone outgoing like me. However, what actually takes precedence are the cultural differences, which despite being on the less extreme side, are still pronounced in my everyday life.
You walk into a bar (which yes, people do very often here) and it's awkward to decide who's going to pay for the drinks. Spain has the custom of paying in rounds, which means that one person would pay for the entire group while someone else would pay the next time - something inherently agreed upon. The American ideal of individualism is lost here because it is considered rude to pay for oneself, a concept that I am slowly beginning to accept. Growing up in an individualistic society, I am grateful for the shift to having a not so you’re-on-your-own mindset and knowing that there’s more important things in life than your own pleasure.
It is also a whole spectacle to say goodbye or end some sort of event here. The concept of saying “Bye, I have to go, see you later” does not fly by here. You are indebted to wait for everyone to mutually agree to leave or to begin the process of leaving the group 20 minutes or so before you actually need to leave. People also very rarely spend time alone, which shows the priority of community over all things. It began to make sense to me why Spanish people do not stop talking (what even is silence...?). Perhaps the idea of loneliness scares them as it does to almost anyone or that its so ingrained in the lifestyle that they cling onto the idea of family and socializing to avoid the uncomfortable.
Every day at school, all the teachers go out to the bar across the street to talk and drink coffee during the recess period, no matter how much work they have to do they stop and head out. It’s easy to question why they don’t just drink coffee while doing work during the break period, a classic example of efficiency and good time management. But you see, the point is not to caffeinate but to catch up, to socialize, to do your part in upholding to the community that, in my perspective, makes the society I’m living in now run smoothly.
Now - where do I go from here? Do I go back to the U.S. and casually assimilate back into my home culture and forget how my time in Spain has and continues to change me? It seems like then I would be calling my time here a waste, which it is not. I finally understand what it’s like to live in a place where one lives for others rather than for oneself. At Dartmouth (and away from there too) it can feel as if everyone is on their own, looking out for their own best interests which has always perplexed me. Now I understand what it means to live for the coffee breaks and bar hopping, for who matters most to you (and here’s a hint - it’s not yourself). Therefore from here I go with that in mind, never taking for granted the little things people do for you and living in a world beyond myself.