It’s now been three weeks living and attending school in Alicante, Spain, and I am hoping the next week goes by very slowly. It really does take some time to begin understanding, accepting, and eventually practicing the norms of a new culture, and it has been a fun transition the past few weeks! I finally feel as though I have a routine, which during the week looks like: wake up for a quick breakfast (sometimes just coffee or a piece of toast, this is not a big meal for the Spaniards), jump on the tram to school for five hours of classes, head home for a 3:00 pm lunch (yes, you read that right), often times siesta, and then spend the evening either at the beach, studying, meeting someone for coffee, all ending with dinner before bed, around 9:30 pm on average. Our classes at school consists of three hours of grammar, one hour of conversation, and an hour of culture. Although it is a bit overwhelming at times, one of my favorite experiences is being in a classroom setting with students from all over the world! I have made some great friends from France, Libya, and Algeria, where we all have the common goal of learning Spanish while learning about each other’s cultures as well.
Although I came to Alicante with an open mind, there is no denying that some transitions have been harder than others. The meal times and type of food have taken some getting used to, and of course the wonderful siesta! Sometimes when I don’t choose to rest or nap during this time and walk the streets, it really is a ghost town and often hard to find cafes, stores, or other shops that are open during the 3:00-5:00 hours. As an American, I had a hard time getting used to the much smaller bubble of personal space people give each other here. In the beginning it was an adjustment being constantly bumped into, being stared at on the street or on the tram, and being touched on my arm or shoulder when talking with someone, but now I absolutely love it and have noticed myself starting to mirror some of this. I never realized how much we tend to honor our personal space in the United States, and sometimes do miss this, but am finding it beautiful and caring how much touching the Spaniards do while talking. Along the same lines, eye contact and physically facing someone when talking is everything! I have not shaken anyone’s hand here and instead, am always greeted with two kisses – one on each cheek – which never fails to make me feel welcome.
We have also had the privilege of visiting museums, learn about Spanish politics, history, and government in our culture class, and even learn some of the local cuisine. Earlier this week, we got to take a tapas class learning to make Spanish tortilla, mussels in a white wine sauce, calamari (yes – starting with a full squid), and croquetas! I look forward to sharing these with my family and friends at home, in a true tapa-like fashion where all plates are shared with each other. Learning more in depth about how the government works here as well as the “work to live” mindset here has helped me to better understand the family oriented lifestyle here. I always feel like no matter how much I have to do or am in a rush, there is time to interact with someone.
Lastly, here in Spain, both water and electricity are extremely expensive to use. Since being here, we’ve been encouraged to do whatever we can to cut down on the use, including turning the water off in the shower while washing my hair. This new habit is something I definitely want to bring back with me to my everyday life in the U.S. I cannot believe there is one week left here!