by Grace Gulino
Photography by Rei Vardi
Culture shock was my number one concern when I was preparing to go abroad to Madrid, Spain. Before this semester, I had never left the country, and therefore had no previous experiences to draw from to prepare myself for life in Europe.
Though there have been some times where I have felt like a total foreigner and have been confused by the differences, keeping an open mind has definitely made it easier to adapt.
It’s a big move for anyone to go to a different country and live by themselves for four months, but it’s especially difficult to study in a country where the language is different. The language barrier was the first thing I really had to get used to and work with because all the host families whom house the students speak primarily Spanish. I was afraid that I would have a difficult time expressing myself to my family, as well as the locals. For the first few days, it definitely was an adjustment to start speaking Spanish most of the time instead of English, but once I was settled in, it became less stressful to speak Spanish and I gained more confidence in speaking. Something to note is that even if you think you don’t speak another language well, the people you are talking to will always appreciate your effort.
There are quite a few things that are different in Spain that took some getting used to. For example, it is common for families to eat lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner at 9 p.m. People also tend to go to bed late, but still get up early in the morning. The concept of time is handled much differently in Europe in general, as few people are seen rushing around or walking fast down streets. Everyone’s lifestyle is much more relaxed, and they take the time they need to comfortably get things done. It’s been a nice change of pace living here so far and I have taught myself how to slow myself down at times and relax.
The fact that I had never been abroad before isn’t a negative thing, despite that I thought it would be a setback. In my case it has helped me to be open to differences and not compare everything to what I previously knew. At first I would actively compare everything I saw in Spain to America, but as I began adjusting to life in Madrid, I gradually stopped doing that and started taking everything for what it was. Now the next thing I should be concerned about is the reverse culture shock I expect to experience when coming back to the States.