Wow. I cannot believe I leave today. It honestly seems like yesterday that I left Norfolk and arrived early in the morning to Madrid. I still remember my first day here–I got my first real glance of a different culture; I remember thinking that Spanish people didn’t look as Spanish as I thought they would look (I mean, I honestly do not even know what I thought they would look like). I remember being scared, excited, nervous, and brave all at the same time. Too scared that I really wanted to turn around and get back on the plane to America and too excited that I wanted to see what the next 7 weeks would have in store for me.
I can honestly say that this has been the greatest experience of my life. After over a month, I had to time to reflect and truly understand that throughout all the differences (the PDA, smoking, no personal space, dress code, unspoken rules, and even stereotypes that I had) no one culture is ever better than another; it is just culture. I remember the first week of class our professor said that we need to go out and truly learn whether it’s visiting a museum or talking to a Spaniard, but we needed to dig deeper into the culture and I remember leaving and helping an elderly carry her bags out the metro and exchanging a few words. I remember an older man see me bring flowers to my host mom and ask me who the lucky person was and we had a whole talk, in Spanish. I remember ordering my first meal by myself with no google translate or no one there to order for me. I remember when I saw the true beauty of Madrid through the Royal Palace and Prado Museum.
It is all of my memories that I will take back. And while I reflect and go home, it is not a question of how can I leave all of this behind, but it’s more of a question of how I can take some of this that I have seen and experienced and felt and loved and bring it back with me and how can I continue to grow through this. My number one concern is not me missing Spain, but it is of others who may miss the me before I left for Spain.
This last week for me definitely feels rushed and a little stressful. Multiple times I have found myself wishing that I was used to the Spanish education system so I can feel more relaxed about tests and assignments. Maybe I should elaborate on that more: In University, Spanish students typically do not feel stressed about tests. If their professor says that there is a test next week, there is simply a test next week. They do not stay up late at night for the next week to study, there are no flash cards or quizlets, and there is no stressing. I really wish I had this right now.
The final week of class though, has given me a lot of time to reflect on my experience here in Spain as a student and individual. For one of my final project this week, I was required to write a journal about my experience and link it to cross-cultural psychology, because whether we know it or not, everything one experiences has to do with culture and the fact that I’m from another culture acculturating to another has everything to do with psychology. I was able to think about when I first got here to now and I realized that I have grown and learned more about myself. Even though this last week has me in a frenzy, I had to remind myself to still appreciate the little time I have left.
On the fourth, the program put together a July 4th party for us because they knew it was such a big holiday. In fact, they said that this was the first time they have ever did that (so we all felt special). The party was in fact fun but with a little Spanish twist. The first thing I noticed was that in the cole slaw, the chefs put cut up pieces of hot dogs in it. I honestly do not know if that is a thing, but it was interesting to me how they thought of doing that, especially since the majority of us were taken aback by it.
The cutest thing ever though, was the burger. They put this toothpick with an american flag in the shape of a fan on top of the burger and it was the cutest thing ever!! It is funny though because I could not help but to notice that the hamburger even tasted a little different in Spain due to the differences in meat which I thought was pretty interesting. It tasted a little less fatty and more healthy and overall different BUT it was very good!! Overall, I am very happy that the program did this for us. It was nice to eat some American food finally!!!
This week when I came home from somewhere (I honestly forgot), my host mother called me in the kitchen. I thought she was calling me for dinner, yes it was an hour earlier but anything is possible, so I went and to my complete surprise, my Russian roommate, Sasha, and my host mother handed me a spoon and explained to me what we were making and from there we started bonding through food. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for my whole time here. I wanted to cook with my host mother but most of the times I’m not home yet when she starts so I was very happy to do this.
What we cooked was a Russian dish called Pelmeni. It is round pieces of dough with hamburger meat in the middle. My host mom and I put the hamburger meat in the middle and folded the dough over the meat. Sasha did the rolling and cutting of the dough. After that, we had to let the water come to a boil and we place them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Usually, my roommate said, that pelmeni is eaten with sour cream but my host mom fixed us a sauce. I am definitely cooking this when I get back!!
This past week, as a part of my Psychology in the Workplace class, I was given a business case to assess and compare for here and the U.S. The business case I was assigned was to go to the Mercadona (supermarket) and assess the business model and talk about the key differences between Spain’s supermarket and the U.S’s supermarket. First, I want to say that the supermarket was very interesting and none like I’ve ever seen before. I was able to focus on three differences:
The products I noticed were so much more fresh. Right away I noticed that any seafood was on top of ice and very fresh to the point where it looked like it could have possibly just came out of the ocean. Not only that but the fish’s head was still attached (kind of creepy to me). In the US, fish is out through a factory to add or take away stuff and it is then bagged and put into a freezer (very much like the freezers the ice cream were in at the Mercadona). The fish we already know is not fresh (like just out of the ocean) and there are many things added to it.
The second difference I noticed were the prices. The prices are very cheap in the Mercadona. In the US, the average amount of money you spend to just go shopping for one person is about $30-40. Here, I could go shopping for under 30€ with exactly the same things I would have bought in the US. I know that because I actually got a cart and filled it with items I typically buy in the U.S. There are also no “plus taxes” written small beside the prices as seen in the US a lot of times, which is nice because tax is always factored in here.
The store in general I concluded is different. When you come in there are lockers to put your belongings in and there’s a type of little metal thing I had to walk through to get to where the groceries are. The store though, is set up just about the same as stores in the US in terms of how things are categorized: meats are together, drinks are together, toiletries are together. Overall, going to the Mercadona was a very great experience!!
Tonight I had probably the most fun in my entire stay here in Madrid (not necessarily a bad thing). I went to an intercambio with my roommate Sasha and some friends from the program. An intercambio is a huge social setting where people–mostly students–literally from all over the world come and talk in whatever language and you just get to meet people and have a few drinks and some tapas!
I enjoyed myself the whole entire night. I’ve got to say, I’ve never seen so many different people from all over the world in one room! I met people from Venezuela, Italy, France–honestly, you name it! I talked in Spanish and English and it was very nice because although sometimes there was the language barrier, I felt more relaxed to express myself and to not feel bad about not understanding or having a hard time relaying what I wanted to say.
To no surprise whatsoever, many people wanted to hear why I liked Spain a little bit better than the U.S. One individual pointed out “I mean, it’s the U.S!!” Hahaha yes, it is the U.S. and I told that individual my perception of the states and how it differs in the good and bad ways and how I am grateful to live there but also grateful to visit Spain. They wanted to know the differences between the two countries. At one point I was talking to a Spaniard about how I felt as if they had no sense of personal space and he responded: “what is personal space?” I had to laugh because that was my point exactly, no sense of personal space. This experience has really opened me up to a lot more people and more connections and more opportunities to travel more of the world around me.
Tonight gave me much more to look forward to during the rest of my stay!!
So I’ve been in Madrid for over 3 weeks now and there are a lot of things I happened to learn on my own that no one happened to tell me. It wasn’t until I discussed with one of my friends who’s been in Madrid since January, that I realized these unspoken rules that I had experienced were actually a thing.
First off, when on an escalator, always go to the right side to leave space on the left for when people want to walk up or down. I didn’t realize this until after 3 times when I would stand on the left and a person was trying to get by me. They were nice about it though!
Second, stop apologizing. My Spanish professor says that we are the “I’m sorry” American generation. He said we like to apologize for everything and it shows. Here in Madrid, if you bump into someone or accidentally hit them, it is not necessary to apologize. I realized that after I must have bumped into people on the metro and street about 50 times and no one replied to my I’m sorry. In the beginning when I didn’t realize that, I used to get annoyed when someone would bump into me and not apologize. But I understand why now and I no longer get annoyed!
Third, don’t say “yo mucho caliente” although caliente means you’re hot (weather wise), it insinuates that you are horny. I remember saying this to my host mom and she looked at me and said “calore, tú mucho calore” and it wasn’t until my friend told me why, I had realized I’d been telling people that I was horny. Definitely NOT what I was intending hahaha.
Lastly, don’t say por favor. People don’t really say that Spanish word, which means please, here a lot. It’s not that Spanish people aren’t polite. They are, but it’s just not as common as you’d think.
Today I visited Toledo, Spain, a small city on a hill in Madrid. Can I just first say that it was very very hot. Like a different type of heat and very desert like but nonetheless beautiful! I went with my roommate, who is from Russia. Yes, Russia, and it’s very fascinating going places with her because, even though she knows English, she prefers to speak Spanish which pushes me to practice even more.
Anyways, while in Toledo, we were on this hill that overlooked a church and while on the hill we saw these very well dressed Spaniards. We thought they had to be dressed for a wedding because they were just that fancy. To our surprise, we stumbled across an actual wedding!!! I had the luxury of experiencing such a unique event. The bride was very beautiful and the wedding was held in this huge cathedral and there were literally hundreds of guests. Her dress was white and long and she had a veil but it seemed a lot more traditional than in the U.S. The bride was very beautiful and I am very happy to have experienced that!!
This week I have been experiencing culture shock and it. is. terrible. So I force myself to go out even if it is just to a park or walking around the city to get my mind off of things and it helps a lot. It just kinda hit me one day this week at night before I went to bed. I just became so sad and I thought about all of the terrible things that I did not like: for example, people making out beside you on the metro, or the elevators being small (I do not know why but I just started getting frustrated at them haha). On top of that, I really wanted ice cream this week so I went to a super marker by myself, and brought back ice cream, only for my host mom to tell me that there was no room in her freezer and that I would have to eat it. That was just the breaking point for me.
I couldn’t really do much about it and I had class in a couple of hours so I just ate as much icecream as I could, which wasn’t a lot and slowly watched the rest of it melt in the trashcan. I then went to sleep and forced myself to go to class–I was that upset. It also just made me miss home even more. So the next day I was confident that I would stay out the whole day so I met up with a friend and we went to Primemark and to the Royal Palace of Madrid and we had sangrias and did a little shopping in Sol (this month is Madrid’s month of sales). I can honestly say that ever since then, I have been feeling a lot better.
So, today was the first day of classes. I know, you must be puzzled because I’ve been in Spain for over 2 weeks and I am just starting classes. Well, this program is interesting in a way because you could say that I have already been taking my classes. From the very first day since my arrival, the program has taken initiative to make sure I get out and explore Madrid, Spanish culture, and its language. I know it may sound cheesy but how can you learn a complete topic in a whole different country if you do not take the time to learn the country itself first. That is the true learning experience and, to my amazement, it completely intertwines with both of my classes: Psychology in the Workplace and Cross Cultural Psychology.
Now, I have Spanish professors who teaches those two classes and they really put an emphasis on knowing the culture you are working withing so that you do not have this single story. On most first day of classes, the professor introduces his or herself and the course introduction but one of my professors did above and beyond that–she gave us the opportunity to step back and make sure, before we dove into the course more, that we are not going into this with a single story because that single story is detrimental to how we are able, as psychologist and people in general, to help others.
If you want to know, the Single Story is a Ted Talk by Adichie. Also, right away, I love these two classes but I could not help right away to notice one main difference: the professors, as I already knew before hand (thanks to be predeparture study abroad course), prefers to be called by their first name. Not Mrs or professor, but their first name. One of my professors told me it is because it makes her feel old. Anyways, I found it interesting.