One philosophy I have in life is that you can’t have expectations (or just very little) before doing something. I’m not sure if that’s the best way to live life but as Shakespeare has said “expectation is the root of all heartache”. So if I had to give any advice to future study abroaders about adapting to a new home and culture, I would say go into your program with an open mind. I think it’s important to choose the right program to study with so you feel comfortable with the people you will be working with, but be ready to go into culture shock, and don’t expect it to be easy! Having an open mind will help you to adapt to the new culture changes you experience during the semester away and adapting to the cultural differences will enhance your experience while abroad… its better than fighting them!
I want to tell you about the challenges I faced when I moved to Alicante and how I overcame some of those challenges.
One of the initial cultural shocks I faced was adapting to the times we eat meals, the quantity of food, and the types of food. In Spain, you eat a little breakfast before class, go home at 2 and eat a giant lunch, and eat a smaller ration for dinner around 10 (or whenever your host mom makes food). The best way I can tell you to adapt to this is to start off eating when they normally eat. Even if your body says its not hungry at that time, try and eat a little at least to get your body accustomed to the changes, I think all host madres are very understanding to the fact your body isn’t used to it yet. This is actually supposed to help stop jet lag too! Also, when going to a new place your body needs to adjust to the food you’re eating from a new region of the world, so your digestive system may take some time to adapt. I suggest you bring Tums! Don’t be afraid to try new foods while you’re abroad. My host madre says she likes me because I try all types of foods but I’m honest when I don’t like it. I never liked seafood in America but I am studying along the Mediterranean Coast where they eat tons of seafood. I try all the seafood my madre cooks for herself. I still don’t like seafood unfortunately… but hey at least I’m being open minded about trying new things!
Allowing your body adjust to the food may be a more physical part of adapting to a new culture, but for me adjusting to the way of life in Spain can be somewhat challenging to accept. At first when I arrived I loved it all: the Spanish nap time, the beach everyday, the hot weather, and my madre who cooks me all my food, cleans my room, and packs me lunches. Then, everything kind of changed…classes got busier and I couldn’t take a 3 hour daily nap, the weather in October is in the upper 60′s and 70′s and isn’t “prime” beach time anymore, and my madre now gets on my nerves quite often. So how did I adjust?
I’m in a Spanish popular culture class where we read literature and discuss what we see every day life on the street, in our classes, at the beach, or at our homes. This helps us talk out our problems adapting to these strange things we see or experience. Our teacher is an anthropologist so she really loves studying cultures and she is not biased about the Spanish culture so she helps us figure out why the culture can be so different. We learned that really you only take naps in Spain if you have the time between class or work, beach season dies down in October because people go back to work after their summer vacations which last until September in Spain. And everyone always has a good homestay family to share. Being able to talk to people is really important in helping to adjust, as well as having an open mind about the new culture. Especially being able to come to terms with things you don’t agree with, like the Spanish people who feel its ok to cut you off while you’re speaking. In America it’s poor manners to talk while someone else is talking, and our parents and schools teach us not to do this. But here, they are raised thinking its ok, so you can’t be shy and afraid to jump in a conversation… its ok to cut someone off to get your words in!
One thing I am having problems with adjusting to is my host madre. I live in an apartment with only mi madre and she can get on my nerves. I learned in my popular culture class that moms in Spain can be overwhelming at times; they like to do EVERYTHING for you, and know what is going on in your life, and baby you. Also, its ok to walk around in their underwear or leave the bathroom door open while they’re peeing. At first I was pretty shocked to hear that my madre leaves her bathroom door open. But I remembered that I am coming into their life to live like a Spaniard and learn their culture so I really just have to accept that this is how they like to live in their homes. However, this doesn’t mean I have to walk around in my underwear in my apartment or leave the bathroom door open. But you can’t live comfortably if you can’t accept their customs. But on the other hand, I am still trying to get used to my mother’s overbearing personality. My friends and I like to share stories about our host family, and I think mine wins the most crazy award. She wakes me up from naps to put blankets on me. Or constantly unplugs my charging computer when I leave a room. Or tells me not to wear sandals because its not “fall fashion”. After 2 months in Alicante I am still trying to work on figuring out how I can adapt to my host madre. None of the other host madre’s are like this with my friends. I think at host parent orientation they are told that American’s like their space and if their door is shut they may need a bit of personal time. But my host mom just knocks and comes right in to bother me even if I’m really trying to study with the door shut. I’m trying to accept the fact that Spanish parents tend to be over protective, but this is still a work in progress.
To sum this long post up:
- have an open mind
- don’t be afraid to accept the new culture – it doesn’t mean it has to be something you also believe in ie: going to the bathroom with the door open
- Talking to the natives of the culture about the differences. They sometimes can be the best people to piece together your curiosities.
- Don’t expect this to happen overnight!
I can’t tell if I’m getting new bumps or if old bumps are flaring up when they itch. So I used a pen and circled all of the bumps on my hands where its the worst. Then I took a picture of my hands. So now if I have a new itch I look and see if that Scabie was there when I took the picture. I like to think of myself as clever sometimes. But this helps me not freak out. I hope I am scabies free though!