Musings Abroad-My Life in Spain: The First Days

This must be some form of culture shock.

For the 3rd time that day, this thought crossed my mind as I checked the day’s forecast. And as expected, it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature like this would be rare in Colorado, but Spain’s enduring heat was determined to last the entire week.

Granada’s streets never lack performers and musicians (Photo Credit: Anna Groeling).

Many Spanish women carry fans in their purse during the hot summer months. The first images of my Spanish host mom, a caring and wonderful woman, was of the red fan she carried. She could snap it out faster than I could blink. When I first arrived to the city of Granada and stepped off the bus, I almost jumped when my host mom clicked her fan closed and kissed me on either cheek.

As we walked home, I tried to pick out landmarks that I could identify later. I would have to find my way back to the city center the next morning. My host mom stopped and handed me her fan, saying only “toma” (take). I held the fan for the rest of the time, not sure if I should attempt to use it when both my hands were full. The streets we walked stayed true to European standards: they were much smaller than those in the United States and the streets smelled a little like old cigarettes. A shop owner finished his own cigarette before returning to his shop.

We turned the corner and entered the apartment complex. My eyes widened when we reached the elevator and I could feel my heartbeat quicken. The elevator could comfortably fit one person and uncomfortably fit two people. It’s doors opened to show that the elevator didn’t quite make it the entire way down, it rose a couple of inches from the platform. My Spanish mom shook her head and told me in Spanish that “it works when it works”.

I waited for my host mom to go up first, with each passing second making my heart beat a little faster. I took a deep breath once the red button turned off. Of course, everything turned out fine.

Canopies shade pedestrians from the hot sun, as temperatures can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in southern Spain (Photo Credit: Anna Groeling).

The elevator, though a bit rickety, never failed. I battled the intense heat for a couple of weeks and found shade wherever I walked. My Spanish improved with each day and that made me work harder to improve myself as the language barrier minimized.

The first day I thought about what I had gotten myself into. The second, third and fourth days went by so quickly, I didn’t have time to worry about my new situation. By the time my first week ended, I had forgotten about those first day worries. My level of comfort changed rapidly within that first month as I learned more about the Spanish culture and the language. As I learned the culture and issues that affect the country, it helped me become a better critical thinker. My host family, Spanish friends and the locals showed me that we shared more similarities than differences in our lives, even though we come from different backgrounds.

I’ll always treasure my memories from Spain. Of course, there were tough days too. In the beginning, my head would spin after too many hours of learning and speaking Spanish, so communicating took more time and energy. This made me thankful for the occasional siesta. Sometimes the slower-paced Spanish life would sometimes push against my faster-paced American standards, which would make me take a couple steps back to understand the cultural differences.

While my experiences were overwhelming positive, my negative experiences were just as important. They made me become more perceptive about myself and my own culture. All of my experiences, whether positive or negative, shaped me.

Four months later and Spain was a lot colder than when I first arrived. My Spanish host mom didn’t carry around her fan anymore, but I would see similar elegant fans from the shops’ windows. They made me nostalgic for those first couple of days. I didn’t want to leave Spain. I gained a great appreciation for the language and culture. My first days were a mix of anticipation, excitement and nervousness. I knew that this would be a life-changing experience, but I couldn’t imagine the impact it would have on my own life. Granada became my second home.

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  1. It is easy for me to think about the differences between me and others when traveling to a foreign place or even where I live. Despite my thoughts, there are so many similarities between all people that connect us across borders. Your insight on Spain and culture emphasize how fast something strange can feel like home. The visuals you included of Spain made this all the more interesting.

  2. I really liked the visuals you included in this, I can tell it must have been hard to figure out which photos to use. I relate to your experience a little because even though I only studied abroad in Italy for a month, it was extremely impactful and still something to get used to. Adapting to a new country is extremely difficult but also extremely rewarding when it happens.

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