Monday, September 20, 2010

My New Home: How Culture Shock Really Happens

The first night my landlord (actually her daughter) explained all the details of the apartment to me in Spanish, most of which I didn't understand. When in doubt, nod and smile. It was so late running to the grocery store to pick up a little bit of food was no option. I didn't even have toilet paper! Luckily, I was provided with sheets and one towel.

*Tip: I recommend bringing at least one towel and rag with you in your suitcase. I actually brought two.

The apartment (or duplex) was very nice and spacious.

This is my room, actually a view of just half of it. It's really big.

This is my terrace, or balcony... very nice. My room is a refurbished attic, so it's upstairs.

This is the salon, or living room/dinning room area.

The kitchen (cocina). I don't have a microwave so everything has to be cooked by stove or oven.

Hallway. Like I said very spacious. The stairs you see in the back lead up to my room upstairs.

So I was delighted that our place was so nice. After I arrived I didn't have much left in me but to unpack a bit, shower, and hit the sheets. It only took me 5 minutes in my room to realize my air conditioner didn't work. Middle of the Spanish summer and no air, unbareble.

*Tip: Never be afraid to contact your landlord about something that is wrong.

I emailed my landlord right away. Of course I had to live in it a couple of days before the problem was solved. So to improvise, I slept in my pajamas without covers, with my terrace door open to let the cool night air in. And though it was not how I wanted to spend the year, it worked for a few days.

*Tip: When in doubt, improvise.

The next day while walking to orientation at the campus in the city center I realized that my apartment was a 25 minute walk. Now it is important to understand to the Spanish who have lived in a city their entire lives, this was nothing. But for me, an American that was used to taking a car everywhere she goes, this was catastrophic. The nearest grocery store chain was at least a 15 minute walk one way. Needless to say this was a problem.

Now combine this long walk, no grocery store near, still no food or toilet paper, my terrible experience at the airport, and a broken air conditioner. I was abosolutely ready to go home! I think it is important to state here that before you go people tell you about culture shock, but you don't really grasp the concept until you're dropped in the middle of a foreign country alone. Culture shock is not just adjusting to a different language and jet lag, its learning to survive in a completely different environment, its the small problems that when all put together make you want to sit in a corner and cry to your momma. Needless to say, the entire first week, I was miserable, cried every night, and was ready to make plans to end my studies after one semester. (I was supposed to study for a year.)

*Tip: It is important to not to become so consumed with your problems that you lose sight of the fact that YOU ARE LIVING ALONE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. How many people can actually say that? Not many. You just have to realize that these problems will pass, and you will adjust. I've been in Spain a little over two weeks, and I already feel pretty well adjusted.

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