Towards the middle of my program I experienced what some might describe as culture shock. When I arrived in Granada, I was sure that I would assimilate fairly easily into Spanish life. Everything was brand new and exciting, from winding streets to explore to speaking in a different language. I’ve always been a very easy-going person and like to think that I take things in stride. Even my first hour in Spain, when the airline lost my bag on my flight into Malaga, my friends were surprised that I wasn’t too worried about this mishap. Instead I was pumped about the free toiletries and extra large tee shirt the airline gave me. This feeling continued through my program’s orientation and the first few weeks of classes. I couldn’t see a way that I could be dissatisfied with living in Spain.
The truth is that dissatisfied isn’t necessarily the word I would use to describe my culture shock that came a little ways into my program. Instead, I would use “disconnected.” As the weeks moved along, I gradually began to notice the differences between Spain and the U.S. Firstly, I felt like a lot of my personality was being left out when I spoke Spanish. Humor is a crucial way I express myself and not being able to be funny was frustrating.
I also found myself identifying with American cultural aspects that I have never really connected with in the U.S. For example I had a stint where I really got into country music, something I rarely listen to in the U.S. Even when Spaniards asked me about negative aspects of the U.S., I was proud to say that even though I didn’t like them, at least they were something I was used to. For instance, I loved talking about the divisiveness of American politics because even though I hate it, I at least understood it.
While this disconnect from Spain and a connection to the U.S. did impede my enjoyment of some of my abroad experience, I think it was also really valuable because it did show me that I do enjoy my life in the U.S. and that travel doesn’t mean you’re always happy as people’s pictures on Facebook suggest. The biggest help was from all my friends in Spain, whether it was the Americans in my program or the Spaniards I met. Talking with friends helped me understand what I was missing about the U.S. and how being in Spain was an amazing experience. Another huge help was my Spanish host mom who loved joking around and I felt understood my personality, something I had trouble conveying to other Spaniards in Spanish.
Most importantly though, I learned a lot through accepting and moving past culture shock. I gained a better understanding of Spanish culture as I was confronted with its unique aspects that I had trouble identifying with. It also reinforced my self-confidence to find comfort in a place that was different than what I was used to, something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I spent the semester at Whitman, an environment I am accustomed to. So all in all, I would give culture shock a Yelp review of 3.5 stars out of five, because although it sucks to experience, there were also some positive moments that came out of it.