I arrived in Jaén, Spain knowing that it was going to be tough to communicate and adapt to certain customs and traditions that I wasn’t used to in the United States. But some aspects have been much tougher than I had anticipated. Since my last column, I have completed my first week of school at the University of Jaén, and it wasn’t easy.
Before I started school, I spent three weeks in Spain soaking up the sun in the Mediterranean, exploring the labyrinthine of streets in Tangier, Morocco and drinking a lot of wine while eating a lot of tapas. My first few weeks flew right by, and it felt like my exploring was over as soon as it began. School was starting before I knew it.
It wasn’t that I was dreading starting school–it was the fact I was starting school somewhere other than Cal State Fullerton. I was stepping out of my comfort zone in Orange County and into a foreign university as an international student who only spoke English.
My first day was a blur and left me with a headache at its close. A stream of fast-paced Andalucian Spanish was thrown right at me for six hours straight. And by six hours straight, I mean six straight exhausting hours of classes about Spanish grammar, writing and conversation. Sure, being thrown into Spanish classes can be overwhelming, but even easy tasks such as buying books or getting copies were now terrifying because of the language barrier.
Even buying food at the cafeteria or getting coffee at the coffee shop made me feel nervous and anxious. I didn’t know what to say, what to do or if I was even doing it right. I knew that to adapt to the Spanish university life, I just had to have the confidence to ask for help from a stranger. Either that, or I could try on my own, and realize I’d messed up when I got odd looks from the people around me. I was definitely given strange looks multiple times throughout my first week, but I really didn’t care.
Despite my anxiety and nerves, in my eyes, I was successful. I accomplished all of the things I needed to, even if the things were simple tasks like buying a book or ordering a coffee.
The stress of my first week was made bearable and even relaxing at times by the Spaniard lifestyle. If any country knows how to relax, have fun and enjoy what life has to offer, it is Spain. In Jaén, the siesta, a small break in the day for about two to three hours, is very much alive and well.
From the hours of 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., stores and businesses close down to take a break from the monotony of work and enjoy lunch, the biggest meal of the day, with friends and family. A fulfilling lunch of jamón, queso, paella and fresh warm bread, is followed by a nap. The siesta is something that I have very much adopted and learned to love.
Learning a new language is never easy. However, when you’re living in a country that values sharing a meal and a glass of wine with family and friends at two in the afternoon, it makes everything stressful about your day disappear.