By Cynthia Marie Ford, Staff Writer
As people, we love routine and find it hard to adjust to change. It is difficult to get away from your comfort zone and travel outside the country all by your lonesome. Maybe the doubts pile up in your head until eventually you find yourself asking “why am I doing this again?”
The biggest fear I had before traveling abroad to Spain this semester was not knowing exactly what to expect. I had to do my research before making the leap, and even then I was still unprepared. Getting on that plane to fly across an ocean was by far the scariest thing I have ever experienced, but if I had the choice I would do it all over again.
However, one thing I would have done differently if I could do it over again would be to find someone familiar with Spain and pick their brain. To say that living in Spain is a different experience from living in the states would be to put it lightly. It is more like a different world and students need someone to guide them through all these changes. For all those students who are contemplating studying abroad in the semesters to come, I am here to tell you what I had to learn the hard way.
Duration of your trip
Before making the big leap I am sure you have thought about how long you would like to stay. The Study Abroad Office (261 Millennium Study Center) has information on a variety of trips including Spain. Regardless of what trip you choose you should have an idea of how long you think you can tolerate being away from home. If this is your first time going out of the country by yourself, maybe two weeks or a month would be a good amount of time. If you are more daring, there are trips that range from a semester to an entire year. Whatever the case, keep in mind that, financially, it is always ideal to attend a semester or year program because the cost of tuition is identical to attending a semester or year at UMSL.
A kiss here, a kiss there
In Spain, kisses are required. For American students this is one of the biggest, most awkward changes. I personally am very keen on personal space, so when someone first pulled me in for a “beso,” I was totally caught off guard. It takes time to get used to but before you leave you will lose your concept of a personal bubble, kissing almost everyone you meet.
Before traveling abroad you will need to determine how to communicate with both your family from home and the friends you will make in your new surroundings. Many students add an international plan to their current phone line, but I have found this to be quite expensive. For those that do not have hundreds of dollars each month for an outrageous phone bill, I suggest a combination of devices. I found it cheapest to add international texting to my current phone line, use Skype with my family via computer, and purchase a phone with a Spanish number to communicate with those that live in Spain. Also, downloading useful apps such as WhatsApp, a texting application widely used in European countries, may even eliminate the need to purchase international texting on your US line.
Although the official language of Spain is of course, Spanish, other languages are regularly spoken as well. Catalan is a mixture of French and Spanish that is spoken by the majority of those that live in Barcelona. Some people even use a mix of both, or what I’d call “Spatalan.” Among other languages are French, German, and even English. English speakers are actually not as hard to find as one would think, as many students in Spain are required to learn it as early as grade school.
When I first arrived in Spain, it was difficult to make the switch to eating on a different schedule. Breakfast in Barcelona usually takes place around 7 a.m., and lunch is normally around 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. At this time, kids from school and those that attend college usually return home to eat. Even stranger for an American is the Spanish dinner time, which is usually from as early as 8 p.m. to as late as 10 p.m. It’s a hard transition for your tummy to get used to.
Keep your tip to yourself
In the U.S., we tip everyone. Waiters, hair stylists, delivery men, taxi drivers, and even bus boys if we are feeling generous. Needless to say, I was not heartbroken when this concept was tossed aside. In Spain and other European countries it is not mandatory to tip because people, regardless of occupation, actually make a proper hourly wage without your donation. Tipping is welcomed by some, but it depends. Some people even perceive a tip as an insult.
When it comes to transportation, trains and buses are the way to go. The faster you learn the metro routes the better off you will be. Similar to the U.S., there are cell-phone apps that will allow you to know the route schedule for many of the lines. Taxis are not outrageously expensive, but depending on how far you plan to travel, you could end up losing a considerable amount of money.
While it is always intimidating to leave your surroundings and move to a place where no one knows your name, I encourage all students to experience it at least once. It is an adventure that will strengthen you and help you learn about your strengths .To be thrown into a completely different world can be jolting and it is something that will allow you to learn about culture, different people, and most importantly, yourself.