Levels of Integration Posted on October 1st, 2012 by

Levels of Integration
I had one goal in coming to Spain: To integrate to the point of authenticity. The time I have spent here so far has shown me that there are many factors to integration and that it may be impossible to reach certain aspects of that goal within just year. For example, my accent won´t fool anyone into thinking I´m pure Seviillano, but now I don´t want their accent, I´m actually afraid of picking up a Spanish accent unconsciously. Or the countless old Spanish sayings that the people have lived with their whole lives, I´m just starting to learn those and I doubt I´ll scratch the surface of Spanish history in such a short time. It feels like I am fighting a battle between being a student in a program for foreigners and finding a way to have authentic intercultural experiences. I am a student, I have to be a student and unfortunately (at least for this semester) I must go to class with Americans. I learn from a teacher things that I would´ve learned from my parents and grandparents and friends. To placate that problem I matriculate into programs that offer engineered cultural activities. I chose these pseudo-cultural experiences in an effort to see as much of Spain as possible. Yes these activities are enjoyable, but with these activities I am still in a comfortable tourist bubble. I’d rather spend my time in the back regions where only the Spaniards go. But these places are invitation only so all I can do is be patient, authenticity is out there.
When I got here in Spain it felt only like a different place. I would frequently exclaim “I can’t believe I’m in Spain”. Now, living Spanish is nothing new. For any student who wants to study abroad, I advise: It’s nice to have American friends but we left the states to be away from the familiar. We should shy away from what is comfortable and honestly, everything American, including the numerous other American students studying or traveling abroad. I say this for two reasons. One is simply the fact that a study abroad experience shouldn’t be a vacation, which seems to be the mindset of many students here. There is always time for fun but we are studying more outside of school than inside. While academics may or may not be challenging, adapting sure is. Students should make the effort to embrace a new country wholeheartedly and study their culture. When you do, the people, not the tour guides or other Americans, will show you where the real fun is, the back regions. The other is because I’ve had three weeks in three countries now: Christmas in Acapulco with a Mexican family of which I did not meet one American, and a tour of Japan which was spent entirely with Americans and was a very shallow experience. I used to say I couldn’t believe I was in Japan and truly I can’t. All I have of that trip are pictures and vague memories of pretty temples and gardens. Mexico was spent entirely with a family. There was no English in the house, there was no tour. There was only living day by day. Although Acapulco was longer ago, the memory is stronger. I still remember the smells, the foods, the overall atmosphere, and of course the people, of which I am still in contact with. Yet I will say it one more time if in another way. The Spain I’m experiencing with expatriates far differs from that with the natives. With my American friends, we mostly complain about what’s different and how we wish this or that could be better. Then, while scratching our heads in our comfortable foreign bubble we go on a vacation in the streets touring bar after club after restaurant. More of what I could do in America. In some ways this is ok, after all if I wasn’t doing it myself how would I know? You´ll go to lots of parties, travel to new places on the weekends, try exotic foods some you like, some you don´t, and you´ll have nice pictures on facebook to show to your friends so you can brag about how cultured you are.
Granted there´s nothing wrong with that life and I´m sure one day I´ll do the same, but not while my goal is to have intimate experiences with Spanish culture. But I promise you will feel so much better when you make the effort to leave your bubble. I´ve spent entire days without using a word of English, and now I don’t remember the language in which I’ve held most conversations. Language is a huge barrier, but it is actually much easier to overcome than I could have ever believed. Just start blabbing on until someone understands you. You don’t need nearly as much vocabulary as you think to communicate with others and when you run into someone trying to practice their English you’ll see they have the same reservations as we do trying to practice Spanish. Now in my dreams I greet people with two kisses and speak to them in Spanish. There are meals that I’ve head where I long for some of that stale bread that I usually have with every meal. I’ve long since forgotten about the awesome might of spicy Mexican food I used to have in Houston. Instead I eat food mucho más suave but I´ll save Spanish gastronomy for another post. What I’m saying here, I am positive applies to any other country, just go out there and give it a shot. Today I believe that I’m in Spain and I will continue to go out beyond the superficial that is so easy to be drawn to and break the surface of this city. This I believe is what it means to live in another country, to be abroad.


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