242 days abroad

7 months 29 days, 34 weeks and 4 days, 5808 hours, 348,480 min, 20,908,800 seconds

After having been home for three weeks I have had time to reflect on my experiences abroad and seen the difference between Spanish culture and my culture here in the slightest of ways. Ways that I never would have imagined making a difference before but now they do .As I frequently say, some of these reasons have to do with that I was in a city as opposed to the county farmlands where I have lived all my life. The lifestyle change wasn’t a shock but eye-opening. These 242 days are a testament to dreams being realized, passions being found, searching deeper into beliefs and upbringing, relationships, and overall personal growth.

Europe, Spain, the city, or all three (not really sure) are more community and relationally based. This can be seen in the plenitude of parks and people roaming around. in this aspect I have found that the american stereotype is true. We are constantly running from activity to activity although with people not really engaging. I was in search of a place to just sit and read while I had some time before I had to pick up my sister and there wants quite enough time to make returning home worthwhile. So when I finally found a barely adequate place and began reading wondering if anyone else would come there were only cars passing the whole time. This may be the big difference between the city and country because of distance between things, but I did not see a single soul while I was there. It made me remember when I would do the same thing in Spain but there would be children running around playing in the parks, returning home from school, and so much going on. It warmed my heart. But here and now I am missing that. Although I did not know the people who were bustling around the city they were there and I could sense and observe this feeling of community that I long for. This is weird to be saying as a year or so ago, being an introvert, I would be dreading these situations, with people constantly around but not necessarily in contact with me. But no I am longing that.

Another that this relational proximity and community can be seen is through just talking with people, and when that makes you late. I was a talker before going to Spain but only with people I really knew well. Now when meeting new people I can talk endlessly. I have to plan appointments with enough time in-between because now it’s inevitable that I will say longer than expected just chatting. So now I am basically the typical Hispanic who is always late for some reason, and this is my reason now.

Within this theme of friends and relations I went into this experience willing to push myself and knowing that I would have to become more outgoing and social to make friends and make the most of the experience. Because I left myself available and wiling to engage in diverse situations I became friends with a range of people from all over the world. I also wanted these friendships to be deep and with while not just shallow and meaningless, and just for the time being while I was there in Spain. I have learned how to be friends with people knowing we will be leaving each other after a short while but because of that cherish the time we have together. It’s all about intentionality and having a plan or goal just not winging it freely, although that does work for some people.

Through this experience I also encountered diverse people with diverse personalities and at times ones that clashed with my own. This was a learning experience for me as a person because I am very expressive and when people are very calm and non-expressive that can easily aggravate me. So through realizing that we can all be different in that aspect and I just leaned to deal with the things that bothered me. Though this I also began to think that one of our personalities were wrong but ultimately found that that is true. All of our personalities are God-given and can be used in different ways to reach people and that is amazing.

Other aspects of culture that differ is style and the way people dress here in York verses in the city. For example this Sunday I come out of my room ready for church and my family says “what are you wearing?!?!” I was really put out by this because it was an outfit that I regularly wore in Spain and even got compliments but my family was question my fashion choices. Upon return it also came to my attention that men were wearing suits in church and that was weird to me because the churches in Spain were much more casual. That is just a simple difference in culture but it really hit me because I never would have thought that that would cause a problem for me.

Another difference that I had to deal with upon return was the issue of respect and relational proximity with elders, bosses and other people of such sort. In Spain I became really close with all of the adults I was constantly around and it was a more casual relationship. Upon returning to the US I encountered many situations where that was not the case. My first Monday back in the country I had an interview and the interviewer sat uncomfortably far from me. I didn’t realize it while I was in Spain but apparently the stereotype is true that they do stand closer to you when they speak. Also in other relationships in my life with my elders returning to them was mare old and standard respect your elder we are different. And that was a bit saddening to me to not be all buddy buddy with everyone like I was in Spain. So in general I was more informal there and returning to the formality here was undesired and uncomfortable. Ugh social norms.

I was also teaching private English lessons while in Spain with no certification what so ever, only the advantage of it being my native language. Throughout that whole experience I felt terribly ill-equipped to be doing that job but somehow made it through. As a result of that experience I gained a lot of knowledge about teaching and it was good practice too. With only 3 kids, maximum, I could try things out and really get my first taste of teaching language without the pressure of a full classroom, planning lessons, state tests, and my job on the line. I was a good experience which I learned a lot from and am happy that I took advantage of it.

Another important area that I learned and grew was relationally and in service. These can be lumped together because in both of the areas I learned to invest in them where ever I am, whatever the length of time will be. It  doesn’t matter only that I need to invest in all situations and people that I come in contact with and make a difference; sharing the gospel, learning about people’s lives, or simply listening to their troubles and praying for them. It’s the little things that add up and create change and this is the way to begin doing that. If you know you want to do something start today because otherwise there the “right time” you are waiting for will never come and you will miss so many opportunities and people.

This is not something I realized on my own but after hearing others say it I can see the difference. I have been told that I became a truer version of myself. Going to Spain was like starting off on a clean slate. Not because I have a past that many hold against me or judge me for but just because growing up in the same town all of my life there were pre assumed stigmas that I had acquired by knowing people for all my life. Another factor as that I grow older I find my interests and my own thoughts about issues and am not as malleable to the influence of others, be it outright conformity or suggestions to how I life my life. I have learned to live more independently and listen to the wisdom of other people and prayerful consider things but not just take actions because it’s what someone told me to do. Rather, really thinking about what I am doing and why. Because of this not being held back by what people think of me or stereotypes from my whole life that I felt like I had to maintain. As I go through life I find my more true interests and personality. Spain definitely gave the freedom to let this happen and diverse situations to form me more as a person.

Spain was an amazing experience that I am glad I had a chance to be part of. Truly living in a different culture and country like a native for a long period of time was enlightening and inspiring. Although I was a spiritual wreck throughout my time there and am still recovering, I see all the good that God has worked in my life and have a more clear vision of my passions and where he is leading me to serve, whatever stage of life I am in.

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