Guess how long it took me to realize that in Spain the paper regularly used for documents is a different size than the one we use in the U.S. Take a good guess. I would look at all the pieces of paper being handed to me and wonder if I was going crazy or if it was truly a different size. After a Google search to satisfy my curiosity, I thought “Why would you do this Spain?”.
Turns out, this happens to all of us. As I learned in many of the workshops during orientation, we walk around with cultural goggles that makes us experience anything new through our own cultural perspective. The danger of this is unfairly judging the practices that we see instead of absorbing the benefits of being in a different environment. While I thought narrower/longer paper made no sense, it makes perfect sense for most of Europe.
There are many things that are completely different about Spain. We now have dinner at 9 pm, people don’t walk fast or in a rush, or on their right for that matter. All these practices confused me and in the end I wanted to tell everyone that instead we should have dinner earlier, something I learned from Smith where dinner starts at 5:30 pm. I wanted to put up posters that asked everyone to walk on their right so that we wouldn’t bump into each other or have to figure out where to stand, something I learned in high school where they used this as a device so we wouldn’t waste time on the hallways. I wanted to explain to Spaniards that time is gold and that we should all put a little prep in our step, something I had gotten used to from rushing through New York City streets. Of course, this is a normal reaction to change. It is normal to think that ‘our way is better’. Allas, the point of taking part of a new culture is not to change it but to learn to enjoy how others live and learn something new. While it may all seem like nonsense at first, study abroad is about enjoying my last meal of the day at 9 pm, being entertained by slow stroll to school even though I’m late, and breathing in the cold air on whatever side of the street I land on as I navigate the tiny spaces between Madridians.
Mayeline Peña, student blogger primavera 2020