Embracing the (un)familiar

I realise that it seems a bit presumptuous to write this whole post over “What I’ve learned/am learning about Sevilla and Spanish life” just over a week into my six-month stay here. But I’m all about visible progress and transformation so consider this my tangible reminder to myself of how far I’ve come once I leave in June/July.

So.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore. Or Indiana.

CIEE was immensely helpful in giving us tips and information before we left through an online orientation and a massive student handbook.

But there’s only so much that paper and a two hour orientation can teach you.

Sometimes you just have to jump full in and hope for the best. And that’s what we have all done this week.

* * *

Aside from the obvious language difference, Sevilla is full of interesting and unique segments to make the whole, and those segments are extremely different from the U.S. and while fun and exciting at times, do take some getting used to.

For example, surprisingly one of the hardest things to adapt to is the eating schedule/eating traditions. I’m used to eating at weird times because college schedules wait for no one. But here the schedule is very much centred around meals. If I’m not awake by 9:30 or so, I have to wait for coffee/pastry time later in the morning, or just not eat until lunch in the afternoon, as my host mom will just put everything away. Lunch is very late compared to the U.S. My host mom usually will have us sit down to eat sometime between 2 and 2:30. I’ve heard of others eating even later than that. Dinner then isn’t until 9 or 9:30 in the evening (which also can be early for some).

But as you’ve already read, I absolutely LOVE the food here so as long as I keep loving everything, I’m ok with adjusting to the weird schedule.

The beautiful thing here is that if you go out to eat anything, from coffee, to a pastry, to tapas etc. no one will rush you. If you sit around for three hours in the U.S. nursing your coffee, the Starbucks barista is going to stare you down for taking up the most comfortable chair all afternoon. If you go to dinner and chill out with friends for several hours, the waiters will hate you and probably hex you for ruining their precious turnover rates.

Not so here. Several times I’ve gone out with friends for coffee or tapas and we’ve easily spent several hours and still had to flag a waiter down for our checks. It’s very indicative of the culture as a whole. The Spanish and sevillanos in particular are very relaxed, very unhurried people. If it takes you three hours to drink a single cup of coffee and converse with others, it takes you three hours.

The other thing about food: There are heladerías (Ice cream shops) EVERYWHERE. I guess it makes sense at it’s very hot most of the year. I guess I always considered ice cream a very American thing. Yes yes I know gelato and sorbet aren’t originally American I just had this mental block when it came to considering ice cream an international treat. It’s a wonderful surprise and I can’t wait until it warms up to try out the many different shops near my house and also in el centro.

* * *

So enough about food already yes?

One of the very small, seemingly innocuous things that I was concerned about prior to arriving was that it’s not common nor really “allowed” to walk around barefoot at home. Not only that, they rarely even wear just socks but house slippers.

I go barefoot at home 24/7, 365 days a year regardless of the temperature in Indiana. So I wasn’t really all that happy about finding out I’d have to wear shoes (the horror) all the time.

BUT.

This is one of those things that I’ve also grown accustomed to very quickly and learned to appreciate. They aren’t kidding when they say Spanish homes are equipped to deal with warm weather, not cold (understandably). Thus, there is no central heating and there is no carpet to be found anywhere in my apartment.

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These house slippers are the sole reason I don’t have hypothermia or pneumonia. Plus I got slippers that are fuzzy on the inside and just like sparkles, I like anything fuzzy (animal lover can you tell) and so they’re probably my new favourite accessory. I might, just might, keep on wearing them when I get back to the States.

Scarves. I’m 110% happy with my decision to bring almost as many scarves as I did shirts. Girls wear them all the time here so I

1. fit in-ish

and

2. Stay warm while walking.

Speaking of walking…shoes. Not as happy with my decision to bring all flats. While they’re very comfortable for the amount of walking I do everyday, my feet are usually freezing by the time I get anywhere. Plus none of them are built to withstand rain, and one of my pairs took two days to dry completely after walking in a downpour. Buying boots is definitely in order sooner rather than later.

* * *

Safety was a big concern for my parents before I left (and probably still because you know. They’re my parents). It was also one of the questions I got most often before I left.

“Will you be safe in a city without anyone you know?”

The answer is wholeheartedly, YES.

I honestly feel safer walking around Sevilla, a place I don’t know well and full of people who speak a language I don’t speak fluently, than Indianapolis, where I’ve lived for 20 years and where everyone speaks some form of English.

Sevilla is about the same land size as Indy, but has many more people and is more consolidated, making it incredibly easy to walk everywhere or bike, or take one of the very well-kept public transportation systems (bus, metro, or electric tram once you’re in the city center). The city streets are incredibly well lit, more so than most cities I’ve been to in the U.S. with the exception of New York. Even down smaller side streets there are always lamps everywhere.

There is also a key for everything. If I ever lose my set of keys, I’m completely screwed. There’s a key to get into the courtyard complex where my apartment is (I’ll post pictures eventually of the layout), a key for the building, and two keys for the apartment itself.

Two of the keys look exactly alike and it usually takes me five minutes to determine the correct key and then the correct way to put it into the keyhole every time I come home. Longer if it’s at night and I’m tired.

That’s not to say I don’t take precautions. I don’t take all my money or cards with me when I go out. I’ve only walked home alone when it’s been darker a few times, and even then it wasn’t from the city center, but from our neighbourhood group meeting point. I’ve taken taxis when I’ve been out REALLY late/early (think 4am).

However, overall I’d say that I feel much more relaxed and safe here than in my hometown.

* * *

In a completely non-creepy way, I love that there are so many kids around in Sevilla!

Of course there are a lot of kids in my neighbourhood at home, seeing as how my house is near the township high school, middle school, and several elementary schools. But due to where my house is situated (on a busy street in not the greatest of neighbourhoods), you never see them outside of the park down the street.

Not so here. Calle Asunción, about five minutes from my house, has a long stretch that is basically a giant sidewalk/bike path and no cars are allowed to use it. It’s lined with shops, bakeries, yes, ice cream shops, and all sorts of other places in addition to many benches etc. It’s a perfect gathering point. At the end of the day as school lets out, it also is full of kids running off their excess energy. Parents just sedately chill out on benches and watch their kids running around like crazy, playing with remote-control cars or watching someone blow giant bubbles. I’ve even seen young kids just playing soccer without a supervising adult in sight.

That would never happen in the U.S. Even at parks (i.e. not in a very public space), usually parents are vigilantly hanging over their kids and warning them not to stray too far.

That’s not to say that Spanish parents are neglectful or aren’t careful. I’ve seen kids who seems as old as 11 or 12 holding their parent’s hand while walking. However, parents seem more relaxed, less helicopter-like than those in the U.S.

* * *

As you’ve read, I’m a huge history fan. It’s very hard to not be a tourist everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve tried hard to take pictures at all the famous Sevilla sites I’ve been to during orientation because I want to try hard to fit in and be chill about it all as the semester goes on.

The history is just incredible.

Everywhere I go there are still remnants of the Muslim conquest of Sevilla, in the architecture, in the food, and so on.

At the Universidad de Sevilla, many of the classrooms still have exposed brick and stone from the old tobacco factory. The factory is, in fact, older than my entire home country.

Really, most things here are older than my entire home country.

It really puts history and time into perspective. We have this vision of the U.S. being the end-all-be-all in modern history, but forget that the world existed for hundreds of centuries without it, and that many, many amazing events occurred, inventions made, and cities founded before the colonies ever decided they didn’t feel like being English anymore.

It’s a very humbling and very eye-opening experience.

[That’s not to say that I’m not very proud of my country and its accomplishments. I’m very proud to be an American. But I also am very proud to understand that other worlds and cultures and histories exist outside of the American realm and sphere of existence.]

* * *

Despite the many differences, there are still some things that are reminiscent of home.

For example, today I went to la biblioteca– the library–for a class assignment, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. I applied for a library card and got a tour of the different sections. Having grown up practically living in the local library (#homeschooled) and later working there through much of high school, the library here was pretty much home the second I stepped through the doors.

While I felt somewhat at home watching the Colts game on Sunday, it was at a bar and with mostly Patriots fans so it dampened the American spirit a bit (“patriots” is a team name used very loosely in my opinion. Anyway).

Today was really the first time that I’ve really felt like my American life and my Spanish life collided in a perfect mix and it was really wonderful.

And now it’s time to dispel a stereotype!

So every time I go to Mexico, I stick out. I have been to Mexico four times and lived there for awhile. I can keep returning for the next forty years but I will never fit in completely. I’m pale, have red hair, blue eyes. Most Mexicans have beautiful tan skin, dark hair, dark eyes (though of course this is not the absolute rule. One of the girls I know there, Montse, could have been my twin in another life).

Whenever I said “Oh I’m going to Spain,” people would often remember how I’ve talked about not looking normal in Mexico, and make some sort of comment about how difficult it would be to have the same happen in Spain for six months.

Spain. Is. Not. Mexico.

Spain is actually incredibly diverse as is Sevilla. I can’t look at people and know if they are Spanish anymore than they can look at me and automatically tell I’m American. Well, they can, but not because of how I look.

Just the other day a group of girls walked past, chattering away in German. Sevilla is a fairly popular tourist city so as the weather gets warmer, the tourists will increase as will the diversity. Positive correlation (See?? I did learn something in statistics).

[Side note: I’m already ridiculously snobby about tourists. Like, how dare you stop in the middle of the path to take a picture while I’m trying to get home for lunch. Because I totally didn’t do the same thing all of last week].

* * *

It isn’t quite home yet, but it’s getting there. I’m slowly starting to be more comfortable with the language (at least in that my host mom doesn’t have to repeat herself three times when asking what I want to drink). I’m slowly starting to assimilate to societal norms and unspoken rules.

Here's your weird picture for the day. This is a street performer/homeless mardi gras caterpillar. It also makes a noise that is suspiciously like a squeaky dog toy. Has been known to scare children putting money into the bucket (Video eventually)
Here’s your weird picture for the day. This is a street performer/homeless mardi gras caterpillar. It also makes a noise that is suspiciously like a squeaky dog toy. Has been known to scare children putting money into the bucket (Video eventually)
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