“But you already speak Spanish”: Studying abroad in Spain as a Hispanic American

When I told people I would be studying abroad in Spain, their reaction always went a little like “oh well that will be easy for you because you’re Colombian, you won’t have to try”… and yes, in a certain way I knew it would be a little easier for me to adapt to this new country since I already knew how to speak Spanish and I expected some of the cultural aspects to be similar to the Colombian lifestyle, but I was also nervous because I knew no matter how much Spanish culture related to mine, it would still be a change. So for all of you fellow Hispanics that will be studying in Spain here are some of the good and bad experiences I had as a Hispanic American student in Sevilla, Spain.

The language

So obviously the fact that I spoke Spanish made my transition a lot easier than what some of my friends had to go through but knowing the language was kind of a double-edged sword… While it was easier for me to understand what was going on in my classes, I also felt that since I spoke Spanish some professors were a little harder on me and my heritage-speaker peers than on some of the students who were not natives, and sometimes it felt as if we were getting “less guidance”. Although I completely understand and appreciate the fact that some professors were pushing us to do the best we could do, at times I felt that a little more guidance from professors would have been nice (this was especially true at the University classes). Being Hispanic also played a role when meeting our intercambios (speaking partners); during some of the meet-and-greats, many of the Spanish intercambios wouldn’t believe me when I said that I was an American studying abroad, and some of them didn’t seem to think that “I could learn anything from them”… I get why someone would think that, but when studying abroad I didn’t just want to perfect my Spanish- I mean I could have just taken more classes in the U.S to do that- but I went to a different country because I wanted to learn about the culture and traditions of this place, and most importantly be a part of them, which is something that you don’t get by just speaking the language, you actually need a native to guide you, and teach you how to live and speak like people in the host country. In my case I needed a lot of help when it came to learning certain slang and mannerisms, and as expected there were many changes to the Spanish I knew- many words that mean one thing to me, meant a complete opposite to the Spaniards, and that made for some funny stories and some more learning. My host dad’s favorite story to tell was one time when we were talking about migraines, and I told them that when I got them I always drank “tinto con limón” (black coffee with lemon), but in Spain “tinto” means red wine… My host mom kept insisting that “tinto” was what caused her headaches, and I kept telling her that there was no way, that if she mixed it with lemon it would make for the perfect home remedy. When my host dad heard us talking about it he realized what I meant and we all got a kick out of it after we realized we were thinking of completely different beverages… so be ready to change the meaning of words you are used to saying.

Knowing Spanish wasn’t all a bad thing, after all since I spoke the language I was able to create an amazing bond with my host family in no time, and I also was able to take one of the most challenging literature classes at the Universidad de Sevilla with other Spaniards, so it definitely had more ups than downs.

The culture

Going to Spain I knew that the culture would be completely different from the United States, but I knew that it would be a little more similar to Colombia. One of the main things that surprised me and some of my friends was how loud Spaniards talk; sometimes my roommate and I would be in our room and thought that our host family was arguing, but in reality, they were just talking- just very loudly. My eating schedule also had to change a little bit, and although the kind of food I ate in Spain was a lot more similar to the kind of cooking you can see in some Latin American countries the time they eat is very different… from having lunch after 2 to eating dinner after 9:30 it was definitely an adjustment. Spaniards, just like many Hispanics are a lot more open and welcoming to strangers than Americans are, and the “personal space” bubble that we are used to having in the U.S. just doesn’t exist. Similarly to many Hispanics (at least people in Colombia), Spaniards get very close to you when they talk, and of course don’t forget about the two cheek kisses when greeting someone.

Being in Spain taught me a lot about learning how to balance my own culture and views with the culture I was being a part of. Sometimes it was hard to let go of what I was used to and just roll with what Spaniards were doing but at the end of the day, being flexible and respectful towards the different customs and cultures made my experience so much better than I could’ve imagined. So, as you’re getting ready to embark on this incredible journey, let go of things that will keep you from learning and don’t be afraid to accept the “weird” and different of others cultures, people will see your efforts in learning and accepting and will guide you through all the bumps you might find on the road!

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