Hello class! Today’s bonus word is… (Un)Comfortable! Who remembers what adding “un-” does to a word…
So, this is my Two-Weeks-in-Spain post, even though I forgot to send it in until three weeks had passed. That’s life sometimes. Everything is going smoothly. I started teaching my own classes this week and mustered up the courage to explore the city more. Life is beginning to have a routine and it no longer feels weird to wake up here. Progress!
One thing that continues to be a point of tension is how uncomfortable it feels to use the Spanish I do have. Outside my host home, I find that if I use Spanish, the person I’m talking to speaks English back. This, though a time saver for both of us, feels embarrassing: I can’t speak well enough to get a same language reply? Should I assume the entire interaction will be easier for all involved if I just start in English? It turns out the answer is no. People will give you mean, admittedly deserved, looks if you don’t at least try. Either way, it feels like there’s no good answer.
Well. It feels like there’s no comfortable answer. A big part of traveling (and *cough* life), I think, is learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
|You’re given a food you’ve never had?||Get comfortable.|
|You’re expected to kiss strangers?||Get comfortable.|
|You never completely sure what’s happening around you?||Get comfortable.|
|You wear less fashionable clothes than everyone else?||Well, what’s new, really?|
Another thing to get comfortable with: being alone. Especially if you’re traveling by yourself. My experience might be slightly unique as it’s an internship, and thus I am not a part of any university/international student community. But again, I think it’s good general advice that nobody really thinks to tell you. Or maybe they do, but you can’t really believe them until you’re 4,000 miles outside your comfort zone and must build a new one from scratch.
I have gone out with some local students that my host family introduced me to a few times. They were welcoming, fun, and great to be around. They even taught me some practical Spanish vocabulary. But language barriers create… barriers. You feel like a bit of a burden, a liability. As you push through crowded streets to get to the next restaurant, it feels like everyone you’re with is playing Don’t Lose the International Student. Which is appreciated, because you have no idea where you are, but also is an uncomfortable position to be in. You will be put in the spotlight when someone speaks to you in English, for your sake only. Where you’re from becomes the most interesting part of your identity and everyone wants to know, “How do you like it here?”
How can you sum up all your complicated feelings to this question? “The experience is a dream, and I’m learning a lot. I’ve seen so many beautiful things and every moment feels bittersweet because there’s a fairly good chance I’ll never be able to come back here after I go home, and Thank You for taking me out tonight and watching out for me! But also I feel a little bit like I’m in a parallel dimension where everything is the same, but not?” That sort of puts a damper on the night.
At the same time, you have a new kind of freedom. You can be and do what you want. Last weekend, I went to the center of Seville, by myself, armed only with my Rick Steve’s, 5th Edition, Guide to Andalucia. I walked until I found a line, stood in it and wound up in the Catedral de Santa María. By myself, I could take the time to wander the expansive, excruciatingly elaborate aisles, chapels, sacristy, and treasury. I climbed the Giralda bell tower and stopped at each window up the 37 ramps and 17 stairs. Then, I came back down and did it all again while reading Rick Steves’ commentary. I left the cathedral, found another line, and ended up in the Real Alcazar, a home of Spanish monarchs, where I repeated the process of slow exploration, and slower contextualization with my old pal Stevie (with whom I feel a real Bond now). I then wandered the surrounding blocks, stopping to watch street performers and artists as long as I wanted until I ended up at the Guadalquivir River and sat and watched people and boats for upwards of an hour.
A magical day.
Being alone, without even phone coverage to connect you to anyone (without wifi), is something nobody really experiences today. It’s special and gives you a chance to, as you learn about your surroundings, learn about yourself. You don’t have to abbreviate your wants or curiosities when nobody is there to ask you to. You can have, purely, your own adventures. You learn that you’re much more reliable and resourceful than you thought as you get un-lost for the 8th time, win a fight with a vending machine for a Kinder Buenos, or ask the security guard at the metro why your card wont work.
The nice thing about uncomfortable, is that it passes. The word “normal” is only defined by your current perspective which can change in a instant (or maybe a few, but that’s okay). As soon as your normal is redefined everything is suddenly pretty comfortable. Even the language struggle to an extent, because you expect it and know the routine now.
So, even though there’s a lot of changes and awkward, uncomfortable moments figuring out how to function in a new country, there’s a lot of beauty and a lot of growth as well. I’m excited to find out where I’ll take myself next (and, also, probably Rick Steves).
Bonus word total: 10