I’ve been abroad for almost three months now, and so much has changed. As you could imagine, my perspective on life has changed, but I’ve undergone other huge changes as well. So many that I don’t know where to begin.
For about a month in a half, I was in a shared apartment with 4 other girls: three white Americans and one Spanish graduate student. Quite frankly, this was a recipe for disaster. Many white Americans are just not culturally competent enough to live with a person of color(s) without a lot of tension. To be more specific, in a majority white European country, there is an added level of cultural pressure on the person of color. I could never catch a break because I was constantly in an environment in which I was seen and treated differently because of the color of my skin and/or the culture I was raised in.
“Did you just say, “The Italian?” said one of my housemates, who we’ll call Jessica. She often made remarks about me speaking Ebonics to the point that I would just answer all calls to my family behind a closed door. “You say your opinion a lot,” said Karen, another housemate, to me because she didn’t understand why I would actually talk about conflict when it arose. “Yeah, she said you’re such a b-word,” a friend told me after overhearing Dawn, another housemate, complain about how sassy I am. “The Sassy Black Girl” or The Angry Black Woman” stereotypes have been given to me so much I stopped responding to it with concern and realize this was unacceptable for me to have to explain myself and undergo constant cultural rejection and micro-aggression. This was not the right environment for me. Week two of the program, I talked with one of the coordinators and it was followed up with a meeting on week five in which I was given the option to move into a homestay. I moved out less than a week later.
In my homestay, there is an older Spanish woman who’s inherited a luxurious apartment with a terrace in the center of the city. She’s never been married and does not have any kids apart from two neighborhood kids who come by every weekend. Like any typical Spanish person, she loves to talk, stay up late, smoke and drink beer. Although she sometimes mothers me more than I’d like, she is an amazing woman who has lived a very full life and still has so much more ahead of her. Physically, I am in a completely different environment and full Spanish immersion because she knows very little English.
The first week in my new home, I took a trip back to Valencia to visit my host family from over the summer. They haven’t changed a bit. I realized how well I got to know them and missed them even in my time away. It felt like I actually had a family here in Spain. We spent time together in the city on Saturday, and a few hours at home on Sunday. It was nice to see that I made an impression on them when I sometimes don’t seem to notice that I have that effect on people.
It’s interesting now to compare the two experiences I have had in Spain with two different families. To give your more of an idea of that experience, I’ll give a comparison to the US. Imagine having lived two months with a family in New Jersey and a separate set of months with a family from Alabama. It would be pretty different right? This is exactly my experience here. My host family in Valencia speaks a different language, it’s similar to Catalan, and Spanish as a second language. I could understand a good amount of it because of my background in French and Spanish, however, I would have to concentrate way more than with Spanish. When they would switch back to speaking Spanish it was as clear as someone speaking English to me, and my head would hurt a lot less as you could imagine. They live closer to the sea so they have a lot more traditional seafood dishes worked into their diets. In contrast, my current host mom is from Andalusia which has its own culture and dialect of Spanish that is spoken. I understand them pretty well because I have a lot of friends from Seville, but sometimes it can be difficult because of the different words and phrases that they use on top of the accent. All in all, it’s really beautiful to see how their history affects their culture and changes my experience as an outsider. I can tell you more about this in a different blog because I learned a lot about how these cultural shifts came to be, through my Religion and Society class. Just stay tuned. Also, I’ll upload another video of my time in Valencia on YouTube so check it out when you get the chance!