I wake up with the sun streaming in my face, the sounds of birds, unfamiliar sirens and loud Spanish neighbors in my ears. My roommate is gathering her things for class, packing her notebook, pencil, house keys and passport in her bag. Why would one need a passport to go to class, you ask? Well …
When in Spain, you need your passport if you want to exchange money in a bank, purchase a cell phone, check into a hotel or purchase a gym membership. You also need it to prove you’re really you when you attend your first day of classes at “the University of Virginia in Valencia.” The center is shiny and new, with glass walls, white tile floors and friendly receptionists at the front desk to help you in whatever way you need. The only catch — they speak Spanish. And therefore, YOU must speak Spanish, if you want anyone to help you figure out where the bank is, how to get a new cell phone, what hotels aren’t sketchy and which gym has the best showers.
Adjusting to life in Spain has been challenging. The following list consists of a few differences in culture and lifestyle in Valencia, Spain that will leave you thinking “Yep, I’m definitely in shock.”
You will nod a LOT without actually understanding what people are saying.
People wear long pants even in 75-degree weather, which is actually 23.88 degrees Celsius pretty much everywhere else in the world but the United States. Don’t forget your trusty conversion formula to help you work out the temperature so you fit in: T(°C) = (T(°F) - 32) × 5/9 (It’s certainly helped me in a pinch).
Breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee and a few galletas — or cookies — and maybe a piece of fruit. This isn’t so different for most U.Va. students during the school year, who have been known to only drink the tears of their predecessors in the morning in desperate hopes of imbibing knowledge by any means necessary.
You always greet the owner of a shop or café when you enter and say goodbye when you leave. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you will soon become an expert at “buenos dias, hola, adios, hasta luego,” and pointing lamely through the glass at some pastry you don’t know the name of. Despite the fact you can’t pronounce the food you want to eat, you’re sure it will be tasty because it is Spanish, and you are not.
The Euro is much more pleasing to the eye than the American dollar, with different bill amounts printed in different colors and designs. 50 Euro bills are orange and yellow, 20 Euro bills are blue and purple and 10s are pinkish-red. They are much more satisfying to see in your wallet than the cruddy, crumpled green U.S. dollars you normally carry around, even though the conversion rate is less than ideal. With one U.S. dollar to 0.89 Euro, you end up losing money in the long run. This shouldn’t be an issue though, because you’re an American studying abroad in another country, so you obviously have money to throw around.
If you want to stay in touch with your American friends and family back home, you either need to get an international phone plan, a new SIM card or rely solely and heavily on Wi-Fi — pronounced “wee-fee” in Spanish, try saying that ten times fast without giggling — and texting apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.
If you’re not one of the few traveling internationally to get away from your parents and want to tell them about your day, you have to be strategic and remember the 6-hour time difference between Valencia, Spain and Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. You may find yourself hunkering down under your blankets at midnight to whisper to your loved ones who have probably just sat down to eat dinner. The walls are thin in Valencia, and you don’t want to bother the neighbors or your roommate, who are probably sleeping, so you have to whisper into the mic on your earbuds.
Whether you are ordering coffee or trying to say “Yes, I did have a good first day at school” to your host mother — even though you kind of just wanted to cry and take a nap — Spanish surrounds you everywhere you go. My advice if you are feeling overwhelmed is to sit back, let it flow over you and embrace the world around you. Talk to someone new in class and ask them how they are doing. In “High School Musical” fashion, you’re “All in this together,” and it is a crazy, wonderful, challenging, scary time to be alive in a foreign country with a rich history, beautiful architecture and a younger legal drinking age. It’s new, but it’s not all that bad! Honestly, the most tragic thing about it is that people there don’t eat peanut butter.
Casey Breneman is a Humor Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.