I want to say I’m pretty great. Just kidding, that’s a bit narcissistic! But, I thought I had some great habits and was living a lifestyle that I was proud of in the United States. Wow, was I wrong! It was tough transitioning and adapting to a new country and culture that had very different habits and a very different lifestyle. When I had first arrived in Spain, I really thought I could continue to live my life back at home, but now in Spanish. Have any of y’all other expats ever thought you could still do the same things in a new place? How did it turn out? For me, it didn’t work! I tried so hard to cling on to my habits from my lifestyle in the United States. You can take the girl out of the United States, but I guess you really can’t take the United States out of the girl… or whatever that saying is!
Two years later, the habits from my life back at home slowly but surely were being replaced by Spanish habits, or “new” habits in general. I really tried resisting! These are 9 habits I lost when living in Spain:
Controlling EVERY situation
Hah! I’m going to be honest with you, I am a bit of a control freak. If you asked my sisters, they’d probably tell you that “a bit” is a bit of an understatement. I like to have things planned out perfectly, a schedule for everything and like to be prepared for anything. Like I said before, I really thought I could bring the United States into Spain and it would work out.
I soon realized that culture makes such a big difference in how people act, in social situations, work situations and general body language. I tried to read into situations and understand people basing off of my own culture. I’ve learned to be a bit more relaxed about situations. I don’t need to control everything that happens! I CAN’T control everything that happens! It was extremely difficult in the beginning, but after accepting this fact, my life has been a lot less stressful!
I don’t know if this is my own personal trait or something that the United States is guilty of. I have an extremely bad habit of sugarcoating everything. I am always sugarcoating something and trying to be a people-pleaser. I’ve always been the type of person who worried about being “too mean” or “too honest” with people, for fear that I’d say something and hurt their feelings. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even tell people my real opinion because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone!
In the two years I spent living in Spain, I’ve learned that they’re a bit more blunt and a bit more honest with you. Most of the time, when someone is being honest or blunt, it’s never to hurt your feelings but rather just to tell them their opinion. I’ve learned to sugarcoat a little less, be honest a little more and believe in my own opinion. Sugarcoating something (to an extent) can be worse than telling someone the truth.
Although I want to tell you that I’m a patient person, let’s be honest here. I am not a patient person. In my mind, I need things instantly or need to have them instantly. I hate waiting for things to arrive, for people, for anything! My patience was tested immensely while living in a country that I didn’t understand, a language I barely understood and a culture that differed so greatly from my own. I expected to learn Spanish instantly (hello, Spanish sponge) and I expected to make friends right away. Both of those things didn’t happen. I learned Spanish slowly and I really started to build friendships the few months before I left.
Everything takes time. Learning a language takes time! Building relationships takes time! Although my patience was tested, I learned to relax more. Good things don’t happen overnight, they take time to build and grow. I still consider myself a pretty impatient person, but a lot better than before I left for Spain!
This, I know is an extreme in the United States. We are always in a
damnrush! Back home, I’m always moving from one thing to the next, filling my schedule to the brim to keep busy and utilize the most of my time. Leisure time needs to be carefully planned out. One hour for lunch with a friend, maybe two hours for happy hour with my coworkers and so forth. After dinner, we would pay the bill and go back home immediately! I felt like I enjoyed the time with my friends and family, but always felt as though I was thinking about the next thing I had to do.
I’ve learned to enjoy the moment a little more. One of my favorite Spanish traditions is “sobremesa” where the family or friends stay at the table and chat for another two to three hours after lunch or dinner. In the beginning, I would get extremely angsty. I couldn’t sit still for that long, when things needed to be done! The table needed to be cleared and the dishes had to be washed! My poor boyfriend would get angsty watching me get angsty because I felt like all of these things needed to be done before enjoying the moment. Now, “sobremesa” is one of the things I miss the most after moving back home!
POWER HOUR AND DRINK, DRANK, DRUNK
To my surprise, a lot of my students and a lot of my Spanish friends have asked me if “American Pie” or “Project X” are real depictions of what an American party looked like! HAH! Are American parties that crazy? The drinking culture here in the United States is a bit chaotic for me. Don’t get me wrong, I had my wild child days back in college. I danced on a few of those countertops and embraced being young and reckless! But, I’ve noticed there are other ways to party other than power hour-ing, getting drunk fast and being home by 2am.
When first arriving in Spain, it was actually “feria” weekend in the town. My first weekend in Spain was spent staying up until 6am everyday, getting to know my roommate and my now boyfriend! Yes, you read that right, 6am!! The “feria” festivities started Thursday in the morning and lasted until Sunday night. ALL DAY. As soon as people were off of work and students out of school, the streets were filled with people drinking, talking and eating. After the day partying, people went home, took a power nap and woke up again to have dinner and continue drinking. The drinking wasn’t rushed or pressured. We took our time enjoying drinks and talking and after pregaming (aka botellón), we headed out to the real party around 2/3am. If you arrive earlier than that, YOU ARE TOO EARLY. The party doesn’t get started until 2/3am and will last until 7/8am. I learned that you don’t need power hour to have fun and bars in the United States close much too early. Y’all, if you want to party, come with me to Spain and I’ll take you out to party! (;
I love to eat and I will always try anything. What I’m really bad at is overeating. If it’s infront of me, I will probably continue to pick at it. I can’t help it! There is something wrong with portion size in the United States. Portions are TOO big, making you think you need to eat all of it and feel bad if you don’t. I learned to cook enough to feed myself and my boyfriend. I learned that smaller portions don’t mean that I won’t be just as full. I learned to eat healthier, add snacks and cook with better products! Ask me for one of my favourite Spanish recipes, Salmorejo! (: Perfectly portioned for you and your three best friends!
Letting people take advantage of me
This has been a personal struggle of mine since I was a child. Like I said before, I am such a people-pleaser. I never want to disappoint others and always want to help. One of my passions is taking care of people, and although I like to think I’m being nice and have a big heart, it does get me into trouble sometimes. I’ve had a lot of people take advantage of me and my resources. I was afraid to speak my voice, afraid to stand up for myself and scared of confrontation. I’m still scared of confrontation, but I’m getting a whole lot better at it!
I learned to be assertive while living in Spain. I have a voice, that my voice is strong and I am a fierce chica who has something to say! Although I am a people-pleaser, there are some people who don’t deserve it. Even though I love taking care of people and making sure everyone is happy, some people will overstep that and really take advantage of me. Spaniards are blunt and speak what’s on their mind! I learned that, that is ok!
Y’all know me. Ya girl loves a good pair of shoes. Actually, I really love shoes, clothes, hats, jewelry and earrings. I especially have a bit of an addiction to boots. Can you blame me, though? This may be part of the culture in the United States. We are a materialistic and consumerist culture. We like to buy a lot of things, new things and we especially want our things to be the best! I brought this habit to Spain with me. I wanted to buy “new” everything. I would treat myself to something new for every tiny tiny victory I had.
After two years abroad, I noticed I didn’t need something new all the time. I didn’t need almost more than half of the things that I was buying! It sounds cliché to tell you that I learned that experiences trumped all of my material items, but it’s true! Something about the culture in Spain made me take a look and realize that I didn’t need everything that I was buying. I enjoyed spending my money more on traveling and experiences rather than a new pair of shoes or a new shirt. Now back in the United States, being surrounded again by the consumerist culture, it makes me think about what I really value. I value experiences over material items.
This is definitely a personal thing. I’ve always been a shy and unsure person. I always second-guessed myself and wasn’t sure about my abilities to do things. I dreamed about being one of the “popular kids” in elementary, middle and high school. I wanted to have the cool clothes, be deemed as someone that people looked up to, besides being considered the nerd or the geeky person. Growing up, I’ve always harboured a feeling of self-doubt and unworthiness. If you’ve ever felt the same way, you know that the feeling doesn’t ever go away. Even in college, I second-guessed myself, my worth and everything about what I was doing! I never cut myself any slack, and was (and still am) my worst critic. Any progress I may have made as an individual through dance, creativity or life endeavours, I never let myself believe that I deserved them.
To be honest, I still struggle with this everyday. I have days where I still feel unworthy, unsure and not proud of my accomplishments. While living in Spain, I was embarrassed of my choice to live abroad after graduating from college. All of my friends had chosen the practical route. They applied to full-time jobs or went straight to grad school. To me, it seemed like a lot of people were viewing my choice to take this opportunity to travel as stupid and a waste of my time. I was embarrassed to tell people about moving to Spain and teaching English because they’d tell me they’re working full-time and just bought a new car or moved out! What was I doing? I was working at an elementary school teaching English to little kids. I could have never bought my own car!
While living in Spain, I learned a different point of view. The friendships I forged and the fellow travellers and expats I met made me feel comfortable with my choices! They started to tell me I was brave, courageous and inspiring for leaving everything! They told me it takes a special kind of crazy to pack up your belongings and get on a plane to live in a country where I didn’t know the language, customs or anything. Although I still struggle with self-doubt daily, living abroad has taught me to be confident in my decisions. I stuck with the decision to leave everything behind and pursue a dream I had been chasing for a long time. Moving abroad has been the BEST decision I’ve made thus far and I can now say that I am very proud of how far I’ve come since the first day I landed in Madrid! This chica can speak Spanish (almost) fluently, traveled and met amazing people, started chasing my dreams OUTSIDE of corporate America and hopefully inspired a few people along the way!
Living abroad has taught me a bit more about myself, made me lose some pretty bad habits and helped me to gain some pretty great ones! I’ve learned to let go of situations a little more. You can’t control everything; no matter how hard you try to. I am VERY worthy and should be proud of all of my accomplishments. I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. It only took looking at things from a different point of view, to learn that the lifestyle I was living cant always use some improvements! What habits have you kicked to the curb after living abroad or moving to a new area?