Eating a large meal at two in the afternoon, sleeping after the meal for an hour, walking around downtown at9 p.m. and watching families with their kids running all over the Plaza Mayor and the streets. These are cultural norms I learned about before, but when I actually saw them in action, it felt radically different.
After a short overnight flight, I woke up to a city full of lights. So many lights, it seemed like the major parts of the city of Madrid were connected by circles of glowing lite brights. I was in awe of the modern-looking airport with huge bright yellow supports to hold the building up. After spending five hours there waiting for the program directors, I got over my awe for those supports. We traveled less than 20 minutes to Alcala traveling through what seemed to me like a glorified mountainous desert. Some places were bare, very mountainous and at some points green trees popped up for miles.
Our new host moms were excitedly waiting for us at one of the bus stops. I just knew who our mom was even though I had never met her before. Sure enough, I was right, and we walked five bloks past supermercados, apartamentos and tons of other small shops y barros before we reached her apartamento. As soon as I walked in I knew I was in love with the city, this apartment and everything about Alcala. After lunch, soup with garbanzo beans, celery, carrots and couscous, bread and a strange kind of fish (tasted like tuna) it was time for siesta! One hour and I was up and going like a crazy person with plenty more energy to finish the day out.
As we started our tour, I began to realize that everyone we walked by was speaking Spanish. Obvious right? Well, even though I had been speaking Spanish to my host mom the entire afternoon, something about being the odd one out, the one who didn’t know the language well enough to fire out more than a few sentences rapidly, caught me off guard. Definitely a chance to enhance my skills of observation..and now I know how it feels to be in a new place where I don’t really know the language as well as I thought I did.
Tapas, appetizers, are an important part of Spanish culture, because they give people the opportunity to gather around small appetizers and drinks, and spend time talking. It seemed like we talked all night! Well, I mostly listened and threw in a few phrases here and there, but what else can you expect for the first day? (and ate all night…I thought we were done after the first order of seven tapas. Nope. Our host families ordered another round along with drinks. So many potatoes, hamburgers, tuna fish in tomato sauce, sausage, bread and cheese, bread and sardines, bread and tomatoes, you get the idea. Lots of bread. )
That’s it for the first day. Did I experience culture shock? To a certain degree, absolutely. Alcala is so different than what I am used to, but that’s the beauty of it. I get to learn every day from a new challenge to understand and experience a different cultural norm. I am so thankful for an opportunity to get rid of some of this jet lag..sleep.