Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Double Edged Sword of Living Abroad

I'm sure you've heard me mention in previous posts that the things I love about living in Spain are, many times, also the very things I hate. These aspects which I both love and hate are, surprise!, things which are different from what I am used to having in my life. It's quite unfortunate, and something I've only recently discovered and admitted about myself, that I frequently confront something new with a lot of mistrust, skepticism and reluctance. As much as I preach and try to model myself against ethnocentrism, I can't help but (I suppose somewhat naturally) react towards changes in daily life with frustration and hesitation. Let me explain with a few examples:

1. People are slow at doing anything and everything! Whether it be making their way to class, moving out of the doorways or finishing up a conversation (many times about absolutely nothing), people can't seem to do what they came to do. They get sidetracked. They stand in your way. They move at a frustratingly slow pace. Or, I go to a meeting only to end up spending the entire time talking about someone's kid, or how to make a tocino de cielo (which is also very useful information, but I digress..). Man, can it be frustrating. But it is with this uncomfortable and frustrating feeling, of having to force myself to slow down, to not interrupt people or push them aside, that I have realized just how much I rush through every part of my day. Folding laundry, washing dishes, having a conversation with someone, eating lunch. Every aspect of my day is done with haste.. and just recently I've begun to ask myself.. why?

2. Food is under-seasoned.  Spanish food is quite simple, they don't spice things up, they take something for what it is with no need to add more. Many times I've thought about the endless ways to better a meal or a tapa. With just a little pesto or hot sauce, with some basil and cilantro and a little sprinkle of pepper.. oh how I could improve this dish! But recently, in restaurants and in my own cooking, I have come to realize the power of some of these basic flavors I've otherwise been covering up all this time. Let the meat taste how it tastes, without a sauce or something to mask its flavor. With simplicity I have come to realize, for example, how great an egg alone can taste (without a large dose of sriracha that is). And this principle has started to spread to other areas of my life. Let things be what they are, don't dress things up, and tell it like it is..

3. Professionalism. After completing a masters I have, if nothing else, become quite comfortable with my 'professional self.' I have mastered the use of certain jargon, I can small talk uselessly for hours and feel comfortable presenting myself to superiors in the workforce. But coming to Spain has flipped all of that upside down. First of all, a large language barrier changes all the rules. I have also found that my (semi-, I suppose) professional life in Madrid does not have the strict boundaries of conversation as does the professional arena in the U.S. Conversation flows to any and every topic, and disagreements are strongly stated no matter the authority of those involved in conversation. People seem to stay 100% themselves all the time, regardless of whether or not that will create a negative view of themselves from an authority figure. This has been something new to me and difficult to adapt to. But it has allowed me to realize the power of my own voice, and also that my opinions have value even if I do not hold the authority to enforce said opinions.

4. Space. I'm sure if you've been reading for a while, you know that I hate how small everything is in this city. I feel large, I'm used to large, I can handle large. What I can't handle is holding up a teacup that feels as though it will shatter in my hands. Or squeezing through and making a space for myself in a bar that, to me, seems filled beyond capacity while everyone around me is comfortable. Even walking through the quaint, picturesque streets I am overwhelmed with how much beauty there is in each tiny corner of this city- if that makes any sense. It's like a movie set, it's unreal, and it's so very different from where I'm from- that is, seeing beauty in open, country space. But it is with this spacial difficulty that I have begun to find actual comfort and appreciation. It has become easier to create beautiful things, because they are smaller and take less effort. And I am satisfied with a small coffee, instead of a large. I have found I do not actually need as much space as I originally thought. And I am allowing people to be closer to me, at first only by means of proximity but lately, closer also to my heart and my head. 

There are many new and frustrating aspects that come with living abroad. Life is exciting and dynamic, but many constant differences in daily lifestyle can take a toll on a person. It's only recently that I've noticed these difficulties have forced me to realize things about my own personality and temperament, and many times have  actually played a part in bettering my daily life.

Thanks for reading :)

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