It has been seven months since I moved to Madrid. Now, I wouldn’t say that I came on this journey to discover something in particular about myself or the world, but as it turns out, I have. So, in honor of living abroad for the majority of the last year, here are seven things I’ve learned in the past seven months.
1. I love coffee...and avocados.
Until moving to Spain, I’ve always denied that I like coffee. But here the coffee is different. I can’t exactly explain it. One part is that coffee is a social activity here, and another is that it just tastes better. It’s not so bitter. And it’s cheap.
Now, on avocados. I know it’s strange for me to have grown up in California without liking avocados. But hey, better late than never.
2. Americans care a lot about ‘our blood’.
I don’t want to over generalize because I know not every American is this way, but the majority of Americans I have met here care a lot about their ancestry. Mostly their European ancestry. I have a few theories about why this is, but mainly I think as Americans we are trying to connect with Europe in some way, shape, or form. Europeans don't seem to care as much.
3. Americans live to work. Spaniards work to live.
I have never realized how much of Americans’ lives revolve around work. Many Americans work at home, on weekends, or stay late at the office. In Spain, when the workday is done, work is done. The rest of the time is to enjoy yourself: hangout with friends, relax, whatever. In my personal opinion, Spain has really got this framework right.
4. The American education system has gotten some things right (and others really wrong).
I know there is a lot of debate about the quality of the American education system. But after experiencing another system, even for the short time that I have, I can see that there truly are some good things about the American system. For instance, the American system has more or less done away with rote memorization and is pushing for more critical thinking. The way critical thinking is taught in each school in the States may not be the best, but the idea behind it is driving our society in a forward direction.
I can also see that there is a lot the American education system got wrong. For instance, the pressure of testing, the lack of recess or breaks, and the lack of certain subjects like philosophy or psychology. However, what amazed me most about Spanish schools is the substitute system. In Spanish high schools, teachers teach 4 classes a day, have one prep hour, and one hour of ‘guardia’. A teacher on 'guardia' covers for any absent teacher. The absent teacher leaves one assignment for the class and the guardia teacher watches the class during the hour. If there are no missing teachers, that teacher has a free period. Genius idea in my book.
5. Being a foreigner is crazy difficult.
From the big cultural differences, like learning a new language, to the tiniest cultural differences, like where in the world can I buy coconut oil, being a foreigner comes with new challenges every day. Simple tasks like going to the grocery store become an hour long adventure because there are 15 types of cans of tomatoes and I have to try to guess which one is closest to what I need. Not to mention the blank stare I get when I’m trying to follow the Spanish conversation my coworkers are having, with my eyes darting back and forth trying to catch anything at the breakneck speed they are speaking. It’s difficult, but it’s crazy fun.
6. Just because I’m an English speaker does not mean I know off the bat what the ‘future perfect continuous’ tense is.
Ok, theoretically I know what this tense is and all the others. But, when I walk into class and my co-teacher asks me if I can explain how to make the ‘future perfect continuous’, you’re going to catch me looking like a deer in headlights. I’m going to need a few examples first because I don’t call this ‘future perfect continuous’, I just call it ‘talking’.
7. The Subjunctive!!
Well...the present subjunctive at least. My fellow Spanish learners understand what a task this is. English doesn’t use the subjunctive tense, which is a tense used for hypothetical contexts. Needless to say, learning the subjunctive feels like the biggest little accomplishment I’ve made this year.
Bonus: I don’t use the phrases “Qué pasa” or “Dónde está la biblioteca” nearly as much as high school Spanish made me think I would.
Dear High School Spanish, I hate to break it to you, but you’re wrong.