Assimilating into Murcian Culture
Six months in Spain has taught me a lot. I’ve learned to be adaptable: to live on a budget in a country where I don’t fluently speak the national language, to not solely rely on a translator app when going grocery shopping, to make small talk with coworkers (which is difficult in any language, let alone a foreign one). I have learned more than I expected since moving to Spain, but one thing that I haven’t mastered is making Spanish friends. Befriending Spanish people, as it turns out, is one of my biggest challenges that I have not been able to completely overcome.
I have a few theories as to why I have trouble befriending native Spanish speakers and residents of Cartagena, the first of which is that many people I have met in Cartagena already have very close-knit groups of friends. Many people who live in Cartagena grew up in this city, or nearby at least, and they therefore have lifelong friendships. In cases like this, I’ve found that not many people want to include someone who they know is moving away in ten months. This is not unusual, as they are used to long-lasting friendships and a few-months-long friendship might not seem worth the trouble.
Despite the logic, this has been a source of disappointment for me. Even joining a soccer team in my temporary city has not produced the friendships that I had hoped would come from the experience. The women on the team already have close friendships, and although they are generally nice to me, they do not show any desire to truly befriend me. This, along with my non-fluency, makes it very difficult for me to “put myself out there” and attempt to connect with them. That being said, my second theory as to why making lasting friendships here in Murcia is so difficult is that the language barrier, although not impermeable, causes apprehension on both sides of a conversation.
Speaking with someone in a new or unfamiliar language causes stress for anyone involved in a conversation. Maintaining a neutral accent and a slow pace causes the native speaker to be overly cautious, and attempting to keep up with a native speaker while internally translating and overthinking each grammatical point overwhelms the language learner. I find myself in both of these conversational positions daily. Some days I find myself speaking much less than usual, simply because I know that as a non-fluent Spanish speaker I am at a disadvantage in any given Spanish conversation, and I don’t always have the energy to fully immerse myself in a discussion. When speaking with native Spanish speakers, I find that I must focus entirely on what the other person is saying, which requires full attention. Most days I engage fully, but there are some days, or even some moments within a day, when I cannot entirely commit my attention. I’ve missed out on many potentially fruitful dialogues for this reason alone.
Meeting people and making new friends requires attention and a willingness to speak to someone, and I therefore am sure that I have missed out on making better connections with people because of my Spanish level.
While I haven’t made as many close Spanish friends as I had hoped to before coming to Spain, I have met many wonderful people during my time in Murcia. I got very lucky with my school placement, as I have incredibly kind coworkers. I’ve become friends with a few of them –I have even met a few family members. My experience at my school is not the norm, however. Most of my auxiliary friends are not friends with their coworkers, and some even tend to have problems with their colleagues. These are generally professional conflicts, but they don’t exactly lead to drinks and good conversation. Again, I am very fortunate to work with many amazing, friendly people.
Despite my good luck in school placement, I have found making friends difficult. It sounds depressing, and I don’t want to scare off any potential auxiliaries. In fact, I hope that I have only encouraged future language assistants to be more outgoing and to practice their Spanish language skills more prior to arriving in Spain. I think that more openness – both with regard to speaking to new people and to attempting to use a foreign language – will help to quell some of the tension in conversations with native Spanish speakers. In that case, even a lifetime resident of Murcia with a tight-knit group of friends will want to join in the discussion. Perhaps a new lifelong friendship is just a few good conversations away.