Well, pequeño for me isn’t really that pequeño. Sorry, long-winded.
I think… I’m over my culture shock? Is that possible? Can you get over it in a day?
I read a lot about the stages, and the first one is the “honeymoon” stage, where you love everything about the country because it’s new and different. You’re excited to start your new experience, and optimistic about everything. To be honest, I didn’t feel that when I got here (which is seriously like, a travesty, because this place is so awesome). But I felt this way BEFORE I left. I read up on so many things, got myself psyched out about Spanish life, and went on and on about what a great experience I was about to have. So many days (especially bad days at work or whatever), I kept thinking “I cannot WAIT to leave!” So perhaps this was my experience with the “honeymoon” stage? It makes sense that I would become discouraged so easily when I made it out in my mind to be flawless.
Then, when I got here and had a few bad experiences, I certainly felt the “hostility” stage. I felt misunderstood, out of place, and it seemed like no one was trying to help me cross the language barrier. I couldn’t see the beauty in anything; well, I could physically SEE it, but I couldn’t appreciate it or feel properly awed by it.
Today was my first day of classes. I woke up and made myself some coffee. While I was waiting for my coffee to brew, my roommate came into the kitchen. She’s a Korean girl named Hyunyeong (pronounced “Chung”), and she knows only a little bit of English, while I know absolutely NO Korean. So we mostly try to communicate in broken Spanish and hand gestures. She’s a little bit better at Spanish vocabulary than I am, but she speaks slowly like I do, so it’s not too hard to figure out what the other is saying.
She had made some sort of cookie? biscuit? for her breakfast. It looked like a no-bake cookie with oats and nuts, and she later told me the ingredients are essentially muesli, olive oil, some sugar, milk, and a few other things. She said “No es bueno, pero es para salud.” Basically, it’s meant to be a healthy breakfast item. She offered me one, and I declined, since I normally just like fruit and coffee for breakfast. But she insisted, and gave me two. It was very nice of her, and I liked them, but I had to force myself to finish them… I’m really NOT a big breakfast person.
She also asked me about getting to the school. She asked if I knew where it was, and I thought she was asking because she needed me to show her where it was. She suggested we walk to school together, since it’s the first day, and I agreed. We met Tim and walked across El Puente Nuevo, and Hyunyeong actually showed me a quicker way to get to the school, which is when I realized she must have thought I needed help finding the place.
We went inside, and got to meet Joaquin, the director, in person. I’ve emailed him several times, and he was always helpful to me, but meeting him really showed me how truly nice he is. I feel so much more at ease knowing that he has our best interests in mind, and he speaks both Spanish and English. One of the first things he asked was, “Do you like your apartments?” Tim told him yes, I told him no and explained what I didn’t like about it. Joaquin was totally nonchalant about it, almost like it was an expected thing. He kept saying to me “No te preocupes” (Don’t worry). He explained that it’s totally normal and okay for a student to switch apartments, and said he could find me another one soon. We told him about Andres already being willing to rent a room to me, and Joaquin was even happier about that.”Perfecto!” he said.
I can, of course, choose NOT to move if I don’t want to, but I really think I’m still going to want to at the end of this month. Although I’ve gotten over my culture shock, or maybe BECAUSE I have, I can more clearly see the good and bad parts of things. I know for sure now that my feelings about my living situation were not just caused by culture shock. The lack of privacy bothers me the most. I feel like I couldn’t have friends over here, and my room attaches to a courtyard where I feel like EVERYONE CAN SEE IN MY WINDOW (I could close the blind, but I like the air and light), and I can hear everyone moving about. The laundry area attached to my kitchen is pretty much public domain for everyone who lives in this house, so while in my kitchen, I don’t know who I might run into. Also, my stove is a gas stove, meaning I have to light it with matches. I love cooking, but I’ve never had to use a gas stove before and it intimidates me. Even in my room, the wardrobe and drawers don’t have handles (there are spaces where they once were), and my air conditioner freezes up if it runs for too long. And the shower curtain falls down, too!
I really need to get over this “feeling bad about wanting to move” thing. I guess I just feel like Pepi is a nice woman who probably needed to rent her house out for some extra money, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. But as Tim told me, it’s true that I am PAYING to live here (paying more than I would pay at the other apartment, even), and also I was given this apartment without even being able to see it first, so if I don’t like it I should be able to take my money and myself elsewhere. And Joaquin wasn’t offended or worried or even SURPRISED by my wanting to move. I wonder if this is a cultural difference, or if it’s just that I’m far too worried about hurting peoples’ feelings? Who knows, but I think I’m ultimately moving out.
Anyway, after talking to Joaquin, we took our placement tests. The school is small and doesn’t have many students, so we took the test with only about 10 other people. The students in our room were almost all from other countries… we’re not sure which, but we know their language isn’t Spanish or English. We think several of them might be either from The Netherlands or Italy…but I’m sure we’ll figure it out eventually.
The placement test was something I worried about at first, but really, it’s just a diagnostic tool to see where I am right now, so I didn’t stress it too much while taking it. I spoke with one of my teachers after the test as she looked at some of my answers, and she said that if I get placed into a level that feels too easy or too hard, I can ask to change. Everyone here is sooo laid back. It’s very different from America and how Americans act, but once you realize it… it’s really awesome and relaxing.
So after the test, I was waiting and heard Tim speaking ENGLISH to someone, which is a wonderful sound when you’re surrounded by people who don’t speak it. We met three other American students who had traveled together from their university, as well as another boy who was with them but attended a different university. They’ve already been in Ronda for about 2 weeks, so they filled us in on some of the info about the school life.
We also, by chance, met Tim’s roommates. They’re the Czech couple who are staying for a month… I didn’t speak to the girl much, but the boy is a very nice and sociable guy named Peter. I told him that I was trying to move into the same apartment after the German girl leaves or they leave, and Peter was like “Just come live there now! Throw a mat on the floor… I’m sure we’ll have extra space!” Again, it’s a much more European mindset, it seems, to be so welcoming towards others.
Tim and I had a private information session with Joaquin. He told us that he is here to help us with absolutely everything, and that when we knock on his door for help, he will put aside anything that he is doing and try to get our problem sorted out. He made sure to stress that we should TELL him about any problems we have, because he can’t help us if he doesn’t know there’s a problem. Then, he showed us a map and got us acquainted with the city. Guess who has 3 supermarkets close to his apartment, and guess who only has one tiny one several blocks away from her apartment? Yeah, definitely moving.
Joaquin also told us about the upcoming “Feria,” which is Ronda’s town festival and IT’S HAPPENING THIS WEEK. It’s basically like 4 days when tons of tourists come here, everyone celebrates EXTENSIVELY, and there’s “El Goyesco,” which is a famous bullfight at La Plaza de Toros. His advice to us: “Leave your belongings at home because there is a greater chance of theft, and EAT FOOD, because you will be drinking a lot.”
During our conversation, though, Joaquin got a phone call. He was speaking in Spanish, but was clearly very, very upset by what he was told. After he hung up, he tried to continue talking to us, but I could tell something was terribly wrong. His entire demeanor had changed from cheery to devastated. He said “I’m sorry, I just received some very bad news,” and I could tell he was close to tears. I felt awful. I have no idea what happened, but it sounds serious. I’m bad enough comforting people in my own culture, so I had no idea what to say to him besides “lo siento.” I really felt so sad for him and wished I could do something more for him, because he’s such a kind man. I hope he’s all right.
After that, a group of us students took a tour of old Ronda, guided by a Rondeño named Jesús who speaks Spanish and English very well. We saw lots of historic buildings, including el Palacio de Mondragon and the Arab Baths below the city. The streets in this part of town are narrow, steep and ALL cobblestone, so it was difficult to walk at times, but it was still a really cool tour. One bad thing: I didn’t think to bring my camera, and there were SO MANY beautiful sights to take pictures of! Oh well, I’ll be here for four months, so I can always go there again later!
The tour was nice because it also gave us a chance to socialize with the other students some more. Tim and I made friends with Casie (a friendly girl from Kansas U) and Jim (a social justice major from Appalachian State who is interested in a lot of the same things as us). We’re going to meet them for dinner later tonight!
So, with my culture shock gone, my apartment situation at least in the process of improving, and some new friends… I’m feeling really good about being here. It’s so beautiful, the people are nice, and there are lots of things to do.
Well, I suppose I need to go grocery shopping soon. Tim and I haven’t had time with school activities today, and the stores were closed yesterday, so we’ve been eating out for our meals. The food is wonderful, but I’m afraid of spending too much money too soon. Ah well, I’ll figure things out.