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My Transition to Spain: Culture Shocks, Adjustments and More!

June 16, 2021
by Emily Hellwig
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Welcome to the tell-all about my transition to life in Seville, Spain, for the Summer 2021 term. As this is my CEA blog debut, allow me to provide a bit of personal context (and for more introductory content, head on over to my CEA MOJO Blogger profile). I am a rising junior at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I am majoring in Politics and International Affairs and minoring in Spanish and Communications. For the next two months I will be interning with IBiS—El Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevilla—as a Scientific Communications Officer and also side-hustling as a Mobile Journalist for CEA. 

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Once I had deplaned the last leg of my trip after an almost 48-hour travel day from Virginia, U.S., to Sevilla, Spain, a wave of exhaustion hit me, as well as a somewhat delayed realization of just how much I will get to learn and explore this summer spent on the other side of the world. The first week here was certainly an adjustment, as I changed almost everything about my life and daily routine in a matter of days—from where I live, to the people I surround myself with, to even what language I use. Plus, I fought a fierce battle with jet-lag. 

Once the side-effects of my journey overseas expired, my brain became a sponge that absorbed any and every piece of information that would aid me in looking or acting the least like a tourist as possible. I quickly added the word “vale,” (the European Spanish word for “okay”) to my vocabulary bank, a term that I now use in almost every conversation to ensure others I understand what they are saying, even if my constantly-processing brain plasters a confused look on my face. I shortly learned that taking a “siesta” during the day in Spain is not just a dream that over-worked Americans made up, but rather a scheduled time for relaxation and rejuvenation during the hottest hours of the day, during which Spaniards retire to their homes to enjoy lunch and a quick nap. If you are caught out and about in the streets during these hours, when most shops are closed and the sun’s rays glare brightly from the sky, you will be flagged as an outsider almost immediately. I also gathered some casual lingo for when I go to grab tapas or explore around the city, such as dropping the "s" when I say "gracias," offering up an "hasta luego" instead of "adiós" as a farewell, and shortening “por favor” to “por fa” and “buenos días" or "buenas tardes/noches” to a simple “buenas.” I am sure some of my other habits may still cause me to stick out like a red thumb among the Sevilla streets, but these simple changes have helped me adapt to the culture and life here bit by bit. 

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What is still taking me time to get used to, three weeks later, are people’s eating and sleep schedules. Spaniards typically eat a light breakfast of coffee and a piece of fruit or toast anywhere from 8:00-10:30 a.m. Lunch then comes around 3:00-4:00 p.m. and is their largest, heartiest meal. The day is finished off with a light dinner, which typically doesn’t start until the sun goes down at around 9:00-10:00 p.m. in the summer and can last well into the night! Coming from the States, where breakfast is the most important meal of the day, lunch is much lighter than dinner, and eating after 8:00 p.m. for dinner would cause a famine, this was not an easy transition. Not to mention, in my previous lifestyle I was accustomed to retiring to bed around 10:00 p.m., which is now typically mid-meal for me. Slowly but surely I have been adjusting, however, and any other daily schedule will soon seem foreign to me. 

For those of you who may be reading this in anticipation of an upcoming study abroad opportunity, I hope my preliminary reactions to life in Spain will help you with your future transition. I am incredibly grateful for this time to explore and grow and I can’t wait to document more of my journey!

Emily Hellwig is the Summer 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at Wake Forest University.
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