Tomorrow I embark on an expedition across the pond to the land of toreros, salsa dancing, and adroit fútbol. Where pristine beaches, tropical climate, and beautiful women are nothing but expected. I literally can’t sit still. I am dancing around my room as I write this.
I put off all my language requirements my early college years while all my other friends were quickly enlisting in various courses. Somewhere, logged in some nook in the back corner of my mind, I thought “you know what, maybe studying abroad isn’t such a bad idea?”
As the time seeps through the glass closer and closer to the departure date, the one thing I can’t help but be reminded about is the lesson learned in one of my previous classes.
We did a cultural experiment in one of my business classes that has always resonated well with me. We were divided into two different groups and instructed different values, etiquette, and forms of socialization for our group’s culture. We then swapped individuals at time to “study abroad” so to speak. Many students, myself included, had no idea what to do.
Grunting single-syllable confabulation, rushing around in a furry, and ardently exchanging token chips — this other group’s culture seemed so absurd. The proctor of the class would not provide us with any instructions, so I walked around trying to engage this foreign culture by the frame work and rules laid out by my own group’s culture. Blank empty stares, as if I had a rhinosaurous horn protruding from my forehead was the only thing I was greeted with before they went back into their feverish frenzy.
At the end of the experiment, an interesting thing to note that my professor pointed out was how many people came up and asked if it was ok to speak their language and behave by their rules. Students had such a comfortability riding on what they had already known. The even more interesting point to note was that after the competition, the professor asked if anyone would switch cultures, assuming they had the chance. To my astonishment, not a single person said yes! It’s as if whatever they were inherently given was automatically taken was the apex of cultural norms and behavior. Since then, I have vowed that whenever I submerge myself in another culture, I will attempt to comprehend their societal norms and cultural values.
Living with a host family will definitely help. Our program director confessed that many of the families do not speak English. Good! But not enough. In order to gain a complete apprehension of Spanish culture, I need to ingrain the idea that I am a Spaniard. I have decided for the length of my trip to return to the Spanish roots of my real name, Joseph. While I am here, I am no longer to be referred to as Jay. Mi nombre es… PEPE !!