Before embarking on my year abroad, the longest time I’d ever spent in another country was three weeks at a time. I distinctly remember the relief of sitting on the plane on the way home, delighted at being able to zone out and understand the perfect English that the flight attendants spoke. I’ve never considered myself patriotic or unadventurous, there’s just something about the familiarity of an English-speaking environment that soothes me.
Uprooting myself from England to Spain has been both trickier and more rewarding than I’d expected. The first few weeks just felt like a holiday, despite the chaotic mission of finding somewhere to live: one which I’d have found difficult enough in an environment where I fully understood the language, let alone in a remote rural city in Spain! Perhaps I was so distracted by all of my new surroundings that reality didn’t have time to set in. But once it did, it was a the most overwhelming feeling I’d felt since arriving in Ávila.
I started to miss the tiny things I never expected to even think about, like the orderly British way of queueing
and weekly family Costa trips. This became evident when on a weekend trip in Salamanca I practically ran towards the Starbucks as soon as I spotted it, in search of the taste of a familiar coffee! People warn you about culture shock, and let me tell you it is REAL. But it’s hard to predict in exactly which form it’ll hit you.
So, what can you do to prepare for culture shock?
And what’s the best way to relieve it?
• Embrace the local way of life
As easy as it is to rifle through the local supermarkets in search of the exact brand of tea that you drink at home, chances it won’t be stocked there, or if it is it’ll be at least twice the price that you’re used to! Us students need to monitor our budget, so the more economical (and simpler) thing to do is try to adapt to the local taste. Swap your box of Twinings English Breakfast tea for a Spanish-branded mint tea and I promise you won’t be disappointed!
• Find some new “home” comforts
As a coffee lover, one particularly challenging part for me was not having a Costa or Starbucks within an hour of my house! Perhaps you might be lucky enough to have one nearby, or maybe it’s the atmosphere of your native pubs that you miss. Whatever it is, try out the local cafes and pubs and find one that’s right for you- it’s definitely worth it; think of all of the coffee/pints you can drink in the way of research! I found some beautiful cafes in my city, including a bakery that sold carrot cake called Granier and a shop called Santa Teresa selling local products which had the perfect coffee-shop atmosphere.
• Keep going!
As hard as it might seem to fit into a city so different from your native home, give it time. You’ll soon make new friends and find your new favourite places. Rather than focusing on the negatively different aspects of your new home, look at the positives: at least the weather is warmer in Spain!
Remember, it’s only natural to feel out of place sometimes. But you’ll get there, and you can have that Twinings English Breakfast tea on the return flight home!