Just Sayin’ – Things you learn from living abroad

by Alex Hentschel

As you may or may not have known, I’m living in Valencia, Spain this semester. And yes, still taking the time to write Just Sayin’ columns — the miracle of the Internet! I’ve learned so much about myself and life in general just being here, and I thought I’d share some of the general revelations from my time on the Mediterranean coast.

1) You are shaped by your geography.

You don’t realize until you get somewhere new that all of your basic needs — human contact, conversation, food — are all dependent on your language and location. I landed here dead tired and had to buy shampoo. If I was in the States, I’d hop in my car, drive to Walmart, grab my favorite brand and leave. Problem No. 1: no car; gotta walk. Problem No. 2: no Walmart, and no stores that you recognize except Starbucks (they don’t have a Caramel Macchiato shower products line, sadly). Problem No. 3: you don’t speak (or in my case, barely speak) the language: what do all of these bottles say? You’ve gotta cry a little bit, then pick one and hope it doesn’t turn your hair magenta. Something as simple as an errand turns into a near-insurmountable obstacle, and you can’t let it get you down.

2) Friends are really important.

If you don’t start talking to people fast, you won’t know anyone at all, and you’ll feel very lonely in your little apartment in the middle of a big city. There’s nothing that teaches you how to make friends like being somewhere where you don’t have a single connection. That being said …

3) It’s OK to be lonely.

You won’t know everyone, you won’t be able to communicate with everyone, and sometimes you just have to talk to you, yourself and you until you settle in. Some nights everyone will be busy, and you’ll have to settle for “Cable Girls” and a kiwi, and that’s OK.

4) Learning another language is the best — and the worst.

Seriously, it’s so frustrating when all you want to say is “Let’s grab coffee on Tuesday” and it takes you 40 hand gestures, a sigh of frustration and shuffling through verb conjugations in your head. It’s so rewarding when a native speaker nods and smiles — and so frustrating when they look at you like you knelt down and licked the sidewalk. I’ve said more than a few questionable things here and decided that it’s OK. Sometimes I don’t know which language I’m speaking now, which is so rewarding.

5) Living with another family can be really enjoyable.

My host mom, who immediately started calling me her daughter, is super kind and always trying to meet my needs — expressed and unexpressed. We always have a fun time watching soap operas. (She aggressively feeds me fruit. I haven’t eaten this much fruit in my life. Send help.)

6) It’s OK to get lost.

One night I took a downtown bus instead of an uptown and ended up an hour away from home with a dead phone and no money at midnight. I asked for directions and walked. It was really terrifying, but I made it home — and knew the city much better as a result. Seriously, being lost is OK. Sometimes you find small gelato stores and it’s a happy accident. Sometimes you cry at a bus stop. Both ways you learn a lot about yourself in a crisis.

7) Church is home.

My first week here, I felt so disoriented. When I stepped into a service and met other believers, I felt overwhelming relief and joy. These were songs I know and the same God I serve. You really learn to appreciate the church when you don’t have any other home base.

I’m sure there’s a ton more to discover, and you can definitely learn these things at home. But this experience has stretched and grown me intensely, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nos vemos pronto, Cedarville.

Alexandria Hentschel is a junior International Studies and Spanish double major and the Off-Campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys old books, strong coffee, and honest debate.

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