It’s the Little Things that Make a Big Difference

Before I left to study abroad, my study abroad program warned me about the big differences from America culture I was going to find here in Spain: things like food, afternoon siesta, climate, style of clothing, and family lifestyles. I appreciated their attempt to “acclimate” me to the new culture, but none of these differences surprised me. Why should I expect to go to a different country and eat the same foods and socialize the same way I do in the U.S.?

The small changes are the ones that slipped into my experience and took it by storm. They were the kind of changes no one would bother to put in a PowerPoint. I doubt anybody at my college could have guessed that things like vegetation and footwear would make my trip feel more authentic than all the Spanish-speaking classes I’m taking. Would these differences make a difference in your semester?

Sunsets. I have more than 100 pictures of sunsets on my phone because it seems that every sunset is more brilliant than the last. Sure, we have our fair share of beautiful sunsets back in Pennsylvania, but more often than not there are too many clouds to see them. However, here in Sunny Sevilla, there has been hardly a night when I couldn’t see a streak of pink and orange glory fill the sky. I’m going to miss this marvel of God’s creation when I return to cloudy Pennsylvania winters.

Shoes. I was told before I left that no one wears athletic shoes as casual footwear, but that women wear sandals in summer. So, taking that as an excuse to go shoe shopping, I bought some sandals and tried to blend into the culture. The thing no one told me is that when you wear sandals in city streets all day, your feet get dirty like you walked through a puddle of tar. I now understand why it is rude to walk around the house without slippers. Who wants all that street filth on their kitchen floor?

Grass. Or rather, the lack thereof. You don’t really notice the lack of grass in the city, since there aren’t many open spaces and the parks are all well-watered, but the countryside in southern Spain has rolling hills of… dirt. Maybe some olive trees. To me, it looks pretty, but rather barren. I won’t miss this consequence of the heat and lack of rain in southern Spain when I go back to green PA.

Sauces. I don’t know what it is, but every sauce I’ve had here – the vegetable purées to lemon and oil to even the ranch – is infinitely better than those in the U.S. I think their secret is making the sauces from fresh ingredients. The store-bought mass-produced alfredo sauce at my home college could never taste as good as the sauces here in my host home.

Juices. On the subject of foods, the juices in Spain are some of the best I’ve ever had – fresh. Whether I go into a coffee shop and watch as they make a blend of kiwi and pineapple juice or I try an apple, grape and peach juice box, the juices here have a thicker consistency and an authentic taste, even the Fanta Orange soda has real orange juice in it! I’m going to miss the fresh, authentic taste when I leave.

Food Safety. After weeks of observing my host cook in her kitchen, I have concluded that I do not understand the food safety rules in Spain. Dairy products, like milk and yogurt, don’t expire for two or three months after you buy them and don’t need to be kept in the fridge until opened. You can leave meat out overnight or all afternoon on the counter for the next meal and not think twice about eating it. But you cannot eat any dish – even a refrigerated one – that has two-day-old eggs in it because, why, it’ll make you sick? I’m still struggling to comprehend this one.

Transportation. There are a few things about movement around Sevilla that surprise me:  One, so many people ride electric scooters, and that there is a designated lane for scooters, bikes and the occasional roller-blade on every street wide enough to have one. Two, cars stop for pedestrians who even look at a crosswalk. Or that they blast through a red light without looking, which is more normal for a city. Three, motorcycles are ubiquitous and can park on just about any sidewalk. Seeing so many people in full business attire riding motorcycles, scooters, or bikes has been the most entertaining part of my commute to school.

Toilet Paper. This is the most unfortunate small difference I have noticed about our cultures: most Spaniards don’t replace toilet paper until after it has run out, and there is never a spare in the room. For this reason, we’ve learned to carry toilet paper with us when we go out just in case we need it.

These are just a few of the cultural nuances and differences I’ve noticed over my two months in Sevilla. It’s these little things that make studying abroad an experience, not just a trip. Some of these I will miss, like the sunsets and the great food; although, I’ll be glad to get back to a place that uses sneakers and has grass outside my front door. I still hope I get to come back and get my feet dirty again someday.

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