My first year in Spain, I opted for the ‘cultural experience,’ which was a fancy way of saying that I lived with a host family. It was definitely an experience, for sure!
The woman I lived with was probably eighty years old, and she had a mentally handicapped sister who was just as old. My first semester, I had a roommate who lasted almost a month before she decided to live somewhere else. The women we lived with weren’t the easiest to live with, and I think that it made it easier for her to choose to live in student apartments, where she could do things with other girls her age.
My second semester, I had a unique roommate who didn’t seem to know anything about living abroad.
During that time, there was an orange alert out to US citizens abroad, meaning that we were supposed to be cautious while traveling. I honestly don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cautious, but apparently it was slightly more dangerous. Maybe it’s because I look less ‘American’ than others, but I didn’t worry too much. I already knew that I used caution when traveling, and that I didn’t do anything stupid to peg myself as an unwitting tourist.
My roommate, however, went into full panic mode. She had a whole cover story where she was a Canadian who didn’t speak English, but if they asked her to speak French, she would tell them that she didn’t understand Spanish, because she also didn’t know French. Every time we went out, she would tell me that people would bump into her on the metro on purpose, or that some of the men were following her.
Even though she was living in a different country, and apparently attempting to appear from Canada, she didn’t do a good job of hiding her roots. After about a week, she started going to the American store and bringing food to the woman hosting us, asking her to make ‘real’ food. The food she brought were things like hamburger helper, macaroni and cheese, and cold cereal. Things that the woman had no idea how to cook, or what to do with. She made us fresh meals every day, paella, garbanzos, oh it was so good. But my roommate didn’t want that food. She wanted American food. Real food.
She didn’t last very long with our Señora either. Within a month, she had moved into student apartments.
It was amazing to me, every time she refused to adapt, or even try the culture she’d chosen to live in. And it was even more astounding how offended she would get when others didn’t eat or think the same way she did.
There’s so much we can learn from other cultures, if we’re only willing to adjust and adapt to new ways of thinking.