As I left for Spain at the end of my junior year, I felt trapped with no escape. I was bored with the same people and things in my life and ready for a change. This trip was the perfect opportunity. In the past, I had been interested in other cultures, mainly because I felt I have no true culture of my own.
When we landed in Santiago, it had been a long day but I didn’t care. I was finally in Spain. Immediately I was captured by the beautiful architecture encircling me. Even though I was in a foreign country I felt at home, like I belonged here.
In America we have mostly modern buildings. The medieval buildings in Santiago were breathtaking and inexplicable. I am an artist so the scenery and buildings made the country come alive. Traveling the countryside of Spain, every sight seemed like a masterpiece. One place not to miss in Spain is the stunning Santiago Cathedral. For thousands of years people have made pilgrimages to this cathedral, where St. James is buried. The cathedral is free to visit and even though it’s very touristy it was my favorite destination in Spain.
Culturally, Spaniards are so welcoming to tourists. They were so helpful when we asked questions. For example, we had an assignment to ask locals about their town and Spanish living. My friends and I were anxious to try our Spanish. We asked the first question on the list from our teachers. I approached an old couple strolling through the park and asked: “What’s a bidet?” The couple started laughing. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny. Then they explained a bidet was something used to wash off your butt. I was extremely embarrassed, but the couple didn’t treat me like a fool; they simply answered me.
In America this sort of question would likely have been ridiculed. Spaniards, even strangers, were friendly. I realized that I had been living in a culture that could be harsh at times. I have tried to keep that Spanish, helpful sentiment with me when I interact with others. From this, I learned to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it made me more peaceful.
As I entered my home stay, the family was even more welcoming. I met Maria’s family, and it was like I had known them my whole life. Whether I was with MarÃa, or in her house with her family, I felt like this culture and way of life was meant for me. Her family took me into their home for a month and treated as their own child (if not better). My Spanish mother, Puri, made sure all the meals were safe for me, as I have a food allergy. This represents how Spaniards go out of their way to make sure you feel welcome. I realized I felt welcome because it seemed the Spanish were less judgmental than people at home.
Before I went to Spain I was a very judgmental person. The experience in Spain taught me that if I don’t judge people, they will be comfortable and won’t have to worry about impressing me or making a decision based on me – and therefore will judge me less too.
After coming back from Spain I realized there’s a whole world just waiting to be explored. There are many different ways to live… and no one right way. That is the best part of meeting people from different cultures. In my life I wish to travel further and learn about other countries different cultures.
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