Well, 12+ hours of travel later, I’m finally at my hostel (Way Hostel, Calle de Relatores). We landed in Madrid around 2:45pm local time, 8:45am back home. Having traveled to Spain before, I had somewhat of an idea of what to expect when I got off the plane. Let me tell you, the trip getting here was something. I’ve been to Spain before, and never have I ever been a victim of pick pocketing, but today I almost was. The two other people I traveled with and I decided to take the metro from the airport to our hostel instead of the taxi (the metro would cost 2 Euros, while the Taxi would be about 9-10 euros per person). We printed out the metro map, mapped out the route we would need to take including transfers and were ready to go! Towards the end of our half hour metro journey, while in the car, my friend gave me a funny look. We usually exchange these looks when there’s somebody funny around us, or even if somebody’s doing something odd or interesting. This look, however, was different. I instinctively turned around and to my surprise, there was an older man behind me who coincidentally pretended to fall and ”drop his book.” I google searched pickpockets way too much before this trip to be clueless as to what was going on. He immediately picked up his book and hopped off the metro. I felt the zipper of my backpack to find that it was half open. Luckily, I was smart enough to know not to leave anything important in there – all he would have gotten was a handful of my extra underwear I packed in case my luggage was lost!
Aside from this semi-intimidating experience, transitioning to Spanish life has gone quite smoothly. In fact, I credit the program leaders as well as my amazing host family for easing the initial shock of realizing that I am no longer in Athens, Ohio. There are so many differences between the U.S. and Spanish culture. For example, for the Spanish, the largest meal of the day is lunch, which is generally served between 1-3pm. Before dinner, which is usually pretty late at night, the Spanish tradition is to go out for some tapas. Tapas are essentially small appetizers. Ideally, you would go out with a group where everyone would order something different and pass it around. Although I’ve yet to go out for tapas, I did go to a café for a late night snack of churros con chocolate – yum! Dinner is usually very light and is served anytime after 7, but it can be as late as 11 or 12. The eating habits here may or may not prove to be a little tricky for me, but I tell myself “So what? I’m in Spain!” This still does not feel real.
I think the strength and frequency of cultures shock depends strongly on the individual. If you have a sincere desire to learn about the culture, people and history of a place, then the initial differences you see between this place and home will be irrelevant. The world is certainly much bigger than Athens, Ohio. I’m just one of many witnesses.