How it feels to be a foreigner

Kaitlyn Richert is a sophomore double majoring in magazine journalism and informational graphics/publication design, with a minor in Spanish. She is studying abroad in Toledo, Spain for winter quarter 2012.

People always use the expression “walk a mile in their shoes” and that is what I’ve been doing for the past 2.5 months. I am on the other side of that wall – I am the American, here in Spain, going to McDonalds when I crave some Chicken McNuggets and a McFlurry, because I miss home. I am the American shopping in European clothing stores, speaking English and using “like” in my sentences without even realizing it. I am a foreigner now. So, what’s that like, you might ask? Here’s a bit of insight into what I experience:

People stare at me everywhere I go, no matter what I’m doing. Even if I’m not talking, they persist. Maybe it’s because I have the “Snow White” combo – dark hair, light blue eyes and pale skin (well hey, in my defense, it is winter), but it’s pretty obvious that I’m American. I’m not a blond, but I might as well be here – I stand out just as much.

People assume I don’t understand Spanish. People see that I’m American, and then if they can speak English a little, they do so. But I’m living here for a period of time and I love to practice my Spanish.

They enjoy a good American accent. When we worked with a classroom full of Spaniards who were learning English, we listened to them speak our language. I spoke with three Spanish girls. As soon as the English words rolled off my tongue and my accent was clear as ever, they turned to each other and smiled, nudging one-another as if to say, “This is so cool. I want to speak like this some day.” I remember feeling this way in high school when I heard a Spaniard speak Spanish. I could hear that fluency and I thought, wow. This is the real deal. This is incredible. It was interesting, for me, to be on the other side of that experience.

“Hablas muy bien español.” When I go shopping, workers frequently say this, which means I speak good Spanish. Although it may be a self-esteem boost at times, I think it might be a sales tactic. Spaniards know I’m a foreigner and they believe the flattery will increase my chances of buying something. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.

These are the observations I have made during my time in Toledo, which will be coming to a close this week. But even as I pack my bags stuffed with newly purchased European clothing and remnants of ticket stubs for traveling, I know that part of me will never leave this city. They say that Spaniards don’t say goodbye. Well, neither do I. Toledo, ¡hasta luego!

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