Confessions: I'm Still Learning How to Accept Who I am
Now that I’ve been living abroad in Spain for 3+ years, I often find my two personalities at odds, especially when it comes to my daily routine. My “American self” says that I need to get up early and seize the day. My “Spanish self” says that won’t work―I KNOW I’m not even gonna eat dinner till 10pm, who am I kidding? I therefore feel a very consistent dissonance and have basically accepted that I can only please one of my selves at a time, always disappointing the other. But what if that’s not right?
The reality is, we often hold the opinion that if you’re not hustling and working hard from the break of dawn, then you’re just not doing enough. Call it the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, or whatever you will, most of us Americans have had this concept ingrained into us from birth. On the other hand, when we arrive in Spain we are overwhelmed with the shininess of the carefree attitude encompassed by no pasa nada. Instantly, we seem to want to associate “the Spanish way” with taking it slow, sleeping in late, and living it up all night long.
How very wrong our conceptions are. I know plenty of Americans who sleep in later and waste away their days on Netflix. Just like I know plenty of Spaniards who are taking classes at 8am (getting up earlier to fit in the gym), yet still manage to carry out research, an internship, and study English on the side. Business owners in both countries work ridiculous hours. Just like many college students in both countries like to slack off when given the opportunity. The truth is, we have more in common than en contra.
Talking about my “American self” and my “Spanish self” is somewhat of a coping mechanism and a bit of an excuse. If I can easily divide my feelings into two separate camps, I can categorize them and assign a ‘culprit’ responsible for their impossible demands. It’s far easier to say that my American upbringing makes me value X but my adaptation to Spanish culture makes it impossible to fulfill the expectations associated with X. In that scenario, I’m never at fault. And I can blame whichever self it was for 'holding me back.'
What I’m coming to realize, however, is that we’re all simply complex human beings. I know that I have more productive days when I get up at 7:30am to go for a run. I also know that I love to watch a couple extra episodes of Pretty Little Liars late at night to decompress from the day. But 8 hrs/night is my happy rate and the two are mutually exclusive. IT’S OKAY to occasionally work against yourself. IT’S NORMAL to want two polar opposite things. I’m working on figuring out a compromise that can work because instead of assigning blame, I need to accept that this is simply who I am.
Of course, who I am is influenced by the culture that I grew up in and the culture that I surround myself with; there’s no way of escaping that. In fact, I’ve personally always loved contradictions. You know that old school Train song, Drops of Jupiter? “She checks out Mozart while she does tae-bo… She acts like summer and walks like rain…” those weird, kinda unexplainable lyrics always resonated with me because I believe there’s such beauty in being unpredictable, in not fitting completely into any one box. So then why do I make excuses for the parts of me that don’t seem to ‘fit’ together?
I like late night conversations and early morning productivity. I hate not getting a full night’s sleep. I love the feeling of eating healthy and noticing how much more in-sync your body feels when you treat it right. I can’t say no to ten varieties of sweet and salty snacks on movie night. I always feel awful after I do that and I hate judging myself for decisions that made me happy. I value my time abroad for the opportunities I have to speak Spanish and incorporate myself into the lifestyle here. I also sometimes live life in English and would never give up time with my (foreign) best friends to avoid that and get real about how difficult integration can be. I have ALL of these thoughts. I am ALL of these people. I love the strength and adaptability that my contradictions have provided me. I love that I am different than who I used to be. And I love that I am, at this very moment, growing closer to the person I will be tomorrow.
These realizations may have nothing to do with studying / living abroad. And at the same time, they have everything to do with it. Because studying abroad simply gives you the lens to recognize these things, possibly sooner than you would otherwise. And that’s what makes it such a powerful and irreplaceable experience.
I hope that these confessions help you see that, even though we’ve ‘been there’ and can now share lots of good insight to help you thrive in your experience in Spain (and as a person in general), we are also just human being and sometimes we’re struggling to thrive too! Trying to help you become a stronger person only makes us stronger, so thank you so much for this opportunity!