Earlier this week we talked about how, no matter how long you live in a place, you might not feel 100% like you belong (for us, in the case of not feeling 100% Spanish). We also talked about how involving ourselves into a new culture means that we don’t feel 100% American anymore either.
Today on the blog we are welcoming guest writer Monika. Like us, Monika has found herself feeling like a mixture of two different cultures, instead of feeling 100% connected to one culture. Thank you Monika!
I can say that have always considered myself to be a ‘citizen of the world’ (I can credit my years spent in Jesuit education for that verbiage). When I heard it for the first time, my feelings could finally be put it into words. Once I lived in Spain, something inside of me changed forever. Now, I cannot imagine my life now without my Spanish side, which would not have come about had it not been for my American upbringing. And, if you ask me, honestly, I feel that my American life has been heavily influenced by the Spanish.
In fact, I would tell you that I honestly do not see the two cultures separately in my life. I do not feel like I belong in one specific city, or one specific country for that matter. Becoming a master at adapting to your surroundings sometimes makes it uncomfortable to feel comfortable, which is why belonging to any one place just isn’t an option anymore, neither America nor Spain. What I do know is that my life so far has been designed by the amazing experiences, people, and love for language that I have been exposed to. My most formative years that I spent in Spain, a.k.a my ‘sponge’ years, allowed me to mix the two cultures together to create an identity, an identity that makes me feel unique.
At the same time, I recognize that I will never feel 100% American, nor 100% Spanish and this is why.
Long lunches, small dinners, and ‘sobremesa’ (table talk!)
This is not how I would describe my American life before Spain but late-night dinners and not eating lunch until 2:00 have become a standard for me—I just can’t shake this Spanish habit. I do my best to swap the coffee-to-go style to enjoy more of sitting in the coffee shop and talking with someone. Before living abroad, I spent many years of my life with the on-the-go lifestyle and I did not realize how wonderful it is to be present in the moment when sharing a meal or a coffee with someone.
I gained so much respect for the Spanish when I realized that their day was structured around their lunch time (for the most part). I will never forget when a Spanish friend of mine made a joke about me in 2015, for eating alone in the cafeteria with my laptop in front of me. She asked me if something was wrong and I responded, “No! Why?” Little did I know at that moment that it is just not normal to eat alone, no matter how busy you are. That was the last time I ate alone! Ha! Eating lunch in Spain is considered one of the most important times of the day for a family to catch-up, spend time together, and to just relax.
Nowadays, I do my best to turn off a little bit and enjoy the moment, rather than scarf down my food and run. It is not always possible now that I am living here in the US, but it is definitely something that I would never have attempted to incorporate into my life had it not been for the Spanish.
Something I think many Americans lack, and I have been lucky to steal from the Spanish, is the ability to stop working when it is time and enjoy the people in front of me. I learned while working in Spain that many of my counterparts would not talk about work as much as Americans do when we are out of the office. When with friends, even friends from work, rarely would I find the Spanish discussing business.
Back home, I have witnessed certain people in my life not being able to escape their work because everyone is always available. I mean, we definitely get things done here in the USA, it also is a great trait we carry. But I have learned from the Spanish that it is not all about ‘the grind’. I think it has something to do with their ability to enjoy that balance in their life. I am not saying that all of the Spaniards are relaxed, and all Americans are work-acholics, but I think there is always something that we can learn from each other.
For me, the impact of this knowledge was huge. Before Spain, I was the busiest version of myself. I never stopped to just enjoy the moment like I do now. When I arrived home from Spain, I knew that this was going to be something that was vital to my happiness. Our American culture, is known as fast, on-the-go and we hold a very work centered lifestyle which just does not resonate with me anymore. When I go into interviews, I always inquire about the companies work-life balance. I am always a happier and better version of myself when I have that ability to balance my time between work and rest.
Read more in this post where we dive into the differences of live-to-work vs. work-to-live.
Finding my balance between American and Spanish
The struggle here is that, for the Spanish, I will always be a ‘guiri’, an American girl, and of course am proud of that.
There have definitely been moments that have been tougher than others while I was living in Sevilla, such as going out with my friends and not understanding the jokes or following the conversations. No matter what thought, I will always keep improving, practicing and understanding more every day. Sometimes it is nice not understanding everything in Spanish, because it poses a constant challenge for me and may be the reason why I am in love with language. Everything in English can be boring for those of us who like a challenge.