Even though I’m one of those people who would say that “I really found myself while living abroad” in Spain, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy for me to know or accept who I am today. Once you open your heart and mind to a new country and culture as your home, it changes you in ways you might not expect. At least it has for me. In so many aspects of my life, I now consider myself rather Spanish and yet I know that I will never fully shed my American roots either (not that I would want to). This has led me to think about so many aspects of my contradiction within my personality.
We’ve talked in the past about how we will never feel fully American again and yet we will also never truly Spanish no matter how long we spend living in Spain. We’ve talked about adjusting to the no pasa nada attitude and all sorts of small and big culture shocks you experience along the way. However, we feel it’s important to highlight how, sometimes, living abroad can feel like having two opposing personalities inside of you who are constantly at odds with each other.
This post was originally written in 2017, but I’m bringing it back (with some updates) as this feeling has certainly permeated my experience at every stage of my abroad journey. As such, it feels like something important to acknowledge as you, too, may go through some similar uncertainties and realizations.
American Self vs. Spanish Self Perspective
I find it difficult on a daily basis to reconcile my two personalities. On one hand, my “American self” says that I need to get up early and seize the day but, on the other hand, my “Spanish self” says I’m not even gonna eat dinner till 10pm (because I love the Spanish meal schedule), who am I kidding about being able to get to bed earlier enough to make regular early mornings sustainable? 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 (if not all Westerns) have had this concept ingrained into us from birth. And so, 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, but as I know plenty of Spaniards who get up at the crack of dawn. 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.”
Complex Human Perspective
What I’m coming to realize, however, is that we’re all simply complex human beings. I know that the days that I feel best about are when I get up early and have plenty of time to practice yoga, meditate, and read with a long breakfast before getting to work. I also know that I love to watch a couple extra episodes of my current series (in 2017 it was Pretty Little Liars, now it’s Lost and The Crown) late at night to decompress from the day. But 8 hrs/night is my happy rate and the two are mutually exclusive. I’m starting to realize that 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. Still, there’s no reason to use that as a negative. 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?
Who I am
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 my body feels when I treat it right. I can’t say no to movie nights that include ten varieties of sweet and salty snacks. I often feel guilty 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 regularly live my life in English and would never give up the connections I have with my fellow English-natives or the amazing writing career I’ve set out on, both of which keep me in an English bubble.
I get frustrated that Western society has taught me that my worth is tied to productivity and output, but nothing motivates me more than checking tasks off a to-do list. I want to put into practice the concept of “filling up my cup first,” honoring what my mind and body needs so that I’m energized and capable to take on my work. I’m only able to manage to trust in that when things are going smoothly, though. As soon as a busy week or a deadline approaches, I revert right back to the hustle mentality. I consider all the ways in which I’ve grown over the last ten years (most of which were spent in Spain) to be the essence of who I am today, but when push comes to shove I often fall back on the way I was taught growing up (either consciously or subconsciously, just through cultural norms and expectations).
I get down on myself because it feels like admitting any of these things alongside the other somehow cancels out the first statement. I worry that I’m somehow a fraud because of the way in which my different facets so easily contradict each other. I’m (still) beginning to accept that that’s not necessarily true. 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.
If you can relate, you may be thinking that these realizations may have nothing to do with studying or living abroad, and you would be right. At the same time, they have everything to do with it for me. My time abroad has been when I’ve undergone all of the changes and transformations I speak about and it is this experience that has given me the lens to recognize these things. That’s what makes international life such a powerful and irreplaceable experience: it opens your eyes to new worlds, but also to yourself.
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!