Living Abroad,  Thriving

It’s Okay to be Creepy!

Dear Sergio,

Have you noticed that there are a number of words in English that simply don’t translate directly to anything in Spanish? For example, ‘creepy’ doesn’t really exist in Spanish! Try as I may, no one has even been able to give me a perfect translation of this word in Spanish. Raro. Subnormal. Incómodo. There are words that get close, but not any that fully embody the meaning that this word conveys in English. Although I find this so frustrating when I want to express this sentiment, I’m trying to use the fact that creepy doesn’t exist in Spain as a learning experience for myself.

If there’s not a word for it, it doesn’t exist

‘Creepy’ is not a thing in Spain and so I try to not let it be something I worry about. If they haven’t come up with a word for it, they just must not be concerned with it…and therefore why should I? Worries about seeming creepy if we talk to people we don’t know or feeling awkward in new situations limit us on a daily basis. And the complexes we develop around these fears only become more evident when we study or live abroad and find ourselves NEEDING to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, but of course, afraid of doing so.

Whenever I find myself worrying about this, I think back to my first intercambio experience, and the fun I had after I got over that fear. A conversation that happened on that very first night has stuck with me much more than I ever would have realized. Some other English-speakers and I tried and tried to translate the word ‘creepy’ for a new Spanish friend, but we just could not do it! Over the years of getting to know each other better, this friend and I continue to joke about this word and it’s only after years of trial and error that I feel like he’s truly come to understand its context.

Why you need to be ‘creepy’ while living abroad

In truth, knowing the exact meaning of ‘creepy’ never actually mattered much to my friend until he moved to Barcelona. Once he was living in a big new city in which he knew very few people, HE was faced with the uncomfortable situation of needing to put himself out there and meeting new friends. I tried to encourage him to go to intercambios again; surely he would meet some worthwhile people. And you know what his response was? “Yeah, I know…but I don’t wanna be creepy!”

Bam! Just like that, I saw our friendship come full-circle. I actually felt a little bit guilty for sharing this word with him and giving him reason for feeling that way. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like until you have a word to describe a sentiment, it’s hard to feel it. Once you can put a word to it, it’s much easier to recognize…and so, I may have given him a reason to see certain behaviors as ‘creepy.’

As soon as he said that he didn’t want to be ‘creepy,’ I started to reflect. I wanted to tell him “Don’t say that! You’re not creepy!” but looking back at how he attached himself to me that first night at the intercambio, he kinda was. And the fact that we exchanged numbers and continued to attend meet-ups together without really knowing each other could also be considered creepy. Maybe the fact that he invited me and another American girl to spend Christmas with his family just two months later is creepy too―but I am oh so grateful for all of the above! You see, a lot of the initial stages of making friends can be ‘creepy,’ depending on how you look at it. But we have to learn to look past that and go for it anyway.

Practical advice for being ‘creepy’ to form connections—within reason

Try to imagine every great friendship you have now, every important group you belong to. Was there not some moment at the beginning that could be considered a little creepy? Didn’t SOMEONE have to go out a bit on a limb to invite the other to do something or to start a random conversation?

I’d personally be lying if I didn’t say yes. So, like I did for my friend, I’m going to encourage you to be creepy—within reason of course! I’m not saying you should go ask random people on the street for their phone numbers or make people feel uncomfortable by forcing your friendship onto them in unsolicited ways. However, I am going to encourage you to put yourself in somewhat awkward situations and to push yourself a bit outside your comfort zone.

Why? Because if you don’t, it’ll be really hard to make new connections and grow a community while abroad. For most of your life, you’ve probably had a support system: your family, your school friends, the people you know from organizations you’ve been part of for years, etc. In general, all of that disappears when you move abroad and so you’re going to have to be just a bit ‘creepy’ if you want to start to build a community for yourself from the ground up. This is especially true because the locals will already have their support systems in place and not ‘need’ your friendship as much as you need theirs (read more about that here).

So, what’s a reasonable amount of ‘creepy,’ you ask? Well, it’s different for everyone but I’d recommend starting with setting yourself some goals. Maybe you want to attend one meet-up per week or start a conversation with three strangers a week. Giving yourself quantitative measures as the beginning (rather than subjective ones like “make a new friend”) is usually best.

Then go ahead and strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the bus or metro. Or ask a regular patron or the owner at your local coffee shop a question. If a conversation goes well, and you could envision having a longer conversation with the person, ask them for their number or make a plan to meet up again. Is it a little ‘creepy’? Sure! But sometimes it’s okay to be creepy! In all honesty, it may be the only way to create something meaningful, and isn’t that what you want for your experience in Spain?

I can’t wait to hear how it works out for you! Have you tried out being ‘creepy’ during your life abroad experience? Let me know how it went in the comments below.

Sincerely,
Dani

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