The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024
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SMU student lives, breathes and eats up Spanish culture

When I talked to my Spanish advisor, Veronica León, regarding my interest in studying abroad for a semester, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was both nervous and excited, but none of those feelings compare to what I actually experience on a day-to-day basis living in Madrid, Spain. After 11 weeks of living, breathing and eating Spanish culture, it’s safe to say that studying in Europe has made me a more confident and worldly person, inside and out.

Taking Spanish classes on the SMU campus are beneficial to improving your language skills, no doubt. But classes don’t even begin to compare to what living in a Spanish-speaking city does to your knowledge of the language.

Even though Madrid is one of the largest cities in the world, I have found that, to my surprise, most people don’t speak a word of English here. Thus, it was very difficult and nerve-racking to open my mouth for fear that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

It’s easy to be comfortable speaking in a classroom for an hour every three days with a bilingual Spanish teacher, who often speaks in so-called “Spanglish,” a language that I am beginning to admire. But to be able to speak comfortably, day after day, in a non-native language takes time and patience. After 11 weeks of living in Spain, I am confident that I have achieved that level of comfort, and often find myself even dreaming in Spanish. That, of all things, is a miracle.

Being able to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture isn’t easy.

“Culture shock,” as they like to call it, is when you go directly from a culture you are very comfortable with to a culture that you have absolutely no idea about. Yes, I have to admit, the culture shock did affect me. But I couldn’t do anything about it. Instead, I had no choice but to go on with my day-to-day life and put up with it, keeping in mind that it will soon be over in a couple months’ time.

I walk 30 minutes to class every day through the streets of Madrid, and I often find myself looking around and observing the Spanish life before me. I see women arm-in-arm strolling down the sidewalks of Madrid, Spanish advertisements large enough to cover entire sides of buildings, and couples dining outside on the patios of little cafés drinking café con leche and eating tapas in the early afternoons during siesta time.

At night, we like to go to what they call discothèques, large bar venues with huge dance floors. While my friends back in Dallas are getting ready to call it at a night at midnight, us Spaniards are just getting our night started, easily not ending the night until 6 or 7 in the morning when the metro opens for the day.

At times, I do miss my life back in America. I miss the simplicity of printing papers, as Spain and Europe are a little less technologically oriented than we are in the States.

It’s also difficult to keep up with friends back in Dallas, as there is a seven-hour difference between Texas and Spain, and I miss my friends more than anything in the world. While I’m at school, all my friends are getting ready to go to bed for the night, and while they are at school, I’m asleep dreaming in Spanish.

There is a constant language barrier as well. Back in United States, sarcasm is a form of communication I enjoy using in English, but I am not entirely sure if Spaniards use sarcasm, and I’ve really missed being able to use my sense of humor through my language.

When my friends in Dallas ask me what living in Madrid is like, I always tell them it’s like a big New York City with dozens of people around you at one time speaking another language that you can hardly understand because they are speaking so fast. It’ a city that buzzes 24/7, just like the city that never sleeps, but without the hundreds of people walking down the street with a Starbucks coffee in their hands.

Being in Europe has its advantages. While my friends in Dallas are getting ready to go out to a frat party for the night, I’m flying to places like Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Portugal for the weekend. I am closer to dozens of different countries, each with its own unique culture, than I would be to Washington if I were in Dallas.

All in all, the United States is larger than all the European countries combined. And the access I have right at my fingertips to the dozens of different lifestyles and customs in Europe is amazing.

At times it does get a little overwhelming. At one point, I had three currencies in my wallet and I was thinking English, Spanish and German at the same time. But traveling around Europe has given me insight into different cultures and ways of life that I have only seen in movies. I am actually experiencing the cultures and customs, not just the Spanish culture, that I could only dream of seeing, all in a semester’s time.

Studying abroad has made me appreciate the life I have in America. You have no idea how fortunate you are as an American until you see your life from outsiders’ perspectives or live elsewhere.

I strongly recommend to every student to study abroad in another country, whether it is Spain or Australia, for at least one semester. As I have observed, the differences of American culture and Spanish culture are vast.

Once you graduate from college in America, it’s custom to find a job and start supporting yourself on your own salary. I can fully appreciate that it is very difficult to leave your life in Dallas behind and miss one of your eight college semesters, but you will not have an opportunity like this ever again.

Having the opportunity to spend my semester in another country and culture has benefited me and will continue to influence me for my entire life. I hope that other students take advantage of the opportunity that sits before them and benefit from their experience as well.

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