Introverted American

It has officially been one whole week in Sevilla, Spain! I have survived!
Kind of.

I am having an identity crisis. Who am I, and who do I want to be?

I am at the point where everything is starting to feel somewhat normal and at home here. Things are feeling familiar to me, and it has been more than 24 hours since I’ve gotten lost—although I wouldn’t put too much confidence in my inner-GPS skills just yet. I am also very consciously wondering, “Am I integrating myself into the culture enough? Do I look the part? I haven’t had paella yet, should I be worried?”, while also comparing what it’s like to be an American, a University of Iowa student, even just an Iowan, to the culture here.

imageIt is all very different. I feel like I will say that in every blog post from now until the end of my studies. It is different. Extraño.
A lot of my worries have to deal with changing myself, adapting, I guess, to fit what I think would be the ideal study abroad student. At home, I am introverted. I go to class, work, do a couple extracurriculars, and then I go home to my cat to play video games, make food, whatever. That’s a normal day for me. During orientation, I remember being told multiple times that I shouldn’t just stay at home and surf the internet. I need to go out into the world! Make friends, discover places, and just do everything that I can in this short period of time. While that all sounds really adventurous and exciting, it is a little daunting for me. Talk to people? Don’t surf the web too much? Where’s my cat?
I am stuck finding a middle ground between maybe taking some time to relax and surf the web, talk to friends at home, and also being the big adventurer I have always wanted to be. I must find the perfect balance between comfortable and uncomfortable, until everything suddenly becomes comfortable for me. If that makes sense. So far I think I’m doing pretty well. The walking can sometimes get a little nuts though. Did you know that “walking distance” here means about 30 minutes of walking? It’s absolutely insane! I have blisters on top of blisters (because let’s be honest, nobody wears those comfy walking Sketchers shoes here…) and my legs are definitely showing some muscle. I left home pale and weak, and I will come home tan, muscle-y, and with feet like iron!
I digress.

Another—slightly less existential—crisis I have is trying to figure out if I look the part of a Sevillano, or not. I have two stories to tell that leave me questioning whether or not I truly fit in.
I was walking home one day. It was hot, early afternoon. The sun was bearing down on my black t-shirt and I could feel the sweat forming little beads on my back. The occasional sanctuary of the shade did nothing to quench my thirst for complete, utter darkness.
While I was walking there was an older man who, for some reason, kept turning around and looking at something. At me, at the unbearable sun, at some duck following him, I don’t know. Eventually I got a little bit annoyed with him stopping and starting, so I passed him. As I pass, he says, very old-man-grumpy-style something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s an English girl, not Española. Grumble grumble grumble.”
Part of me wanted to turn around and tell him that I could understand him, but he was a relatively harmless grumpy old man. After that it was a downward spiral into thinking, “Do I look American?”
I imagine those sun burnt, sandals and socks, Hawaii shirt with khaki shorts wearing Americans (come on, that’s not even normal in the US!), and when I get identified as one, without the pretext of my bad Spanish accent or speaking English, it throws me off. I was self conscious for the rest of the day/week. I kept wondering if it was my backpack, or shoes, or the shorts, or maybe even my hair and skin color. I became so self aware of myself (or more than usual).
Second story.
I was done frantically typing up an essay at the CIEE study center, and I was ready to go home and just groan a little bit about how I have to do homework while studying abroad (seriously though, HOMEWORK?). I had just started out the door, when a girl came up to me asking if I knew where Plaza Nueva was. I nodded, said, “Sí” and pointed the right direction, which was the direction I was going. She thanked me and walked on, only to get lost at the next intersection. She asked the next person where Plaza Nueva was, and by that time I kind of guessed she was a newbie student. So I walked back up to her and asked her if she spoke English (in English). She looked relieved, said, “Yes! Oh my gosh! I thought you were a Spanish person!”
Cue inner sigh of relief/bird-fluffing-its-feathers pride.
I led her to where she needed to be—although it was the long way because I was too busy thinking about being a great guide than actually being a great guide. She made it though!
It only took a tiny comment like that to make me believe I didn’t look like a croc-wearing American. Which isn’t bad, but when in Rome for a whole semester, you probably should at least look and sound a little bit like a Roman. Or Sevillano.
The moral of the story is that it doesn’t actually matter how well you fit in according to other people’s view of you. It’s more important to feel that you, yourself, are fitting in. I will say that the awesome feeling I got helping out someone—who reminded me of me a week and a half ago—was way better than the confidence boost of “looking like a Sevillano.”
But I need to go put away my Hawaiian shirt and khakis now.