See where the Global Engagement Fellows have studied abroad, and read their stories!
See where the Global Engagement Fellows have studied abroad, and read their stories!
Since bars and other venues in the U.K. are restricted to those eighteen and over, rather than twenty-one as in the states, I have been able to attend a few concerts across northern England. Tickets for smaller performances are usually less than £10 (roughly $13) and the cost of trains tickets from Sheffield to Manchester, or wherever the venue is located, often outstrips the cost of the concert ticket itself. While I have enjoyed these concerts immensely, I cannot help but note several marked differences between live-music events in England and those in the States.
Whether in a small pub or a large venue, bands must respect curfew. While bars and clubs will pour bass-heavy music through speaker systems until three in the morning, concerts are required to wrap up by 11 p.m. Given that venues are often in close proximity to residential areas, this is considerate, albeit strange to my American sensibilities. Furthermore, since daylight often lingers until 9 or 10 p.m., the openers usually play with sunshine streaming through the windows and skylights. To performers in the States, this interference with a carefully designed and coordinated lighting setup would be appalling. However, the concerts I have seen in England, even those of American bands, have relatively spartan and static lighting configurations.
Such reserved stage design matches well with the reserved audiences that attend. Even at upbeat rock concerts, the crowds, in my opinion, could be described as dead. Songs concluded to polite applause and a few cheers. Dancing or moving to the music is minimal and mosh pits are rare. I have observed this behavior across a variety of concerts, each in a different venue with a different style of music which leads me to conclude that this attitude is more a reflection of British conduct than the quality of the performance.
If you’ve ever been curious about how Spanish culture differs from that of the United States, then this is the post for you. I’m going to explain just a few—but certainly not all—of the differences between Spanish and American culture that could help prepare you for your own study abroad experience here.
1.) The Siesta
The first point I must make is, of course, about the siesta. This is something that many Americans already know about Spanish culture, but our conception differs greatly from reality so I think it is really important that I clarify what it is. Basically, the siesta is a dedicated portion of the mid-afternoon where businesses close down shop to give their employees a rest before facing the rest of the day (or night, as the case may be). There is no fixed time for the siesta, but it could be anywhere from 2–5PM or 4–8PM, depending on the type of business. Many cafés, clothing stores, restaurants, etc. will close down during this time before reopening again later in the day. For many Spaniards, dinnertime doesn’t begin until after 10PM, so the siesta can be a much-needed break for an otherwise long day. However, this doesn’t mean that every Spaniard just packs up their stuff and goes home to take a nap. Many people continue working or studying during this time, and some might even go for a long walk to get some sun and exercise.
It definitely took some adjusting to the siesta, especially coming from a culture that values convenience and profits above all else. The siesta really made me confront how we in the United States are always going, going, going, usually at the expense of taking time to slow down and appreciate the little things.
Meals in Spain can be quite different than in the United States. First of all, the schedule is very different. Breakfast is largely at the same time, but lunch and dinner differ drastically. In Spain, lunch starts at around 2 or 3PM and dinner not until after 10PM. Lunch is considered the most important meal of the day, so Spaniards usually only have something small for breakfast, like toast and a coffee, and a smaller dish at dinner, such as a sandwich. At school, the daily lunch special includes a small salad, a first course such as a soup, a second course/entree, a drink, and a dessert.
Because lunch is the main meal of the day, it is not unusual to spend up to two hours eating and talking after the meal. This has been such a change for me, considering lunch is usually a quick affair with friends before heading off to class or the library to study, but it has been a change for the better. My lunches with friends will honestly be some of my favorite memories that I take away with me from this trip.
While I’m on the topic of food, I will take this moment to issue a very important PSA: the Spanish concept of a tortilla is very different than what we would consider a tortilla. Spanish tortilla is a bit more like what we would call a quiche, without the crust and with fewer ingredients. Basically, it is a really fluffy omelet with potatoes and potentially onions or other vegetables. It can be served hot or cold, alone or in a sandwich. It is a very typical dish that you should expect to come across if you spend any amount of time in Spain, although know you are armed with the knowledge that a tortilla is not always a tortilla.
Greeting and saying goodbye is really such a small thing, but it really can be a make-or-break moment, especially when meeting people for the first time. Before arriving to Spain, I thought the only difference would be the whole European cheek-kissing thing that I always saw in the movies, but in reality salutations are a bit more complicated that that.
Now, it is true that the people of Spain do the European cheek-kiss, although it is important to note that the nuances of such may vary country to country. In Spain, the proper way is to touch your right cheek to the other person’s and make an audible kissing sound, and then repeat on the other side. (And you really do need to touch cheeks, otherwise you may get called out on it, such as happened to a friend of mine.) It is typical, and even expected, to do this when meeting someone for the first time, or after not seeing one another for a bit of time. It has been a bit difficult to judge exactly how often it is normal to do this because my American identity usually precedes me and thus makes people hesitant to approach me since they know that we generally have a wider understanding of what constitutes personal space.
Nonetheless, it is polite to greet every person with at least an “Hola” upon entering a room, when sitting down at a table, etc. It is polite to greet people even if you are strangers. Thus, it is common courtesy to greet employees when walking into a store or when encountering others in an elevator. And if you are colleagues/friends it is also polite to ask how the other is doing and wait for a real response. Likewise, it is courteous to say goodbye to everyone before making your departure. Depending on the situation, it may even require another kiss goodbye.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem all that different from how we behave in the United States, but in practice they are very distinct. After all how many times have you answered the question “How are you?” by simply saying “How are you?” back to the other person. Or, how many times have you looked at your phone or stared straight ahead to pretend you haven’t seen an acquaintance so that you don’t have to stop and make conversation? Overall, expect to say hello and goodbye more in Spain than you would in the United States.
And with that I conclude three of important take aways between Spanish and American culture that I have come across while studying in Alicante. Overall, our cultures are more alike than different, but it is nevertheless fun and even helpful to analyze the differences that exist between cultures.
During the Spring semester of my sophomore year, I am glad I got to study abroad at the Université Clermont Auvergne in France. It was a great opportunity to improve my French, travel to new places, and put everything into perspective. Although I will do a post with a more comprehensive reflection of studying abroad, the best part of getting to study abroad was the people. To all the wonderful people I met, and the best friends I made… may we meet again <3
After weeks of drizzling rain and the cheery grey skies for which England is so famous, Sheffield has fallen into what I can only assume counts as summertime. The amount of sunshine has peaked dramatically and the weather has shot up to the sixties. I didn’t realize quite how well I had acclimated to the chill and the damp until it was taken away from me. I only packed a few items for warmer weather so I’ve been cycling through the same couple of outfits for the past several weeks. Despite growing up in the Midwest, I find it slightly too warm for my taste when the temperature peaks above sixty-five. I am expecting an unpleasant transition when I return to the States where the temperature is about forty degrees higher. Let’s just say I am relishing this weather while I have it.
May has been a strange time for the academic schedule here in England. Rather than one week of finals, exams and deadlines are spread over a three week period that includes weekends. One of my friends took an exam last Saturday morning. The last week of the semester before this exam period is called reading week and most professors either cancel class or hold revision sessions. Without the usual structure afforded by weekly classes, the last month feels loose and surreal. Papers are usually due in the first week of the exam period, presumably to allow students to focus on their revision.
Almost all of my final exams at OU have been administered in the room where the class has been meeting all semester. The rare exceptions are still administered in a classroom on campus with other students from my class taking the same exam. Here in Sheffield, exams seem to offered everywhere except classrooms. Last week, I took a final in a multi-purpose auditorium. The room had been cleared out and filled with hundreds of desks and chairs in neat, numbered rows. At least five different classes were taking their final exam at the same time, the students divided up into sections according to the test they were taking. A food court on the upper level of the student union has been shut down and converted into a testing space. Another student I know will be taking an economics exam at the student sporting complex. Several exams are being administered in a conference center on the other side of town. Given that the University of Sheffield is roughly the same size as the University of Oklahoma, I do not understand the need for such a complicated and confusing system.
Classes ended last Friday and exams don’t start for another week, so of course I had to take advantage of my time off to take a quick trip to Madrid. In the span of three days I visited Madrid, Cuenca, and Toledo. My feet hurt from all the walking, but I am so incredibly happy that I was able to cross so many things of my travel bucket list.
I first went to Madrid and visited some of its most well-known sites, including the Parque del Retiro and its Glass Palace, the Palacio Real, and the Museo del Prado. Like with Barcelona and Granada, it was surreal to visit a city that I had heard so much about but never really could imagine myself actually visiting. For that reason, my visit to the Museo del Prado will stay with me for the rest of my life. Since I started learning Spanish, I had studied artists like Velázquez, El Greco, and Goya, and during this trip I actually got to see their works up close and personal. Seeing Las Meninas in person took my breath away, both because the work itself is truly a clever masterpiece but also because it was like coming face-to-face with actual proof that I have successfully realized a years-long dream of living in Spain.
Cuenca is a gorgeous city famous for its hanging houses, which truly have balconies that are suspended over the mountain. The views of the houses and the old city itself seen from the Bridge of Saint Paul are also incredibly beautiful. One of my OU professors had recommended that I take a day trip to Cuenca if I had the chance, and I am grateful he put it on my radar because it was the perfect day trip. It is definitely one of the prettiest places I have visited in Spain, which is really saying something. None of the pictures I took could do it justice.
On the last day of my three-day trip, I went to Toledo, primarily to visit the Museum of El Greco, a Renaissance painter born in Crete who lived in Toledo. I am not necessarily a huge fan of his morose religious paintings, but like with the visit to the Museo del Prado, the important thing was actually getting to see his work up close and personal. The museum is also a reconstruction of the painter’s house. Toledo is an incredible Medieval city with a long history, and I really enjoyed walking along its cobblestone streets and appreciating its architecture.
My time in Spain is drawing to a close, and time is passing quicker than I’d like. I am so grateful that I got to take this excursion in between the end of classes and the start of finals because I want to take advantage of what time I have left here. But I know that more adventures yet await.
This month I attended Eve of Nations, a cultural showcase from all of the different international organizations on campus. I was also lucky enough to see a fellow classmate, Sarah, perform in it as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Her organization won the even at the end! I was so proud of her!
The hosts were funny, the dances were colorful, and the food was amazing. They served a dinner consisting of foods from across many different cultures. Asian noodles, Italian Salad, Spanish Churros, and a Middle Eastern chicken and rice dish were on the menu and I was extremely full by the end of the meal.
The performances were dance showcases that integrated the culture and dance style of each organization with contemporary music. Each piece blended traditional songs with popular songs, traditional clothing with contemporary clothing, and traditional dance moves with current trending moves. The integration was across the board and I thought it was extremely powerful to see this similar unified style despite the cultural variations. It was very uplifting to see so many students to share their culture onstage and how proud they were of their home and their community.
The ASEAN group was the best mix of cultural homage and stylistic flare. They had calm, controlled sections of movement with Coolie Hats and their costumes had feathers with significance to their history and language. Then, of course, they had upbeat choreographed numbers that the crowd loved. They were my favorite group, and they definitely deserved the win.
This Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Latinx Playwright Showcase which featured scenes and monologues from six playwrights with Latin American heritage. The plays themselves incorporated Latinx culture, Spanish language, and the difficulties of the Latinx community in their home country of in the U.S.
The first was a scene from Lydia, which follows a family living on the Texas-Mexico border and their struggles of identity. It integrates contemporary themes of homosexuality, incest, alcoholism and guilt all within the framework of a Mexican-American family. The maid, Lydia, is undocumented and while often threatened with deportation, serves as the bringer of truth for the family. The play touches on the arbitrariness of borders in relation to culture. Lydia is from across the border and shares the same values with the family, yet one side is still dangerous and a punishment for her. The family and Lydia also discuss how important it would be for Lydia to get her immigration papers and the opportunities that would give her as well as increased mobility.
Another play, entitled, Lucy and the Conquest, explored the theatrical device of magical realism. Lucy, an American reality tv star comes back home to her family in Bolivia who are trying the prepare the will for Lucy’s dying grandmother. Lucy and her cousins battle with their split identity, some torn between an Indigenous person and part of the Conquistador line, and others torn between their Bolivian heritage and their United States Upbringing. The play discuss both Pissaro and Simon Bolivar in the development of Bolivia and exploring their colonial legacy. They also discuss colorism within the Bolivia/Indigenous community and where their pride comes from.
Both plays, and many of the others, reflect on the complicated history Latinx peoples have had with borders, colonialism, government shifts (revolutions), nations without states and people without nations, and overall identity. It was a powerful showcased that presented new and valuable work by lesser known voices.
Continuing with my experience in Würzburg, we also attended a catholic church service. In this region of Germany, Catholicism is the typical religion, and it is considered to be one of the most religious areas. This experience was extremely new and different for me as I had never experienced a catholic service even in English. During the service, we sang different hymns in which I constantly got lost and no doubt butchered the pronunciations in the seldom times I found our place. This part wasn’t that different than my experience in churches but going up and taking communion was quite different. I had never taken communion in the manner of going up to the front and I had no idea if I needed to say anything… Which I didn’t, but no one knew I didn’t speak German. This was both cool and kind of nerve-racking at the same time. I felt like one of the crowd – a German crowd, but not knowing the proper thing to do or possibly say was quite intimidating. It all worked out in the end, and I, of course, had over thought everything in my head, but this experience was quite everlasting. I got to experience a different religion in a different country, which I never pushed myself to do when I was in Spain.