Monday, September 28, 2015

On Becoming More Spanish

As proud as I am to be Canadian and hold on to some of my cultural qualities, it's only natural after two years that I have changed in many ways and become a bit more Spanish. Here's a lighter look at how I've changed:

When I first arrived in Spain, I maintained my productive Canadian habits:

Within a few short months in Villacarrillo, it changed to:

Another way I've changed is that I walk like this:
If I walk any faster, I actually start to sweat. It's not good sweat, either; it's a weird mixture of ham and olive oil that comes out of my pores. (If I marry a man whose last name is 'Jamón', I will die a happy bride.)

What else? I'm no longer weirded out if someone wears shoes in my house, nor if they use SCISSORS to cut PIZZA. Also, a shot of alcohol in coffee at 11 a.m.?  Sure, why not?

In addition, when I talk or write, every f***ing second motherf***ing word is a g**damn swear word, b**ch. Seriously, holy sh*t.

Of course, this isn't 100% what I'm like here. It's just amusing to see the little ways in which I've adopted tiny pieces of the Spanish culture.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The New Students

I'm noticing an interesting trend amongst friends my age. Despite being in our mid to late-thirties, between one-third and one-half of us left well-paying careers or were laid-off. We're taking classes, or have enrolled in university or a training school. In addition, we're (mostly) single women, with no kids, dramatically changing our lives at an age that traditionally sees people set within their career, relationship, or family.
Despite mortgages or rent, these friends of mine have decided to take time to search for work that has meaning for them, and/or re-educate themselves. Those that worked in television are now looking at social media, film, book editing, or international health careers. One friend who was a nurse is looking at moving into the world of esthetics. And a dental assistant I know is extremely interested in private investigation. The common thread: all of these women made very decent money but weren't into their jobs. Being happy is what counts more now. They take the risk of not having a lot of money while in school or starting a new career, but the urge to pursue their dreams is a bigger draw. Some of them have commented:

"I'm pursuing a new trajectory...more in line with my long-term objectives i.e. the ability to work anywhere; the ability to earn more income in the hopes of retiring early; the chance to pursue meaningful work."

"Why not have a wealth of knowledge in something that you are passionate about! Secret weapon for a happy and successful life." 
In my case, three years ago I looked towards Europe and said to myself, "I want to try that." I gave up a a 5-figure salary as a video editor, sold 90% of my belongings including my car, and moved to Spain with a suitcase, a backpack, a cat, and not knowing anyone in the entire region. Cut to the present, where in a few weeks I'll be corraling little kids at an elementary school, trying to inject a bit of English into their lives. In Canada, my colleagues and I feverishly worked to piece together stories about war, the health system, politics, and crime. Here in Jaén, my 10-year old student laughed while I showed her how to boogie down to “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce. When I edited at the t.v. station, I never worried about cash. Now, I make less than 800E a month. In addition, contracts run from October to May, so during the summer money is scarce. Last week I was so low on funds, I couldn't attend a birthday because an emergency came up and I had to buy medz. My choices were: eat ramen for a week, or buy real food but stay home a few nights. Real food won.

Spain has won my heart, too. I'm happy living here because 1) the money stress is short-term and in the summer, I learn to survive and have fun on little cash. Plus, 2) I wasn't happy in Canada. I had lots of money but felt bored in my city, having lived there my whole life. I worked weekends, so I couldn't do a lot with my friends.

Here, people place a big priority on personal happiness. I used to be confused and frustrated when students didn't want to study during the summer for exams. Now I understand: who wants to work or study when the days are long and hot, and the only solution is a cold drink and the beach? Who wants to stay rooted in one city when there are so many summer festivals and interesting places to visit a few hours away? These days, the girl who worked almost every weekend in Canada for thirteen years does NOT teach English on weekends in Spain. I've found time to achieve a few goals, such as writing a short ebook and visiting places I'd only dreamt of while in Canada. Just by living in Spain, which is such a different country, I enjoy learning new things and being a student.

Monday, September 14, 2015

To the Jaén Newbies

Dear new people,

Welcome to Jaén. After living here for a year, I wanted to let you know about a few things. Most of the stuff you'll learn as you go, so I don't want to give everything away, just provide a sampler.

Jaén is very small, but there's a LOT to do. It's possible I feel this way because my first year I lived in a tiny village of 11,000 people, but keep in mind that I'm from a large Canadian city. I always find something to do in Jaén: independent music, art exhibits, free entry into monuments, and outdoor activities: hiking, rock climbing (indoors and outdoors).

If you're here to learn Spanish, Jaén is the perfect environment for it, although you'll adopt the Andalucían accent. Some people in the north will laugh when you talk, but I think it's something to be proud of. 

Stand firm on your need to speak Spanish. The fact that you're a native English speaker will make people clamor to practise with you, but it's important to keep in mind that you're here to learn Spanish. Once in a blue moon, sure, it's okay to help someone practise. But not always, and certainly not always for free.

Also keep in mind that who you hang out with determines your level of Spanish in the end. If you're always with English speakers, guess how much your Spanish will improve? Extremely little. During my first year, I spoke Spanish 95% of the time when going out (because there was very little choice in Villacarrillo). I'm sure that at many parties I was viewed as “The Mute”, but thanks to immersing myself I can now hold my own in conversations.

My fave way to learn Spanish
Don't hold on too tightly to your ways from home. When I moved here, in the beginning I had problems with people wearing shoes in my apartment, appointments starting late, strangers standing too close to me, stores being closed at 2 p.m., and people saying I was Chinese (I'm Filipina). Now I understand that when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

On the other hand, don't compromise too much on your culture. For example, I value my privacy (the little that is left after writing this blog, hahaha). In Jaén some people REALLY want to know every detail of your life. Their questions can get extremely personal, such as about salary. If I don't want to reveal, I deflect. (“Oh, you know, I make enough to cover rent and food. It's enough to live, so you can imagine.”)

The rest, you'll discover along the way. Don't be surprised if you make lots of mistakes; often it can turn out to be the best way to learn. I'm glad you're coming to Jaén. See you at the next intercambio.

Monday, September 7, 2015

My (friend's) Big Fat Spanish Wedding

The beauty of being integrated in a foreign country is that you get invited to intimate family events, such as my friend's wedding, which was the first I'd ever attended in Spain. It was an eye-opener, a stomach opener, and a marathon partying session.

Everyone descended upon Villacarrillo the night before, to have tapas at 10 p.m. and then surprise the bride with a 1 a.m. serenade on the street, below her window. Very romantic!

It was at this point that I discovered how crazy Spanish people are; I already knew this, but I soon discovered how much more so. After the serenade, everyone (including the bride and groom) wandered over to a relative's car garage to party some more. At 2 a.m. Despite many having to get up in the morning. Despite the wedding being that afternoon.  Despite some having to read at the mass. We sang our hearts out on the street all night and early morning, causing hoarse throats and worry about how some were going to do their church speeches (we joked that they could record it now and do a "Milli Vanilli" at the mass).

I drowsily woke up at 3 p.m. the day of the wedding, ate lunch with my friend's family, and then took a siesta (don't judge, it's practically a necessity to handle the partying in this country). I then got dolled up for the mass, which I ended up missing. I didn't realize that my friends, and many guests, don't attend the mass. Rather, they show up for the rice throwing, then head to the reception hall for the REAL party.
Photos and the "rice launch"
There were TWENTY items on the dinner menu, all delicious. The wine and beer flowed freely while we ate, although I kept it in check because we had a surprise for the bride. We hid behind a door, and after the cake was cut with a sword, the groom's sisters and I came out with our instruments and performed "No puedo vivir sin ti" by Los Ronaldos, while the groom and guests serenaded the bride.

My Nancy Wilson moment
The rest of the party was a blur of photos, caricatures done by artists, a chocolate fondue fountain, open bar, and dancing to spanish music. We then went to a different bar and, after a couple of rounds, I staggered home 7 a.m. (yes, that's considered early by some). All in all, it was a fantastic party and memorable first-time weekend wedding. I'm so grateful to have been a part of it!