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.

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