1) How to live locally (or give myself permission to be ridiculous). This one is basically, “When in Rome…” Some parts of life in Spain seemed over the top in the beginning. For example, I thought having a café solo (shot of expresso) for breakfast, a slice of toast at eleven, and a three-course meal at two o’clock (and so on) seemed like sheer madness. The same went for staying out past four o’clock in the morning. At first I kept to my old routines. It was no fun, however, being the girl with the growling stomach or the only youngster up and about on Sunday morning. The things I got to do everyday in Spain that were most different to my life at home are the experiences I cherish now.
2) To have an opinion, especially about what is going on at home. I was asked so many times what my opinion was about [blank] in the United States. Some of the questions were misinformed or based on stereotypes. Others were about current events I should have been up on. In any case, being uninformed or apathetic was not impressive. Thinking through where I stood on important issues concerning the United States allowed me to connect to the people around me and to Spanish perspectives.
3) Clothes are important. Before I left for Spain, my mother told me that Spanish people generally dressed better and took more care with their appearance. I upgraded my packing accordingly. This is often said, but it took a few painful lessons and poignant examples for it to sink in. I once caught one of my students, a burly young man with satanic tattoos and a mullet, picking infinitesimal specks of dust off his motorcycle boots. He nodded and went back to work.
4) A long, slow walk (paseo) is good for the soul. The evening, when the shops are closed and the shadows are long, is a perfect time to be out and about. The point of this is not exercise. In fact, the slower you walk the better. It’s a time to share your day, gossip, window shop and marvel at where you are. Maybe you will even see somebody you know.
5) How to see the world as a giant classroom. Interest in your surroundings is contagious. Learning about the history, ecology and culture of where you are is the courtship phase of loving a place. It may take going very far away to begin the process, but it’s a way of seeing the world you take with you wherever you go. (Photo by Jack, please use only with his permission)