Everyone wants to fit in. There’s no better feeling than comfort, inclusion, acceptance. While abroad, I yearn to make Spanish friends. The goal sits at the top of my to-do list, highlighted, circled, and underlined. To truly know this country, I need to put on my big girl pants, leap outside of my comfort zone, and experience the city though the eyes of an expert. I need to tuck myself behind a local student and carefully follow their footsteps, allowing them to guide me.
The task is difficult; groups are intimidating. At school, the Spaniards stand in packs. A certain “cool factor” radiates from their clique, creating an electric force field that seems to scream “stay out.” Once you break through the iron door of their social fortress, however, the Spaniards are excited to meet Americans. It’s summoning the courage and crossing the moat that proves most difficult.
My program provides activities and resources for meeting Spanish students that have similar goals – practicing a foreign language, meeting a new friend, and exposure to a different cultural. Naturally, I’ve signed up for everything. I received my “intercambio” language partner through the university last week. Marina, my partner, talks in English, and I respond in Spanish.
Marina has been wonderful. She and I are very different – she’s a twenty-four year old musician, a self-proclaimed punk rocker, and native Sevillano – but we get along great. On Friday night, she invited me to hangout with her and her friends. I responded “sí” within a matter of seconds…my excitement was obvious.
Still somewhat unfamiliar with the city, I decided to take a taxi from the metro to our meeting point. As we approached the destination, music penetrated the cab’s walls from several blocks away, bass shaking the door hinges. The driver dumped me off at a large plaza near the river. I emerged from the car to find a happening Mecca of nightlife. Hundreds of Spaniards gathered in the square listening to live music. People filled the streets, packed side-by-side for as far as I could see. Dozens of break-off groups gathered in circles, beating drums, signing, and dancing.
Marina introduced me to her friends who warmly greeted me, taking my hand, allowing me access to their world. That night, the only difference I sensed between us was my thick American accent. What an unforgettable, true cultural experience – I’m so thankful for my tour guide.