Hatchet Expat: Translating life in Sevilla

My time spent studying in Sevilla, Spain has taught me to put everything I thought I knew on the back burner – particularly, the English language.

During the first half of my study abroad experience, I had some amazing encounters. I traveled throughout Spain, visited Morocco and Portugal, and I still have a number of trips planned. I have been able to greatly improve my Spanish by communicating with people I meet in each new location.

I have engaged in some of the best conversations of my life, regardless of what language we were speaking. But that does not mean there hasn’t been some awkwardness along the way.

The most important thing I’ve had to remember is to always put myself out there and to not be shy about my accent. Many of my friends here are too afraid to talk to Spaniards without a big group of Americans or to practice their Spanish outside of class. If they haven’t already started to regret those decisions, they will soon.

Of course, the transition into another language hasn’t always been easy. They say English is the most difficult language to learn, but I find myself questioning that concept more and more. There have been countless times I’ve Skyped with friends complaining, wondering why the Spanish language has to be so confusing and why I can’t find peanut butter or pickles here.

I’ve also been embarrassed every once in a while, like when I was at the market trying to get information about a gazpacho recipe for class, and I asked a man at one of the vegetable stands to remind me what a pepino was. He and a few other people laughed at me. He muttered something under his breath and proceeded to hold up two cucumbers, one in each hand, and say loudly and slowly, “Pepino.”

I’ll never forget the Spanish word for cucumber ever again.

I have been lost, confused and so much of what I say has been misconstrued. I’ve unintentionally offended Spaniards, other Europeans and even people in my program.

But Spanish isn’t the only language that’s gotten me into trouble. I once unknowingly offended another American when I decided to confide in him about some of my frustrations. We were eating at a Tex-Mex bar, which served food that was far from anything I’ve ever tasted back home. Growing more comfortable with the stranger seated near me, I told him I thought the food was awful and resembled nothing I’ve ever had in the United States. Well, it turns out that friendly stranger was one of the owners. Whoops.

In spite of these minor setbacks, I have made sure to keep my head held high. I know that I’m continuing to grow both as a person and as a student, and that’s a feeling that can’t be put into words – English or Spanish.

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