Chronicles of an Expat: Is it hard to adapt to a new place?

Moving to new country is always a difficult task. From all the farewells, to missing your family to getting used to new foods and tastes there are changes that could be traumatic. I moved from Puerto Rico to Spain 8 months ago. Many people thought that it would be fun, because I was moving to a country where I wouldn’t have any problem with my native language but it turned out to be a lot harder. Adapting to a new place -even with all its challenge- it is an experience I love to live.

Same language… new language

When I was moving to Spain everyone thought it would be easy because “I speak Spanish, that would be no problem for you”. Let’s break this down a bit: Spanish is widely spoken in a whole continent and each variant is COMPLETELY different from each other, and add to that the fact that besides language, you bring a lot of cultural baggage with you. In my case, coming to Spain and speaking Spanish was not an advantage by any chance, and to keep on adding: I moved to Catalonia. Catalan is the widely-spoken language here, and language might be an issue when you find people with clear political views who refuse to speak Spanish.

If you would have asked me, I think it is way easier to move to a place where they speak a whole new language rather than living in a place where you can communicate with some and others won’t let you communicate with them. I started to learn Catalan, and even though I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Foreign Languages, I’m sure this has been the toughest language to learn for me (not even Russian). Maybe because I’m not as young as I was when I finished my degree, or maybe because the learning process of the others was completely different and not learning them while I was in the place listening it every day. Only God knows.

No, we’re not similar

As I mentioned in the previous point, speaking the same language does not make me culturally the same as other people who also speak the language. This is something I experienced first time I moved “abroad” when I was 21 years old and went to Miami to study for a year. Even though Cuba is so close from Puerto Rico we had issues understanding each other when it comes to certain cultural aspects. I won’t even mention the gap between Colombians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, even though there are a lot of other things that of course bring us together. Imagine now, the gap that there is between Puerto Rico and Spain.

Let’s be clear in something: Even though it’s been 120 years since we aren’t a Spanish colony anymore, there are a lot of cultural reminiscences from the colonial period. There are things in Spain that I can find my culture at some point, but still, time and distance change things, and that’s exactly what happens with those. Even though I can go back and eat ham croquetas -just to give an example- they will be completely different from the ones I eat here in Girona.

Where’s my mofongo and my margaritas’ happy hour?

Since I just started to speak about food in the croquetas examples, let’s go deeper. Moving will always represent a problem for taste buds. When I moved to Miami, I resented this somehow, even though as you might know Florida is filled with Latino influences almost everywhere, there were tasted from the land that I was missing. Let’s add to that the huge American influence we have in Puerto Rico where all the fast food and chain restaurants you find in the States can be easily found in the island. It never felt that far. Now that I am in Spain, I feel the distance twice, as weird as it might sound.

We have a huge influence in our cuisine from Spain but, what make not only Puerto Rican but Caribbean cuisine unique is the African and Native cuisine combined with the Spanish influences. Now in Spain, there are a lot of things I can find which I’m familiar to, but I am missing my plantains (even though I can cook them at home, but it’s never the same!), my spices, my Grandmother’s arroz con salchicha (yes, for us rice with sausages is a thing) and beans. Even though I’m not the biggest rice eater (weird for someone coming from the Caribbean) I totally miss knowing I could find it everywhere.

Same thing happens with American influences. I know chain restaurants are not the best thing, even less the fast food, but I miss those happy hours sharing happiness with my friends, or those taco Tuesdays that are not a common thing in Spain. It might sound weird, but you just become used to things that might be shallow, but once you’re far you recognize how important they can be because they meant something for you.

Why are we watching a dubbed movie?

Some people think this is one is stupid, and it might be, but well: watching dubbed movies have been one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve had so far since I moved, or even a Simpsons episode! Even though we’re not fully bilingual (no we aren’t, that’s why I made a living as an English teacher) we are used to watch TV in English since we’re little. Most of the people of my generation will tell you that they learned more English watching Disney Channel movies than what they learned in school. We just got used that going to the movies meant that the movie was going to be in English with Spanish subtitles, we felt uncomfortable when a dubbed movie appeared. Here in Spain dubbed movies are the thing and people are a little bit scared of original versions. This has been a little shocking for me, I must admit it.

Everyday there’s something new to discover

Even though everyday there are things that will shock you, that will make you question your culture, your identity and even your will to become part of this new culture, there is always something amazing to discover. You will find beautiful people, beautiful traditions and even if they might be overwhelming in the first moment, you learn how to live with them and how to enrich yourself from everything.

It doesn’t matter how much I miss things back home, I will never stop being an expat and discovering the world.

About Brenda:

Brenda is a 27 year old Puerto Rican travel blogger who owns the blog She is a Foreign Languages and Literature graduate who has a huge passion for traveling and sports. Brenda is currently living in Girona, Spain and pursuing a Masters in Cultural Tourism.

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