University of Iowa

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Iowa anymore

February 4th, 2019
This photo was taking while exploring Valencia… about 2 hours before my phone was stolen. At least my iCloud backed it up, or this pic would have been gone forever!

This photo was taken while exploring Valencia… about 2 hours before my phone was stolen. At least my iCloud backed it up, or this pic would have been gone forever!

Before you leave for any study abroad program, you’ll be told continually about this thing called “Culture Shock”. Personally, I don’t like that phrase. It sounds like you are going to wake up suddenly in a foreign country and be “shocked” into a panic attack. But, that’s not really how it happens. It’s gradual. The first day you’re here, you’ll notice that they use way more coins than bills and that water is NOT free with your meal (absurd, right?). After a couple of days, you’ll realize that restaurants don’t split checks, which is a hard concept for you to grasp considering the waiter talks a million-miles-a-minute in an unknown language. The first time you go grocery shopping, you’ll discover that you have to pay for a bag to carry everything home in, and so on. It’s little things everywhere, stark contrasts to your usual life in Iowa. At the time, it certainly isn’t shocking. You just think “huh, that’s odd”, and move on with your day. The little things add up, though. And one day, you will probably wake up and notice those things just a little bit more.

This photo was taking while exploring Valencia… about 2 hours before my phone was stolen. At least my iCloud backed it up, or this pic would have been gone forever!
I actually made friends With another student from the University of Iowa on this trip. Her name is Bailey, and I think we will definitely stay friends when we go back home. Go Hawks!

            Let me tell you a story. A girl went to Spain for a semester abroad. The first night she got there, she met some other people from her program and the next day had orientation. She made lots of friends, thank goodness. She had been so worried about meeting new people. For the next couple of days, she went to class, went out for tapas with her friends, and explored the city she would call home for the next four months. It was awesome -- absolutely everything she had wished for and more. How could she not be ecstatic? One night, she went out for tapas with her friends, shopped for some quality European outfits, and they ended up at McDonald’s for a pit stop. Someone asked her to add him on snapchat, so she reached for her phone. And… well, it wasn’t there. She had that first initial panic, searched her coat pockets, then her jeans, then her purse and… still nothing. Then the REAL panic set in. She grabbed her friend and rushed back to the last store they had been to. The workers only spoke Spanish, and it was difficult to ask them if they had found a phone. Finally, she came to the conclusion that it wasn’t there. So, they ran to the other store they had been to. It had just turned 10 o’clock, so they were locking the door as they arrived. They knocked and tried to speak to the worker, but the worker clearly just thought they wanted to shop even though the store was closing. After much persistence, the worker finally spoke to them, again in Spanish, and the conclusion was the same: no phone. And again, at the restaurant where they had eaten: no phone. Feeling defeated, the girl said goodbye to her friend and walked home for the night. Once home, she used her Mac to check for the location of her phone. She had been turning her cellular on and off to conserve her data plan, so she wasn’t very confident in where it said the phone had been seen last: in the middle of a street downtown. The next morning, the girl got up early and returned to the three places, plus McDonald’s, to check again. These trips were, again, irritating, because the language barrier seemed to be as solid as the Great Wall of China. Feeling defeated and at this point pretty certain that she had been pick-pocketed, she got on the bus, 71, that her program had told her to use for school. After about 30 minutes on the bus, she realized nothing looked familiar. That’s when she remembered… THE BUS RUNS BOTH WAYS. Sure, she was on the right line, but she was traveling the completely wrong direction. She had no phone to use for directions and no way to let her classmates know what had happened. So, she rode the bus all the way around the loop, from one side of the city to the other, and finally arrived (very late) to her Spanish class. Attendance was quite a big deal in her program, so her teacher wanted to know why she was so late. Explaining wouldn’t have been so hard… if only her teacher knew English. As she tried desperately to come up with a Spanish explanation (now what is the verb for “to steal”? Okay maybe try “got lost?” or “was taken?” UGH), her voice started cracking and she felt a very real panic. Okay, maybe I’d even call it “Culture Shock”.

On the first day of school, we woke up early to watch the sunrise at the beach. I highly recommend doing things like this. When you look back, what will you regret more? Losing a little sleep or missing out on a view like this?

On the first day of school, we woke up early to watch the sunrise at the beach. I highly recommend doing things like this. When you look back, what will you regret more? Losing a little sleep or missing out on a view like this?

            In case you didn’t figure it out, that girl was me. My phone was stolen within the first week. As awful as my story sounds, it really wasn’t the end of the world. I had to figure out my way around for a couple of days without cell service, but I had brought my old phone as a backup and eventually bought a new sim card for it. I filed a police report (which was a whole other ordeal) and went on with my life. My old phone was AWFUL, but it was usable and I had insurance on my new one, so I was able to get it replaced. In the end, everything worked out. I only, purposely, made the story sound so dramatic because, at the time, that’s exactly how it felt. That’s how culture shock really hits you. I’m not saying that you’re destined to get pick-pocketed, but at some point, on your trip, things will not go as planned. And at that moment, you’ll feel isolated and out of place and wish you were back in small town Iowa. It’s inevitable. But, if there’s one thing you’ll learn while studying abroad, its that you’ve got to roll with the punches and learn to enjoy yourself regardless. After all, it’s a beautiful world and you’re very lucky to be able to experience it.

Its so funny being the foreign student on campus. You can walk around and talk to your friends and, for the most part, no one knows what you’re saying.

It's so funny being the foreign student on campus. You can walk around and talk to your friends and, for the most part, no one knows what you’re saying.
It’s so funny because Spaniards act like 60 degrees is Antarctic temperatures. This day, I was on the beach walking barefoot in the water and was getting weird looks from people in winter coats, scarves, and boots.

It’s so funny because Spaniards act like 60 degrees is Antarctic temperatures. This day, I was on the beach walking barefoot in the water and was getting weird looks from people in winter coats, scarves, and boots.
Our Program took us on a boat ride through the marshes outside Valencia. Our group proudly sang along to Mo Bamba, Sweet Caroline, Sicko Mode, and All Summer Long on the way. Our Spanish boat driver was not having it haha.

Our program took us on a boat ride through the marshes outside Valencia. Our group proudly sang along to Mo Bamba, Sweet Caroline, Sicko Mode, and All Summer Long on the way. 
You’ve already made it halfway across the world. At this point, you’re invested, so you might as well go all in. I’m a picky eater, but I had to set that aside on this trip. My goal is to at least TRY everything, and so far its been rewarding.

You’ve already made it halfway across the world. At this point, you’re invested, so you might as well go all in. I’m a picky eater, but I had to set that aside on this trip. My goal is to at least TRY everything, and so far it's been rewarding.

 

Abby Willging is a neuroscience major and pre-med student at the University of Iowa. A native of Albany, Illinois, Abby is spending the semester in Spain on the USAC Valencia Program.