My flights were smooth, my luggage arrived in Madrid, my trip through customs was easy and my friend, Olivia, was waiting for me as I exited the big doors in the Madrid Barajas Airport. Fácil, no?
Well, the sense of panic came when I met the landlord at the apartment. My friend left for work and I was all alone with someone that I didn’t know. See, my friend had helped arrange for the apartment while I was still living in the US. I thought this was going to be easy. I would arrive, meet the landlord, get the keys, shower, and sleep. But that’s not how it worked. He was extremely nice, but insisted on walking me around the neighborhood for about an hour, showing me around my school, setting up the utilities in my name, setting up my bank account, setting up my phone, etc. All in Spanish after not having spoken it regularly for nearly 10 years. And after 15 hours of flying…and no sleep…while being hungry. What he didn’t realize is that an extranjero can’t do many of these things without a NIE. The NIE is an identification number for foreigners that is similar to a resident card. It takes several months to get this, so I was trying to explain (in Spanish) on the phone with these utility companies that I don’t have my NIE yet. The landlord didn’t understand why I hadn’t taken care of all of this while I was still stateside. Needless to say, we were both getting frustrated.
All of a sudden, the assertiveness in me burst out and in a firm voice I said in Spanish, “I just arrived. I JUST arrived. I’m not doing this right now and I’m not speaking Spanish anymore today.” Although he didn’t like my response (and in hindsight, I could have reduced the drama a little bit), I think he realized that I was exhausted and he decided to leave on his vacation with the promise from me that I’d set up all of the utilities as soon as I can.
Ahhhh, peace and quiet. Oh wait, but I really want to tell my mom all about this. And my friends. But they are all sleeping right now (it was midnight/early morning back home). Oh wait, and I don’t have a phone yet anyway. Or internet. Pfff. And then the tears started. Why am I crying? Why can’t I stop? It is a very strange feeling, but I knew just what it was: “the shock”. The hard part.
For those of you who have moved to another country before, you know that culture shock is quite common. It happens to nearly everyone to some extent. Study Abroad offices warn us of the signs before we embark on our summer undergrad programs, but we never think it will happen to us. Because we’re well-traveled, right? And this new country is exciting and adventurous, so why would we ever be emotional about that, right? Well, that’s not really how it works.
So I did the only thing I could think of and decided to shower and sleep. Before I knew it, my friend had arrived to take me to dinner…at 9 pm (this is considered an early dinner). We strolled the city, got caught up and I immediately felt much better. A familiar face and a piece of home.
Here are a few pictures of my transition.