Good food and good conversation. These two things are simply some of my favorite things about Valencia. There is a place just down the tree-lined street from my apartment that has weekly intercambios, or language exchanges. Once I overcame my shyness with speaking, I came to the intercambio to speak with Spaniards, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made.
Living among people with a completely different culture is hard. Don’t get me wrong, it is fascinating and very exciting at times, but it is sometimes difficult to assimilate (or simply understand) when I have been living in a completely different environment for 21 years. The intercambios have not only helped me immensely with my conversational skills in Spanish, but have allowed me to get to know locals and their culture. Specifically, I have learned about the Spanish financial and work crisis, and I would never have fully understood what these people are going through if I hadn’t heard first-person stories.
At one intercambio in particular, I was sitting at a table with two young couples living in Valencia (It was English night; thus I could understand them a little bit better!). The husband and wife sitting across from me were in school, not for the first time, but the second. They couldn’t find jobs with their first degrees, so they decided to get another one. I was astonished. The couple sitting next to me were striving to find work. I couldn’t believe it; here I am a naive American girl studying abroad and having the experience of my life, and these struggling young couples were simply trying to find a way to keep afloat in their economy. Yet, they are still so happy! It was eye-opening. I left the intercambio that night a little more humbled.
It is amazing what you can learn in one night. And I have had many more nights at the intercambio learning about current events, street lingo, flirting in another culture, the best restaurants in Valencia and locals’ opinions on Spanish life. I have loved every opportunity to become maybe not more cultured, but more aware of the culture I am temporarily living in.