When I learned that I would be spending the next year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Lugo, Spain, I was ecstatic. Memories of Flamenco shows, Spanish tortilla, and sangria came flooding back to me as I nostalgically remembered my 2016 winter study abroad experiences in Toledo, Madrid, and Barcelona.
On September 3, 2018, I landed in the Santiago de Compostela airport in Galicia, Spain. Aside from it being one of the seventeen autonomous communities, I knew little about this region. It didn't take long for me to realize however, that my dreams of sipping sangria under the bright Spanish sun would not match my reality.
This reality started to hit during my first visit to Fonte do Rei, a local restaurant in Lugo. I walked in and in my rusty castellano, asked for a table. The waitress responded to my request, but I had no idea what she said. After a moment of processing, I realized she was speaking Galician, one of the native languages. After noticing that I was confused, she switched to castellano. When I got my hand on a menu, I just as quickly pulled out my translator app. The first dish I translated was pulpo al ajillo (octopus in garlic). To my dismay, the food units I studied in previous Spanish classes had not prepared me for Galician cuisine.
The new cuisine however was one of the many features of Galician culture I had to get used to. After a few weeks of feeling discouraged by my difficulty integrating, I decided that I needed a different approach. If I was going to live 4,000 miles outside of my comfort zone, I would do it right. Instead of taking the bus, I started using Blablacar, a carpool app that encourages carbon footprint reduction and small talk with friendly strangers. I also started taking Taekwondo, Galician classes, and, with the help from some of my fellow teachers, started a cheerleading team. Eventually, the unfamiliar began to feel a lot more like home as I started building new relationships and learning more about myself and the world around me.
The classroom, ironically, has been where I've done most of my learning. The dynamic of my classes allows me not only to teach English related to my student's vocations, but also touch on differences between the United States and Spain, while discussing social issues including climate change, gun laws, gender violence, and immigration. I have enjoyed sharing my perspectives and passions with my students and equally have enjoyed being enlightened by their perspectives and opinions.
The natural beauty, variety of octopus dishes, and even the immense amounts of rain are some of the features of Galicia that I have grown to love. I feel comfort in knowing that when I head back to the states at the end of June, I don't have to say goodbye for good; because Galicia is now my second home, and everybody always finds their way back home.