Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Major Change of Pace

Of the six of us in the Teacher Development Program with CIEE, four of us are from the Chicagoland area, and one is from Boston.  We may not live in the city per se, but we have a basic understanding of what city life entails.  Even in the suburbs we see the effects of the morning and afternoon commute and the general hustle and bustle of busy life.  So naturally, knowing that Sevilla was one of the largest cities in Spain, I expected city life here to be pretty comparable.  Little did I know, aside from crazy drivers and the complexities of public transportation, city life in Spain couldn't be more different.  

In our CIEE student handbook and all of the pre-departure information we were given, they told us numerous times that the general pace of daily life was very different here than in the United States.  I expected as much; not every city can be like Chicago or Boston.  What I didn't realize until I arrived in Sevilla was that they really were not joking.  I have never seen a more relaxed city, and it's a beautiful thing.

One of the things we learned in high school when talking about Spanish culture is siesta.  Siesta is the spanish word for "nap," and what we learned from our textbooks was that it was a time during the afternoon where everyone takes a break and goes home to rest.  That seems simple enough--and sounds like a great concept to most high school and college students--but it's really a lot more than that.  From approximately 2:00 to 5:00, the entire city pretty much shuts down.  Shops, restaurants, and many other businesses close during this time.  People return to their houses to eat lunch, relax, and of course, take a nap.  I'll admit, I've indulged in my fair share of "siestas" in the last three weeks.  For me, it was (and still is) kind of a strange feeling to have nothing to do for that block of time.  I still find myself wanting to go shopping or something in the afternoon, only to remember that nothing is open.  Siesta is one of those parts of Spanish culture that doesn't seem to translate.  My orientation guide, Rafa, called it the "national sport" of Spain.  Brettyn, one of the girls in my program, talked to someone who didn't believe that we don't have siesta in the United States.  He didn't understand how Americans were portrayed as so busy and productive, but then he said it must be because we never sleep.  

As you walk the streets of Sevilla, one of the most common phrases you will hear people use is "no pasa nada."  It basically means "no big deal" or "no worries" (the "hakuna matata" of Spain, if you will).  It is pretty much the unofficial motto of the city.  They use it in all contexts: running late? no pasa nada; spill your drink? no pasa nada; forget something? no pasa nada.  Sevillans have a generally laid-back attitude with regards to most things, which was definitely something I needed to adjust to.  For those of you that know me personally, you can understand why.

My first real dose of this change came from the director of the Teaching Development program, Carolina (Caro).  During orientation week, we had several meetings having to do with housing, health and safety, and other subjects intended to help us adjust to our new surroundings.  During one of our academic sessions, Caro sat down with the six of us to talk about our goals for the semester.  When asked, we responded just like one might expect.  Things like "improve my Spanish" and "learn more about the Spanish culture" were obvious goals that we all shared.  After we had exhausted the list of all the things we wanted to learn and see, Caro told us that we had forgotten one very important goal.  We all looked around the room at each other at this point, trying to figure out what we could have possibly forgotten.  Caro took the dry erase marker and wrote in big, bold letters: DIVERTIRME (have fun).  That was something we weren't really expecting coming from the person who is in charge of our academic program.  She looked around at the expressions on our faces and smiled at us.  She said she was glad that we had thought thoroughly about our academic goals for our time in Sevilla, as that's the primary reason why we're here.  However, she also explained to us that this is going to be one of the greatest experiences of our entire lives, and that we need to enjoy it.  One thing that she said to us during that meeting will stay in the back of my mind throughout the semester: "If you're having fun, everything else will come naturally."  I know this sounds less-than-serious on the academic front, but in a way I think she knew that we're all serious students who know when it's time to buckle down and get work done.  She wasn't trying to turn our priorities around; she wants us to approach our learning from a different perspective--to live it.  

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