Kimia Nikseresht is a UVA student spending the Spring 2016 semester studying abroad in Valencia, Spain. Read her letters below as she discusses traveling. culture shock, and more!
January 28, 2016
This week, along with the start of classes, a bit of normalcy was reintroduced into my life. Believe it or not, there is great comfort in having a routine – walking the same path to school everyday, seeing familiar faces, and having something to do. Whether it’s school or work or organizations, I’m realizing that having a purpose and a daily goal to wake up to is absolutely fundamental to happiness, and “free time” is most appreciated when it’s limited.
A few years ago, UVa was named the #1 party school by Playboy Magazine. I bring this up to remind you that we know what we’re doing. But everything, house parties and bars alike, end at 2:00 am in Virginia. In Valencia, however, they open at 2 am. Blows my mind…
On Tuesday nights, Irish and American bars offer gatherings for international students to socialize and get to know each other. American, Italian, German, and Dutch seem to be the most common nationalities.
On Wednesday nights, there is a little bar that offers free salsa and bachata classes. So far, this has been my favorite place, as it’s a very cultural experience that brings Latin Americans and Spaniards together.
On Thursday nights, people go to the chupiterias, which are bars located throughout the city that only serve shots – 600+ different kinds. Shots with fire, shots with blindfolds, shots that require undressing, a Harry Potter shot… anything you can imagine, for 2 euros. Seems like a dangerous trap to me. While I have yet to try one, it is quite an entertaining place to people-watch as they embarrass themselves. And everyone embarrasses themselves here.
Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for the Discotecas, which open their doors at 2 am and stay open until 7 am.
I told you, they’re crazy.
Story of the week:
While at the chupiteria, we were so blown away by all the excitement that we found ourselves watching people take shots as if it were a telenovela. While admiring a fire shot, I felt something touching my leg… I turn around to see a bald man staring at me with a look of “I might poop my pants”, with his hand in my purse. In the universal language of “angry woman”, I started screaming in a frightening mixture of Farsi-English-Spanish. He sprinted out of the bar, as our new Austrian friend chased after him!
Bald man didn’t take anything, since I caught him. And Austrian boy was fine – he chased bald man down, searched his pockets to make sure my phone wasn’t in there, and returned. We all parted ways immediately after and went home to ponder the question of the night: “What the hell just happened?”. Good times.
Things I learned this week:
- Spaniards trust. As in most big cities, Valencia has a bit of a parking issue. Their solution? Many of the residential streets allow 2 lanes of street parking, as long as the car on the outside remains in neutral gear, so that it can easily be moved around in case the cars on the inside need to get out. Can you imagine someone just pushing your car up and down the street in America? Nah.
- Spanish fruit is AMAZING. I’ve never eaten a strawberry or an orange that has compared to the ones I’m eating here. It’s like a fiesta in my mouth.
However, the Spanish have their weird foods too – allow me to introduce you to “blood sausage”, a dish made out of pork blood and intestines. Yummy! (ew)
- Everyone, and I mean, everyone loves Persian food. I made my family “estamboli polo” this week, and even though the Tahdig wasn’t all that, they loved it! (P.S., notice the English-Spanish dictionary on the table haha)
February 22, 2016
Friends, family, peers, and acquaintances,
These last 2 weeks were quite possibly the most uneventful weeks of the trip so far. With midterms this week, we didn’t have any super exciting trips or anything of the sort to think about. Just a bus trip to Morella – another Spanish town, another Spanish castle.
The best part of Morella was discovering these super ugly trees. Like, what??
I also enjoyed the random basketball court in the middle of this ancient little pueblo(village/small town) built entirely on top of a mountain. Notice the blue in the picture!
Just over 5 weeks into the trip, mental and emotional crises are also common. 5 weeks is just long enough that the things that were weird/exceptional/new the first week are now routine/a part of life. But it’s also just enough time that anything that was bothering you before is now REAAALLLY bothering you. Let me give you an example of each.
–Good: The free time. I have now included an hour of outdoor exercise into my daily routine, and let me tell you,it makes a huge difference. I also have time to read for pleasure, journal, and floss every day. Thank you, Spain.
–Bad: hunger. I was hungry ALL THE TIME. So I finally confronted my madre and talked to her, which resulted in me having a nervous breakdown and crying my hunger away. But then, a few productive (yet slow) Spanish conversations later, I was forced to really re-examine my cultural and personal background. Iranian culture teaches “tarof” – we have internalized the idea that it is wrong to “ask” for things, especially more food. It is the host’s job to offer, and for you to take less than what is offered. But here, exercising my acts of respect was causing me to lose weight rapidly. And it never occurred to me that this could be the reason… Our culture is so internalized that I never even considered “asking for more” to be an option! It’s rude, it’s disrespectful.. it’s wrong.
Turns out, “right” and “wrong” are very subjective and completely situational. Here, if you want more,you ask or you go take it. There is little to no “diplomacy” as they call it – just direct, assertive statements of “quiero” and “necesito” (I want and I need). This one is going to take some getting used to.Although to be honest, I hope that I never really get used to it. See, living abroad is exposing me to the differences – some good, some bad. I think exercising “tarof”, although annoying, is a beautiful thing. It’s about retaining a bit of “dervish”-ness and giving more than you can afford as a host, thus creating a sense of closeness, warmth, and welcoming. It is an expression of “you, whoever you are, are sooo important to me that I will offer you all of my food and kindness in the 2 hours that you are at my house”. In my family, I hope this expression is never replaced by a dry, calculated “I can only afford to offer you one piece of cake and 2 cups of tea”.
I’ll live with it for 2 more months before throwing it in the garbage, along with my host madre’s unseasoned pasta. (If any Iranians want to mail me some “advieh”, feel free).
Story Of The Week
1. When a friend looked at me and instead of accurately saying “I will eat it” (referring to a burger at home), shesaid “te voy a comer“ (I will eat you). The Spanish boys around had a blast with that one.
Things I’ve Learned This Week:
Facetime… it all means more than you could imagine and I love you
4. I had a moment where I was reading a Spanish news article about ISIS printed in a Spanish newspaper at a Spanish coffee shop and went on to have a conversation with the server about it, in Spanish. I guess my language really is improving!
March 5-7, 2016
Dear friends and family,
These last two weeks flew by at the speed of light, or rather, Spain’s AVE high-speed trains. Here are some highlights: