First Weeks: I Hate to Break It to You, But Things Will Go on Fine Without You



One of my biggest pet peeves, I mean, just huge, is when people don’t seem to realize that the world, a world exists outside of them. This annoyance is expounded when people behave this way on an institutional level. I’ll explain. When I was 13, I was accepted into boarding school. At the time, I was taking classes at a dance school that I hated. The proprietors were odd, to say the least. They were elitist and color struck and since I wasn’t light-skinned or rich they didn’t really seem to like me very much.

Anyway, as the school year drew to a close, and the end-of-year recital was drawing nearer people began to ask the evitable question that all children are asked: “What are you doing next year?” I answered back happily that I was headed to boarding school. And funnily enough, all the adults at the dance school answered back the same way, “Well, I guess that means no more dance.” It was a response that left me flabbergasted. I mean, did these people feel as though they had invented dancing? Or did they see themselves as some sort of cultural vortex outside of which the practice could not exist?

Only twice did I have the gall to reply, “Well, not here at least.” And later, to one teacher whom I had a personal distain for, I went on to tell her about the school’s program with Dance Connecticut, the Official Dance School of the State Ballet Company. All these years later, I can’t remember her reaction to the news that other dance schools existed. It must have come as quite a shock.

Now, here in Spain I am dealing with this conundrum again. Here’s the thing. Spanish people love to be helpful, but not in a way that actually benefits you. They like to tell you how you will be helped instead of asking you how you need to be helped. This leads to boundaries becoming very blurry and people constantly invading your personal space and private life. Working here means that far too often and unnecessarily, the personal and the professional bleed into each other.

As a Language Assistant here, that means the people at your schools will often feel responsible for you. The problem is, as a fully functioning adult, you don’t need them to be. You are not a child, or student and you don’t need to be taken care of or given advice--particularly from people who have never lived your experience.

But you will get it; all the advice that you will never use from people who don’t understand that you didn’t move halfway around the world to meet them. That you were sold on the idea of working less so that you can enjoy your new adopted home—not to spend all your time at your school. Without prompting, people will tell you how you should learn Spanish, travel the country and when, where and how to eat.

This may seem friendly, but the reality is that this probably won’t help you. Unbeknownst to the locals, there are tons of programs, classes, language exchanges, group trips, apps, etc., that can help you achieve all these things with little to no help from them. And since these things are set up expressly for expats and students, they will be able to help you the way you need to be helped. Not the way someone else thinks you should be helped.

In all honestly, you will probably learn more from another Language Assistant than you will ever learn from those who have lived here their entire lives. Because to succeed here, you need an expert outsider’s experience, because that is the kind that you are having. But unfortunately, there are people here there and everywhere that find it inconceivable that you can do so without their input. But you can, and you will, and in many cases, you must learn to make due without them. But trust me, the world will keep turning no matter what you do.

Candace Fykes