When people think of Spain, they most often think of Barcelona and Madrid. Some might be aware enough to think of Sevilla, or Córdoba or maybe even Granada. But for most, small-town Spain falls by the wayside and many beautiful pueblos remain fairly untouched by tourism and and foreigners. But small towns are the heart and soul of Spain. They’re where culture was born and where tradition continues to thrive despite modern advances. For this exact reason I believe that to really get to the heart of a country and it’s people, you must embrace the small town life, it’s beauty as well as it’s flaws.
And there are many of both, beauty and flaws. There is beauty in the way the people’s daily routines seem practically unchanged by the passing of time. There is beauty in the untouched traditions and rituals surrounding food and eating. You can feel the history guiding the daily routines. But unfortunately this often means that the closed-mindedness of the past lingers in the present and it can be difficult to open peoples’ eyes to new ways of doing things.
Although as a modern United Statesian (yes, I’m inventing that word; apparently the US was absent and got shafted the day they handed out nationality adjectives) it can be frustrating at times to live in a small town, how else would we learn the intricacies and rhythms of families rooted deep in the past, and of a culture holding true to traditions which sprouted centuries ago. Not to mention the wonders a small town will do for your language and communication skills.
When I got assigned through the Auxiliares de Conversación program to work in Arcos de la Frontera, I could never have anticipated the journey that lay ahead. Luckily, I wasn’t scared off by it’s 30,000 person population; in fact when I googled pictures of my soon-to-be-home I was captivated… this place is seriously beautiful!
I was obviously nervous about the move in itself; how could I not be when all of my friends were heading off to grad school or starting their “adult” lives in 9-5 jobs and getting married. It felt a bit like running away, like putting off the big decisions until a later date. However, my last two years spent in this little town that I now claim as my own have affirmed that I made the right decision. Who am I kidding? I’m not cut out for life in an office and I’m definitely not ready (will I ever be??) to go to grad school. Right now, being here is what feels right.
I sometimes think about how this experience would have been different had I been placed in a bigger city like Madrid. Would my Spanish have improved this much? Would I feel like a part of the community? Is there even a community feel in a big city? Would the majority of my friends be Spanish, or would I have sought refuge with the familiar English speaking crowd? Would I have found love while dressed as Pikachu? Would Spain feel like home?
I think the answer to many of my questions is “no”. No, my Spanish wouldn’t be as good. No, I wouldn’t have been able to spark romance dressed as a Pokemon, and no, I just don’t think that Spain would feel like home. Like that real down-home-I’m-comfortable-and-in-my-niche home.
So, what am I getting at here? When I hear about people (auxiliares) that have been assigned to smaller towns and are scrambling for ways to get out (commute an hour to Seville? are you cray cray??) it makes me sad! I want to impart my wisdom: small towns are great! The authenticity of a small town can’t be matched, nor do I think you can truly become a member of the community in a large city. Of course I get it. A city has more to do, more English speakers to befriend, more stores, more restaurants, etc. But what’s better than becoming a regular at your favorite bar? Honestly, I don’t even have to utter the words” un Barceló light” anymore because the bartender already knows and he never forgets the straw, and the waiters at our favorite “American” food joint always bring us extra ketchup packets. Not to mention that I save so much money for traveling because there’s nowhere to shop here! I love walking down the street and running into friends, or students, or co-workers, and I love the relaxed atmosphere that seems to always be hanging around a small town.
So maybe the small town life isn’t for everyone. But it’s probably for you if you’re willing to give it a chance.
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