Hello everyone! My name is Alejandro Estrelles and I am currently starting my junior year studying in a foreign country. More specifically, I am a student-athlete at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States. I am currently combining my Business major while playing soccer at a very high level. In this post I am going to talk to you about how my experience living, studying and playing soccer in a foreign country has been, with some of the cultural changes that I have experienced.
First, I want to let you know the reason I decided to go to the United States to study. Growing up in Spain as a soccer player, I knew that at some point I would have to make a tough decision about my future: whether I wanted to keep playing soccer at a very competitive level and try to make a living out of it, or whether I wanted to go to college. I knew it was going to be very hard to combine both and that I would have to choose one of these two options. Being realistic, my decision would have been to go to college, which probably would have meant to give up playing soccer, the sport that I love, at least at a very competitive level.
However, when I found out that in the United States you are given the opportunity of studying while at the same time playing the sport that you love at a very high level, I knew that that was the path to follow, and that’s what I wanted to do. Three years later, I can safely say that this was one of the best decisions I have made in my life and if I could choose again, I would pick the same choice over and over again.
When you move to a different country, you obviously have to adapt to a new culture. A culture that, just like all of them, has its good and bad things. One of the biggest changes between the Spanish and American culture is the food. Not only the types of food eaten, but the times that people eat in the US. Here I have had to get used to having lunch at noon and dinner at 6pm. Although it is not mandatory eating at any of these hours, if you are meeting up with someone to go somewhere to eat, you will probably have to go eat at those times. After three years in college, I can say that I am still not used to these times, and what I usually do is to have dinner two times: one at 6pm and later, between 9 and 10pm, I will probably have a “lighter” dinner.
Another big difference I have found between both cultures is the sense of patriotism that American people have for their country, their anthem and their flag. I am not saying that Spanish people doesn’t have this patriotism, I am simply saying that it is much more visible in the United States. For example, wherever you go in the United States you will find American flags hanging everywhere. Another obvious example is that, before the beginning all my soccer games, every person in the stadium will have to face the American flag in the stadium, because every stadium must have one, and remain silent while listening to the American anthem. This is something I had not seen in Spain, except for when the national team plays. And this not only happens in college soccer, it happens in every college sporting event, and even in high school games.
Another detail that I have had to get used to when I came to the US and that it is completely different to what I was used to in Spain are the units with which Americans measure things. For example, to measure heights and distances, instead of using kilometers, meters, and centimeters, Americans use miles, feet and inches. Temperature in the US is measured in Fahrenheit degrees instead of Celsius; and weight is measured in pounds instead of kilos. When I first came to the US, it was hard for me to understand all these measures, but I have been getting used to it as time has been going on and now I am able to more or less understand every unit.
The last difference I am going to talk about between Spanish and American culture is the type of classroom education received in both countries. I don’t believe that one is better than the other, but from my experience, I have learned more while studying in an American school because of the way things are taught. Why? Because in the US you are more rewarded for your everyday work and education is more practical than in Spain, which is more theoretical. In Spanish colleges, from what my friends have told me, the biggest part of your grade depends on your performance in two or three different grades: one or two midterms and the final exam. Although I have not attended a Spanish college, my experience in high school was somewhat similar to what my friends have told me. In other words, your grade will depend on your performance in three different days. This means that people simply study very hard for these exams, which are only three days in the semester. However, in the United States, you are rewarded for your perseverance and constant work. You have homework and small daily assignment, and you have small graded quizzes pretty often, which prepare you for the midterms and final exams, whose weight in the final grade is not as big as in Spain.
I could be writing cultural differences between Spain and the United States for so long, but the most important ones in my experience are the ones I have mentioned above. However, studying in another country has given me the chance to learn about a new culture, something that has made me more open-minded and has made me grow and evolve as a human being. Without a doubt, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
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