Five Lessons Learned From Being A Foreigner 

Five Lessons Learned From Being A Foreigner 

Today is the day, I am literally sitting in the departures lounge as I am writing this; I am off on a jet plane! I cannot wait to share the travels ahead! In honor of jet-setting today, I wanted to share a guest feature by Nina from A World of Dresses. You might remember the little feature that I had on her site a couple months back, if you didn’t get a chance to read it definitely go check it out! So let’s dive into . . .

Five Lessons Learned From Being A Foreigner 

-Nina, A World of Dresses

Living in Spain comes with many benefits. I get to practice and perfect my Spanish everywhere I go. I get to meet new people, travel to new places and enjoy new food. However one of the best things I get to experience in Spain is the experience of being the foreigner. I now know what it’s like to live in another person’s country. I know what it’s like to be in a place where my traditions and customs are not the norm. While it can be challenging, it has changed me for the better.


One year ago, I moved from Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States to Granada, Spain. The Spanish government hosts this big program every year where native English speakers come live in their communities and teach English in their public school classrooms. I had a friend who had taught through this program before. In June 2015, I spent two weeks in Spain. After that, I decided I wanted to live there. So I applied to the same program and got a placement in Granada.

While I had traveled before, this was the first time I really moved to a different country. This time that meant opening up a Spanish bank account, changing my cell phone number to a Spanish one and renting a room in a flat. This experience has been like none other experience in my life. Here are the things that being the foreigner has taught me.


1. Patience

This is one that I think every foreigner in Spain just has to learn one way or another. In the United States, things generally have rules and a way that they run. You generally know when offices open or close. The worst thing about renewing your driver’s license is the line you have to wait in. However when it’s your turn, you know things will generally work out without much of a problem.

Well, it’s not like that in Spain. While there are rules, they’re not really followed to a T. When you go to a government office to process paperwork, no one seems to know what’s going on. One guy tells you that you need one paper while the other tells you that you needed something different. Half of the time, you just have no idea what is going on.

The other thing that can shock people at first are the hours. Things close down from 2-5 p.m. for the siesta. Us Americans often forget that and try to run errands at that time. While it’s frustrating at the time, we just have to accept their schedule and come back after the siesta.

Living in Spain has taught me patience. If it’s not just like it is in the United States, it’s no big deal. I will live. I’ll just come back tomorrow.


2. A love for my country

When you first leave your country, you’re super ready to experience a new place. In my case, I was a bit disillusioned by my country when I left.

Yet no country is perfect. As you live in your new home more and more, you find things that they do better and you find things that your country does better. You start to see the things that make your culture uniquely itself and are proud of that.

I never really realized how hard-working Americans were until I moved away. We have accomplished some really great things as a people. Things such as Google and Facebook that people use everyday come out of the United States. I mean Silicon Valley … is just a place like none other. We are innovative and creative. We love the idea that if you work hard, you will succeed. I never really appreciated this mentality until I moved away. I hope to take this mentality of hard work with me wherever I go.

I still have a very long list of things I think the United States could do way better. I do not think my country is perfect and certainly do not think it is any better or more free than another. However moving abroad helped me to appreciate all the good things about the United States a little bit more.

polaroid images of woman in spain

3. To speak English slowly to foreigners

Speaking a second language can be super challenging. When you’re first starting out, it can be almost impossible to understand people as they seem to speak so fast. In my journey with Spanish, I have been on the receiving end of this. Someone says something super fast and I’m just left like “que?”

These experiences have hence influenced how I speak English with people who speak it as a second language. Here in Spain, lots of Spanish people want to practice English with me since it’s my native language. When speaking with them, I always make a conscious effort to speak slowly and more clearly. I know that when it’s not your first language, it’s harder to understand fully.

I know I will take this with me wherever I go. Whether it’s speaking English with Spaniards, speaking English in a different European country or speaking English with foreigners living in the United States, I always intend to speak slowly and clearly. I hope that’s something you all can remember to do as well when you interact with foreigners. They will be forever grateful when you do.


4. How to treat foreigners better

Overall, Spanish people have been incredibly nice and friendly. However there have been some situations where I felt that people pre-judged me or treated me differently because I’m not from Spain. People assume things about me because I’m American as well. I suppose it’s a blessing and a curse that the whole world watches our movies.

While I don’t think I was ever rude to a foreigner in my own country, this experience will help me to be extra nice and helpful to the foreigners in my own community. I will shed any preconceived notions about them based on where they are from. I now know what it’s like to be new in a different land, which will help me to help other foreigners.


5. To not assume

As a foreigner, I find that people assume a lot of things about me before knowing. People always first ask me if I’m a student as many Americans study in Spain. Sometimes they assume I don’t speak any Spanish because I’m a foreigner. Then when they do find out I speak it, they assume I learned it in Spain (also wrong … I learned it in the US with the Hispanic community in my city). Overall, I just find there can be a lot of assumptions made about me because of where I’m from. Again, it doesn’t help that our culture is all over the world.

I could do these very same things about foreigners who I meet. I could assume that they don’t speak English. I could assume that all Spanish people I meet support bullfighting and speak loudly. However I simply don’t know until I meet the person.

Every person comes from a culture with stereotypes. However that doesn’t mean that that person fits that stereotype. We are all individuals, after all. So as I move forward, I will assume less and ask more.

While being the foreigner can be super frustrating at times, I’m so glad that I’ve had this experience. It has helped me to see the world from a different perspective, which I will take with me wherever I go from here.



MY GOSH! Nina has really hit the nail on the head! I know from my experiences in Thailand or Bangladesh it can feel like you’re living under a microscope >.<!

Go check out Nina’s amazing site or visit some of her social media!

Well, time for be to board!!! Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram to find out where I am going!


Happy Travels!

oxox Annika


pinterest banner lessons learned as a foreigner


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *