By Judiah Hawley
The culture of Puerto Rico is a really interesting thing. Every time they meet each other, all the men must kiss all the women on the cheek which sometimes can take quite a bit of time. I do it from time to time but usually with a group I just sit down and when people look at me like I forgot something, I just say that I don’t have time for all that acrobatic kissing around an entire table full of people with all the stretching and spinning. It’s not easy. But to be honest, I find the Puerto Rican culture to be incredible. There is an air of relaxation in everything we do (My foreign friends and I refer to this as “Puerto Rican time”). Let me paint you a picture of Puerto Rican time. One of the first nights, all of the study abroad students from other countries got together for pizza. It was hosted by Puerto Ricans and “started at 7.” I got there at about 7:10 and chatted with some of the other study abroad students and at 8:00, the Puerto Ricans started showing up. I think the event ended up starting at around 8:30. Yeah, it’s that bad all the time.
Also I think Puerto Ricans, or at least the students, are very academically impressive. The vast majority of them are bilingual or trilingual and often speak English as well as I do (I usually try to avoid English at all costs however). They are also startlingly well-informed about politics and world events. I think this stems from their many diverse influences, which, as The Cultural Iceberg theory states, directly affects how a culture is shown. I did a lot of reading and it has led to some awesome political conversations with some of them (as well as quite a lengthy argument about Che Guevara). When I got here, I really didn’t know much about Puerto Rican history or the economic situation here (which is not good) so I decided to start reading on it. I have read 2 books about the History of Puerto Rico and it has really helped me to dig into some awesome conversations about people with the real undertones of Puerto Rican life.
Puerto Ricans are indignant. They want change. Puerto Rico has been taken advantage of by both Spain and then later the United States but they’re not in agreement about the solution they should take. Many Puerto Ricans want to be independent and just as many want to be a state of the US. I think all of this contributes to a very interesting and very developed culture that I enjoy very much interacting with. To be able to interact with it better, I think it was important to read up a bit on politics, try not to get discouraged with the weird slang, and take 78% more time to do absolutely everything.
My name is Judiah Hawley, I had always had friends that had studied abroad but I didn’t think that I could ever do it. I had always viewed studying abroad as this kind of ‘off in the distance’ thing that only a certain few people in the world ever got to experience. I had a perception that for some reason it was unattainable. Then I asked myself why I thought that. I couldn’t answer the question. I think the only thing standing between people and taking that leap and doing something uncomfortable is just doing it. I decided to come here to Puerto Rico for the semester to test out my fledgling theory. I chose Puerto Rico for a shamefully simple reason…. I didn’t turn in my ISEP application in in time to go to Ecuador or Peru and through NSE (which had a later deadline), Puerto Rico was the only place that spoke Spanish (yes, irresponsible I know) but I didn’t think that kicking it on a tropical island wouldn’t be terrible for a semester either.
I honestly didn’t have too many expectations about how my time on the island was going to go but I had a few things in mind. The main thing I wanted to do here was just speak Spanish as much as humanly possible. I also wanted to find a decent group of friends so I could come back and have a place to stay in Puerto Rico if I wanted to. I found much more that that. I now have a group of friends from the PR and from all over the world and we’re already making plans to visit each other.
When I got here, I was obviously a bit nervous about living my life almost all in Spanish. I spoke decent Spanish when I got here, but I knew I was lacking quite a bit before I was fluent by anybody’s standards. This semester, I took all Spanish classes. This was quite the challenge because there has been a time or two when I was just there in class or hanging out with some friends with absolutely no clue what was going on around me (I suspect that Puerto Ricans have an ongoing, ever-increasing contest on who can talk the fastest) but most of the time I managed well enough.
The Puerto Rican slang here also has thrown me for a loop here. They call an orange a china, cut about half of the letters out of their words, and pronounce almost all r’s as l’s or some odd throat growling noise straight from a low-budget horror movie which yes, has led me to confuse quite a few words. All of these things made it, at least at times, a bit tricky but I survived. Other than the language, and the fact that my university has been on strike for a month (yeah not a joke), I haven’t run into many challenges at all. Everybody here is really open and warm and incredibly available to help others. I probably asked direction here more than I didn’t but I never ran into somebody that wasn’t happy to help. I think the best way to cope with the challenges of being in an unfamiliar place is to just ask questions. Every question I had about Spanish, I asked somebody; every time I got lost, I asked somebody and every time I didn’t know what I was doing, you guessed it, I asked somebody. I have a few photos, a lot of memories, a few extra pounds from the empanadas, pinchos, and bacaladitos and a giant, intimidating list of words that is probably too long to be learnable in this lifetime. More importantly though, I met a great group of friends that I’ll be visiting as soon as I save up money to travel again