Culture Seeker Enjoying European Culture

Culture Seeker Enjoying European Culture

by Leesa Truesdell

“It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.” — Samantha LoDuca

Samantha (AKA Sam) recently spoke to me about her studies in Rome and why she enjoys European culture. She is an ambitious goal-seeker who has met the goals that she set for herself. She calls this her “self pact.” She thrives by putting herself into situations where she is learning. Her interview taught me more about who she is and who she wants to become while she is in Spain.

I met Sam in my Spanish class and learned she is also a CIEE participant. Because we were in the same class, I got to see a side of her that was eager to learn yet vulnerable at times. We only knew each other by name and whatever Spanish topic was discussed that day. I didn’t know who Sam really was until our interview. After we spoke, I realized how committed she is to learning Spanish by immersion.

Sam is dedicated, sophisticated, and takes pride in her appearance. Her skirts billow past her knees and she is always perfectly accessorized. Her authenticity shines when she speaks about her goals. That unique, authentic aura is why I wanted to highlight her favorite quote, which she shared with me after our interview. When I read it, Sam’s outlook was clearly reflected.

“Every one of a hundred thousand cities around the world had its own special sunset and it was worth going there, just once, to see the sun go down” – Ryu Murakami

Meet Sam, the European culture seeker:

Samantha LoDuca is originally from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin but, for the past five years, she has been living in Chicago. She went to Loyola University and, immediately after graduating, got a job working in HR at a large corporation in Chicago.  After about two years of working 60-plus hour work weeks, Sam decided to seek her destiny in Spain — a new life immersed in a culture that she longed to be part of.

Rowing in a boat in Spain

Why did you choose to come to Spain/Europe?

Sam smiled, “I always wanted to live in Europe ever since my first visit when I was 15 years old. I developed a love for learning about languages and culture after my family vacation to Italy. During my last year of college, while visiting Japan, I made a pact with myself that I would be living in Europe three years after graduation. I call this my ‘self pact’.”

What are your goals while you are here in Spain?

“My primary and most important goal is to learn Spanish. I would like to become fluent. My secondary goal is to force myself out of my comfort zone by integrating into Spanish culture as much as possible. I will do this by meeting and speaking with Madrilleños. Finally, I would like to get the most out of the teaching experience by making a connection with my students. I want to make an impact in their lives.”

Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?

Sam paused, “No, I have never officially taught. In high school, I worked as a tutor through Catholic organizations and in college, I worked as a nanny with a family. I tutored the kids in the family and worked for two years with the same large corporation. I interned my senior year, then worked for a year with the same company in human resources.”

What do you think teaching in Spain will be like? Where are you teaching this year?

“I am teaching in San Augustine del Guadalix. It is located north of Madrid. I am taking the approach of not thinking about what teaching will be like. I am not setting expectations for myself. The biggest challenge will be not to associate my past experiences of corporate job expectations. For example, how we are used to doing things the right way and at a fast pace.

American corporations care about efficiency. In Spain, they care if the job gets done, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the most efficient way.”

Why did you choose to teach abroad? Why did you choose to teach in Spain over other countries?

“Teaching abroad is a great opportunity to travel abroad and to experience another European culture. I chose Spain because I studied Spanish for eight years throughout school and I visited Madrid once before and loved it. I knew it would be a great spot to live and I could see myself living here.”

What would you like to accomplish while you are in Spain?

“In Chicago, I worked way too much. I worked 60-70 hours at the corporation plus 20 hours as a nanny at night and on weekends. I did not have time left during the week for a social life and did not take the time to enjoy life. In Spain, I want to accomplish taking the time to enjoy life. I want to take the time to be “Spanish” by going to dinner and socializing with friends. I want to have free time. It is time to learn how to let it go. It’s time to let go of the long hours and live a balanced life.”

What are your perceptions of Madrid so far?

“It is great and it is very different from Italy. They are both cultures derived from Latin roots but are very different from one another. In Italy, it was hard to connect with the locals for two reasons. First, it was hard to practice the language with locals because Italian people used English all the time. Secondly, in Italy, it’s hard to integrate into the culture.

They don’t accept you immediately into their social circles. You must not appear too willing or too eager for Roman circles to accept you. When they see you are not trying too hard, they meet you half way and embrace you. Because of this social dynamic, it was hard for me to integrate into the Italian culture in the three months I was there. Also, I was not very willing to give people the cold shoulder in order to have them accept me. I am a friendly person by nature; therefore, I did not integrate as well as I would have liked.

In Spain, the social barriers are different from those in Italy. I can be myself and people accept me into their social circles right away. Also, people do not speak as much English in Spain as they do in Rome. Here in Spain, you can practice the language. They appreciate you trying to use Spanish.”

What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came here? Have you found them to be accurate or inaccurate?

“I thought more people would know (speak and understand) English than they do. Also, I assumed I would be afraid to speak Spanish. I thought it would take longer to get over the fear to speak. But, after two weeks, I wasn’t afraid. I said to myself, ‘I am going to give it my best shot. I am going to try and if they don’t understand, they don’t understand. What matters is that I know I tried.’”

What has been the most difficult since you arrived?

Sam looked at me with a smirk, “I am going to knock on wood. I have not had a moment where I have been fed up. The hardest thing is adjusting to the Spanish sleeping and eating schedules. I am not sure how I am going to adjust during work or how Spanish people do it.”

“The Spanish eat their meals at entirely different times than Americans. They eat a small tostada when they wake up, then at 2:00 p.m. they eat a large ‘comida’ comparable to the American dinner but always more social. Dinner is around 10:00 p.m. For most Americans, this is typically the time when most are getting ready to go to sleep to get up for work the next day.”

What has been the best experience?

“I do not have one moment or one “best.” Retiro Park is my favorite place in Spain. Going to the park is a different idea for me. I would never do that in the States. I never had the free time to do it. No matter how you are experiencing Retiro, with people or alone, there is always something new to see or do. European culture is amazing and I am learning every day.

How do you feel about your integration into the culture so far? Are there things that you have embraced or are hoping to embrace?

European Culture“I have loved the integration part so far. I think I have a lot more work to do; especially during the next few weeks while I am on break before I start to teach. If I am not exhausted by the time I go to sleep then I am not trying hard enough to integrate into the culture. Other areas that I focus on are really recognizing that the culture is different by not reacting to it. For example, I try not to get frustrated by the unorganized, slow-paced government and European culture. I have had to work with them on a weekly basis since I arrived.”

Final Thoughts on European Culture and Studies in Rome

Since my interview with Samantha, I’ve been fortunate to get to know her more. Her desire to enjoy more free time this year reminds me of Lynnette’s goal when she first moved to Spain two years ago. She has a completely different story but the two women had similar goals once they arrived—to “chillax.”

Sam is a driven and determined hardworking woman. She knows what her goals are yet she is learning how to switch gears and take some time for herself.  The next time I check back with her, I plan to see just how immersed she has become and how she is enjoying her free time.

Stay tuned for more from Sam and if you want to learn more about European culture and other members of Dreams Abroad join us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.