O sea

Word of the week:  This one is more of a filler phrase, but I had never heard it before, and now I hear it every day. So it might help you sound a little more like a native speaker, which is never a bad thing. O sea is used as a filler in a similar manner to “like”, but more specifically it is used in situations in the context of “that is to say”. An example might be: “All of us are coming to the restaurant tonight, o sea, six of us.” 

Throughout my time in Spain, I have been making an intentional effort to engage in more conversations than I usually tend to. After dinner with my host family, which is usually around an hour of conversation, I linger at the table, or watch post-dinner TV, like the nightly news or the game show Pasapalabras. The same goes for work: I will always choose lunch with my coworkers over lunch by myself. I ask questions at work, and start up casual cubicle conversations. Not only is my Spanish improving, but my listening and storytelling are as well. These skills are vital for understanding and connecting with people. In a situation where I have less confidence and comfort, sometimes it’s hard to engage. Since I am not a native speaker, this puts me at a disadvantage. I´m not able to express my humorous side as effectively, I don´t know many colloquialisms, and my slower pace of speech could be boring for some people. But, it’s the only way to get better. Hopefully I’ll get my personality back. 

Choosing to speak in Spanish with family and coworkers also means choosing to engage with discomfort in a productive way. I’m sure discomfort is a familiar feeling for many people; palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy (moms spaghetti). When you’re feeling out of place, it’s really easy to walk away. It’s not quite as easy to approach discomfort as a friend. In reality, though, it is a friend. Specifically, it’s the tough love friend, who might humble you, but will tell you exactly what you need to hear to become a better person. Discomfort makes you feel like you’re not in control. While you might not be able to control your circumstances, you choose how to respond. Entering adulthood, it’s likely there will be more situations that bring me discomfort: navigating a new workplace, finding an apartment, living in a new city, etc. Having faced similar challenges, and having strategies to cope, will help me out in the future. 

I have also developed skills that are more specific to my internship, which has, up until the halfway point, been focused on the research process and academic writing. We are working on a project called GoNexus, which researches the WEFE (Water-Energy-Ecosystem-Food) Nexus, or the ways that these environmental aspects interact with one another. The skill that is most relevant to my future is the development of a framework that tracks indicator levels for different environmental health variables. To construct this framework collaboratively, we first created a scale that would indicate overall environmental health. Then, we picked a specific environmental policy, analyzed it, and selected its prominent objectives. Finally, we conducted a literature review to assign relevant and measurable indicators to each objective, so that its progress could be tracked. The current state of the indicator would be used as a baseline, and its progressive increase or decrease would measure the failure or success of the policy objectives.  

I have also learned how to write a concise summary of a policy. This helped me learn to write for the public, and in general, phrase concepts so they are digestible for certain audiences. I imagine his skill being helpful further in my career.

Although my supervisor is not involved in my daily, or sometimes even weekly, tasks, I understand why. The low-context culture of Spain invites people to interpret meanings and sentiments. Given my supervisor let me know that she had a lot of projects in progress right now, I intuited that we would not spend as much time together. So, I was able to move forward independently, and not spend time waiting for further instruction. Understanding cultural competency also helps me on a day-to-day basis, as I might not be told explicitly to go to a meeting, or meet with my boss, but the idea is suggested. It might be less efficient, but it would be a little too American of me to propose efficiency as the main objective.

The ultimate test of cultural competency was, unexpectedly, my visit to the emergency room. (I´m okay, just pneumonia) Unlike in an American hospital, which is often full of attendants directing patients to follow the signs to a certain department, or to fill out the following forms, the hospital was almost entirely self-directed. I approached the emergency room nurses and asked to be seen, when I was told I needed international insurance. I found the international office, made some calls, and after waiting for a few hours was able to be seen. After getting an x-ray and some bloodwork taken, the doctor diagnosed me, giving little extra information. Luckily, I assumed this was another low context situation, so I asked some more questions that helped me understand how to take my medication, and what symptoms I might experience. In Spain, you can’t be afraid to ask for what you need- otherwise you probably won’t get it.

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