study abroad lesson – what NOT to wear

By Erin Weinert – API Madrid Peer Mentor

Erin attends Ohio University, and studied with API in the Hispanic Studies Program (now the Spanish Culture Program) at Complutense University in Madrid, Spain during the spring 2010 term.

U.S. College Campus: Wednesday. 7:40 am. Drag yourself out of bed. Pull your hair back. Brush your teeth. Pull your sweatshirt over your head in an attempt to match your plaid pajama pants. Crawl down the stairs. Grab coffee to go and you’re out the door to class by 7:50 am.

Madrid, Spain: Wednesday. 7:15am. Shower. Do your hair. Brush your teeth. Put on jeans and a stylish top. Grab breakfast and head to the metro by 8:00 am to get to class.

Before leaving to study abroad in Madrid it never occurred to me to consider what not to wear. I was so concerned about packing the right clothes and didn’t even think about what would be “undesirable”. In the US it’s typical to see half of the students in my classes stuck in what they slept in last night for the entire day. Now Madrid was in no way a fashion show, but there was definitely way more effort put into appearances. This influenced my own behaviors and how I chose to dress while abroad.

I felt more compelled to take a look in the mirror before leaving for class. Maybe wearing pajamas all day is not necessarily the way to dress. When my parents would see me in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, they would often ask, “Have you given up the will to live?” I had stopped considering how I looked when I went to class. I discovered that waking up earlier and taking the time to compose myself made me feel more confident.

I jumped into the Spanish culture. As silly as it sounds, waking up earlier and getting better dressed in the morning was part of that leap. I am sure no one was fooled and thought I was actually from Spain but I felt I should show respect to the teachers, other students etc… It was a means of acknowledgment, and saying yes, I get it. Immersing myself in the Spanish culture meant considering even the smallest and trivial of things. It was a simple change to make me feel more accepted and included among the Madrilenos. So when you wake up tomorrow morning and have every intention on just staying in your pajamas, glance in the mirror really quick. And then maybe tune in to an episode of What Not To Wear on TLC as well!

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