Unlike many Albion College students, Cristina Ybarra traveled much farther than two or three hours by car to get to school this year. She hopped on a flight across the Atlantic from Granada, Spain, packing almost everything she would need for the whole year inside a few suitcases. When she arrived, she was very far away from the bustling streets and excitement of Granada.
Ybarra adjusted quickly into her new job as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Spanish classes here. She studied English for many years in Spain, and picked up the language here very quickly. She’s also adjusted to her new home in Fiske, the house for international students. She lives there with all the other native-speaking TA’s and a select few language majors and minors.
“I really really like Albion, because it is the opposite of the cities where I have lived,” Ybarra said. “I have lived in Granada, I have lived in Andújar, which is a little town but with a lot of people, and it’s really busy all the time. It’s really noisy, people everywhere, and in Granada it’s also a big city where people are always going one way or another. I like Albion because here I feel the peace, it’s not noisy at all, and it’s not as hectic.”
However, there have been several challenging adjustments for Ybarra to the rather quiet life here at Albion, compared to living in Granada. The nightlife and variety in particular, is vastly different in these two cities, which has forced Ybarra to change her usual habits.
“In Granada, people are warmer and closer,” Ybarra said. “For example, one thing I miss from Granada is to go out in the night. If I want to have a walk at 12, I can go without problems with a friend. It’s safe and I can find a lot of my friends there out during the night. Here it is small, and I almost know most of Albion. The biggest differences are the noise, the size and the people.”
As a TA for some of the Spanish classes this semester, Ybarra interacts regularly with quite a few Albion students. At weekly conversation tables and tutorials, Ybarra gets to know a specific group of students very well. Many of the students, according to Ybarra, have become her friends. But at first, the barrier between teacher and student made it hard to really connect with them.
“[I love] all of the moments when I break the wall between the students and my friends, and when they become my friends and I can talk to them like normal,” Ybarra said. “Then we get to share our culture with each other.”
On top of her TA duties, Ybarra also studies Chemistry and has the opportunity to research with Cliff Harris, a chemistry professor.
“The moment when I discovered that I can have independence in the lab, this made me feel really good,” Ybarra said. “I didn’t know that I could do it. It was one of the best moments that I remember.”
Ybarra very much enjoys her classroom experiences here as well. The smaller class sizes and small-town midwest atmosphere at Albion means Ybarra has the opportunity to become closer with her professors.
Other than that, Ybarra thinks that cultural differences in terms of personal space have been a big adjustment for her. In Spain and many other European countries, their “personal space bubble” tends to be much smaller than it is here in America.
“You can’t touch an American very much is what we joke,” Ybarra said. “Many American people, they love to hug and things to get close to you, but I feel like I can’t do it with everybody. I’m worried they might feel like I am getting into their space.”
Despite the cultural differences, Ybarra has enjoyed her time in the United States so far, and is excited about spending another semester at Albion College.
“I’m looking forward to all the celebrations that I have never celebrated in the same way as [the United States],” Ybarra said. “Like Christmas and Halloween and Thanksgiving. I also am going to a friend’s house to have a real American Thanksgiving, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Traveling halfway across the world for a year to live in a quiet, small college town might not be worth it for everyone. But for Ybarra, the time she has spent here so far, making friends and breaking down the barrier between student and friend, has been time well spent.
Photo by Liqi Luo