Moving to a different city means looking for a flat with new people to share one’s life with. It is usually a long procedure full of stress and ongoing analysis of possible variants regarding location, interior and fellow inhabitants of a flat. From my point of view it is also very important to have friendly and easygoing colleagues at home, as we are going to spend every day under the same roof. I believe that people living together need to share values and beliefs as well as interests to be able to get along well with one another in the long run. Toward the end of my stay abroad I can reflect on my flatmates who became familiar to me in a quite unexpectedly long process during the last few months.
In my case, having Spanish flatmates in Valencia was a condition for renting a flat, because I wanted to make friends with Spanish students and, what is more important, have the possibility to practice my Spanish language skills on a daily basis. As soon as I reserved a room in a shared flat with two Spanish students I was relieved and really happy. I could imagine immersing in Spanish culture by observing and learning some typical habits from them. According to a certain stereotype, Spanish people are open-minded and always willing to make new friends with strangers, so I assumed it would not be a big problem to become close with my new flatmates.
Unfortunately, I was wrong, as it turned out later on. In the first days of my stay in Valencia I didn’t get the chance to know my flatmates better, because they were supposed to arrive later towards the beginning of the new semester. This delay resulted in an even greater excitement to finally meet the Spanish boys. When we eventually got to know each other it became clear to me that we were not going to be good friends in any way. I felt disappointment and a bit of unhappiness, because Pablo and Hector were not as friendly as I had expected. What is more they didn’t want to integrate and preferred to spend time in their separate rooms after returning home from the university, rather than sitting in a living room and creating an opportunity for an intercultural exchange with me and our Austrian flatmate. As a result our contacts were limited to only small talks when occasionally bumping into each other in the kitchen or floor. After many weeks it became obvious that every time, I was the only one to start a conversation with them. I can’t say they were unfriendly or rude, but in fact and to my astonishment they didn’t want to integrate or to become closer with me nor with the Austrian girl who was also living in the flat.
It was even more sad when I heard of the wonderful friendships my fellow exchange students had with their international flatmates. They told me that they were hanging out together on a regular basis and spending nice time together on various cultural and sport activities outside home.
After 2.5 months of a peaceful but not commonly engaged coexistence, Pablo and Hector became more open and willing to talk to us and listen to our stories. In addition to that Pablo surprised the rest of us by letting us taste some traditional dishes several times. He became more talkative and expressive in our presence. Also, Hector started to spend more time in our living room on a common TV watching or discussing recent sport events.
I am not sure what caused the mentioned difference in their behaviour toward us foreign flatmates. I can only assume that they needed more time to become comfortable with the new situation and realised the big chance of making friends with us and practice their knowledge of English and German. To conclude I could finally become familiar and find common ground with my Spanish ‘unfamiliar’ flatmates. It also helped me to develop my patience and understanding for others who may need more commitment and a helping hand to overcome their obstacles in a socializing process.