As a student who has done two different study abroad experiences, I have found there are not only cultural differences between nations, but also major differences in environmental practices.
I lived in Alicante, Spain for roughly four months, and during that time I learned much more than just Spanish from my homestay. I was fortunate enough to live with Julio and Isabel, a retired couple, and their dog Greta. They opened my eyes to some of the excess inherent in the American lifestyle.
One of the first striking differences was the water situation. Hot water is not readily available for use in a typical Spanish household, so laundry was only washed in cold water, and then hung out to dry. My family did not even have a dryer. In the mornings, the faucet water was ice cold.
The strangest change involving water was showers. For starters, if I wanted to take a warm shower, I had to ask my host mom to turn on the water heater. Isabel would hold a lighter up to the starter flame in the small hot water tank, to heat the water. I typically had to wait about 10 minutes before she would give me the okay to use the shower.
Another difference was water use. I rarely was offered the opportunity to shower two days in a row. Usually it was every other day, or when Isabel was going to shower. The length of shower allotted was short, even for me, and I don’t take long showers to begin with. If I was in the shower for more than 10 minutes Isabel would knock on the door and ask if I was okay.
I asked my American friends if their homestays were the same way, and almost all of them said yes. I asked my host parents why they were so water conscious, and Isabel told me that Spain has always been that way in the south due to summer heat and droughts. It seemed so natural, why would people in an area with droughts have high water use?
I can honestly say, I have taken shorter showers ever since I studied abroad, and I encourage more people to do the same!