Since the IES Abroad program has concluded, most of the IES Abroad students have returned to their countries, but a few IES Abroad students and I remain since we opted to take classes at the local university where final exams are imminent. With this remaining time in Europe, we planned to travel a bit more, but due to exhaustion after Semana Santa (literally “Holy Week” in Spain, where people get time off to participate in the religious festivities) and our final exams the day before we fly out, we stayed in Salamanca and enjoyed the friendships we've cultivated here with the locals. While doing so, it has been impossible for me to look at my home country the same way.
Allow me to explain.
I grew up in a family that’s very mindful about traveling. By that I mean, when we travel, we obviously do it for the joy of exploring another geographic place, but we also try to gain an appreciation of the local culture, be respectful, and really learn about the place. My parents have essentially trained me to be a good representative of my country. When visiting a Spanish speaking country, my parents would insist we learn the basics of saying "thank you, please, where is ____, and how do you say this in Spanish". If we forgot during our interactions with the locals, we would be quickly interrupted to begin again in the proper language. When in Rome... That’s why I’m hyper-aware of the “ugly American” stereotype: the one that says Americans are demanding and unwilling to see things another way. You know, “Why don’t you speak English here (while vacationing in Mexico)?,” et cetera. To be clear, I am proud of my nationality and the country in which my parents and grandparents were born; but sometimes, current events and exchanges can be cringe-worthy. For the duration of my time in Spain, I've tried diligently to morph my American accent into a Spanish accent because I want to gain the proper enunciation and become less foreign sounding. Even with improved fluency and a deeper appreciation for nuanced comprehension, whenever my diverse group of friends and I went out, we would be asked, “De donde sois?” and the knee-jerk reaction to “Estados Unidos” was “ohh Donald Trump!” and a certain look of disbelief combined with pity which, while incredibly embarrassing, really makes you think about how the world sees us. As a citizen of the United States in a foreign country, you automatically become an ambassador of sorts.
This isn’t meant to be a political post, but merely a commentary on the interactions of an American student abroad. There is real value in getting out of your country, experiencing a different culture, and realizing that your country, while an amazing one, is not perfect. Heck, I realized that before I crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but for some people, this is difficult to accept because the USA is all they know. For instance, when you want to go online in America, it’s google.com, whereas in pretty much every other country, it’s a country abbreviation, such as google.es (google for Spain). Another example? Country codes for telephones. Spain’s country code is +34, Italy’s country code is +39...and the United States? +1. My whole life, growing up, I never had to think about what the +1 meant because it didn’t really matter to me and my friends. Also, think about it; the USA usurped the "America" name worldwide. Canada, Mexico, and the USA share North America, so Mexicans are North Americans too along with Canadians, but they rarely referred to as Americans. Conversely, the opposite is true for the countries that comprise Europe because my four great grandparents from Italy are also described as European. Because the USA is a dominant country, we are groomed to believe we are the best and our ways are the best. My study abroad has shown me an appreciation of different ways, customs, and practices.
As we Americans live through this tense time and fight against many things, including xenophobia, my time in Spain has shown me people are people- just as in the USA. There are friendly, kind, religious, funny, compassionate, quirky, impatient, talented, and a even a few rude people in every country. No country or group of people has a monopoly on nice decent people. Spain has a variety of people with old world architecture that makes you feel like you have stepped back in time. The immersion into this beautiful language, land, and culture will be missed, but I miss America, the melting pot which allowed my Italian American father and African American mother to meet, fall in love, and marry. More than ever, I urge you to be aware of politics and not only how they affect the US, but the world. We’re more interconnected than ever: and everyone’s watching (and rooting for us). I recommend getting out of your comfort zone and studying a semester abroad to not only learn another language and culture, but also gain a new perspective and appreciation for the blessings we have as Americans.
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<p>Hi! I’m a junior attending Colgate University. I’m majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish – I practice it whenever I can! As a multicultural student (half black and half Italian), I consider myself a city girl and am drawn to vibrant, diverse areas. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, traveling, going to the beach, and watching or playing sports. I can’t wait to head to Salamanca, sharpen up my Spanish and share my adventures!</p>