Two weeks ago I took a nasty fall while wearing heels and walking on cobblestone. It was not a fun experience at all and I was sure my ankle was broken so I went to the emergency room to get an x-ray. I was ecstatic to learn that my ankle wasn’t broken but just badly sprained. This left me hobbling around for several days with a multicolored, swollen foot in a city where walking is the main mode of transportation… not my best week. However, a few cool things came out of this day. One, I got to visit a hospital in Spain and see firsthand what the medical treatment was like. (For a nursing major that’s pretty exciting.) Also, I got to spend a few hours with my program coordinator, Marta, as she accompanied me during my visit and helped to translate my conversation with the doctor and nurses. We talked for a while about lots of different things, and I noticed she was very knowledgeable about Spain, specifically the differences between here and the United States. So when I read the assignment for this week’s travel log, I knew exactly whom I wanted to speak with.
Marta was born in Sevilla and has lived here all her life. She went to high school and college here and now lives with her husband and 8-month-old daughter. She knows a ton about the Spanish culture and even speaks four languages! During my time with Marta, she told me lots about values in Spain in general as well has her personal thoughts and feelings on each of the ten culture contrasts. There were a few cultural differences in particular that I found interesting. The “materialism versus spirituality” value was a big one. Marta explained that people in Spain don’t have that much money and that brand names and materialistic items aren’t of major importance. This is something I have picked up on during my time here so far. At home or at Quinnipiac I always see people walking around with designer bags, shoes, clothing and brand new, big-name cars to match. Here you rarely see brand names on anything, so much so that I’m not even sure what the big brands are because I haven’t seen anything too frequently. This isn’t to say that people here don’t look nice and put-together because they absolutely do, they just aren’t dripping in Tiffany, Michael Kors, Vineyard Vines, etc. The cars here are all very old looking and banged up. I initially got the feeling that people just don’t care to have them fixed, but I now have a better understanding of the fact that they either can’t afford to or their priorities are elsewhere. Marta also said that there are many families like hers who spend the money they do have on vacations and experiences rather than items, but just like in the United States, how you are raised plays a big role in how you choose to spend your money.
Another difference is the “youth versus age” value. Marta described how family is very high up on the priority list in Spain, especially elders. Parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are to be truly respected. Due to low incomes, grandparents also play a major role in helping to raise their grandchildren while parents are working. It is common to live with your entire family here whether it is in the same apartment or just a few blocks apart. We also spoke about “equality versus hierarchy and rank.” She mentioned that again due to lack of money, the country struggles with equality, specifically that of the disabled. Although this is not really a hierarchical issue, I found it alarming how little opportunity disabled people have living here compared to in the United States. Marta said that there are not laws put in place for disability access to public buildings such as ramps and elevators. Also, mentally disabled students do not receive special help in schools. If they can’t keep up with a mainstream class, then they cannot attend school and college is out of the question. It’s amazing how big of an impact this can have on someone’s life. I can’t even imagine having a major disability and not being able to receive assistance. It’s truly heartbreaking to hear about the struggles of these individuals.
One last cultural difference I thought was of significance was “direct versus indirect questioning.” Thiedemen claims that the United States is direct, however I think that the U.S. is either indirect, or Spain is a whole new level of direct. Marta wasn’t the first person to bring this to my attention. In Spain you are very free to speak your mind without a filter. People don’t take offense to much here. For example it is common to tell someone they don’t look nice today or that they should wear more makeup. It is even okay to refer to someone as fat or ugly because these are simply words of description and not meant to be hurtful or mean. This is quite an adjustment. I find it funny to listen to conversations like this because it is definitely not socially acceptable in the United States. It’s cultural differences like these that make day-to-day life in a new country so interesting. I think it was important to take the time to have this discussion with Marta because it’s definitely useful to know what people’s values are in order to better understand why they do the things they do. From country to country, values are going to differ, and while spending a large amount of time in a new country it is beneficial to understand other’s priorities in order to blend with the culture and take different points of view into consideration. This idea is explained in the quote “In a sense, a culture’s values provide the basic set of standards and assumptions that guide thought and action.” (Hess, 47) I truly believe this conversation helped me to become a more engaged and educated citizen of the global community.
If I had to choose a part of home campus life to learn more about it would probably be Greek life. I don’t know all that much about sororities or what they do but I never really wanted to be a part of one because of all the negative stereotypes that I have heard. I think if I were to sit down with a representative and have a similar conversation as the one I had with Marta I would be able to better understand the values and goals of the group, see things from a new perspective, and maybe even reverse some of the negative ideas I have about them. This would benefit me because I would leave more open-minded and understanding and also benefit my university community because a social barrier could be broken down, potentially leading to new friendships and fewer prejudgments.
Study Abroad/ Learning Abroad- J. Daniel Hess