Calle Asunción is one of the most popular streets in the area of Sevilla where I live. It is an adorable, clean paved street that is lined with shops, cafés and apartments. It’s blocked off to traffic and is filled with pedestrians at all hours of the day. (Except siesta of course.) Every afternoon when I get home from school I walk by passing mothers pushing their babies in strollers, kids rollerblading and riding bikes, young adults shopping and enjoying a beer at the bar, and older couples sitting outside having coffee. When I first arrived in January, I noticed that my presence there would turn lots of heads. I would walk in a group of 5 or 6 Americans, dress far too casually, and speak English loud enough to attract attention. Study abroad students who do things like these all throughout their stay are those who have gotten us Americans the bad reputation of “simply get[ting] the American college experience in a different time zone.” (Slimbach, 36) They are the students who are found at the international bars every weekend and make no efforts to mingle or learn from the people in their host cultures. If I were a Spaniard, I would probably judge them too. It’s really just silly to spend four months in another country and do everything as you would at home. Study abroad is more than just a quick getaway; it’s a whole new lifestyle and gateway into the global community.
As time has gone on I have made a big effort to blend and learn the ways of the locals. I walk alone often, dress in more socially acceptable clothing, speak quietly on the streets or use that time to practice my Spanish. I even wear sunglasses so people don’t see my eyes wandering as if I were lost or unsure of myself. I have made Spanish friends, talk to others, and discuss cultural differences. I take tips on where to go and what to do on the weekends, and speak Spanish at every opportunity I get. Even if my grammar isn’t perfect, I find that people are a lot friendlier if I try to speak Spanish and mess up than if I ask if they speak English right from the get go. I’m definitely not saying that I fool anyone into thinking that I’m a Spaniard, but I definitely feel more respected and less out of place as a result of the changes I have made. I think that if more study abroad students attempt to do these things; we can reverse the stereotypes and become more accepted members of the global community.