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How to Be an American in Spain in Politically Tumultuous Times

American Expats in Spain

When I first pictured moving to Spain from the US for a year, I saw beautiful Mediterranean beaches, paella on every corner, and a daily nap that would leave me refreshed. I imagined my role would consist of playing with little Spanish children with big eyes; as their holas eventually became hellos. Although there are some truths to these common stereotypes, imagine my surprise when I found myself in a landlocked city (Zaragoza), teaching in the midst of one of the most politically tumultuous times of my life. It didn’t seem so easy to be an American in Spain in that moment.

American in Spain
Me looking through some of the traditional Islamic architecture in Zaragoza.

Trump’s Influence in My Experience as an American in Spain

Years ago as I sat watching The Apprentice with my mom, I would have never imagined that Donald Trump would become such a key figure in my life. Even when I first arrived in Spain, I had no idea how the current state of US would affect my daily interactions and experiences as an American expat in Spain.

I have always known that my country is perceived from a global stage. However, there is nothing like an extremely controversial election to get people talking and asking questions. It seems that every time someone learns that I am an American, the first question out of their mouth is “So what do you think about Donald Trump?

I will try to leave my own political affiliations and beliefs out of this because at the end of the day they are irrelevant.  Furthermore, I am not just representing myself in Spain, but my country as a whole. I am an American in Spain, thus an ambassador; a glimpse of truth into a world that seems vastly far away for the average Spaniard.

Why Living in Spain as an American is a Great Responsibility

Moving to Spain to live, during such a politically boisterous time around the world has been quite an eye-opening experience. I have come to realize that American politics and culture are the source of great debate outside of our borders.

Moreover, I have realized that most of the children I teach to do not know any other Americans in Spain. Since they are at such a crucial point in their development, everything I say can have a tremendous impact on the way my students view my home. An amazing mentor once told me that he never knew what take-home message a student would get from his class. So, he always made sure every word he spoke was something worth remembering. I find this to be even truer when I am helping to form the foundational beliefs that these students will carry with them about Americans.

Americans in Spain Can Help Break Down Stereotypes

Moving to Spain from US
Alfajeria Palace in Zaragoza with a colleague.

Spain has an incredibly rich cultural history, and many of these traditions hold strong today. The Spanish people are very proud of their food, music, and heritage. Zaragoza in particular is a “very Spanish city”. 90% of the restaurants here serve tapas, and most part of people speaks only Spanish. This is a massive shift from the culturally diverse neighborhood that I call home in Atlanta.

I am extremely proud to break down stereotypes and show the Spanish people that not all Southerners carry a gun, and not all Americans are the same. Discussions on immigration policy and racial tension in the states have led to discussions on Moroccan immigration in Spain. Something as simple as spending Thanksgiving here has led to conversations about racism and how it looks both completely similar and vastly different than it did in the past. It is a life-changing experience for me to see my own country from an outsider’s perspective, and to also allow Spaniards to see their home from the view of an extranjero.

My New Globalized Perspective Developed After Being an American in Spain

I am learning from Spain, and have developed a globalized perspective from my time here. In the meanwhile, I also hope that I am touching the lives of students and citizens alike. From conversations on Donald Trump, to conversations on siesta and why Americans need to slow down, we are talking and making the world a smaller place, one interaction at a time. I will always be grateful for this life-changing experience, and I will definitely never see America, or the world in the same way.

3 Responses

  1. This was such a great read. There’s so many stereotypes associated with each country that it comes to a point where we just need to laugh, Shake it off, and just remember to be a positive influence to the people around you and it will help shape their perspective of the people of your country.

    Also, I enjoyed the bit about “Not all people from the south carry guns.” I’m from the south, so people always ask me this. Every household is different, no matter where you are in the states. No one in my family keeps guns around. It’s not how we were raised, but many people automatically assume when you say “I’m from the South.” I just laugh it off and say “no” at this point. 🙂

  2. As a Scottish person, I think I can relate to this! When people find out I’m Scottish, it’s only a matter of time until they ask me about the Scottish Independence Referendum and what I voted…As much as I like talking about my country, that question can really open up a can of worms and it’s also quite a personal matter in my opinion! It was interesting to read about your experiences as an American in Spain because it reminded me of how I feel sometimes with political discussions in Spain and cultural stereotyping so thanks for posting!

  3. At the end of the day your political affiliations are not at all irrelevant. At the end of the day you’re either voting for a fascist America or a normal one. Unfortunately, our country has chose the first rather than the latter. I used to hate to be apart of political debates until now. Now it’s not about politics, it’s about humanity and being a decent human being. So, when you say that your political affiliations are irrelevant at the end of the day, that’s anything but true. I hope you stay in Spain long enough to experience world outside of the United States and branch away from your American peers.

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