Lost in translation


The concept developed by IE in Segovia is a unique one in the world, in that they gather students from 150 different countries in a roman-style city. And, while living here is generally peaceful, moving to a new place also entails having to adapt to the local culture, an aspect that so far IE students have not managed to do. Segovians and IE students have always had a complicated relationship in which constant hostilities arise from both sides — what we all call home is divided into two groups: students who stay for one to three years, and locals. 

The two groups have formed preconceived judgments of the other, thus making living together in this small city a challenge. How many times have you actually had a meaningful dialogue with a local? They can most likely be counted on one hand. There are numerous reasons for our apprehension of one another, the main one being that we are disconnected from our neighbors by economic, social, and linguistic-cultural factors, which leads to a lack of interactions between us.

It is not always black and white

The most significant demographic factor distinguishing us from our neighbors is our age difference. We must keep in mind that we are in the historical center of Segovia. Our playground is limited—from the aqueduct to the Alcázar—which is also why Segovia can feel suffocating at times. The center’s residents are mostly elderly people who have lived there for generations. Local residents were used to a peaceful and quiet place; however, this changed a couple of years ago when Segovia was “invaded” by international students who constantly party and make noise. The situation has sparked tensions as the seniors may be more sensitive to noises or are simply unaccustomed to them.

At the same time, going out, partying, and (for some) drinking are all part of the college experience. We are not doing anything wrong by living like students all over the world. And it’s not fair to be perceived negatively for having “too much” fun. 

In the end, this is negative for everyone. They complain, and as a result, we receive warnings and fines. Finding a middle ground here appears difficult because there is no such thing as right or wrong. It is simply two populations with vastly different lifestyles coexisting as a community.

An evolving demand

Moreover, there is the economic factor. Most IE students come from wealthier families than Segovia residents, leading to budgetary differences. This gives rise to one of the most sensitive topics among both groups: the rise in prices. Incoming students with higher purchasing power have increased prices dramatically in different sectors, leading to locals being unable to afford some commodities that they could easily bear before. An example is rental prices in the city center, which have skyrocketed in recent years. The average price for an apartment in Segovia is €962, which is way higher than other university cities nearby, such as Valladolid ($708) and Salamanca ($747). Due to the drastic difference between these cities, many argue that the inflated prices are due to IE university students’ willingness to pay them. So even though this is a natural economic phenomenon, it gives reasons for locals to be reluctant about the arrival of IE students.   

“These 18-year-olds can afford things my parents just cannot,” says a young resident of Segovia. 

Because we have more resources, we can easily do things that represent a higher burden for most average Spanish families. The clearest example is being able to attend a private university, something only 20% of Spaniards do—this percentage includes masters and undergraduate students. IE is internationally renowned and provides us with endless career options and opportunities. This type of privilege is not available at every university and may not be available to all UVa students. This creates a not-healthy relationship between both universities based on comparison, which results in rivalry and the perception of IE students as just being “pijos”—in English, rich kids—that intrude on Segovia. 

It may be true that we contribute to the local economy. Still, aside from making the owner of Irish a millionaire, we do not directly benefit many other local businesses. We tend to buy groceries in huge supermarkets, and aside from some restaurants that we go to from time to time, we do not support local commerce. We have ample opportunities, a higher standard of living than most families, and a strong presence in the city. So, even though it is not our fault and we do not do it on purpose, it is understandable that a jealousy-based relationship develops.

We got lost in translation

In reality, there is a significant cultural barrier between both groups. In the locals’ eyes, we are just passing through and have no interest in communicating with them or helping develop the city. We could have made it look like it, but it is not that students do not want to be involved with the local culture but rather that they are unable to due to a language limitation. Most locals do not speak English, and many IE students are not fluent in Spanish. This makes collaborating harder and gives the impression that we do not care about communicating with them. 

Besides the communication barrier, we live, celebrate, and even eat differently than they do. For some, this can be seen as us influencing or even changing Segovia. This influence can be seen in the change in shops in the city center, which now have a wider offer of international cuisine than local Spanish cuisine; another example is the high and increasing demand for clubs in the historic district. This is basic demand and supply theory; however, if it is not viewed from an economic perspective, it can lead to a sentiment of repulsion and unwanted change. It depends on how you look at it, but aside from cultural differences, it can be argued that IE students are only assisting Segovia’s growth (in terms of tourism, commercial activity, and local economic development) and making it popular or renowned globally. 

In the end, even if there is so much incomprehension because we do not share the same culture, education, and languages, we all share our love for this place we call home. 

While their hostility might be unfair, it emanates from roots that grew over years of cohabitation. In this sense, opening a new dialogue would be beneficial to both parties. We would all gain significantly from this cultural exchange, especially since another university is right next door, full of students with similar interests and goals. Segovia is a wonderful place, and working to improve our relationship with its people may enhance this experience even more.

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