This past week we have had two days off from classes, as it was a national holiday… Do you know why? Me either. But I really wish I did.
Our university attracts students from all over the world. On campus, every student has an interesting and diverse background. 78% of the incoming students this year are international students, meaning that only about one-fifth of the students are from Spain. This creates a very interesting dynamic between being a student abroad in Spain, yet interacting with Spanish culture on campus seems to be a rarity. The phenomenon of not knowing much about the country we live in is something that my friends and I have dubbed to be the “international kid bubble.” This means that you could be living the same life in virtually any other region in the world and not be able to discern where you are.
This so-called bubble is much larger than I first thought. One day this semester, it dawned on me. I was walking into the tower and saw Isabel Diaz Ayuso leaving. I had a typical politic-geek-fangirl moment, and asked for a selfie. I came into class, phone in hand, ready to admittedly brag about the aforementioned selfie. But when I told my friends, no one had any idea who I was talking about. I really couldn’t believe that no one knew the president of the community of Madrid, let alone the impact she has had on politics these past few years. Granted, I spent a year of high school living in the North of Spain. This experience instilled a deep love of Spain in me, and more specifically, Spanish politics. Still, it came as a shock that so many did not know about such a relevant woman in the news today.
Is this just what happens when our university is tucked into a business park? Maybe it is a Madrid campus issue, as we are more easily detached from Spanish culture & people. Walking into any store in centro and I am often met with a “hello,” as opposed to an “hola.” I admittedly don’t look Spanish in any way, but it’s true that I could easily go days, even weeks, without speaking Spanish. This is true of virtually any metropolis, but it takes me back to the point that we aren’t tourists here… yet we often still are treated like ones. This issue has been one I have spoken with many about, including friends in the Segovia campus. Dania Espinosa, a second year Communication student, had an interesting insight, as she eyes the big move to Madrid next year. “Obviously it’s a little bit different in Segovia. You learn the ‘culture’ of Segovia just through attending classes in the school, the church, etc.” The historical aspect of Spanish ways is more pronounced in a town like Segovia, she went on to say, but these ‘facts’ she knows all come from just speaking with professors. “I would say it’s definitely an international school thing, I feel the same issues exist here in Segovia also.”
So who is the responsibility on? The students or the university? The not-so-sexy answer is both. It is on us, as students, to assimilate. The funny thing is, we are in a unique (and privileged) position where assimilation honestly isn’t necessary to enjoy our time here. This is where the university should step in, in my opinion, and make it seem attractive to learn a bit more about where we live. As hard as IE tries to pander to the international audience, it is a Spanish (for-profit) university at heart. To abandon this is to abandon its true identity, a disservice not only to administration, but to its international student body.
I want to set the record straight: I don’t think we need to know the capitals of every Spanish province or eat cochinillo daily. We don’t need to know every political party and what each stands for. And knowing who Ayuso is does not make or break your university degree (but is fun if you want to examine an up-and-coming conservative politician). However, I do believe that as international students who have been given this chance to study abroad, we must do better at truly living in the country we chose to live in. This means making an effort to learn about Spanish culture. This means knowing and understanding these bank holidays that to so many are simply a day off from school. The vast majority of IE students made the conscious decision to move abroad. This suggests a common thought: that most students have a curiosity and desire to learn about a new place and be fully immersed in all aspects of its culture.
Featured image by: Unsplash