Identity and Perception while Abroad

Me, my roomate, and my host mom out for tapas!

When I arrived in Spain, one of the first things my host mom told me was that I looked very Spanish. I have darker hair, I’m relatively tan, and pretty short- very similar to her and the general physical traits of a stereotypical Spanish woman. My roommate, on the other hand, is much taller and blonde with blue eyes, and my host mom immediately commented on how different we look and how “not-Spanish” she looked. My roommate and other friends who share similar physical traits to her have said that they definitely notice how people look at them differently and talk to them differently because they don’t look Spanish at all. It’s taken us all some time to get used to the way we are talked about as people who are clearly not from Spain, who Spaniards automatically assume don’t speak Spanish or understand it very well, when in reality, we understand the majority of what they are saying. 

Me and my friends!

After being here for several months, I also feel like I’m able to identify fairly easily when a person is a tourist, an abroad student like me, or if they are from here. Granada is home to a lot of students and study abroad programs, especially near the area where I live, so I always see students and hear English being spoken to and from classes. There’s a certain way Spaniards dress and carry themselves that is so different from Americans, that makes us so easily identifiable. Waiters will come up and speak English to us before Spanish and won’t speak to us in Spanish even when we say we understand. The couple of times I’ve been stopped for advice has been by tourists who don’t speak Spanish and need someone to direct them somewhere in English.  

My program exploring the Friday Mosque of Cordoba

That being said, my program has done a great job in encouraging us to have open conversations about stereotypes and the way we are perceived amongst students in our program as well as with local students and professors. We’ve talked about the stereotypes surrounding Americans and the way Americans perceive Spainiards versus the reality of the culture and people now that we’re here and experiencing everything firsthand. I am lucky because I haven’t experienced as many problems as a member of my identity group, however I have heard stories and seen firsthand how people of other groups have experienced issues and haven’t been as accepted. I think these conversations are so important and it’s so great that my program encourages these because it has helped me be more aware of the way I am perceived and the way I perceive others of different identity groups while here.