No, in Spain we don’t drink sangria, eat paella or sleep “la siesta” everyday… Breaking stereotypes and dealing with culture shock

A lot has been written about Culture Shock and how to help students face it. It’s a topic that is frequently present in the first days, even weeks of the students’ time in Spain, and sometimes for some of them, it lasts throughout the whole semester.

Milton J Bennett, Darla Deardorff and other professionals devoted to Intercultural issues and Intercultural Education have defined the stages in Culture Shock and discussed about reasons why it happens, strategies to prevent it, advices that can be given to students when they just can’t fit in the new culture and tips that Study Abroad administrators can use when dealing with students’ Culture Shock. Resources are endless and often used, but the issue still exists and it is an important part of any experience abroad that brings a lot of anxiety and concern to our lives.

However, I think it is a healthy situation that helps many students understand the process of learning about a new culture and coping with differences. As long as we have the tools and skills that are necessary to guide students along the process, they can make something good out of it. Culture Shock is everywhere, not only when you go from one culture to another one, but also, as I used to teach my students, when you go from one region to another one within Spain. Our History, uses, vocabulary, accents, vary a lot in such a small country!  We all need to learn about the reality of the “other” but also to pay attention to stereotypes and where they come from.

Do all Spaniards eat paella, drink sangria and sleep “la siesta” everyday? Can you attend a bullfight anywhere in Spain? Do we dance all the time? Is it always sunny and hot in this country? Well… the answer to all of these questions is, as you can imagine, no. There’s much more behind those stereotypes, but our students need to hear from us about them and find out where they come from, what is there of truth in them and very important, which are the stereotypes that go around USA citizens. Taking the position of “the other”, using empathy and learning with a cultural facilitator helps minimize Culture Shock and deal with differences.

Just give it a try.