As an anecdote, we always remember waiting for some “lost” student at the airport in Madrid or Barcelona who didn’t remember the meeting point or arrival instructions, and how we can identify them right away within hundreds of people. They sometimes ask “why did you know it was me?” Well, apart from receiving pictures in advance (sometimes a tricky help), after so many years of working with USA students, you develop a sixth sense on their country of origin.
One of the confessed expectations of USA students in a Study Abroad program is to be able to blend into the crowds and “become” a native Spaniard. Some students have a wonderful Spanish accent, some others have learnt about Spanish History, Music, Literature, even better than most Spanish students, some try to avoid touristic places and go only where Spaniards go… but at the end of the day, you can say where they are from.
Blending in is not easy. Fashion, as almost everything else, is also global. We all wear H&M, Gap, Levi’s, Converse, Nike… escaping from that standard outfit is a hard task. How can we help students? How can they dive into the Spanish essence? Is there any specific body language, vocabulary, common place…? Do we want them to do it? Is it really necessary to blend in order to learn about the host culture?
We all, international educators need to rethink about how we prepare students on culture shock and on adapting to a new culture; what tools are we giving them, to what extent it is necessary that they try to blend in or if it’s best that they keep their identity and just learn as outsider. We need to be careful that students appreciate the foreign culture and do not try to appropriate it, or results may be different than the expected.