Archive for January, 2010

Now that I’ve not only safely landed back in the states but have also already left Chicago for Providence, it’s time to think back on my experiences abroad.  One topic I wanted to touch on was what it was like to be a young American woman in Spain, and Europe in general.

I’ll be honest: surprisingly I encountered very little overt anti-Americanism.  Little more than two weeks into my semester, a professor during our orientation told us that Spain has some of the highest rates of anti-Americanism in Europe.  Moreover, it didn’t just have to do with W. but has roots all the way back to the Spanish-American War in 1898 (think Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from history class)  in which we defeated Spain and in doing so, effectively ended their centuries-long empire, making them a third-tier power.

Moving back to the fact that I didn’t encounter much open anti-Americanism, I want to point out that I’m also not naïve.  I know that had I been studying in Spain as little as one year before (during the election season and the Bush presidency), my experiences and comfort level may have been radically different.  Having been fortunate to travel to Europe before on vacation, I remembered going with my family to Paris or Switzerland during the Bush presidency and feeling sheepish to say that we were Americans.  Let’s face it–we knew the rest of the world did not look at us flatteringly.  This time around, however, I felt perfectly comfortable (and, you might say, confident) to say I was American and from Chicago.  As I held my head up high and told Spaniards or other Europeans where I was from, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  Especially when mentioned that I was specifically from Chicago.  I’d inevitably get “Oh! Obama!  Michael Jordan!  Oprah!” (or some variation on that theme).  Yes, for despite Obama’s homegrown poll numbers, the Europeans (and the Spanish are no exception) LOVE him.  It proved how superficial and stupid anti-Americanism truly is.  We have our faults, of course, and with great power comes great responsibility but quite frankly, the EU and its component countries have their share of faults and problems too.  And, what more, yes we’ve elected a MUCH BETTER president (no matter what people say or criticize) but we still are embroiled in the same problems: we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, we haven’t yet passed any type of healthcare reform, and our banks are still using government money to give each other bonuses.

Interestingly, many of the well-educated, worldly young Spanish adults I spoke to about this subject responded how anti-Americanism was a cop-out concept for people who were looking to blame their own country’s problems on someone else–a.k.a. the big, bully brother.  These people generally thought anti-Americanism was stupid and at times even defended the U.S. of A. In fact, a few times I encountered outright love for the States.

That said, of course anti-Americanism still exists.  Just because Obama is in office does not mean we’ve regained all of the trust and support we lost over the past 8 years.  However, I have heard horror stories about young students traveling or studying abroad and receiving awful treatment because of their nationality.  It was both a comfort and a relief that we were all (for the most part) well-received and able to talk about America and our backgrounds with pride rather than shame.

The one scenario in which America is still examined for all its problems is the classroom.  I took a Sociology and the Environment course and naturally the U.S. came up a lot because of our failure to sign the Kyoto Treaty and our massive carbon emissions, reliance on foreign oil and generally wasteful ways.  That said, I didn’t find that these discussions carried over to sentiments outside the classroom.

I will mention that despite a lack of overt anti-Americanism, it was still uneasy at times to make friends with local students.  The profound Catalan pride and use of the language is admirable at times (for those who don’t know, Catalonia or Catalunya in Catalan, is the region in Spain in which Barcelona is located and they have their own language, Catalan) but also has the potential to be exclusionary.  The one difference I will point out is that it is exclusionary toward any non-Catalan speakers and thus has no directly anti-American component.  You can be American, Canadian, French, British or even a Spaniard from Madrid and still come across these issues.  Frequently in a class taught in Spanish, students would make an argument in a class debate or ask the professor a question in Catalan.  For all of us non-Catalans (which was sometimes as high as 50-60%), we’d be generally lost and confused.  Occasionally the professor would kindly remind the student to speak in Spanish, but more often than not, they’d let the kid continue while half the class stared blankly.

Ultimately there were certainly challenges to being a foreigner but it was rare (if ever) that I felt uncomfortable to be American.


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