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The Student News Site of Saint Louis University Madrid Campus

The NewSLU

The NewSLU

Spanish Students Rethink Stereotypes of Americans

The growing U.S. student population in Spain means more chances to view Americans as individuals rather than easy-laugh memes.

Carma Emas, an IE student from Marbella, never had a lot of contact with Americans away from public spaces. Their use of selfie sticks at tourist attractions and apparent lack of self-awareness gave her the impression that they were usually touristy, rude and unlikely to share her interests in things like art, cooking, and having fun with friends.

Then, she had to sublease one room in her apartment to an American roommate. Her former roommate knew the U.S. native and set the pair up. Even though her new American roommate had a Colombian mother and many ties to Spanish culture, she grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, attended a University in the US, and had a multitude of American friends who she frequently invited over to their apartment to pregame. Emas and her new roommate were getting along very well and actually shared a lot in common, but she believed it was due to the American’s Spanish background, and was therefore hesitant to meet her friends.

“I did not think you all would be so nice, this is so much fun!” Emas exclaimed, while standing at the bar cart with her new American friends. “But, why are you guys in all-black outfits?”

Emas explained that the stereotypes she associated with Americans stemmed from videos online. “Honestly I thought that they were uncultured and they lacked manners,” she said.

“It is an overall idea that Europeans have towards them, simply because of the videos posted online of when they ask [Americans] ‘tell me a country in the world that is not the US’ and they don’t know how to answer.”

When asked about what types of videos she sees, she said: “Videos online, like on YouTube and TikTok. TikTok has tons where Americans know nothing about other countries.”

However, having an American as a roommate has reset this stereotype: “Seeing how she’s so nice and considerate and smart, and she was born and raised in the US, made me think that generalizing such a big group of people to one perception based on the media is wrong,” she said.

Emas also noted surprising attributes that her roomate’s friends had when she first met them. “When she invited over a couple of friends and they were all so nice and interested in what I had to say, and they were so considerate to learn about Spanish culture, that was amazing,” she said.

Emas is not the only Spanish person or college student whose views on American culture have changed or are evolving.

According to Apune, a non-profit cultural organization that offers informative services and support to American college and university programs in Spain, there are 300,000 US study abroad students who studied in Spain in 2017 (Apune). This number dwindled during COVID, but has since bounced back.

“We have more than 9,000 students from 160 nationalities this academic year at IE University,” said Juncal Sánchez, a representative from IE University. “80% of our students come from outside Spain and the US is the top country this year in terms of the number of undergrad and Master students on campus.” With an increasing number of American study abroad students, as well as Spaniards going “abroad” to the US themselves, more and more people are finding out that Americans are much more than the stereotypes they are held to.

Daniel Palacin-Frances, a Barcelona native who attended university in Madrid, decided to go abroad himself. He did a program that placed him as a student at the University of Virginia in the United States. For the two years since the program, he has been dating his American girlfriend, who he met there. “Before I met Melanie, I thought all Americans think that the US is the best country in the world and were entitled because of it, but that is not really true, at least for her and the friends that I made there,” Palacin-Francis said.

He recalls his time in Virginia and the other students he met there. “When I arrived people were so kind, and as soon as they heard my accent, which is very strong as you can hear, and I said Spain, they wanted to help me adjust,” Palacin-Frances said. “I didn’t get the sense they thought they were better than me because they were American, they just wanted to help.”

“People also think because of the movies and what everyone talks about that the US Universities are a crazy party place, and when you go there it is similar to that because of frat parties which we don’t have here but University life in general is not only about partying but also being involved in the community which surprised me,” Palacin-Francis said. “For me I feel way closer and more connected to UVA than my University in Spain because of the bonds I made.”

There are many stereotypes about the United States to overcome.

“Once I was in the USA and one American asked me if in Spain we had cars and pizza,” says Macarena Cobo, a student at San Pablo University in Madrid. She believes Americans do not know a lot about the culture of other countries.

“I view them as nice people, but the truth is I feel like the academic level is very different,” she said. She attributes America’s lack of knowledge about other cultures to the education system, but she notices that American students are trying to do something about their gap of knowledge. “At least so many of you are doing exchanges here,” said Como. “It means you all are now learning about our culture. Maybe you know more than I thought.”

A friend of Cobo agrees with her statement and also notes that she used to think all Americans were lazy because they live in cities that require people to drive everywhere. “But I just briefly met someone from New York who walks a lot there –she looked pretty fit to me,” said Julia Martínez, a student at San Pablo from Guadalajara, giggling.

Other students Carlota Cebrian, Bruno Rodriguez, and Jara Andía, all from different areas of Spain, have similar mindsets when it comes to Americans– they say they do not know much about them beyond the stereotypes they hear. Some of these include being “bad at geography” and “not knowing much about other places,” says Cebrian. “I haven’t met a lot of Americans, so it’s hard for me to tell what is true and what isn’t,” added Andía.

Bruno Rodriguez recognizes his biases about Americans and how they’ve proved him wrong. “I have met Americans and, I mean, they weren’t that stereotype but I wasn’t very surprised because I know that it is a generalization,” Rodriguez said. He says that often what people think they know about another culture is a generalization and only true of some people, not all.

Through an increasing exposure of Americans to Spaniards and vice-versa, these stereotypes can be proven wrong. Palacin-Frances and Emas are people who have had a lot of personal interactions with Americans; they no longer believe all of these stereotypes are true.

Even little interactions have the power to alter someone’s preconceived mindset.

“You are very nice,” said Andía in her first conversation with an American.

“Thank you,” the American said.

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