Spanish Life and the Pervasive Influence of American Exceptionalism

I ventured to Seville, Spain in search of an authentic experience. I signed up for a full immersion program, foregoing dorm-style housing to live with a Spanish family and enthusiastically enlisting in classes where I am the sole international student. And while making a commitment to immersion transforms studying abroad from a prolonged vacation to a cultural experience, I found escaping American culture increasingly difficult in this globalized, interconnected world.

Like most Westernized cities, Seville has its fair share of American influence: channels show the newest Hollywood films with Spanish subtitles; the occasional Beyonce hit blares in the clubs; and a Big Mac is never more than a half mile away. And, while the pervasive dominance of America in the process of globalization does bring little pieces of familiarity to foreign soil, it has complicated the process of immersion. In other words, it has made me question the authenticity of my “Spanish” experience.

As a result, my friends and I made obvious attempts to escape our own Americanism. We avoided tourist traps. We traded bright trainers for platform boots. We bought cigarettes. All in the hope that the barista taking our coffee order would not default to English at the first sound of our accents and that our fellow classmates would refrain from asking us if we had voted for Trump. A part of me, admittedly, expected a struggle to separate myself from American stereotypes; being an expat from any part of the world inevitably comes with a set of preconceived notions and cultural oversimplifications. The part I did not expect, however, was the pervasiveness of these stereotypes in regards to politics.

My host family fails to eat a meal without the news playing in the background. Every night, the world news segment follows the weather forecast, and, most nights, the anchor recounts an action taken or a policy enacted by the United States government. Donald Trump has been referenced in each of my classes—social psychology and international law alike. My professor in a Derechos Humanos y Valores Democráticos (Human Rights and Democratic Values) course even cold-called me in lecture and asked my opinion on the travel ban. I am continually shocked by the knowledge the Spaniards have of my country’s politicians and policies when a mere three months ago I could did not know the name of Spain’s current president.

That being said, I am learning quickly. Today I could tell you about the history of corruption plaguing Spain’s transition to democracy and the distinct roles of the monarchy and the elected government. One of my classes focuses on Spanish law in the pre-Roman era, and another centers on the status of women during Franco’s regime. I am stumbling my way through flamenco classes and recently learned to carve prosciutto from the leg of ham that sits perched on my host family’s kitchen counter. Still, however, I remain unable to muster the same degree of understanding and confidence speaking to Spaniards about their government’s relations to China or contemporary history, as they could in reference to mine.

I came to Spain for an authentic experience, eager to learn about the culture and history of Spanish society. While I am experiencing Spanish life, I am also becoming increasingly aware of the American exceptionalism that is infiltrating all corners of the world. It is peculiar to think that leaving the United States has deepened my understanding of my own country, but it has. The entire world is watching America’s political moves closely and, while we must always remain in steadfast opposition to the toxic concept of American exceptionalism, we must also realize that the actions our government takes have profound implications and direct consequences at home, as well as abroad.

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