Although I may not have noticed while we were in Spain, our class trip definitely increased my Global Intelligence. I especially noticed growth in my self-awareness, cultural curiosity, and empathy.
Self-awareness is crucial while studying abroad
Our trip to Spain expanded my self-awareness, particularly related to the scheduling preferences outlined in Erin Meyer’s Culture Map. Before we left, I thought I may have an issue with the lengthy Spanish meals, but I actually got lost in conversation without realizing how much time had passed before I got my food. I was surprised by my classmate’s complaints about the slow restaurant service and found myself content with the wine and atmosphere.
I usually get impatient when I’m hungry in the US, but I discovered after the trip that the Spanish and I are exactly alike when it comes to scheduling flexibility. We like to have a general timeline, but we are also comfortable with waiting when the timeline gets pushed back.
However, I will note that being warned in class about the slower Spanish pace probably helped me easily adapt and prompted me to order an extra appetizer when I got hungry. Nevertheless, I would not have known how easily I can adapt to another meal culture before this trip.
Don’t be afraid to be curious about culture
I also had difficulty embracing my cultural curiosity in Spain because I did not want to come off as another annoying tourist. In my former blog, “Is Tourism Destroying Spanish Culture?,” I talked about how tourism is increasing rent prices in Madrid and Barcelona, which causes locals to develop negative views of tourists. I didn’t want to be “that tourist” so I was a bit cautious at first.
Soon I realized that I don’t need to hide my personality just because I am American, I just need to make sure I am polite. With a simple “Gracias” (Thank you) or “Habla Inglés?” (Do you speak English?) I was able to communicate that I’m trying to learn about their culture, which made the locals respond with more patience. I was then able to learn more about their culture while still having fun (I even got a few free drinks out of it).
Stay empathetic, even when it’s hard
My empathy, however, was definitely tested during our stay in Barcelona. Our hotel concierge took his job way too seriously and seemed as though he had made it his mission to yell at every person in our group. We were scolded for minor things like putting our feet up, making phone calls too close to his cherished breakfast area, and trying to take breakfast items back to our room.
I decided to continue to be polite to the rigid concierge because the Spanish are more confrontational than most Americans. I realized he was probably just used to giving direct negative feedback, which may come off as harsh to Americans who prefer indirect negative feedback. He also may be sick of all the tourists who consistently break Spain’s social norms and come off as rude.
Without noticing, my decisions surrounding self-awareness, cultural curiosity, and empathy increased my Global Intelligence and helped me better enjoy my time in Spain.