This post is by Taryn Glynn, a Marketing Major at University of St. Thomas, MN. During the Winter 2014 term she participated in the CIEE Winter International Business Seville + Rabat program.
While many college students around the world were enjoying their Christmas break with family and friends, I was packing my bags for a month-long trip to Spain and Morocco where I was going to study international business. Aside from booking the flights and packing, there was still a lot of preparation that needed to be done. First and foremost, this was my first time traveling outside of the country and I was excited and a bit anxious for the experience, as anyone should be. However, when two of my friends were also accepted into the program, I became less nervous and more excited for the adventure ahead of me.
When I told my parents that I wanted to study abroad in Spain and Morocco they thought it was an interesting choice of destination, due to the fact that I have studied the French language for the past nine years and studying abroad in France just made more sense. However, after some hours of convincing, my parents were onboard. Before I knew it, I was in the Madrid terminal with the rest of the girls from the program, waiting for our connecting flight to Seville. At the time, I was a little bummed that there were no boys in our program, however I have now realized that it was a blessing to have such a small group of girls. We all became so close over the past month that I would consider every girl a good friend of mine. I met girls from Boston and even a girl from my own school that I had never met before. If you asked any of the girls on the trip, they would tell you that I am a born and raised Minnesotan with an accent that sounds pretty goofy sometimes. I am currently a junior at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota with a marketing major and French minor. Other than that, I would say that I am a pretty average person. I go to college, play a college sport, have a part-time job, and get pretty good grades. With that said, this program was my first opportunity to really be independent and set myself apart from other American students.
When I was looking at possible study abroad courses, I initially wanted to go somewhere tropical and warm. Later on in the application process, however, I realized that many of the courses would not count towards my marketing requirements and traveling somewhere tropical would not give me the cultural experience that I believed Spain or Morocco would. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect from the experience. I could read all the pamphlets and informational books I wanted, but the real experience began the minute I stepped foot on Spanish soil. In Spain, I expected a lot of fashionable people speaking beautiful Spanish and I was not disappointed. However, I also saw a mixture of homeless people, gypsies, and foreigners on the streets. The one thing I will remember the most about Spain is the way that people interacted with one another. I was not really prepared for the way men would whistle and howl at me in the streets. I was also not used to how loud people talk, even late into the night. As an American, I value my privacy and silence at times, and I found it very hard to find this quiet time in Spain. Aside from the noise, Seville was a beautiful city. The narrow streets and orange trees are now an image burned into my memory that I will never forget. It was also very interesting to visit the different Spanish companies and observe how they operate in relation to an American company. I learned that Spain is a much higher context culture than the United States; thus, if I ever find myself working with a Spanish client in the future, I will want to make sure that I develop a good relationship with the client and make time for socializing inside and outside of the office setting. I found these company visits to be a valuable experience because I will be able to apply what I observed and inquired to my future career in business. This experience will, most importantly, help me to become more aware of my cultural lens and to actively look at the world from a cultural perspective.
My expectations of Morocco were most likely less negative than the rest of the students in the program because I have an uncle that was born and raised in Morocco. I was able to talk with him before my departure and he gave me great insights into the country and the culture of Moroccans. I think a lot of people have negative attitudes about Muslims simply because they dress differently and they associate Muslims with terrorism. However, after spending time with my host family in Morocco and knowing my uncle for the past 21 years, this simply is just not the case. The Moroccans were so hospitable and caring during my stay. They were always concerned with making sure that I was satisfied before they even began to worry about themselves. This just goes to show that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I also learned that you cannot judge the Moroccan culture by only what you see because there is a deep culture beneath the surface. Coming from a culture that is characterized by innovation and success, I think it was an eye-opening experience for me to live in a place so deeply rooted in tradition, religion, and history. The one thing I took from this observation is that the Moroccan people seem to be a very unified culture, which I think we Americans are often missing. Furthermore, this illustrates the greatest contrast, I believe, between our two cultures. Though I do value my individuality, I think it’s especially worthwhile to experience the collectivistic culture of the Moroccans and Spaniards.
As I sit here writing this blog, it is bittersweet because I will have to leave behind tomorrow all of the wonderful people and scenic views that have become my second home over the past month. From the flavorful sangria of Spain to the chaos of the Moroccan medinas, I am truly going to miss it all. When I finally land back on United States soil tomorrow, I will be thankful to be home with my family but also to have made all of these wonderful memories with such a great group of girls and staff. As I continue on with my studies in Minnesota, I will be especially conscious of the way I view people with whom I interact. The Twin Cities are extremely diverse and have one of the largest Somali populations in the United States. Likewise, the University of St. Thomas is becoming more and more diverse as well. Sadly, I have never really put myself out there to introduce myself to someone from another culture at school; not because I was fearful or believed that my culture is better, but because I didn’t know what to expect. I can no longer use this as an excuse because my entire experience abroad was learning to be uncomfortable in situations where I did not know what was to be ahead. Whether it was trying to spit out a sentence in Spanish to buy a coffee or visiting the hammam in Morocco, I was putting myself out there in situations where I did not know the end result. With that said, I have made a promise to myself that, from here on out, I am going to continue to put myself out there. If I would have just taken a backseat to the whole experience, it would not have been worth my time and I would not have become so appreciative of the values and cultures of the Spanish and Moroccan peoples. In conclusion, I have learned that simply being “open” to learning about new cultures is not as valuable as really putting yourself out there. Once an average person, I can now confidently say that I am still a pretty average person but with a much greater appreciation and understanding of the outside world. From my new global perspective, I see the true underlying beauty of the Spanish and Moroccan cultures, and I hope that the rest of the world gets the opportunity to see it and live it just as I did. Thank you CIEE!