How Living in Spain Made Me Question My American Identity

How Living in Spain Made Me Question My American Identity / Parties during Lent: Balance in Spain, A Painting Holiday in Barcelona

“How can someone like Trump be winning in your elections?” asked a fellow hiker on a day trip through the mountains. “Why is the USA so dangerous with so many guns?” asked one of my concerned sixth grade students. “How can you celebrate colonization through a holiday such as Thanksgiving?” asked a friend while discussing holidays in the USA. These are just some of the questions I was forced to face while living and teaching in Ourense, Spain. While I have personally reflected on these issues myself, I have never before been faced with the expectation that I have all the clear answers.

Although I’ve had many formative experiences in my life, both abroad and in my home country, I was never before directly forced to question my cultural identity quite like I was during my year in Spain. It had a lot to do with the fact that Spaniards are typically very vocal people, even with sensitive subjects, and because it was the year during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

“How can someone like Trump be winning in your elections?” asked a fellow hiker on a day trip through the mountains. “Why is the USA so dangerous with so many guns?” asked one of my concerned sixth grade students. “How can you celebrate colonization through a holiday such as Thanksgiving?” asked a friend while discussing holidays in the USA.

Almost every day there was a different news story in La Voz de Galicia, Galicia’s regional newspaper, about current events in the USA. My coworkers, peers, and students sought me out as their source of information. Whether I considered myself to be the best source of knowledge on these events or not, I found myself surrounded by curious people.

While I gave the best answers I could, most of the time the questioner and I were both left unsatisfied with my mediocre reasoning. These questions are often wildly complex, and although it is not my duty to know the correct answers, it is my responsibility to think critically about them and have the ability to discuss them in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.

When you are born a citizen of one of the most influential countries in the world, you don’t get to choose to sit back and refuse to question your cultural norms. When living in another country, you are an ambassador of the place you come from, but blind patriotism is not an option. People will look to you for answers about your country’s morals and ideologies, whether you agree with them or not. While having a US passport is a privilege as a foreign traveler, it comes with the necessary and inevitable process of questioning your culture while experiencing another.

Through living in Spain and questioning my American identity, I have gained the confidence to be assertive in my opinions. I find it extremely beneficial to have these conversations from time to time, and I’m thankful for the experiences in Spain that allowed me the space to critique and analyze my American identity.

About Anna Waller

Anna WallerThroughout her life, Anna Waller has traveled all around the world, most recently while working in Spain as an elementary English teacher. In addition to traveling, her passions include scientific research, and she has worked on projects and publications ranging from physical chemistry to food market trends in Istanbul. Anna is currently pursuing a PhD in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois, but finds any and all opportunities to explore, travel, and create. Her current academic research efforts focus on sustainable solutions to malnutrition in developing countries.

5 thoughts on “How Living in Spain Made Me Question My American Identity

  1. Avatar
    Alex
    November 13, 2016
    Reply

    This is such an important post! Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on what it means to be an American living abroad and how that affects our own perceptions of our identities!

    Sometimes the questions asked of us can feel as though we are responsible for educating each and every person who questions the reasons for things that happen/are going on in America.

    From a fellow overseas teacher in France!

    Alex

  2. Avatar
    Nica
    November 4, 2016
    Reply

    It’s crazy how much people from other countries care about our politics and our society… I think they care more than most Americans. I became a lot more mentally politically involved in the past 14 months I’ve been abroad-I actually started looking up things to back up those exact statements I was constantly asked. I worked in tourism in New Zealand, with tourists from all over the world constantly bringing up Trump, gun laws, our politics in general, and our (to put it bluntly) ignorance, and I would be embarrassed when a person from a country thousands of miles away knew more about my country’s government than I did. I honestly can say that traveling changes not only your personal being but how you perceive your home and what you come from.

    Well said, Anna!

  3. Avatar
    Matt de Waard
    November 4, 2016
    Reply

    Anna, I too experienced this when I was in Liberia. They are tough questions to answer because in day to day life we tend to just except the political/social climate, especially if you come from a privledge back ground, because we don’t feel it as much as other marginalized populations. We live in strange times.

  4. Avatar
    November 3, 2016
    Reply

    Don’t know how Americans overseas defend Trump…I’m sorry, he is mocking democracy with his unthinking, bombastic remarks. Even outright insulting women, Muslims,Mexicans, etc. over and over.
    We just returned from Europe 2 wks. ago. We were in Barcelona…which of course is way more international than other Spanish cities.

    • Anna Waller
      Anna Waller
      November 3, 2016
      Reply

      Hi Jean,
      I never made reference to defending Trump. In fact I certainly don’t. I only refer to the complexities of US culture and identity and how it is now a unique experience to travel and identify as a US citizen while there are such horrible things being said and done back home as a result of his campaign. Oftentimes I was asked HOW and WHY this could be happening in the US, and I don’t have an answer to that. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
      Best,
      Anna

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