Coconut Culture

Ceci M. is currently a senior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Texas.

My host parents were high school sweethearts. They have had the same friend group for decades. They make an effort to go out with friends regularly and even include each other in family-based holidays like New Year’s Eve. 

Yes, my host family is special, but lasting relationships are not their invention. I have noticed that when it comes to relationships, Spaniards value loyalty over novelty. This value is indicative of what some people describe as a “coconut culture”—one in which relationships are hard to form, but once created, are unconditional. In America we’re more like a “peach culture”–quick to make friends, but just as quick to leave them for new ones. 

Spain’s coconut nature has made family life a breeze. Spanish families generally accept SYA students as one of their own tribe. Logistically (you live with them, eat with them, add to their water bill), we are part of the family. That inclusion is absolute and almost immediate. Thankfully, my Spanish family has made no effort to filter their habits and humor as they welcomed a newcomer. In my case, this transparency allows for deeper connections, and a beautiful burden: beyond my time at SYA, I will always make an effort to maintain, and even deepen, my relationship with my host family. 

Finding acceptance in friendships has not been so on-the-spot. Friend groups form early on and, as products of a coconut culture, can be quick to dismiss newcomers. Without the built-in common experience of going to school with Spaniards, I have gotten creative when connecting with people my age. Extracurricular activities have allowed for some consistent interaction. But I still felt like I was merely brushing against the coconut’s whiskers, and I wanted to form friendships that got past the shell. 

There is something about being a fruit on a foreign shelf that unites people. I always made my best friends at camp. The other girls and I were away from home, struggling to conquer our fears of the rope swing, the climbing tower, a five-day camping trip. Novelty and discomfort, but most importantly mutual encouragement, brought us together.

Making friends in Spain required me to find my own rope swing. It came in the form of “Un día aquí, un día allí.” This program, delayed because of COVID, involves hosting a Spanish student at SYA and attending their school the next day. When I met Vicky outside of SYA in the morning, the first thing we confessed, after our names, was that we didn’t know whether to greet each other in English or Spanish. We ended up speaking English that day and Spanish the next, taking turns practicing our second languages.

Vicky is ambitious but humble, she has a dry sense of humor, and she is honest, sometimes brutally so. We hit it off, and I am not sure this connection would have been quite so obvious without the common discomfort of being a fish out of water. But consistency is also important. Spaniards follow up, and I’ve been learning how to do the same. Since our exchange, I have continued hanging out with Vicky and her school friends, some of whom have also visited SYA. A few of them came to a small birthday celebration I had at Parque Grande. 

Vicky gave me a Spanish flag that all the girls in her class signed. It was such a thoughtful token, one that to me will always remind me of the joy of knocking around on the coconut shell and finding people who are willing to open up, knowing that, while friendship here takes work, it will last.

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