Losing Space to Get Closer

Sarah E. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Potomac School in Virginia.

When you are in Spain, do you know when to greet someone with a handshake,“dos besos,” or a hug?  I didn’t either!  But it’s really important.  During my time so far in Spain, one of the major cultural differences I’ve noticed has to do with personal space. From the “dos besos” to the tranvia rides and interacting with my family, there is a major difference between how people interact here versus in the United States. Typically, you will always give dos besos and only hug with very close friends or relatives, whereas in the U.S. handshakes are the most common way of introducing yourself.

The gesture of the handshake itself is symbolic of the core difference in personal space. Handshakes themselves put distance between two people while the “dos besos” custom involves close physical contact. This idea is also perpetuated within typical Spanish households. For example, in my host family, everyone’s doors are open all day no matter what, whereas in the U.S. they are closed and it is more common to knock before entering.

The first couple of weeks I was hyper-aware of this difference, but what it actually did was allow me to be more involved in my new Spanish family. For example, one of the first memories I have bonding with my host mother was when she saw me struggling to put up my room lights and decorations and jumped right in to help me. Even now, when I’m studying in my room my younger host brothers will stop by to try to surprise me, or my host mom will bring me my favorite sugar cookies that you can only buy at the supermarket close to our house.

This lack of personal space and a decrease in privacy has actually allowed me to adapt more seamlessly into a new family dynamic, which was one of my biggest concerns coming to Spain. For example, on the weekends we all go as a family to my host brothers’ soccer games or visit extended family in the Pueblo. Even my host uncles, aunts, and grandparents are extremely welcoming which has helped me to feel less like a guest and more like a part of the family.

This weekend where I have my first volleyball game with a Spanish team, my entire host family is set on coming with signs to cheer me on. Even though it was a shock at first, now I’m appreciative of the decreased amount of “space” here in Spain because of how it has allowed me to integrate into my family. I am so grateful to have such an amazing host family and to anyone worried about this aspect of School Year Abroad I can assure you that you will find ways to connect feel at home just within the first few weeks!

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