Communication is Key


A little update before our regularly scheduled program: 

This past week has been filled with so many new and exciting experiences. On Wednesday, I decided to attend a new language intercambio. I was a little nervous to go by myself and was about to convince myself that I was too tired to go, when my friend told me to at least try it. And I am so happy I took her advice! I was able to talk to a few native Spanish speakers who were trying to learn English. From an outsider’s perspective, our exchanges must have been pretty silly because they would talk to me in English and I would respond in Spanish. However, as many students who have studied abroad in a country that does not speak their native language, this is very common. A lot of people in other countries, when they hear your accent, want to practice English with you because they know you’re a native speaker; so even in Ubers or at a restaurant, you can hear full conversations occurring in two separate languages, which I think is pretty cool. Also, this weekend my friends and I visited Oporto in Portugal. It is a city right on a river and I can confidently say that it is one of the most beautiful cities to visit. We got to walk across a bridge with stunning views, take a boat ride around the city from the river to the Atlantic Ocean, soak up the sun, and even watch the sun set over the mountains beyond the water. While we were only in Oporto for a day and a half, we definitely made the most of our time! I have to say, I am really going to miss these experiences and my friends after this program ends. 

Now… back to the regularly scheduled program: 

If there is one thing I believe everyone should know about me, it is that I really do live by the phrase “communication is key”. In my opinion, most problems can be solved with healthy communication (“healthy” being the key word). Although different communication styles are/should be used in different settings (for example a conversation with your boss vs. a conversation with your friend), the foundation of all interactions need to be patience, an open-mind, and respect. Studying abroad has made me realize just how important these characteristics are when it comes to building valuable relationships and adjusting to a new environment. 

Spain is considered a high-context culture. High-context implies that people assume that everyone shares a lot of the same knowledge and understanding. On the other hand, low-context signifies a culture that assumes that people have little shared knowledge and that everyone has a different reference point. The United States is a low-context culture, which has led to me experiencing a very different type of communication style in both my personal and professional settings in Madrid. One example of a difference in the professional setting I have taken note of is how meetings are conducted. For example, during school presentations or meetings at work back at home, the conversation always starts with the speaker telling the audience what they are about to talk about, then they explain the topic, and then they give a recap. However, during my company’s weekly Monday meeting with the whole office, we start by having the first person just jump into their announcements and then once they are finished and everyone has asked their questions, we move right on to the next person´s updates. When everyone has finished sharing, we all say thank you and leave. No one does a recap of the information shared or gives clarifications about what people have to do based on these notifications; everyone just understands what has to be done next. Hence, I was confused when I attended my first meeting because I thought that the CEO would give final comments or specify what would need to happen during the current week, but that confusion did not last long and I started to enjoy not having to hear a long recap of a meeting I just attended (would definitely bring this back to the US)!

I have also had to overcome misunderstandings due to the distinct styles of communication. While I knew before I left for my internship that the culture in Spain is considered very high on the low- to high-context scale and hence, I should have been prepared to not be given much information, it has been one of the more challenging parts of the culture for me to adjust to. Most of my communications with other co-workers or with my director involve me asking for clarification after being given instructions or asking another question after receiving an answer to the first one. This is due to the fact that I want to make sure I am completing tasks correctly and efficiently. Also, trying to ask questions to my co-workers over Google Chat because they are teleworking and the fact that our conversations are in Spanish make the communication even more difficult to understand and to assimilate to the culture. All in all, the style of communication used in Spain is not what I am used to, but I am happy that I am learning through this experience how to still have respectful conversations, even while I am adapting to a new culture. 

¡Hasta Luego!

Saoirse Hopp