During my time studying abroad, I usually didn't enter a conversation with the intention of being an "American ambassador." Instead, I talked with many people just as two friends might talk, only to discover that I taught them something without the initial plan to do so. For example, one of the most common things I ran into in Spain was that a lot of people didn't realize the "state" concept of the "United States." Whenever I told someone I was from New York, he or she would automatically think I was from New York City. I often found myself explaining that I actually live closer to Canada than to New York City, and that Manhattan is just a tiny part of the larger area that makes up New York State. Many people found this interesting and didn't realize that the division of our country into states is comparable to Spain's division into autonomous regions (like Andalucia, Galicia, etc.). Looking back at the past few months, I feel like I gave some Spaniards a better idea of how there is more to the U.S. than what appears in the movies; rather, it has regional and cultural differences, just like Spain.
As Americans, we're all used to hearing the criticism that we think we have the best way of doing everything. What I found funny was that as accepting as many Spaniards were, most of them felt this exact same way about their own culture. Many locals admitted without hesitance that they believe they have the best food, the best lifestyle, the best daily schedule...you name it. It was sometimes challenging when I tried to describe something about my culture and the custom was shot down because apparently, the Spanish way is better. It's hard to get upset about it though--it seems natural for people to prefer their ways to the rest.
Throughout the semester, I felt that it was my responsibility to temporarily set aside my cultural habits in order to fully understand others. Of course there were some aspects that I didn't like (losing the luxury of long, hot showers comes to mind), but at the end of the day, these are the little things that helped me learn about the real Spain. More importantly, the comparisons and contrasts I could later make between cultures helped me connect with my host country.