This morning, the Spanish director of the program where I am teaching International Management this summer in Spain told me that one of the American students studying abroad through the program had been injured over the weekend. The injuries were serious enough that the student is hospitalized here in Spain and had to have a series of operations to repair damage to a broken leg. The director offered no details about how the student was injured, and I did not ask for any more information that what he offered.
The day before, my students told me a different, more complete story. They told me the American student was walking home alone from a bar sometime after 3 am when he was assaulted by three Spanish locals. They also told me the student suffered a fractured leg and was taken to the hospital.
Why didn’t the Spanish program director tell me the entire story? If we were in the US and I were the director of a program where a student was assaulted, I would have organized a series of public communications for all students and faculty so that everyone would know what happened and could take steps to ensure their personal safety. That would just be good management. In the US we “tell it like it is” and place heavy emphasis on direct and open communication.
But we are not in the US. In Spain, they place more value on competence, control, and saving face than we do. I know the program director here, and he is a man of great character and integrity. I know that he must be deeply troubled by the injury to the student, but at the same time, he is the director and this incident cannot reflect well on him and his staff. It is very important for things to appear completely in order, even if they are not.
I’m glad I had enough sense not to challenge him for more details on his story this morning in his office. While I would not have hesitated to do so with my leadership back in the US, it would have been a mistake for me to do so here. Still, it troubles me that not all the students studying here know what happened so that they can decide for themselves if they need to be extra vigilant. But it is also entirely possible that he is having these conversations one-on-one with students to keep it low keyed and I am just not aware of it.
While no one deserves to be a victim of violence, the student made an extremely poor choice. Even in a city that you call home, if you leave a bar in a big city alone at 3 am you could be asking for trouble.