I’ve been in Barcelona just over a month now and things are starting to become more normal. Schoolwork has picked up a little bit and I’ve started to make a bit of a routine. One thing I’ve noticed is that my Spanish is definitely getting better. I can pretty confidently head into a shop and ask for something and complete the whole transaction in Spanish. I find it so cool that I can do this after only a short period of time in Spain. It’s a bit crazy how far I’ve come in terms of comfort with both the Spanish language and living in a foreign city. At this point, I embrace being a little different from the locals. I have students from all over the world in my classes; students are from the US, Germany, Denmark, China, and even Taiwan. It’s interesting to hear all the differences between each of our cultures, but even more so are the similarities.
The individual I chose to meet with is Mireia, API’s Student Services Director here in Barcelona. She is a local from the city whose job it is to plan various excursions and activities for the API students. I chose to meet with here because she’s been a great resource and friend from the time that I arrived. She was one of the people I met at the airport when I flew in from Boston and she immediately welcomed me and the others to her city. I felt comfortable asking her these questions about cultural viewpoints and mindsets. This was an extremely important activity that I valued greatly after completing. It helped me to delve a little further into the local culture here. Most of the things we talked about I had had an idea about based on simple observation in the city this past month. But hearing from a local about these topics was very interesting and valuable. Being able to hear about a culture from someone else’s perspective opened my eyes a little bit to the world around me. It offered a viewpoint that I couldn’t have really gotten had I not spoken to Mireia.
One of the first topics we discussed was informality and formality. The people in Barcelona tend to be quite formal and a bit reserved. On the subway and walking down the road, individuals make little to no eye contact and have a very cold appearance to them. The way people dress is much more formal as well. Typical American clothes don’t really pass here, such as yoga pants or basketball shorts. The culture here expects you to actually dress nicely, especially when going to a nice restaurant or bar/club. I already had this idea in my head when Mireia told me all of this. It’s something that I had scoped out pretty quickly and something they had told us about when we first arrived.
Another topic discussed was independence and dependence. In the U.S. people are seen as children until they’re 18, and often times even up until they’re 21. Here in Barcelona, the children are given much more freedom and seen as adults earlier. She said young students often walk home by themselves and go to play on the playground without parents either. But in terms of family dependence, Mireia said the individuals are definitely more dependent on family than Americans are. This was something that was a bit of a surprise to me considering that on the streets it seems like people are very independent. She told me that kids value their families very highly and often don’t even invite people over to their homes, because homes are for family. Kids stay dependent on the family into and throughout adulthood.
In the Spanish society the elderly are greatly respected. This is another topic that I had an idea based on observation. Mireia said that many times the elderly continue to live with the rest of their families throughout their life. They are seen as the wisest in the family and help to contribute with parenting. On subways, I’ve noticed that people offer their seats to the elderly if there are no more seats available. Also, in conversation, Mireia said the Spanish people address the elderly using the Usted pronoun, which is a much more respectful pronoun than “you”. Overall this conversation was valuable and helped me to learn more about the culture I’m living in, and it also opened me up to other cultures; this was something I would not have known had I not met with Mireia.
One group of activities I don’t really participate in back at Quinnipiac are the government and program boards, such as SPB or SGA. I’ve never really given in much thought since I’m not a part of it. I’d say I even have a little bit of a negative viewpoint of it due to the fact that I don’t always agree with the things they promote. Sitting down with a representative of one of these groups would probably be insightful. I would probably learn more about what they do, why they do it, and the various challenges they have to overcome in order to get something done. I know meeting with someone will make me appreciate their jobs more and possibly make me more interesting in joining!