Travel Log 5: ” Conversations” by Kristen Sullivan. Barcelona, Spain

After officially being here for a month, Barcelona has begun to feel like my home. I absolutely fallen in love with the city and I can’t imagine living anywhere more amazing.  Waking up to Sagrada Familia out my window every morning is amazing. I love the sounds, smells, sights, and people. Two weeks ago, my study abroad program contacted us and asked if we were interested in having a language exchange partner who lives in Barcelona.  I was so excited they set us up with this opportunity to have a relationship with a Spanish student my age. I have found that it is hard to get to know the local people here because some of them have diverse opinions on Americans. Although we have made an effort with our neighbors and other students, eaten at local places, and participated in local events such as Diada Nacional de Catalunya, I feel like it has been hard to make deeper connections. Our program leaders have told us that people in Barcelona aren’t interested in small talk like Americans are and are committed to long term, meaningful relationships. I rarely had someone on the Metro or at a café strike up a conversation with me even when I am alone and I try to make an effort. It is very different than America in that respect.

I am so lucky to have Silvia. It’s so refreshing to have someone that takes an interest in the American culture. She genuinely wanted to hear about my home life, family, and friends. Even more importantly, it was so nice to hear about Barcelona from a local’s point of view. Her English was perfect and it made me feel annoyed with myself for only speaking one language. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, and English. I have found that most people in Europe speak multiple languages and maybe that is one of the reasons they get annoyed with Americans because we expect everyone to speak English. She explained to me how in school they learn Catalan, Spanish and English here. She said, “Catalan is the language that most people speak here, but the Spanish government forces the schools to teach Spanish because they refuse Catalonia has its own society.” Most schools also require English as well. It is crazy to think in America how little emphasis we put on learning other languages and how we solely rely on English. I feel like when you learn a new language you gain insight into a whole new culture and gain a new piece of the world.

She further enforced what our program leaders had told us about the people in Barcelona. She said, “Very close relationships are what is important especially in the generations older than me.” This made me think that maybe her generation makes more of an effort to make small talk and meet people outside of the close-knit Catalan community, but it seems as though it is still a work in progress. In American culture, we will strike up a conversation with almost anyone for networking purposes even if nothing comes of the conversation.

We talked a lot about how important family is to both of us and exchanged stories about our families and friends. One thing that she said that was really interesting was that their idea of time and work is so different than in American culture. She said “We love to relax and spend our time eating and drinking. Our lives are not all about working.” This shocked me. In the United States we are so focused on working and our lives revolve around being busy and face-paced. In Spain, they enjoy their time sleeping, socializing, and eating. It is not rushed and it is an important part of their culture.

To enforce that part of the culture, we went to a restaurant for “tapas” and sangria. There they teach you how to make your own sangria and we were there for hours really enjoying our time. This would never happen in America. It was so much fun and the people in the restaurant were so friendly to me because I was with a local and trying to speak Spanish. It is so important to hear about different viewpoints in order not to be ethnocentric and to why things are the way they are. It helps give more insight and perspective and leads to a greater understanding of the culture.

When thinking about home campus life there are some groups I don’t participate in. One group I don’t participate in is Intramural sports. I feel like I don’t have enough time in my schedule for it and it is not something I thought I was interested in. Now seeing how the Spanish people enjoy socializing and doing recreational things it makes me realize that it may be a good social outlet and stress reliever. It might be something I look into when I get home.

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