Week 5 onsite is fully in progress, and has honestly felt like the most normal week I’ve had in a long time. I’m not traveling anywhere this weekend, so I’m in a much more relaxed mindset, focusing on getting my work done and exploring my own city in great detail. While Barcelona has felt like home for a couple of weeks now, I’m really starting to hit my stride this week. This stride can lead to a more comfortable and enjoyable atmosphere, but presents various dangers that must be avoided. The last thing I want to begin to happen is to get in such a routine that I lose focus on my surroundings and purpose in being here. Slimbauch highlights this danger in the opening of his chapter, where he writes, “Most of us are creatures of habit. Our tendency is to do travel related things on automatic pilot, largely oblivious to the movements themselves and how they affect the world around us.” While I don’t feel as if I have become oblivious, I am slowly feeling myself taking for granted the countless countries, sights, and places I’ve been. Luckily, this self reflection and reading is putting me back on track.
While going abroad, you are really left on your own to decide what kind of experience you are going to have. You can drink more than usual, party more than usual, and treat the entire trip like a vacation. While students can do this, it will not serve any cultural or educational purpose, and will most likely result in the student not receiving a true global education. The next option is to thoughtfully observe these new cultures, ask to many questions, and put yourself out there in order to explore the world and yourself. The best part is, as students and travelers we are able to choose who we will be. Slimbauch writes, “we have the ability to whether our journeys will be mindful attempts to maximize benefits to ourselves and our host communities, or just another luxury item mindlessly consumed.” (74) With this in mind, it is important to know what we are choosing. A mindful traveler is defined as someone who “Approaches our field settings with a level of sensitivity and curiosity that raises our conscious awareness of how we affect social and natural environments.”(74) I have definitely tried to do that in my personal life by using a varying degree of strategies that have so far worked.
One thing that helps you separate yourself from a vacation atmosphere is to speak with the locals of the places you are in, which can give you a new perspective on your travels and interactions. In Spain, I have signed for a language exchange program. This has paired me with a local who is learning English, and will allow us to practice our languages out on each other. After getting to talk to them, I better understood Catalonian independence movement, attitudes towards tourists, and the religion that is FC Barcelona. On another occasion, I spoke to a taxi driver on a long ride about the varying differences between Barcelona and the United States. He questioned my motives for choosing Barcelona to study business, pointing out the country weak economy and the America’s impressive GDP output. He proudly told us of his dream to start a restraint in New York City, and how the American Dream is alive and well in the minds of many Europeans. This made me think about America’s power, and how I take our luxuries for granted almost always. While traveling, I’ve tried to speak to one local, with my favorite conversation being with a coffee shop owner in Amsterdam about gun control and women’s rights. An odd setting for that sort of talk for sure, but it gave an incredible insight to Dutch ideologies nonetheless. As Mark Twain said, “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.”
My second strategy on being mindful is self-reflection. Multiple times a week, I take walks on my own to make sure my head is right. After I get on the plane to come home to Barcelona, I document my thoughts, observations, and feelings about the place I traveled to, as well as writing down every funny moment that happened. This, along with these weekly posts, has kept me grounded more than I ever could’ve thought possible. I’ve never been one for self-reflection and writing, but it has significantly helped my experience abroad.
This picture I chose shows me looking over the mountains that border the rear of Barcelona. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit back and take in the view, and realize it won’t always be right in front of you.