As I have mentioned before in previous travel logs, Spaniards love to spend their time outside. Throughout Barcelona there is a plethora of placas where the locals go to hangout at the bars or restaurants and met up with others in the areas. Due to the high traffic that flows in and out of the placas throughout the day, as you can imagine, there can be a lot of trash even though almost nightly cleaning crews sweep and power wash these placas. Since I had an final presentation on the day of API’s Giveback Day where the students volunteered to clean a church, I decided to make a Giveback Day for myself when I had a free day. I went around to all of the placas in my area with a couple of friends and picked up the trash that was lying around. After class we brought trash bags from our apartment and went on a loop throughout our neighborhood to the several different placas and picked up anything we saw, filling the trash bags, and then throwing them away in their designated dumpsters in the area.
While these placas are not an organization, I found that it was just as important and valuable to volunteer my time cleaning them because they serve a special purpose to the community. Leaving the environment in these placas in a cleaner state felt great because I know it must have made the environment better for those in the area who were utilizing them during and after the time we were there. The stares we got from the people sitting and eating at the outdoor seating for restaurants were odd ones, however, we knew they were not bad judgment glares. It was simply confusion because you do not usually see people picking up garbage unless they are the street cleaners in the bright neon suits.
I think a huge benefit of volunteering, especially while living in another country, is that it shows the people of our host country we are there to make a good impact, not to be the tourists they are expecting. Service work demonstrates to the global community a sense of respect for others and the places we are traveling too. We are leaving our footprint in these other places in a good way, we want to aid the community we are apart of.
Just as mentioned, the experience of volunteering my time in the placas impacted my time abroad because it made me feel more connected to the community I was apart of. I felt like I was making a good impact for the people who accepted me and gave me there city as a home to share with them. The looks we got I took as a good thing because I knew that it was demonstrating how we were American students doing some good in the community because we care for it and it’s members.
A key point I also took from this experience was that the time spent during the volunteer activity made me feel more a part of the culture because I was learning and recognizing the things the locals did in these placas. The activity had me doing something outside in the city engaging with the local people, not just the friends I was studying abroad with. I will remember this for future ventures abroad, whether it’s because I am studying or working, in order to enhance my experience and learn about the community and culture I am. However, I will change it do the service more towards the beginning to step outside of my comfort zone when I already am far beyond it.
As Richard Slimbach says, “The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involved directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.” Considering it is the first step, it is one of the first activities I should have planned for myself. The service puts us out there in the community engaging with others, showing that as American Students we do not fit the stereotype they may have but we are there to be respectful and have a mutually beneficial relationship. As Slimbach also put it, “The answer lies within each of us who venture abroad to make a break with the familiar and discover a that distinctively, finally, for the world” (37). These service activities make our venture abroad feel worth while like we are doing something and making an impact even across the world.
The picture I chose is one of the streets in my neighborhood we walked down picking up trash and to the right you can even see one of the men who works for the city of Barcelona doing just as we were doing… picking up trash!