This week will mark the first few days of orientation for my program in Barcelona. Since I have landed, I have felt as if I were in a dream. Yet my dream is now a full blown reality as I am navigating my way through this city. Since I am traveling alone in Barcelona, I have stressed the need to learn about my community, surroundings, and a new group of friends. The communitas of the program I am in (CEA Barcelona) is fully U.S. college students mainly from California. The fact that all of these students are from the U.S. makes it easy to meet others and feel as if I am back at home. However, the main setbacks from sticking solely to this communitas are that I will stick with this main group, publicize many U.S. traditions amongst young students, and limit myself to talking in English with locals. While there are some locals who understand or who know English, Spanish or Catalá is the main language that is spoken here. Thus far, most of the students have tried to practice some common phrases and words in Spanish. For the most part, their Spanish is limited to these phrases forcing them to stick within the communitas. Therefore, as a tight-knit group in a foreign country, we bond together because through the fear of the unknown.
The main reason I feel that I may adapt to the culture better here than most comes from personal experience in my hometown. Growing up as a kid, I lived in the Bronx predominately surrounded by people of latino or Hispanic descent. Spanish has always been around me, and I have friends who know, understand or speak this language. My exchanges in my Spanish classes and with my friends have given me the advantage to adjust to this new culture since the language barrier is not as bad. While my personal characteristic strengths of knowing the language and being open learning Catalán, I do suffer from some weaknesses. Since I am from New York, New Yorkers tend to be cautious and untrustworthy of everyone. Due to the high violence and malevolence in this city, this makes me very fearful of everyone. The so far the people here are nice and will help you, but like in all cities, there are tricksters that will try to con you. Overall, my cautious side may be both an advantage and disadvantage.
My personal strengths and weaknesses have both enhanced and inhibited my experience abroad. The main challenge I am having is trying to separate from home life mentally. Since I am more of an introverted being, I tend to stay within my comfort bubble of friends and family at home. Despite my will to immerse myself in this culture, I am facing homesickness because of the constant gawking from locals I get in town, and language barrier. One challenge I have already encountered thus far has been the time change adjustment. I definitely think this will affect when people have dinner when they meet up to hang out and when shops close etc. I know this will be temporary, but I want to make a conscious effort to be more flexible with this transition and go with my intuition with certain circumstances.
Slimbach talks a lot about how the transition to living in a new country can be tough. The main reason has to do with the perspective the student is taking on during the study abroad trip. There are many ways that one can use to adjust into a smoother transition, one of these strategies that can be the most useful towards my experience is cultivating personal traits to maximize involvement. Slimbach makes a good point in talking about how some traits will enhance your study abroad experience because it makes you a more open person. Slimbach highlights that “We can decide, for example, to enhance our knowledge base, develop additional skill sets, or adjust our motivations and relational behavior. In particular, the attitudes we carry with us can also make a profound difference in how we interact with, and what we learn from, our new environment.” In many ways more than one, the biggest challenge is to challenge yourself.
While I think I may be in between the disintegration and recovery stage, I am using all of my strengths and weaknesses reflective sheet to simulate better here. I am open- minded and free- spirited here than I would be in America because I am not adjusted to their culture. I am willing to learn their ways while also bringing exhibiting some of my culture`s traditions and patterns.
One way I think about having a “communitas” is right here living with local Barcelonians In many small markets and supermercats (supermarkets), locals exchange conversations. Some seem to be short and to the point while others dig deep into storytelling. The supermercat is one way to challenge to involve more interaction with the community, and to understand some Catalán and more Spanish. In general, people will help me and some study abroad students only if they feel so and are not too intimidated by our vast socialization. Below is a picture of one of the local supermarkets in Barcelona, as well as a bad picture of my roommates as we explore Barcelona together.
Slimbach, Richard (2012-03-12). Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning (Kindle Locations 3123-3125). Stylus Publishing. Kindle Edition.