When I first arrived in Barcelona, I felt the glares from the locals everywhere I went. All of the study abroad students trekked through the streets with our massive suitcases, while speaking loudly to each other about what was to come during the semester. It was beyond obvious that we were Americans. During my first week of classes we were greeted by insults in the form of jokes by my Professor Toni Raja. He claimed that the American students were in Barcelona only to get drunk and hang out with friends from home. As Stephen Colbert said, “There’s nothing American tourists like more than the things they can get at home” (quotefancy). Toni says that it is extremely easy to pick us out in the streets because we tend to scream, make exaggerated movements, and carry the most materialistic items on the market. Basically, we are walking pickpocket targets.
It was funny because I came to Barcelona with intentions exactly the opposite from just going out and seeing only friends from home. I did want to experience Barcelona nightlife, yet I wanted equally as much to immerse myself in Spanish culture. Meeting locals and making friends from around the world was and still is at the top of my priority list. I will be honest in saying that it can be easy to slip up when sticking to these goals. I find that approaching American students is much easier than approaching locals, and therefore my friends and I tend to meet few Spaniards at social events. We have found that staying in hostels provides the best opportunity for meeting people from around the world. As a result, we spend our first night at every hostel sitting in their social bar area. I have met amazing people from all over the globe, and have heard stories that have changed the way I think about cultures.
In order to not only avoid standing out, but also to further enhance our study abroad experience, my friends and I do everything possible to fully immerse ourselves into our host culture. Whether it is in Barcelona or any other city in Europe, we try to do as the locals do while straying away from the tourist traps. Unfortunately this is another area where we slip up often. Tourist attractions somewhat take away from the cultural aspect of the country, however there is a reason that people want to visit these areas. It could be a beautiful Cathedral or a famous restaurant or anything in between; there is always a reason that people gravitate towards it. The strategy we use is to visit the location, and then immediately leave the area to relax or eat in a less populated area. Food is always better at a small hole in the wall restaurant than the Hard Rock Café, anyways.
The picture I chose to share is from the Carnival in Sitges. Although American tourists flooded to the Carnival, we found a group of locals and experienced the Carnival with them. It was a great night and we got to fully appreciate Spanish culture with no American influence. The Spaniards were impressed by our appreciation for this cultural experience. This further demonstrated that immersing ourselves in culture is the best way to fully appreciate it, while also being accepted by those who are a part of it.