Before arriving in Barcelona, I knew that the people of Spain would look at me differently because I am obviously an American student. Walking around with my blonde hair and American clothing, I stick out like a sore thumb. It was not until a conversation with my professor Toni Raja that I realized how harsh some of these assumptions are. He explained how Americans are known to only own guns and materialistic things. That stereotype definitely upset me, because many people here think that we resort to guns to solve our problems. In general, Americans are extremely easy to find in Spain. We wear shorts when its sixty degrees outside, while the Spaniards are still in winter jackets. Boys are always sporting baseball caps, while girls love to rock the gym outfit even when they aren’t actually going to the gym. We talk loudly in the streets, order way too much food at restaurants, and spend more time staring at our phones than we do talking to each other. We couldn’t be any more different than the Spaniards in some ways such as these. This is a society focused on social time with family and friends, not focused on where they need to be next. The Spaniards seem to live life in the moment, which I think a lot of us can learn from.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t come to Spain with some stereotypes about the people of Barcelona. Barcelona is known as one of the party capitols of the world, so I came here thinking that people partied every day and used their “siesta” to make up for their lack of sleep. This couldn’t have been more incorrect. Most people in Barcelona don’t go out and party on a regular basis. The clubs are always packed, but if you look around the majority of the crowd is composed of international students. During my first week here, I remember my roommates and I were walking around mid-day only to find the majority of the stores to be closed. We deemed the Spanish people to be lazy, because who really needs a 3 hour break after only working for a few hours? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that siesta is actually an important time for families. Students are picked up from school, and return home with their family to eat lunch together and regroup before finishing up the day. All of my stereotypes about Spaniards were gone by my second week in Barcelona. I learned quickly that life here isn’t about partying and sleeping, instead it’s about family, friends, and just enjoying life.
I think that my time in the liminal phase was a little longer than I had hoped, but I know that I am now officially living in a Spanish state of mind. I have been able to let go of things that brought me down in the United States. At home, I was so stressed about what I had to do next, that I never remembered to appreciate where I was at that moment. I have let go of a lot of my self-doubt when it comes to pleasing everyone. Spain has taught me to enjoy all life has to offer, which includes myself and my surroundings. I experienced a heightened awareness of my surroundings, but now feel as though I have lived here forever. I walk down the streets and navigate public transportation comfortably. As you taught us, Laura and Mark, there would be a time where we became so comfortable that we thought we could live here forever. Well I’m there, telling myself every day to try and forget about how quickly my time here is dwindling.
Hafez Adel states, “living abroad taught me that stereotypes endure because they provide a comfortable shortcut to understanding complex matters and that they usually emerge to fill a vacuum of knowledge” (Abroad View, Spring 2009, Volume 11, Issue 2, pg 26-28). I think this quote perfectly describes the mindset of a student who is struggling in his/her new environment and deems it inferior. It is much easier for an abroad student to say, “our way is better,” and ignore the new experiences that surround them. As Slimbach states, “Local traditions and material heritage are important for anyone wanting to gain a deeper appreciation for another culture, and educationally oriented travel can help preserve both” (Slimbach, pg 85). I completely agree with this because as American students, the only way for us to truly gain from this experience is by fully immersing ourselves in our host culture.
The picture I chose to share is of a child playing with bubbles in Citudella Park. I was relaxing in the park around mid-day, enjoying the sunshine when this boy and his family came near me. It was clear that he had been picked up from school, and was spending his “siesta” playing in the park with his parents. Siesta is not a time to be lazy; instead it is oftentimes used for family bonding. This is just another example of how wrong we tend to be about the Spanish culture.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.