by Amadi Alegria
¡Hola a todos! My name is Amadi Alegria and I am a 21-year-old senior and part of this summer’s ALBA program here in Barcelona. I come from the University of Washington, where I am earning my degree in psychology. This is my last summer as an undergrad and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it. We’ve only just gotten started with our classes and excursions, but we’re already having a blast! Summers in Barcelona are beautiful and there’s something new to do every day.
This experience is unique for me because this is my first time in Europe. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to see Europe, and especially Spain. Now I get to spend five weeks in this amazing city. I was given plenty of tips from my friends and family about going abroad, tips we all hear: “keep a close eye on your stuff, be prepared for jet lag, make sure you have the right outlet adaptor…” All very useful advice. There are, however, certain things I wasn’t expecting and aspects of being here that have required some adjustment on my part. This is an entirely different country with it’s own culture. It’s important, I think, to try to approach a new culture with a very open mind. Rather than seeing certain aspects as simply “strange” or “different,” trying to understand and embrace these things will allow you to feel more immersed. And isn’t that the whole point?
There is one major cultural difference in Barcelona that was obvious to my friends and me almost immediately upon arriving. We got here on Sant Joan’s Eve. This is a celebration held at the time of the summer solstice and it includes fireworks, music, food, and dancing. All night long. I mean it, all night long. It wasn’t until midnight that we made our way to the beach to join in the celebration, yet there were families and children all still out enjoying the party. While it is true that this was a holiday that one you might compare to New Year’s Eve, even on any other night it isn’t uncommon for people to stay out until the early hours of the morning.
Schedules in general run much later here. Lunch is usually pushed back to 2:00 or 3:00 pm in the afternoon and many people don’t eat dinner until as late as 10:00 or 11:00 pm. We have sat down at restaurants for a 6 o’clock dinner and the place will be nearly empty. While it may seem strange to eat such late meals, some locals say the reason for this is because they don’t want to eat their dinner in the heat of the day. Tapas and paella are much more enjoyable after the sun has started to go down and the temperature drops. People are not always in a hurry the way we seem to be in the United States. Meals can last for hours and you’ll notice that the service in restaurants is much slower. This is a great opportunity, however, to appreciate time the way the Spanish do—to sit, eat, and enjoy good company (and really great food!).
Another thing we noticed was that, somehow, everyone seems to know that we are American. Even before they hear our American accents, we are handed English menus or are greeted with “hello” rather than “hola.” Maybe it’s the way we dress, or the way we gawk at the beautiful buildings, or perhaps it’s the metal water bottles that we always carry around with us. It’s hard to say. Regardless, this has given us an excuse to use English rather than try out our Spanish and has gotten us attention that we might not have gotten otherwise. It’s intimidating feeling like automatic outsiders. While everyone is very friendly, it has been more difficult than expected to adapt and blend in a bit more. For me, at an intermediate Spanish level, it isn’t easy to walk into a market and confidently speak the language. Everyone seems to talk very fast and it’s hard to pick up everything they’re saying. They seem to already know that I’m a foreigner, so I am constantly tempted to just use English. However, I can’t justify coming all the way to Spain and not taking this opportunity to use the language. It’s intimidating, yes, and I am sure that I’ll sound like a fool at times, but being here and living here is the learning experience of a lifetime. Trying to communicate with and better understand the people here and their lifestyles is the least I should be doing.
Studying abroad doesn’t have to be all tourist sites and nightclubs. It might be more about afternoons at the market or beaches late at night. Barcelona’s culture is rich and exciting, although parts of it are surprising and different. The city has so much to offer and so much to teach. We’ve only just begun!