One Student’s Perspective
By: Rachel LeWinter
Ever flirted with the idea of studying abroad but you’re just not quite ready to jump on a plane to a foreign country? OUTLOUD writer Rachel LeWinter has embarked on a journey to Barcelona this semester and will be sharing her experiences with you each month. Be sure to catch Rachel’s column in subsequent issues to get a glimpse of what studying abroad is really like.
As I sit on the balcony of my fourth floor flat with a slight breeze whistling in the background, I try to think of how I will describe living in Barcelona for the past couple of weeks. A few words come to mind: exciting, fascinating, consuming, impressive and indescribable. But describe I must, so here it goes, a small insight into life in Barcelona:
Culture: It’s everywhere. I often forget I’m in Barcelona because it has that big-city feel that I am so familiar with. The streets are packed with people; everyone walks everywhere; and it’s a busy city where something is always going on. Then I’m walking down the street and I look up to see a castle on a mountain, and I remember where I am. It’s incredible. The architecture is unreal and there is never a shortage of culturally-enriching activities to participate in.
The Food: Jamon, jamon, jamon. For those of you unfamiliar with jamon, it’s Spanish for hamóand if you don’t eat meat like me, you must resort to bread, pasta and more bread. I’ve never missed processed food so much in my life. Salad dressing? It doesn’t exist in Spain. Diet Coke drinkers must resort to “Coke-Light,” and if you’re used to seeing 0’s down the back of your water bottle, think again because their water it packed with extras. (Who wants sodium in their water!?).
Catalan: People in Barcelona speak Catalan, which adds an interesting twist to the language barrier. Just when I think I’ve got some of the language down and I don’t have to stare at people in bewilderment, I realize they are speaking Catalan and we’re back at square one.
Emphysema anyone? Smoking is to Spaniards what fast food is to Americans. Smoking on the street, smoking in bars and restaurants, smoking in front of your kids; I was even shocked to see store owners light up in a clothing store in the middle of the day. About a year ago they passed a law here prohibiting smoking in some public places, but I have yet to see it enforced. It is commonplace to see a sign posted with a picture of a cigarette with a thick red X through it, that is, if you can see it through the foggy cloud of smoke.
Siesta: Every day from 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. the city shuts down for siesta. At first I thought this was the most genius idea ever created until I realized that this cut my day’s productivity in half. If I wanted to get something done, I had to actually get up earlier.
Personal space and concepts of time: Ever spent 20 minutes trying to get the attention of your waiter. Or have the waiters forget about you altogether? That’s a daily occurrence in Spain. Spain is a no-tipping culture, which means customer service is not high on their list of priorities. Once you do get someone’s attention, don’t be startled if they are a little too close for comfort. I came knowing that personal space is nonexistent here, but nothing can fully prepare you for the closeness one experiences in the sweltering heat, wedged between a group of sweaty old men while waiting in line in the metro station.
American obsession: It’s no secret that the rest of the world doesn’t have the most pleasant view of America right now. If it comes up in conversation, most Europeans, as I’ve experienced hold nothing back when bashing the administration and everything they have done wrong. Yet it not uncommon to see someone here sipping Starbucks, eating at McDonalds or watching American movies dubbed in Spanish.
But despite some of the inconveniences that living in Barcelona brings (NO air conditioning and small living space, NO dryers, NO super-all-in-one Wal-Targets around the corner, etc.) I am absolutely in love with this city, the people and the experience. It’s so exciting to wake up everyday and know that I am going to experience something completely new and unexpected. Stay tuned to hear about some of my traveling adventures and more about life in Spain.