Barcelona: Week 1

I just finished my first successful week in Barna (street-name for Barcelona.) I have accomplished many of my short terms goals (and a few are still pending, like my visa renewal.) I have gotten one English class so far, but I’m pending on a few others, so that’s good that I’ve got that cog slowly in motion.  Also, I met up with two people to do a language exchange (half Spanish, half English), and they both went really well. In fact, last night, I caught the thirty-minute train from Barcelona center out to Cerdanyola del Valles to go to a house party of one of the girls I met doing the language exchange. She and her boyfriend threw a house party out on this amazing terrace that they have at their house. It’s up towards the mountains, it’s got a swimming pool, and the terrace was big enough to throw even a typical American kegger.

I’m starting to really see the differences between the people I met in Madrid and the Catalans. It’s pretty common knowledge that the Catalans don’t consider themselves Spanish and are very strict independentistas. They have their own language, and now I can see that they certainly have their own culture. There’s nothing that really stands out in my mind that separates them from the rest of the Spanish nation, but they really take pride in their language and that makes me feel out of place. After having spent two years making myself as “Spanish” as possible, here, I have lost my Spanish identity because they just aren’t, well, that Spanish.  Even when I was sitting there listening to everyone speak, I felt like I was back at square one because everyone around me was speaking in Catalan. I can understand a few words here and there, but overall, I get lost and don’t comprehend. This will take some getting used to.

Their attitude is a bit different, I almost felt as if I was walking on eggshells. They don’t even want you to talk about Madrid, even the city, because they’re pretty anti A) the Real Madrid football team and B) anything Spanish and Madrid happens to be the capital, so there is a harsh rivalry. I don’t particularly like that because Madrid is still home to me. I am going back to Madrid on Tuesday to get all the stuff that I’ve left there over the summer, and I can’t wait to get back to my real Spanish roots. However, the party last night was overall a really great new experience and I’m sure Catalonian life will get easier as time goes on.

However, to contrast Catalonian culture, my three roommates are all Spanish so at least I know that when I go home, I’m back in a place that I’m familiar. Not to mention that my roommates are all fantastic. And two-thirds of them are Real Madrid fans, so when Madrid beat Barcelona this week, we were all quite content with the outcome. At least at home I can wear my Real Madrid jersey and not be bludgeoned for it.

Another positive: I thought that moving to Barcelona would require me to use more English than Spanish, but so far it’s proving to be the opposite. Since I’ve been going out with a few people, living with Spanish guys, and going to a Spanish university, I’m almost afraid I’ll never speak English. Even at my internship we speak more Spanish than English, even when the Americans out number the Spaniards.  Even just writing this blog, Spanish words are coming to my typing fingertips and not their English counterparts because I really haven’t done much English speaking since I’ve been here. I guess that’s a lie because I’ve been speaking English to all of the students, but combining my home life and my lifestyle, my mind is always in Spanish-mode.

However, the biggest difference in my life is that I can honestly say moving to Barcelona has been the best move for my career. The internship I have is incredible! In fact, it’s already so much more than I could have imagined. I started working on Tuesday at BarcelonaSAE, a study abroad provider that specifies in Barcelona and Catalonian culture. Rich, the director, has three interns (including me) and two Spanish woman that have been working on his team for a few years now. They are all wonderful and I’m really excited to get to know all of them better.

On my first day, Rich started to give me projects involving things I’m either good at or interested in. So now I’m apparently the groups unofficial (or maybe official) paparazzi, meaning I am in charge of all the multimedia. On the first two trips we’ve taken with the students, I had to take photographs and a few videos of the students to use for future publications and our website. I love doing this as you can imagine. So my first few days were spent in the office, working on a few flyers, setting up a few future plans, and getting ready for the students’ arrival. Thursday morning, I got up at the crack of dawn and met my co-workers at the airport where we picked up  the incoming students. I was so excited to meet them and see them and be apart of their first, initial impressions of Barcelona. It took me right back to when I did my study abroad. It brings back all the same exciting emotions of living in Spain and out of the United States for the very first time.

After we got the students settled into their new homes, we had them come back a few hours later for a small orientation. The following day, Friday, we all went on a hike to Tibidabo, which is the highest “peak” (no peaks when you’re from Colorado) of Barcelona. There, we got a terrific view of the entire city. I photographed the entire trip. After we reached our highest point, we went and got lunch on a hillside where we were prepared a typical Catalan lunch.  This included the “porrón” which looks like a bong, and is filled with wine. You have to drink from the spout and as the wine slowly drizzles out of it, you have to pull it further and further away from you and try to make the longest drip you can. Of course this results in everyone getting relatively soaked. Since we can’t have alcohol with the group, we drank non-alcoholic claras (beer with lemon) instead. Every student got to try it (and everyone from the staff, including me!) It was a lot of fun and I think I got a lot of great pictures of the entire group. Afterwards, we returned to Barcelona center and we all went our separate ways.

Yesterday (Saturday), we went on our first group excursion! We got to go to another city, Tarragona. After the hour-long bus ride, we found the city full of ancient Roman ruins all the way from a small coliseum to an old Roman forum. As a history buff, it was pretty incredible. Not to mention the gorgeous beach that all of this backed up to was pretty inspiring. After we took a tour (we were offered two: one in English, one in Spanish…you can guess which one I took), we went and got lunch. I had a great time just sitting and eating and getting to know the students even better. Finally, we were taken down to the beach for a half-hour and then made the trek back to Barcelona.

So my thoughts about my internship this far are thus: I love it! It’s been so awesome to get to hang out with other American students that are just as pumped on Barcelona/Spain as I am. Neither of us really knows the city yet so it’s nice to tag along with the group on these trips because it also gives me a better idea of what the city and region is like. The internship is seriously a job I’d love to have in the future. It’s thrilling to get to show a place that you are an expert in to other people that want to tap into the culture and history just as much as you.

Me on the beach. I can’t believe this is included as part of my internship!

When Rich introduced all of the staff to the students, he stated what the students should go to each one of us for. When it got to me (last but not least), he said I would be for questions and help about life in Spain. That made me feel terrific and very accomplished here in Spain. On our first day, we did take the students on a short walk (which included ice cream!) to show them the center of the city. There, we were talking about so many things about Spanish life, Spanish language, and Spanish culture, things that I had forgotten was even different than home. I’ve become so acclimated and accustomed to the Spanish lifestyle that these things the students were asking or had no idea about shocked me because they no longer seem different to me. This is a good sign I think. It shows that I’ve really gotten to the heart of Spanish life. And as we were doing all of these lunches and trips, I got to talk to every one of the students about something different and it was great having them ask me questions about the things we were seeing. Unfortunately, I don’t know Barcelona that well so often I had to say that I didn’t know, but if we were to take them all to Madrid, I’d be a well-informed tour guide, that is for sure

Now all that’s left is to wait for the actual master’s to start. But I’m really loving this internship so far and I couldn’t be happier to be here in a place I’ve wanted to be for a long time: and I’m not referring to Barcelona. I mean I am here to project myself out into the world. I’m here to learn and use these skills I’ve developed over the past two years and put them all to use. I couldn’t be more excited to keep going and keep learning. Who knows where I’m going to end up, but where I’m at right now, I wish it would never end.

Write more later,


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7 thoughts on “Barcelona: Week 1

  1. Glad to see you’re having a terrific time! Not so glad to know that you fell back to square one, though. But that’s not true. Even if there are “small cultural clashes” the people will be as nice as in Madrid, they just run on a different wavelength.
    Tip: Learn some Catalan (just some) to not feel “out” at parties, (because they don’t do that on purpose, they just like to speak in a horrible sounding language) so that you can go into a conversation and then they won’t mind changing to Spanish so you can talk (otherwise they’d be rude). So there won’t really be a problem, but I can see you might be worried.

    The internship looks amazing too, so work hard and learn as much as you can while having fun (the fun will run out when the real lectures start; beware).
    And I think that’s pretty much everything, eat, live and enjoy the “hip” life there, although you’ll miss Madrid, because we do it better here, haha.


  2. From what I’ve seen so far, Catalans are harder to get to know for two reasons – it’s a cultural difference, and Barcelona is extremely international. But once you understand more of the language (there are free classes with the Ajuntament) it’s easier.

    Plus, the flip side of the Catalan stereotype is once you’ve made a Catalan friend, they’re your friend for life. I’ve definitely found that’s true, even if it’s a bit trickier at first.


    1. Hey thanks for the comment. I’ve heard that too, that they are friends for life which is good. But when you’re all alone and everyone is speaking a language that sort of sounds like spanish with a few curveballs, it’s difficult to make those kinds of friends. But I’ve only been here for about two weeks so it’s still too early to really make any judgement. I know it will get easier. Again, thanks for posting.


  3. Good luck, Graham. I kind of hate that dynamic. It really sucks as an outsider, too. I mean, you go and learn the common language that everyone knows, castellano, and then you have to learn yet another language to fit in! There are some catalanes that will refuse to speak to those from Madrid in castellano, even if they do know it. I mean, those are the minority — but it still happens sometimes. Of course, there are jerks like that in Madrid too, so don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying catalanes are bad for that!

    And I think that people in CyL are the same, as in being harder to get to know. Luckily, they don’t speak another language, or I’d have been screwed!


    1. I haven’t met people that refuse to speak castellano, fortunately everyone has had no problem speaking to me en ello, but they just prefer speaking catalan. I guess it’s just something I’ve got to get used to. Also, that was just my first week and one group of people. Most of the people I know here are from other parts of Spain so I’m actually not seeing catalan too much. But you’re right, just when you think you’ve got the language down, you go to a different part of the country and te quedas en blanco. Also, they say that catalanes are friends for life, but they are hard to conseguir. So we’ll see. Anyway, thanks as always for the nice comment :)


  4. Hey Graham, I am new to your blog but now following. I’ve lived in Barcelona for 7 years now, and yes, it takes time to meet people but you will meet people. All kinds of people. Some are for only speaking Catalan, others speak both and could care less, still others refuse to speak it and only speak Spanish. It’s complex. But, I would agree that you should learn some basic phrases. I’ve taken the free classes a few times and got a lot out of them. Do I speak much? No. I mostly speak in Spanish. But, learning the language will help you understand the culture and help when you travel outside of Barcelona (to Catalan villages). Just like in Pais Vasco, Valencia and Galicia, the language here is another interesting part of the puzzle.

    I don’t think Catalans are all anti-Madrid (unless we’re talking football). It is important to understand the history of the place to get why people are still defensive about Catalan culture and the language. I’d recommend Homage to Catalonia by Orwell to start. Of course, you probably saw a lot of action around independence on Sept 11, one of the larger protests for the day. And sure, lots of locals would like independence, but, as I have always said, if all Catalans really wanted independence, they’d have it. Once you start talking to people you’ll find a lot of mixed feelings about that, even from very patriotic Catalan folks.

    Finally, I’d like to say that it’s also really upsetting to go outside of Catalonia and hear what many Spanish seem to think of Catalans. This year especially I’ve travelled with Spaniards for work, so not Catalans, and heard the most outrageous sorts of comments. Catalans are seen as money-obsessed, cold, rude, and anti-Spain, and some Spaniards have no trouble telling you just how bad they are. At one dinner party an older guy from Madrid told me, ‘You live in Barcelona, don’t Catalans just irritate the s$%t out of you?’ I told him that my partner was Catalan, so, um, no. Just this week coming from the States and landing in Barcelona I got off the plane with some Spaniards who felt obliged to tell everyone around them how terrible and stuck-up Catalans are. I probably should have said something, but instead I ignored them. Replace ‘Catalan’ with Polish, Southern, Black, Asian, Women….you get the idea, it’s not cool. So, there seem to be haters on both sides, and I really don’t get it.

    Since you’re new to the city let me know if you’ve got any questions! As I mentioned, I’ve been here a long time and am happy to share tips.

    Regina – The Spain Scoop

    PS: Madrid is an amazing city, but here we’ve got the Mediterranean Sea ;-)


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