The Ups and Downs of Life in Barcelona

It has been a very long time since I’ve written. This is probably the longest break I’ve taken from this blog. I have legitimate reasons for my long absence in the blogosphere. It’s this awful thing called Graduate School.

I came to Barcelona to pursue my career and to take off with an international career. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My studies have been very overwhelming and much more intense than I expected (having worked in the Spanish education realm for two years, I was expecting this to be a cake-walk…boy was I wrong!) But apart from the normal life of studying and taking exams and all of that stuff we hate, there are other elements of my life that are being severely impacted.

First, doing a master’s abroad is wonderful because while I’m working on my degree, I am still “traveling” in the sense that I am in Barcelona, Spain and not in boring Denver, Colorado. However, having said that, my travel thirst needs to be quenched and I don’t know how to fix my craving.  Since there is little time, no money, and seeing as Barcelona clearly has all the English teachers it needs because I can’t find a job, I haven’t left the center of this city since I moved here.  After two years of fun, partying, and traveling all over Europe and Spain, I think the hardest transition back into studying is not being able to do what I want, when I want. Nor can I participate in all the travels and journeys my friends are taking without me. Life is hard, whine-whine-whine.

Yet, that is not to say that things here aren’t going well. I have found an internship with a great study abroad program which is proving to be an incredibly well-worth-the-non-paid-aspect because it’s going to be a great smudge on my resume. The people I work with are wonderful and my boss is a terrific resource.  My boss mentioned that I may be receiving some sort of a stipend in the next few months, which would be more than appreciated. Maybe I’ll be able to leave Barcelona for a weekend to fix that hankering I’ve got for some international travel.

So what’s Barcelona like?

I’ve been here now since the end of August and as strange as this might sound, I’ve had extreme culture shock. I still daydream about Madrid, talk about Madrid, and want to be in Madrid. Barcelona to me is sort of a hollow city: it’s got a few great things (like the beach), but there is no culture here. It’s this big swarming mass of tourists that really steal from the center of the city. Furthermore, the whole Catalan thing really irritates me. I’ve gone up and down about the whole situation and I’ve even written several potential blog posts about my feelings, but I never felt like I have adequately analyzed how I really feel about the whole thing.

My initial reaction was: “Let them secede, jerks. Hala Madrid.” But that comes from a bias I based off of opinions from the people I met (and love) in Madrid. Plus, let’s face it: I love Spain, and Barcelona tries its hardest not to be Spanish. Even one of my classmates calls me “Madriz,” overemphasizing the pronunciation of the final “-th” sound in a Madrid accent (which honestly flatters me that he calls me that.)  On an unrelated sidenote, many people have thought I was from Madrid based off of my accent which makes living out of Madrid a blast because I love it when people think that I’m one of “them.”

Later on, I entered the, “Okay, I’ll join them” phase, which resulted in me saying that if it’s what the people want, let them sucede. But that idea soon passed to my now current feeling about the whole thing which is: Autonomy is the way to go, and nationalism just isn’t good. It’s cool to be proud of the place you’re from, but nationalism is too much. I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: I am pretty anti-America…Especially when you start studying International Relations outside of the US, even as an American you start to see us as the bad guys. I disagree with so much of my country. So don’t you think everyone would feel a little bit of resent towards their own place, regardless of how great it is? Nationalism is just blind extreme patriotism and I am not for that.  One last consideration is the fact that Catalonia is heavily taxed by Madrid.They don’t need independence but rather a free fiscal policy like the País Vasco has.

Plus, in a different context, if Catalonia were to sucede, many things would happen. All big businesses would move to Madrid immediately. Catalonia holds 20% of Spain’s economy. Without a fifth of its financial source, both Catalonia and Spain would sink. Additionally  where would I go? The easy answer is back to Spain, but I’ve got nothing lined up there.

Another thing that really irritates me is the Catalan language. It’s not the language in itself that I dislike, its the fact that I feel like its shoved down my throat and that it’s a major inconvenience. First of all, I went to an art museum the other day and there was no information in Spanish or even English. Reading in Catalan fortunately isn’t much of a problem except I have to stop and think about what I’m reading, it’s not like English or Spanish. It’s just annoying when other languages aren’t offered. It makes me wonder what those that don’t speak Spanish or Catalan would do in this case. I understand and appreciate their language and culture and that they are proud of it. I would be too. In fact, if I were them, I’d be proud to be both Catalan AND Spanish. That’s a really cool thing to be from a completely unique part of one country and be able to share the benefits of being bilingual and bicultural and still retain the beautiful place that you come from.  Being Catalan makes them a unique demographic in Spain which in my opinion, is almost cooler than being from, say, Madrid. You have your region but you can also be Spanish. Many don’t feel that way.

I would like to say however, that the Catalan people are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They are much more friendly than people from Madrid. I have gotten many more smiles and more laughs out of people here than in Madrid. Also, there aren’t as many chonis or pijos living here. You can still find them, but the people in general are much more alternative. There are skaters and punks all over the city. In the center, you can easily find record shops, hundreds of skate shops, and stores that sells patches and punk memorabilia. This is awesome. The city of Barcelona is a very easy and great place to live. I have bicing which is a bike rental system. I paid 45 euros to use it unlimitedly for the next year.  It’s way cheaper and better than taking the metro or bus. And it’s a faster and more fun way than walking. In this aspect, Barcelona is a wonderful and exciting place to live.

As for my social life, it’s still a little rough making friends, but everyone at my university is wonderful. We have some serious diversity and differing opinions which is great. There are so many languages spoken that it blows my mind. I do about one event a week with them and it’s always a good time: even if I’m just getting a beer with my peers, I could be talking to one of them about what Chinese people think about Americans, or the seven languages my Luxembourg classmate speaks. Everything is different and fascinating that just by talking to these people, I’m learning a ton. Just this weekend, I went with a huge group to a Thai festival here in Barcelona because one of my peers is from there!

So Barcelona has been a rough transition, but it’s good. I’m where I want to be and I’m doing things I couldn’t be happier about. Maybe next week, I’ll bite the 50 euros and go to Madrid for the four-day weekend (PARTY!) to get my nostalgia and culture-shock out of my mind. I need to just disconnect from Catalonia for a while. And from school. And just hang with my friends in the city I love more than anything.

Write more later,

Graham

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2 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Life in Barcelona

  1. I can just imagine how I’d feel if I had to go to Barcelona and have Catalan shoved down my throat! It’s not that I’m anti-Catalan, but I just don’t care to learn such a minority language, especially since they all speak Spanish. I’d rather work on my Spanish, sorry I’m not sorry.

    I’m adjusting to Madrid, though! Having lived in small-town Spain, Madrid is also a big adjustment! I’m just glad they’re not nationalistic like Barcelona or else I’d have even MORE adjusting to do. Madrid is distinct from the Spain I know, so I’m having to learn.

    Wish you well in all your future endeavors!

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