BARCELONA, SPAIN. I spent the spring 2012 semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Looking back on my four months in Catalonia, I now reflect on what I have earned.

#1. Catalan is the official language

Catalan Donkey

Catalan donkey: an explanation in three languages | Baldiri

Before coming to Barcelona I was aware that some people spoke another language besides Spanish, but I did not realize that it was the official language. Almost everything is written in Catalan (street signs, menus, etc.). Most people will speak to you in Catalan, especially if you do not look like a tourist.

#2. Catalonia desires to be an independent country

Barcelona, Spain, map

Antique map of Catalonia | Paco Riviare

I was unaware of the intense belief that many (especially young) Catalans share: the desire to be an independent country from Spain. I learned about it once I arrived in Barcelona from my host parents, but I talked to some younger Spanish guys and they had very strong opinions about it. They have a good basis for their arguments and presented them in a way that made me think about what it means to them.

#3. “Racism” doesn’t have the same meaning in Spain as in the U.S.


Graffiti on a storefront in Barcelona | Roy Stead

I was unaware of what racism means to Catalans, and most other Spaniards. It does not have the same definition as it does in the States. A racist comment is not meant to be offensive, but more of stating the obvious and making a joke out of it. What one might do in amongst friends/ family in the U.S. as a joke, some Spaniards are comfortable doing with people they have just met. I experienced this whenever I said that I was Mexican; people (especially younger males) would make some sort of joke out of it, but they would apologize and say that it was not meant to be offensive.

#4. Soccer is not just a sport

World Cup Soccer Bento Box: Spain vs. Germany | SandoCap

World Cup Soccer Bento Box: Spain vs. Germany | SandoCap

I played soccer in high school and my family and I enjoy watching it as well, but in Spain it is a lot more than just a sport. I was aware of the two major teams in Spain, F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid, but I was not aware of the popularity that they both had. Most people pick between the two, but the most adamant fans are the people from Barcelona and Madrid. This rivalry is not just because of the regions, but also due to political differences.

#5. Catalan cuisine…delicious!

pan tumaca, Spain

Pan Tumaca: a typical Catalonian dish | Jaula de Ardilla

Catalan food is delicious. It is not what I expected because I thought it was just going to be paella and tapas, but it was not just that. My host-mom made a lot of traditional Catalan dishes for me, but also readily available in most cafes and restaurants. It is a simple cuisine that does not use a lot of seasoning or flourished, but it focuses more on the quality of the raw ingredients.

I really enjoyed the traditional meal called calçotada, although it is more of an event then a simple meal. It consists of eating char-grilled calçots, a type of green onion similar to scallions, dipped in romesco sauce. This is then accompanied by bread, wine, and grilled meats and vegetables. The dessert was the delicious crema Catalana, a crème brûlée type of dessert.

#6. Avoiding tourists is difficult in Barcelona

Stop Guiris (Tourists): Graffiti in Barcelona | Isma Monfort

Stop Guiris (Tourists): Graffiti in Barcelona | Isma Monfort

I am from Chicago and I am used to tourists year round, but Barcelona seems to be bustling with tourists every day. The first few days I did not notice as much because I myself was a tourist and it was the holiday season, but once I lived there for a few months it was quite apparent. Barcelona is a great city to visit, but for a resident of Barcelona, avoiding tourists is difficult.

#7. Everything is closed on Sundays

“Sorry We’re Closed” Sign | Susivinh

“Sorry We’re Closed” Sign | Susivinh

On Sundays in America, most stores and restaurants are open, perhaps not as early or as late as they do during the week, but they are open nevertheless. In Barcelona this is not the case. I was completely taken aback the first Sunday I was there because when I went out for lunch nothing was open. This is the case for every Sunday; the first few were a little sad because it was cold or rainy and no one would do anything but stay home. Once the weather got nicer though everyone would be out and about in Barcelonas parks or museums.

#8. News (both newspapers and television) is different than the U.S.

Reading newspapers on the streets in Spain | Javier Herrero

Reading newspapers on the streets in Spain | Javier Herrero

In the States, there are a lot of news sources, but I noticed that there was a huge difference between American news sources and Spanish ones. The news here is very regional and it takes a bias because of this. This influences what news articles are presented and how important events are presented. News is also more blunt and not as protective of its audience as American news sources; they are less censored and report with more vivid images and information.

#9. The meaning of the Diada de Sant Jordi

San Jordi, or Saint George, is the patron saint of Barcelona. Due to this, Saint George’s day is very special in Barcelona. The myth of San Jordi is that he saved a princess from a dragon by slaying it and from its blood he drew a red rose. He gave the rose to princess and on this day it is tradition to give a red rose to the women in one’s life. The day of the book is also celebrated on this day and it is traditional to give a book to the men. The streets of Barcelona are filled with vendors and people enjoying the lovely holiday.

#10. Traveling to other countries is easier than I thought!

Barcelona Airport | Overge

Barcelona Airport | Overge

Before arriving to Barcelona I knew that I wanted to travel to other places. Barcelona is luckily a great place to do just that. The airport (El Prat) is great because it can has flights to a myriad of destinations. The Girona airport is also a bus ride away and that one has some flights that are not offered at El Prat. Taking the train is also fairly easy and it is fun to see the countryside on your way to your destination. I traveled to Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Scotland. It was great to experience these countries for a couple of days with the easy travel that Barcelona has to offer.