Some observations from travel in Barcelona

El Club Maritim, Barcelona

Through the month of June, I’ve been able to travel to Barcelona to “study” international marketing and entrepreneurship. Setting aside that I do at most 90 minutes of work per week outside of class-time, it’s a pretty solid case at how education in general has to adapt to the changing consumer (e.g. the student).

Anyway, I felt a bit obligated to share some of my experience to a more general audience. Though both considered “western” nations, the USA and Spain differ in a variety of interesting ways. Perhaps one of the most salient points of difference that I’ve found since my time here is the work culture. It shouldn’t come to a surprise that the USA is one of the most overworked nations in the world, and in doing so receive benefits at the lower end of developed countries. I realized this most obviously by the amount of public holidays the Spanish (and Barcelona) enjoy, especially during the summer season.

Just by a quick Google search, I see that Catalonia (the autonomous region where Barcelona is located) observes 14 public holidays throughout the year, compared to the States’ 10 public holidays. More than that, I observed a more laid back culture with respect to work. While those who work in corporate offices are expected to look engaged for their 8+ hour shift, this expectation is lessened to a high degree in Barcelona. Ample time for lunch and coffee breaks, lighthearted banter, and smoke breaks are all acceptable and don’t seem to be struck down by higher management. The accumulation of these more relaxed policies appear to create a more realistic and accountable workforce when compared closely to America’s. But it also may be a reason why Spain is in the toilet with respect to its national economy.

Outside of work, the Spanish are some of the most sociable and socially intelligent people I’ve seen, especially among the younger generations. Many also seem to be very in touch with fashion and trends, as the country’s teenagers seem to sport the most recent articles of clothing. Maybe I’m just looking at all the tourists, but the younger generation absolutely is a fashion conscious bunch. They also gather in packs outside of local Telepizzas.

I can’t help but feel that we Americans are some of the more obnoxious tourists that invade the beaches of the Mediterranean coast and make themselves known in the clubs like Opium, Bling Bling, and Razzmatazz. I can’t imagine that a local that couldn’t spot the pink pastel and long Nike socks that just scream the red, white, and blue. Not necessarily a knock on the US, but rather interesting how clear it is when you spot a fellow American abroad.

Tonight is supposed to be one of the biggest party nights in Catalonia, but I’m really not feeling it. Not to be a buzzkill, but I’ve found it quite difficult to connect on a genuine level with many of the students on the trip with me. Many of them are friendly with me, and I likewise enjoy their company. However, others seem to be more content with associating with like minded individuals, and I can’t blame them for that! I would assume that the people who opt for summer study abroad experiences indeed expect a thriving social scene with the alcohol flowing and the good times rolling. I definitely got a piece of that action for the first week, but now I am looking for different experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but in a differentiated way. Rather than seriously valuing the deep house thumping in the expansive nightclubs, I’ve picked up a liking for the history of the region, more specifically learning more about the Spanish Civil War and its context in Barcelona. I’m intrigued by the way of life during the Franco regime, and how diametrically opposed so much of the population is towards conservative policy to this day. I purchased a book that details the Spanish Civil War in a non-extensive way, and I intend on reading it on the flight back home. My most enjoyable conversations on this trip have been in learning more about the rich history of the region and how it still connects to modern culture.

Looking forward to updating this as I experience even more.