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Study Abroad Blog

Barcelona

Posted on February 23rd, 2008 by Matt Brattin

Sometimes it hits me unexpectedly. I could be riding the metro in the morning on my way to school, maybe making my way through some obscure streets in Born after an evening out with a group of friends, or even just while going for a walk with Blanca – I’m living in Barcelona. Yeah, sounds simple enough right? I mean, afterall, that’s one of the original things that appealed to me when I decided to study at ESADE. Either way, it is funny how once you’re here, you don’t really walk around saying “Hey, I’m living in Barcelona,” although, I admit to having done so during these particular instances when it sneaks up on me and I realize just how lucky I am.

So, just what is it like, living in a big, metropolitan city off the coast of the Mediterranean? Well, after coming from somewhere like Fresno, in Central California, I would have to say the differences are pretty significant. So, the point of this post is really to describe, from my personal experiences and perspective, just what it is like to live in Barcelona.

I’ve only been here for six months so far, but that is already longer than I spent in Sweden while on exchange there. What have been some of the biggest differences for me so far? I would have to say the language, the living conditions, and the people – this about sums it up. Now, let me explain in a little more detail what I mean.

The language (or should I say, languages)
I knew coming in that Spain is separated into regions, and Barcelona happens to be part of Catalonia. As such, the folks who live in this region are called Catalan. These people are quite proud of their language…also called Catalan. In addition to this, there is of course, Castilian Spanish – the reason I wanted to study in Spain. Well, Catalan is extremely widely used around town, and often even if you speak to people in Spanish, they will respond to you in Catalan…just because. I would describe Catalan as a mix between French, Spanish, and English, leaving it sounding a little like deranged Portuguese being spoken by a German derelict…if you can imagine that. In short, it is not a very sexy language, in my humble opinion (nor is English, by the way), but it is all over around here, so it’s something I have to live with. My focus, however, remains on learning Spanish, so I am making efforts to speak when I can and hopefully soon will more quickly be able to tell the difference when someone is speaking in Spanish or Catalan!

Life and Living Conditions
Fresno is a big, flat, grid. It is dry, and very hot in the summer, and pretty cold in the winter. Most people live in homes or moderately sized apartment buildings. The only tourists who ever come to Fresno are simply passing through on their way to Yosemite, and the population is approaching half a million. Barcelona is not so big, not entirely flat, and has streets that weave around and turn to narrow alleys very quickly. It is humid, and pretty warm in the summer and moderately cool in the winter. People live in decently tall apartment buildings, unless you have money and can afford a house on the hill. The tourists are aplenty and the population is over 1.6 million.

Personally, I used to live in a single level, decently sized apartment. Everything was pretty new. Blanca and I had our own cars, and no matter what we needed or where we needed to go, we knew how to get there. In Barcelona, we live on the sixth floor of a 100+ year old building in an also decently sized apartment. Everything is very old. Blanca and I have our own metro cards, and quite often if we need/want something, we don’t know where to go or if it even exists in this country.

The US has a service culture – good customer service is taken seriously. Banks, for instance, offer a great number of services and the possibilities of things you can do with your money are abound. Spain seems to have a “what do you want and why should I help you?” service culture – good customer service seems non-existent. Banks, for instance, take your money, charge fees for just about everything imaginable, and getting returns on your money seems pretty much impossible…unless you’re expecting negative returns, that is.

I could go on with the comparisons, but really, I think you get the point. Life is definitely different, and I don’t mean that in a good or bad way, I mean it as simply that – it is different. It has been difficult learning how to cope with the differences, but that is one of the reasons I’m here, and I wouldn’t take back choosing here for anything. If I, as an American, can learn anything about Spanish living, I’d say “relax,” because sometimes…actually most of the time…I get so caught up in the Now Now Now, Me Me Me that I lose sight of the big picture.

Finally, The People
The US is diverse…sorta. Sure, we have cultural variations from location to location, but for the most part we speak the same language, and the biggest cultural changes we see is through migrating from suburban to urban living and vice-versa. Europe is just different. Picture a smaller version of the US, with lots of history, languages, cultures, etc., all within a short distance from each other. Now, exaggerate that scenario, ad a few dashes of people from the rest of the world, and you’ve got Barcelona (and if you want an even more exaggerated and concentrated scenario, you would get ESADE!). I believe Barcelona is pretty well representative of a big, metropolitan European city, and as such, it is truly a melting pot of cultural diversity.

With such diversity comes a very unique living experience, and there is nothing like going to a Mexican restaurant, ordering from a Catalan speaking immigrant from Honduras who places your order with his Peruvian cooks. While the end product typically leaves much to be desired, the process itself is rather impressive.

In the end, I again must reiterate I am daily reminded why I chose ESADE. I am surrounded by so many interesting people with different backgrounds, cultures and languages, all of which has contributed to each individual’s unique personal story…perhaps more interesting is that despite all these differences, life has brought us all to this same place, at the same time. I am thankful for having the opportunity to study here and hope that throughout the rest of my time in Barcelona, I never stop having those moments…on the metro, walking through obscure alleys with friends, or simply while going for a walk with Blanca…where I get to think to myself, “Hey, I’m living in Barcelona!”

14 Responses to “Barcelona”

  1. Dan Says:

    Matt,
    I decide to google your name, and I landed at this blog! I enjoyed your entry. I hope things are otherwise going well. Email me sometime.
    Take care,
    Dan L. from the land of Fresno and BJJ capital of the Valley

  2. Matt Brattin Says:

    Dr. Dan! Great to hear from you, yes, InternationalStudent.com and this blog has put me on the “Google search” map, glad you enjoyed the entry. I’ve been wanting to email you, but seem to have lost your address amidst my four email accounts. I’ll keep looking, but if you get a chance drop me an email and I’ll get back to you. Hope all is well, take care.

    Matt

  3. Billy Bloggasaurus Says:

    Sounds like fun.

  4. Jeffrey Hayes Says:

    Hello Matt!

    This is an awesome perspective of what life is like in Barcelona! Having been there three times, I know exactly what you’re talking about with the customer service, the language, and the people. Barcelona is such an international city, and to be honest I heard other languages just as much as I heard Catalan or Castilian Spanish. Have you been to other cities in Spain? What is your favorite part of Barcelona? For me, I love the beach area, the Port Vell area, and all of the Antonio Gaudi architectural marvels. Barcelona seriously has something to do for every day out of the year. I must also add that I love your description of Catalan, but you are right that English is no more charming :) I hope you’re enjoying your experience in Barcelona. Buena suerte!

  5. Matt Brattin Says:

    Hola Jeffrey,

    Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your perspective and absolutely agree that Barcelona truly is an international city! You really do hear a number of languages when you’re navigating the hot-spots, and it is always fun trying to identify just what it is everyone is speaking.

    For me, choosing a single, favorite part of the city is hard, but I do love the “magic fountain” and find the rest of the Montjuic area to be quite nice, as it offers fantastic views of town. I also very much enjoy the area between Joanic and Fontana because of the great variety of amazing ethnic foods. If you like Cuban, Ethiopian, Greek, etc. food, you can find it all in that area, and it’s wonderful!

    I would really like to visit a number of other cities in Spain, but thus far have only been to Madrid (twice) and Valencia. I have a huge to-see list (Sevilla, San Sebastian, Tenerife, Malaga, Bilbao, etc) but for now this is all I have had time for. Hopefully soon!

    Again, thank you for your post!

    Buena Suerte!

    Matt

  6. Chetan Says:

    Hi Matt,

    I got through ESADE I wanted some help regarding the Financial Aid Application for students coming from developing countries.

    I am unable to figure out the correct response for the following question:

    please explain your current financial situation and why you feel you should be awarded a scholarship

    I am eagerly awaiting your reply.

    Best regards,
    Chetan

  7. Matt Brattin Says:

    Hi Chetan, congrats! With regard to this question, I don’t think there is any single correct response, they really just want to hear your argument. The way I approached the question was to be very honest and simply explain why I think the school offers scholarships in the first place, and further discuss why I am a worthy recipient of such a gift by way of a quick mention on my financial situation.

    Think of the scholarship as an investment the school is going to make – why should they invest in you? If you can provide a structured and well written response to that, I think you’ve got a great shot.

    Good luck, please ask if you have more questions!

    Matt

  8. Cyril Says:

    Hola!

    I was surfing on the internet and came upon your blog. It is very interesting to read what you think about Barcelona and its people. I have been living there for a while as well and we share the same opinion. Everybody agrees the service in Barcelona is really bad. It seems the people in general are very friendly (when they are not working) and if they are the service can be really bad, however this is not always the case. I recommend you to visit the south of Spain where the people are so different and even more relaxed!

    I don´t know if you visited other larger cities in Europe? All the cities like Rome and Paris are sooooooo different from Barcelona. You just can´t compare them. Europe seems to look like one for people from outside Europe but that´s not true at all. The various cultures differ a lot and it is very interesting to visit them all!!

    I hope you will enjoy your stay in Barcelona as much as I do!

    If you don´t now where to find things in Barcelona just let me know!

    Kind regards,

    Cyril

  9. tom Says:

    I am considering coming to spain for the summer but worried about my language ability – it sounds brilliant for students over there so I may just take the leap!!!!!!

  10. tom Says:

    Take the leap!!!

  11. Cyril Says:

    you´re right Tom!! He should take the leap!!

    I first was wondering as well about going to Spain to study. I have done it and never regret it.
    The language and the culture are so beautiful, so I think if you agree with this it should be easy to learn Spanish!

    I travelled through many parts of Spain and it has so many beautiful cities and sceneries!

    Where do you want to go Tom?

  12. Michael Says:

    I live in California and am working on a paper for my history class and I am suppose to be find out what high students in Spain think about the United States and what are your views over there or opinion on the Iraqi war? Do you have any opinion???

  13. Matt Brattin Says:

    Michael,

    I cannot say I know any high school aged students here in Spain, but I have had the chance to have intercambios with a few freshmen in college (about 18 years old) and all of them have seemed extremely interested in the US. When I tell them I am from California, some have visited and absolutely loved it, others who haven’t visited intend to sometime in the future. I think the younger generations here are much more open to the world outside of Spain than usually are similar aged people in the US to the world outside of the states.

    About the war, I have not had many extensive discussions with very many people on this topic, but I will say it is a slightly mixed bag. To the majority around here, Bush does not have a very good reputation. Most of the people I have spoken with feel the US is simply interested in oil and created a bogus excuse to start a war with very little, honest interest in helping anyone aside from them/ourselves. I have also heard the term “world police” thrown out there quite a few times. Aside from this, I have also heard from former European military folks that Bush is a genius and he started the war where he did in order to isolate the fighting of terrorists outside of the US. This opinion, however, is definitely in the minority.

    I don’t want to turn this into a political blog by any means, as I am more interested in expressing my views on the positive aspects of international education and intercultural exposure, therefore I don’t believe I will say much more on this matter. Hopefully you find this at least somewhat helpful for your paper.

    Good luck!

    Matt

  14. Harvey Says:

    I’ve been travelling through Spain & Portugal this summer with a bus company, Spain is wonderful, a very nice place I love it.. http://www.spain.info is very helpful website for all informations1

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