My semester abroad was a series of memorable moments. Traveling to different countries, eating new foods, and meeting new people has brought me a new sense of the privilege I hold. These new experiences also revealed the American bubble I have lived in for most of my life.
One of my favorite, most memorable nights, was attending Carnival in Sitges, Spain, a small town about an hour outside of Barcelona. Carnival is a celebration that occurs right before lent. Much like Mardi Gras, Carnival is filled with colorful costumes, parades, and specialty foods.
On a Tuesday night in February, my friends and I were herded into a large bus, draped in shimmery boas and disguised in a colorful array of wigs and masks. I had been given a lesson on Carnival in my Spanish class, so we knew what to wear and what food to look for when we arrived in Sitges.
An hour later, we arrived in Sitges to find a long line of locals dressed in elaborate costumes. Women wore bright leotards and large glittery wings, men were dressed as animals with large headdresses and face paint. They danced to Spanish music as they waited for their turn to walk past the parade’s starting line. This was something I had never seen. Rather than floats sponsored by corporations and parade participants in t-shirts with company logos, the Sitges parade had a cultural focus. The floats were hand-decorated and the participants danced to carefully crafted choreography. I was so used to the capitalist spectacle of parades in the United States, that seeing something so authentic was shocking.
The streets of sitges were small and winding, and my friends and I followed the parade, paying no attention to where we were. When the parade occasionally halted, spectators, including ourselves, went into the street and danced with the parade participants. To re-energize ourselves halfway through the parade, we went on a hunt for buñelos, a much lighter version of a Dunkin Donuts munchkin covered in powdered sugar. We scarfed down the Spanish treat and went back to dancing in the streets.
The United States does not have one definitive culture, and neither do I, which was elucidated by the abundant tradition and local spirit I witnessed at Carnival. This was not a commercialized event like most US holidays and has made me crave another cultural experience like the one I had in Spain.