Skip to content

By neerjapatel

Since middle school, I’ve always viewed myself as multicultural bringing together my Indian heritage with my American upbringing. I never felt that one culture dominated the other which helps me to represent myself in all settings whether this be at home, at school, or in the workplace.

As I’ve come abroad, I’ve been faced with many challenges. Being in Barcelona, I have found challenges including differences in language, food, clothing, and much more. At first, this was a huge culture shock. I was in a new city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and most importantly a huge language barrier. However, as the semester continued, I found myself adapting and turning ever challenge into a positive factor of the culture in Barcelona.

From my experience abroad, I am able to reflect on internal change and my identity. I still view myself as multicultural, but now I include the Spanish culture as a part of my identity. I travelled to Croatia last weekend and found myself in a country where I could not understand the language even if I tried. But, it wasn’t when I heard English that I felt at home but more so, when I heard Spanish. When I heard someone or a group of people speaking Spanish, it reminded me of home—Barcelona. In this sense, I think the way I view the Spanish culture and how it ties into my identity has changed the most for me throughout my semester. It has become a way I can connect with people outside of Spain. It has also become a way I connect with my friends that I made in Barcelona.

...continue reading "The Spaniard Inside of Me"

I cannot believe it’s already April! Time has flown by and I continue to learn something new about Spanish culture every day. The first day of the month was also Easter, which is widely celebrated through Spain. Since the country has strong Catholic history, even citizens who are not particularly religious celebrate the holiday. My host family celebrated with their extended family in the countryside and most of Barcelona was quiet on both Sunday and Monday of Easter weekend. It is really interesting to compare this prevalence of a religious holiday to my experience in the United States, where there is more evident religious diversity. 

Over the past month, I have become more involved at Sant’Egidio, the church with which I have been volunteering. Aside from helping on Thursday evenings, I have also been able to volunteer for the Tuesday evening shift. This has offered a new perspective on the work the church is doing, and the customs of community service in Spain. On Tuesdays, there is an entirely different system of providing food to the homeless population in Barcelona. Rather than delivering sandwiches around the city, the church runs a restaurant out of the community room. Although slightly more similar to my experience with soup kitchens and food pantries in the United States, this system had stark differences. 

...continue reading "Voluntario en Sant'Egidio"

As I expressed in my first blog post, I view myself as very multicultural. I was of Indian descent, yet was raised in America. This mixture of cultures was always a part of me, but coming to Spain made me appreciate and embrace it even more.

The community of people I have had in Spain has provided an enormous amount of support. My host mom always ties into my upbringing by discussing various aspects of Indian culture with me, from food to dance. She constantly recommends Indian restaurants for me to go to, and yearns for me to cook homemade Indian food for her. Building on that, I have been planning on doing a Bollywood dance in front of the Arc de Triomf with a fellow friend of mine. My host mom has not only been supportive of me, but has gone out of her way to tell everyone about it and show off my dancing videos to her friends. This might seem small, but its created an environment for me in which I feel comfortable and proud in who I am. If my host mom, who I have only known for a few months, can be proud of me, then I can be proud of myself.

My friends have also been a great supporter of my identity in the time I have been here. I have a very diverse friend group, (Pakistani, Spanish and Indian to name a few) and these people really have created a comfortable environment for me. My friends reflect all that I love; a sense of familiarity with similar upbringings they possess, along with the overall factor of diversity they possess.

...continue reading "Understanding Identity through Community"

I’ve always been a relatively adaptable person, but living in Barcelona has pushed me to adapt to a completely new way of life. The places and things I have actively looked for or come upon during this experience reflect the ways that I have changed and I have not changed thus far this semester.

For example, the vegetarian, non-Spanish food that I have found—which I defined as part of my community in my previous blog post—has confirmed my identity as an American. I sought out this food in order to find comfort in Barcelona, but it has not challenged my identity in any way. If anything, it has confirmed my American identity and strengthened the privilege that is attached to it, especially the privilege I have, having grown up in New York City. I have always been accustomed to a highly developed, globalized city where every type of food has been accessible to me. Because there isn’t one distinct culture in New York, like in many American cities, I am not used to eating one type of food when I go out.

While Barcelona is growing more international, many of the foods I can enjoy at home are very expensive here because of their limited supply, so when I find restaurants that are not Spanish and provide vegetarian meals, I stick to them. Of course, these are the places that all Americans go to and there is usually an English menu, which doesn’t challenge my identity. Living in an apartment also doesn’t challenge me because I cook for myself to save money. While I am happy with my apartment and my roommates, I sometimes wish I had chosen to live with a host family in order to get a greater sense of Spanish life and food.

I have also felt more of my American privilege because of the political conversations I have had in my classes and activities. I volunteer at a Catalan school once a week, helping to teach high school kids English. We talk about many different subjects, but whenever the question of Catalonia independence comes up, the room becomes tense. The students will start talking about it—some will say they only speak Catalan at home, while others will say they feel entirely Spanish—but one student will inevitably shut down the conversation. They will always explain to me the emotional nature of the conflict and say, “let’s talk about something else.”

...continue reading "Have I Really Changed?"

Two months in Barcelona have flown by! Aside from attending classes during the week and exploring on the weekends, I have been spending a lot of time experiencing the food culture. Anyone who has visited Europe could tell you that things move slower here, but food culture embodies that concept to the max. The American standard of ordering an "Iced Venti Latte to-go" is frowned upon; Spaniards like their coffee to be piping hot and enjoyed at a cafe among friends. Authentic restaurants and cafes have an extremely relaxed atmosphere, which is a nice change of pace. Spanish residents grocery shop at the local market each morning for the ingredients they will use that day, ensuring that items are always fresh.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the homeless population in Barcelona. Although less visually apparent at first, there are still handfuls of people living on the streets. I began my volunteer shifts several weeks ago at a church in the Gothic Quarter, which has helped me gain perspective. I was unsure what to expect going in, but was welcomed warmly by Alba, the woman who runs the program. She explained that this local church runs a food kitchen multiple times a week; the volunteers meet to assemble sandwiches, and then groups head off into the night to locate people living on the streets. I noticed many similarities between the initial part of my first evening and my experience working with food kitchens in the United States, but the rest of the night was starkly different. Back home, most of the organizations are run out of a building and homeless populations come there to receive food. At this group, we split up into small groups and each ventured into a section of Barcelona. My group headed towards Placa de Catalunya, which is a large tourist square next to my abroad program building. 

Throughout the course of the next two hours, I experienced a lot of eye-opening moments. The two women in my group, Alba and Catarina, explained that the organization knows each of the homeless people in the city on an individual level. Alba explained that it is important for a friendship to be formed because they don’t want these people to feel like they’re only receiving charity. We spent ten to fifteen minutes conversing with each individual that we delivered food to, simply asking about their recent life and making conversation. This aspect of socialization was new to me because most of the food banks and kitchens in DC with which I’ve volunteered in the past don’t emphasize the human connection between the volunteers and the recipients of the food. However, this certainly made our work feel more meaningful. I look forward to returning each week, especially as my language comprehension improves.

By mlopez97

When I first arrived in Barcelona I scrambled to find a new sense of community, worried that I would feel isolated and far too uncomfortable throughout the semester. Two months into my stay, I am more than thrilled to have settled into this temporary host community composed of new friends, places, and food that have enriched my experience.

...continue reading "Finding Spanish Community"

By neerjapatel

Having grown up in Vermont, I have always been exposed to a sense of community. I was nervous when I first came to Barcelona, as it was a new city with a different culture. Although I knew a few people who were in the same program as me, I forced myself to go outside of my comfort zone by picking a random roommate and living in a homestay. This was extremely difficult at first because for the first time since freshman year of college, I was faced with a lack of familiarity. But, I quickly found my sense of community in Barcelona in a variety of different ways.

Picture 1: My roommate Emma has become one of my closest friends here abroad. With similar interests and personalities, we’ve been able to explore a lot of Barcelona together. Emma, as well as my host mom, have really made me feel like I’m at home in Barcelona.

...continue reading "Mi Familia"

By maddierosser


Today, I have been in Barcelona just shy of one month. Among the countless empeñadas and ever-present reggaeton, I have finally begun to feel at home. I am living in a homestay, with a loving and spunky mom, Pepe (whom I adore), and her quiet yet thoughtful husband, Carlos. They have been married for 47 years and have a bunch of adorable grandchildren. We live in Eixample, one of the most central commercial neighborhoods in BCN. My program center is nearby, located next to the Plaça de Catalunya.

My program is IES ~ Liberal Arts & Business in Barcelona. There are roughly 750 students from all over the United States. As a political science major, I am taking one course relevant to my degree and a handful of other intriguing courses. Mediterranean Environment is an environmental science class that I selected solely based upon my passion for the outdoors. I’m also taking an intensive Spanish language course, to hopefully accelerate my retention of the language. My professors for these courses are phenomenal across the board.

Finally, I am taking Food & Culture. Despite its occurrence at 8:30 am, this is one of my favorite classes so far. My professor, Xavi, is the epitome of a passionate cuisine enthusiast. The significance of food in Spain is remarkable in comparison to the United States. This is not to say that the states don’t have any food culture (which is a discussion we’ve touched upon in class), but Spain’s rich history and regional diversity has led it to develop a pretty cool local menu.

...continue reading "Bienvenidos!"

By neerjapatel

Indian. Asian. Brown. American. All words that can describe me because of my origins, appearance, or citizenship. But this is not my identity. My identity comes from a combination of these terms and more, in what I would call multi-cultural.

My name is Neerja. I was born and raised in Vermont but my family originated from Gujarat, India. Growing up as a minority in Vermont, a 97% Caucasian population, I had to learn how to immerse myself in my own culture while in a very homogenous society. During my childhood, I was faced with a single perspective on my culture. My grandmother had lived with my family since birth, teaching me the ideals, lifestyle, and religion from my homeland. I grew up celebrating Indian holidays, speaking my native language of Gujarati, as well as practicing ethnic dances. This environment allowed for my passion and love for my culture to flourish. However, there was a lack of diversity in the community, making it more difficult to express my culture. But as I grew older and entered high school, I found ways to overcome the lack of diversity in my community, one of which included creating a Bollywood Dance Club to empower all different kinds of students to showcase talent and culture, resulting in only a source of pride for my background.

As I entered GW, I wanted to continue to express my culture in a different setting. I joined the GW Raas team, a competitive Indian dance team based on a type of traditional dance from Gujarat. Through this activity, I was not only able to gain a group of friends but a family with similar backgrounds and the same source of passion to dance as I did. Being part of this team was something I was always proud of and still am. Students from various backgrounds at GW came to support our dance team when we performed on and off campus for competitions. The growing support for the team and our culture is something that is allowing me to thrive at GW with the identity that I have.

Now, I’m in Barcelona; a city filled with excitement, culture, and adventure. However, it’s very different than DC and Vermont. As I walk around the streets every day to school, there is much less diversity than I expected but at the same time I feel welcomed by the Spanish people and their warm culture.

...continue reading ""Multicultural" in Barcelona"

By mlopez97

It’s difficult to confine my identity to a singular sentence, paragraph, or even blog post—perhaps because different parts of my identity become more prominent depending on my environment. I am a biracial woman; I am the daughter of two mothers; I am an atheist, although I was raised partly Jewish and partly Christian; I am from the United States.

Throughout my life, my background has served a source of constant confusion. I had trouble identifying as a person of color (POC) for most of my life because I have not experienced most of the challenges of POCs, as I am half white. There have been moments where my brownness is more present, like when I am in a room of all-white people, but when I am with my friends from home, most of whom are people of color, I feel whiter than ever. I do not know how to check the race and ethnicity boxes on a census nor do I know what it would be like to walk into the Hillel at GW, knowing that I have not been bat mitzvahed and have not grown up in a traditional Jewish household.

My confusing identity has certainly had a frustrating presence in my life, as people are constantly asking “what” I am or where I’m actually from, or denying that I’m Jewish. However, because I live in the United States, there are people around me are going through similar challenges and I have grown up in places where diversity is theoretically celebrated. This has allowed me gain pride in my identity. I will continue to hear the question “what are you?” on a daily basis, but answering that question is certainly easier than what I have experienced abroad.

...continue reading "My Study Abroad Identity"