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. ...continue reading "Carnival!"
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?"
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"
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"