3 weeks ago, I arrived in Barcelona and have been experiencing as much this new city during COVID-19 as I can! Traveling to a new city and surviving a pandemic are two very interesting, challenging, and exciting things.
So, what happens when both are happening at the same time? Here’s what I’ve learned while studying abroad in 2021:
Tourists Go Home
A common graffiti phrase, “tourists go home” has finally come true. Because of this, the city seems more genuine, safe, and inviting. As of now, our group of 12 students is 12/60 total American students currently studying abroad in this highly populated city. As described by locals, the people of Barcelona have reclaimed their city from the tourists who are usually annoying, ignorant, and mostly just in the way. My experience has been that people assume that I speak Catalan or Spanish, but when I struggle to understand and chronically speak “spanglish”, the locals are happy to use and practice English with me.
Traveling With a Smaller Group
Because of COVID-19, the amount of people that decided to come on this trip is much smaller than in previous years. Barcelona SAE currently has 11 students (including me!) from IWU and 1 from the University of Michigan, so by now I know everyone pretty well! It’s a whole different experience because we will all have the chance to connect on another level than we would if there were 30 or 40 of us. Part of going on a trip like this is to meet new people, and with a small group like this, we not only meet new people but are able to really branch out and become good friends with people we typically wouldn’t. It is tricky to do everything together especially with limitations on group numbers, but it’s really fun to be able to go to the bunkers, sit on the beach, or go on a hike with everyone! Recently, we’ve all met by the marina to talk, eat some snacks, and just enjoy the city at night before going home for dinner.
Elbow Room in Museums and Attractions
So far I’ve been to SO many museums for field studies in class or just for fun. Most museums offer cheap tickets, are free on certain days, and some even offer tickets that will get you into multiple places. Because things like art and history are so deeply personal, I think museums are the best way to get a deeper understanding of the city and its people. Now, I can get an up-close view of everything there is to see – literally. Most of the time our group is the only one there and we have the museum to ourselves!
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Walking along the streets of Barcelona, there are many people who use more environmentally friendly methods of transportation like walking, biking and my favorite – roller skating. A few days ago, a friend and I really wanted to be like them and rent some roller skates and skate through a new neighborhood. So, we found our way to a rental shop that google maps said was open and we were so excited. To our disappointment, it and another rental shop 10 minutes away were both closed with no sign of opening anytime soon. Instead of letting this ruin our day we decided to sit down for lunch and walk around the area. We ended up finding a whole new and really cool area that I can’t wait to go back to! You must be flexible and open minded so situations like these don’t ruin your experience.
The typical party scene starts for locals at around midnight and lasts until 7am! Usually there are bars, discotecas, clubs, and more that provide a vibrant scene on the weekends. This year, that looks very different. Right now, there is a 10pm-6am curfew and bars and restaurants aren’t even open for dinner. It is a bummer to talk with young people about how much they miss their typical social lives and how much we aren’t experiencing…but I guess I’ll just have to come back again later to fully experience all of this!
Masks Double the Language Barrier
From what I’ve noticed, people are very compliant with the mask mandate. Occasionally people are only covering their mouth, taking it off to smoke, or not wearing one because they are exercising. To me, the most frustrating part of masks is how I am already struggling to understand what people are saying (because my spanish is “no bueno”) but now voices are muffled and I can’t use facial cues to help me out. Ordering food, checking out, or a quick conversation with someone in the elevator is much harder for me to navigate now. Not only can I not understand what people are saying, but I feel much more disconnected with people in general because there is a barrier between everyone. These struggles aren’t much different than they were at home, but definitely amplified here.
And oh yeah – don’t get me started on the mascne!!!
COVID anxiety is real. A couple of days ago I woke up with a stomach ache and headache which is something I would have normally brushed off after taking an ibuprofen. This time, my mind immediately went into panic and was thinking that I had been irresponsible, put everyone at risk, and ruined the whole trip. I told my host mom and director of the trip I wasn’t feeling well just to be safe, but in the grand scheme of things, there was little to worry about. I worried so much that I convinced myself that I had COVID when really all I had to do was take an antacid and get some sleep. Luckily, the staff at Barcelona SAE, our IWU director, and my host mom were all very helpful and great resources during this time. Again, the COVID-related anxious feelings that I am experiencing are not new because we’ve been living in this pandemic for a year…but they are certainly amplified while in a new environment with new people.
Restrictions – The Government and the People Don’t Always Agree
From talking with my host family and locals that have come on day trips with us I’ve learned that the people really don’t like how strict the restrictions have been. Before coming here, my perspective was that Europe was (and still is) doing much better with COVID numbers because of the restrictions AND that people were happy to do it if it meant this would be over sooner. But, the government has to be so strict because the people are going to defy the restrictions. People seem to be sick of it and would rather return to their normal lives at higher risk than wait it out safely. Hopefully, the rollout of vaccines will start picking up and as the numbers are decreasing so will the restrictions. In no way will I see a “normal” life in Barcelona during this trip but maybe I’ll get a taste!
Social Distance Doesn’t Exist on Your Way to Work
This may be related to the COVID-induced anxiety that I mentioned earlier but it is surprising to me to watch people sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the subways and buses. The American idea of “personal bubble” doesn’t even exist during a pandemic. Entering and leaving the metro always seems like a huge risk to me but, just like everyone else, I need to take it to get where I need to go! All of the stores and shops have very restricted hours, strict capacity limits, and you must use hand sanitizer to get in.This seems like an oxymoron because there is no regulation of COVID restrictions on public transportation and very few places to clean your hands.
¿Para Aquí o Llegar?
Especially compared to Missouri’s restaurants I am surprised by the owners’ and employees’ compliance with time restrictions for breakfast and lunch. Admirably, they have been strict with how many people are at a table, It’s hard for me to imagine an American business turning down business just because they got there 10 minutes before opening for sit- down hours. My roommate and I tried to work on homework at a cafe but the tables had signs that said that laptops were not allowed, restricting the time spent at tables. Another restaurant worker even said that the “cameras” would see if he broke the rules. We were not sure if this meant their boss or the government but it says a lot about the priorities of the Spanish government (health/economy).
The Arts are On!
Back at home in the United States I feel like sports have carried on in their seasons but the arts have been put on the back burner. Here, fútbol is still happening (without a crowd) but so are concerts, operas, and movies! Although I have not been to a show yet, I am very excited to hopefully go to one soon. I have a list of venues I want to get to by the time we have to go home.