This summer, I spent three months living and working in Barcelona, Spain for my Beyond the Classroom experience. I was an intern at a non-governmental organization that helps women start their own businesses in countries around the Mediterranean. As an intern, I helped translate documents from Spanish (and sometimes other languages) to English, planned programs related to entrepreneurship for young women, and helped apply for grants from various institutions. I learned a lot about the day-to-day operations of an NGO and how they interact with governments, businesses, and other organizations
For my global challenge, I was interested in how political systems can address people of varied cultural practices and beliefs. My time in Barcelona provided me with the perfect opportunity to examine this question. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain, which has its own language and many of its own cultural traditions. The Catalan independence movement has a long history that continues today. While I was in Spain, the former Spanish president was removed and replaced, a new president of Catalonia was approved, and there were several demonstrations throughout Barcelona and Catalonia, both for and against independence.
I lived with a host family for the three months of my internship, which was an important part of my cultural education. They were Catalan from small towns outside of Barcelona and spoke Catalan with each other. Because I only speak Spanish, or castellano, as they would say, the family had to switch languages when I was around. Pretty much everyone in Catalonia also speaks Spanish, but I was aware of the different ways people would switch between languages.
As a political science student with this global challenge, I had many chances to have discussions and learn from the people I met. Many of the Spanish people I interacted with were very interested to hear from an American, both about US politics and what was happening in Catalonia. I watched Catalan television and attended pro-independence events with my host family and discussed the concerns of the business community and international groups at my internship. One night, we went to an event where a representative from Finland and a lawyer from Scotland were translated into Catalan as they talked about their own countries’ experiences with independence and their identification with the independence movement. My internship also provided an interesting way to compare countries, as I prepared reports on the status of policies about women and entrepreneurship in several Mediterranean countries.
Overall, I could not have wished for a better out of the classroom experience from my time in Spain. My language skills have improved so much from living and working in Spanish, and my Catalan is coming along. I feel confident and capable, and I can’t wait to return to Barcelona.