After two years of a global pandemic, countless applications, and plans being reschedules, I am so pleased that I have had the opportunity to spend the summer of 2022 in Barcelona, Spain as my Beyond the Classroom Experience for the Franke Global Leadership Initiative. I currently have three weeks left of my experience, but I have learned more, experienced more, and met more people that I ever thought possible in just two months.
While in Barcelona, I have been working/volunteering for a non-profit called Fundació Enllaç, a foundation that works to help, advocate for, and create a community for the older population of adults who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This foundation holds events for those members who are looking for community, they have created a volunteer program to check in on and provide companionship for the older members, and they participate in events to raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues. As a member of this team, I have had the opportunity to participate in community events all around the region of Catalonia, spend time with volunteers and members of the foundation, and learn the day to day operations of a non-profit, with a specific emphasis on community outreach and social media. I have also learned the cultural norms and practices of Spanish business, as well as how to work with amazingly diverse groups of people, both with and without a language barrier.
Through this position, I have been relating my experience back to my global theme of Technology and Society alongside my global theme which focused on how social media and upcoming technology can be used to reach populations that often go unnoticed, or who are less accessible by traditional means of social media outreach. As a foundation with a specific interest in the population of older adults, outreach can be hard, especially when many members of the LGBTQIA+ community are susceptible to higher levels of isolation and mental illness that may make it hard for them to engage in or seek out community. I spent the last year working on my GLI capstone project, “Mitigating the Damaging Effects of Covid-19 Isolation in the Elderly,” that was very similar to this theme, and helped a lot in my understanding of what goes on in the community of older adults. This experience gave me a first hand look into the importance of community and outreach within this population, as well as how hard it is to reach them, especially when Instagram, Twitter, and Tik-Tok are not known platforms that this population prefers to engage with. That being said, I am currently working on a team trying to update and invigorate the presence of this foundation to reach all members of the Barcelona community, and therefore use word of mouth to spread our mission and activities to those less reachable by technology, as well as optimize Facebook and WhatsApp as platforms that the older population is more comfortable with.
This experience has exposed me not only to the cultural of Spain, but countless others as I find myself in a global city full of amazing people. I have had the opportunity to engage with city culture (something I am not familiar with coming from a small town in Kansas and moving to Montana), the culture of specific groups of the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees, immigrants, and people from countries across the world as well as places across the US. One of my first days here, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of members of Fundació Enllaç as well as a foundation that worked with LGBTQ+ youth and another that worked with refugees with the goal of creating an event to give all of these populations a chance to connect. I sat in this little conference room, looking around and it hit me just how crazy it was that I was there. I was sitting in a room with people who could not have been more different than me, listening to them talk about issues and ideas that I had never even considered in my life. This isn’t a great description, but I can still feel myself sitting there and looking at all these peoples who were from different countries than me, spoke different languages, had different genders or sexualities, people who were torn from their homes or forced to leave everything they once knew. People who had experienced things that I will never know. And they all had the vision of creating something better for those around them. They wanted to help. That was awe-inspiring to me. I have never felt more optimistic or proud to be a part of something, not only as a part of that organization but as a part of the future of our world, a part of the next generation.
I could write for pages and pages about my experience here, but the most important thing to note is that this experienced has changed me in ways that I will be forever grateful for. I have been a part of an incredible community of kindness and hope. Being here is hard. Away from family, friends, and everything familiar. But it has been amazing, and I wouldn’t trade my experience and the people I have met for anything else.