Travelling is principally about exploring and discovering different places, situations and cultures. That is stating the obvious. Yet more than this, travel almost inevitably leads to a journey of self-reflection and introspection. The somewhat paradoxical beauty of travel is that, by going far from where you are, you can actually end up closer to who you are. Travel is an opportunity to break out of the box that we have been squeezed into as a result of societal teachings, expectations and pressures; the box being a metaphor for our personality, beliefs and values. Though we may think it, these are not static things. They possess the capacity to change and to grow, often substantially. Barcelona, being such a liberal, multicultural and vibrant city, has certainly had a huge influence on shaping me, both in terms of my outlook on life and also on my inner-connectedness.
So here is why I think Barcelona is particularly great for shaping who you are:
First and foremost on the list has to be the people you meet in Barcelona. And by people I refer to both to the locals and the international expat community. While the people choosing to live in Barcelona vary widely in background, character and interests, there tends to be something shared in the mind set. I believe that this fundamental similarity is the openness, tolerance and curiosity people have towards others. At least, this has been my experience and I am lucky to regularly be in social situations surrounded by a diverse range of characters from diverse cultures, often quite different to my own. This is such a notable difference to my life before Barcelona. The beauty is everyone sharing with and learning from each other, breaking down social barriers, questioning stereotypes and forming friendships.
Travelling to a country where the language is different from your own adds a whole other enriching dimension to your journey. This is especially so if you live there, as undoubtedly you will pick up some of the lingo, if not actively learning it. They say the best way to learn a language is to actually live there. Trust me though, just being there is not enough and you do require to make some effort! As someone who also teaches English, I have found the language learning experience a fascinating and enlightening one. Learning different words and phrases to express thoughts, opinions and sentiments makes you reflect on how we express ourselves, both as an individual and culturally. I believe learning and speaking a language gives another dimension to your personality, through thinking and speaking in different ways. Learning also facilitates the possibility to connect with different people and cultures, and it can open up opportunities to work and travel further. It may even help you find love!
One of the first things you will notice when you come to Barcelona is the fact the principal language is Catalan. Thus the language learning experience here is even more dynamic and enriching. If you know a bit of Spanish and are tuned in, you will hear it all around you. People who are from Catalunya are bilingual, able to switch effortlessly between Spanish and Catalan. Spending time in Barcelona, you soon learn that Catalonia is distinct from Spain and the people are very proud and keen to preserve and respect Catalonia’s unique cultural identity. Generally speaking, there is not an expectation that you should learn Catalan before Spanish, but even learning a few words or phrases will earn you extra brownie points! You can also benefit from the free lessons funded by the government. These are all over the city.
Community seems to be the essence of Barcelona and living here you get a strong sense of it. You just have to look at all the fun, interesting, colourful and quirky events which Barcelona’s calendar is absolutely bursting to the brim with to get an idea of this. Barely a week goes by here without something on! And there doesn’t seem to be anyone who isn’t catered for. With everything from exhibitions and talks, to language and art meetups, to stand-up comedy groups, the opportunity to learn and be inspired is vast. More importantly these events bring people from all different backgrounds together to share, collaborate and form a meaningful and enriching social circle.
For me, these are the main things that constitute the culture and essence of Barcelona. I urge you to go and be enriched by its diversity and charm!