I never felt like I fit in growing up and this isn’t the type of fitting-in where I wanted to be accepted by the popular clique in high school; this is more about cultural acceptance.
I was born and raised in the United States, thanks to my parents who immigrated from Panama. However, I grew up not truly grasping the essence of what it meant to be a Latina woman, nor did I speak Spanish fluently.
Some would consider me to not be a true Latin person, because I’ve heard it before, and it was because of this that my program to intern and study abroad in Barcelona with CEA felt like an opportunity to prove people wrong.
I thought Barcelona would be the perfect place to pursue an internship for two months, because despite my disconnection with my background, I figured I could use this time to better understand my roots, even if it wasn’t in the exact country of my ancestral origins.
I knew I would be hard on myself for not immediately comprehending the locals when I got there. I also knew that I would feel afraid every time I stepped outside the door, begging that no one would surprise me with a question that I ultimately would have little clue about how to answer properly.
So, how did I manage living in Barcelona while feeling like a tourist in my own culture?
There are several tips I can offer, but I think it all culminates to one answer: take risks. This may be something you've heard before and a piece of advice that makes you go, “That’s it? That’s too easy!” but in this case, taking risks can really boost your confidence and reveal that you can accomplish more than you anticipated.
You can start off by attempting to read the signs inside those high-end stores along Passeig de Gràcia, or saying at least one thing to somebody whenever you enter a store. Sometimes, I would ask questions to employees in El Corte Inglés that I didn’t even feel like knowing the answer to (Cuanto cuestas? Donde estás el piso de tecnología? Cosas como estas) just so I can improve my pronunciation and in return hear how the responder phrased their own sentences.
Try to stay away from random locals unless you absolutely need help with something. At least with people on the job, they may be more likely to be polite to you even if you mess up your words.
Yet something else I learned as I lived in Barcelona was that I never got scolded for my stutters or mispronunciations; there was more of an appreciation for my attempts to communicate in Spanish.
Some locals explained to me that the only way someone would really be mad with you there is if you actively refuse to try to be open to the locals. If you’re the type who doesn’t want to try to speak another language or puts people down for not knowing English despite you not knowing their language, then you won’t be fit for traveling in general.
Outside of the actual internship experience, being in Barcelona gave me more pride in myself because I stepped out of my comfort zone to learn from a new environment. Talking to people has made me feel comfortable enough to travel within Barcelona and take the train to other parts of the city like the beach at Barceloneta, or admiring the architecture of the Gothic Quarter, or my favorite part, watching movies at Arenas de Barcelona Multicines.
These may all sound like simple tasks, but the level of confidence you need to get from point A to B on a daily basis is enough to be proud of yourself for.
Some people are too afraid to leave their state, much less leave their country for work, yet I am one of many people who have. And to add onto that, I carried the guilt of not feeling accepted in the Spanish community. But I realized that the only one keeping that guilt afloat was myself.
If I had chosen to stay home every day after work then I would’ve still put myself down for allowing the fear of not being accepted get to me, but now I can say that I explored Barcelona all on my own for two months and it was absolutely thrilling. By the end of my internship abroad, I actually convinced some people I knew Spanish fluently and even though I didn’t, that didn’t make me less of a Spanish person. I forced my fear dow,n and what came from that were pleasant memories that will remind me of just how proud I am of myself.
No one forced me to keep going to work or venture to new places; I did it all on my own and regardless of what negative comments people may have for me to try to diminish those successes, I feel more at peace with myself because I know I did the best I could to learn more about my culture. And, at the end of it all, I didn’t do it to please other people -- I did it for me.
Jennie Torres is the Summer 2019 Alumni Insider in Barcelona, Spain, and is currently studying at Quinnipiac University.