Americans in Barcelona: Learning in a New City

Americans in Barcelona: Learning in a New City


Having never traveled outside of the United States, I was pretty excited for my Eurotrip and chance to spend a semester in Barcelona. The days leading up to the journey were filled with planning to go to all the “must-see” places, restaurants, and clubs so we could live it up in true European fashion.

It never occurred to me that we would be learning, working, and interacting with other students until the day we met them at La Salle University. I imagine they were in shock when they first saw us Americans- we were loud, not afraid to voice our opinion, and made English the primary language of their studio course- for the next few months we were to take over their university.

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We were split into groups to interact and get to know our new classmates.  After our first meeting, a few friends and I asked where the best place to go out that night was.  A La Salle group member responded with how we had class early the next day.  Americans were there to have fun, the “Spaniards” (as they were inaccurately referred to by most Americans) were there to learn.  It seemed it wasn’t going to work. 

We coerced them to go out with us that night, and continued to bond with them as we completed our first assignment and site visit the following day. We learned how their architecture program can take up to about seven years to complete (we thought our five year program was a lot, considering most degrees only take four). Throughout the day they each gave their perspectives on Barcelona. They were proud to share their extensive knowledge as we walked the city’s streets.

As time went on, I began to understand how “Uni” (as it was called) works.  Class rarely started on time, and students and professors alike were all over the place.  There were some major differences that the Americans had to adapt to. There were no desks for the students, only large tables. Students drank beer at lunch.  The “Spaniards” thought we worked too hard, which was ironic because this was seen as a vacation for us-the easiest semester in our curriculum. 

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Yet, we had a lot to learn from the students at La Salle.  Though they were not as well versed in the latest 3D modeling or computer programs, their ability to represent and communicate their work greatly exceeded us.  The Americans produced quantity, the Spaniards focused on quality.  They took all of their classes equally seriously, whereas Americans only focus on design studio.  At first we thought their design ideas to be too simple- but it was actually that they were realistic.  They understood and had a lot of knowledge on construction, structure, lighting, etc.  The Americans proposed floating buildings (isn’t gravity overrated anyway?).

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We celebrated the end of our semester with a Thanksgiving dinner party, as close friends.  At the end of four months, we had learned a lot from each other-culturally, socially, and architecturally.  We are molded by our environment, and our environment molds our design outlook.  To see things in a new perspective helps us grow.  Barcelona quickly became more than a siesta by day, party by night city for me.  My time there has allowed me to grow as a designer and individual, and is an experience that I will continue to rewind and relive for years to come.

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