I started the summer really excited to be studying and living in Barcelona. I love to travel and experience new cultures but I have never before spent an entire month in a foreign country. I was looking forward to experiencing the different customs and ways of life of Catalan.
I realized very quickly the dislike that the locals had towards tourists and the reasons for this dislike. There is a very relevant and increasing tourist problem in Barcelona, due in great part to the cruises that dock there. The tourists cause major issues such as overcrowding and gentrification in Barcelona, specifically in the neighborhood of Barceloneta.
This was very important to me and has made me very self-aware, because whenever I traveled I became always conscious of the negative stereotyping of American tourists. Whenever I traveled, I tried to respect the culture and maintain an acceptable volume when in public so as not to reinforce the “loud American” stereotype.
Before Barcelona and before speaking to the locals about their specific issue with tourism, I was not aware of all of the pros and cons and the impacts that tourism has on the local economy, sense of identity and community. Of course, tourism was a major part of Barcelona’s economy, being the third largest tourist attraction in Europe. However, as was pointed out, overcrowding of Barcelona and the pushing out of locals by tourists has been a huge issue. Hotels were taking the place of apartments and tourists. People who are willing to spend more are taking over local housing while prices were skyrocketing. How much were tourists really helping the local economy? In retrospect, when you thought of the hordes of tourists coming into Barcelona on cruise ships, they did not contribute to the economy by buying accommodations or eating meals in the city as that was provided by the cruise.
My month abroad has been a huge learning experience. It has taught me that there was a lot to learn about any country’s culture and the best place to start was getting to know the people and respecting their identity.