My study abroad experience in Barcelona was filled with trips to European countries, breathtaking sights, idyllic weather, world-renowned Spanish food, and wine. However, if you were to ask me what my most valued experience is, it wouldn’t be any of these. In fact, my favorite experiences took place in the winding streets of everyday Barcelona. Currently and during my time studying abroad, the Catalan Independence Movement was in full swing. The Catalan Independence Movement is a social and political movement with roots in Catalan nationalism, which seeks the independence of Catalonia from Spain. In October, there was a trial for the Catalonia independence leaders which sparked major protests and sit-ins.
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans flocked to the streets to peacefully protest their displeasure with the situation and show their pride and support for the Catalonia region. This included 25,000 university students, many from the University of Barcelona, where I studied, who joined in the protest movement by declaring a peaceful student strike. Trains, metro lines, and buses had to be shut down. The roads to the French border were blocked and all roads leading into Barcelona were cut. 190 flights in and out of the city were canceled as a result of the strike and most of Barcelona’s tourist sites had been closed and were occupied by pro-independence demonstrators waving independence flags and posters with pro-independence slogans.
While I was an outsider to the situation and did not take part in the protests, I went to many of them to talk to locals and learn. This was the best way for me to have a better understanding of what was going on and ultimately, immerse myself in the culture. What I was able to hear and witness was incredible. I saw an entire region of people of over 7 million people set aside their differences and come together as a group with a united purpose. I will never forget watching a part of history being made.