Umoja Voices Around the World: An American Outlook On European Culture

Experiencing Barcelona, Spain as a UW Student, By Mia Quigley

In January 2024, I left my accustomed-American life, to embark on a 4-month long adventure studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. In my 20 years of life, I have been anywhere outside of the US other than Mexico. So, the vision of the future ahead of me remained a mystery, but I was ecstatic at the mere thought of living in a country across the globe. The Midwest bubble I have been living in all my life was finally going to pop. For the past years, I have been waiting for this time, as I wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by new people, foods, culture, and what I had been informed as a “happier way of life”. Other than the bitterness left from the last hugs goodbye to my loved ones, I had nothing but excitement in my mind as the sliding airport doors opened in front of me, inviting me into my new chapter in life.

When I took my first step out of the Barcelona airport, a full smile engulfed my face. The warm sun beamed down on my pallor skin, as I looked at the mountainscape painted in the distance before me. I took a deep breath in the fresh, European air and entered my taxi to head to my new home. It was then that I knew this would be the best few months of my life. Here I am now, 2 months later, and that realization remains true. I can’t believe the time has gone by so fast. Over my time here so far, I have learned, observed, and experienced so many things that have truly changed my perspective on life. 

Barcelona is an extravagant city surrounded by mountains on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. The vastness of this city is nothing like I’ve seen before. In fact, my hometown, Chicago- one of the biggest cities in the US- seems like a neighborhood in comparison to Barcelona. The city’s architecture reflects a combination of modernism and gothic style, consisting of concrete buildings with intricate detailing, traditional Spanish clay roofs, and colorful apartments buildings with unique metal-railed balconies. The city was designed in a grid patterned of equally sized squared blocks to plan for expansion of the overpopulated city and facilitate transportation. In doing so, the urban area emphasizes walkability, public transportation, bike lanes, and plazas to limit traffic and promote community inclusion. It is truly amazing to see such an immense city with minimal amounts of cars and traffic. Streets are wider to accommodate the large number of residents and tourists, plazas are found in all neighborhoods to encourage pastime, and narrow buildings provide space for multiple vendors in each block. Here space does not have the same economic value as it does in America; so, instead of block-long department stores and ginormous office buildings, every street is filled with multiple different bakeries, consignment stores, and restaurants; inviting a more neighborhood feeling to the urban area.  

The city’s unique architecture is a strong reflection of Spain’s valued characteristics, such as, love, appreciation, passion, and faith. Spanish and Catalan cultures are known for their emphasis on appreciating life’s little things: eating a meal without being rushed, having a casual drink with friends during a lunch break, window shopping while strolling down the street, and watching kids play together in the park. This truly was a culture shock to me as I am used to people around being power walking down the street, ordering fast-food and take-out, and constantly seeing people with their head buried in their computers. Living in a society where time is not a constant stressor has been a weight off my shoulders and has made me realize how much of an impact it has on the personalities of the people around me. It is rare to find someone visibly unhappy, angry, or anxious. Instead, people are found smiling, laughing, kissing, and overall presented in high spirits. 

 Spain is a country filled with so many ethnic groups. This includes Catalans, Portuguese, and Castilians. As a black woman who attends a predominantly white American institution, I was relieved to finally live in a place where I am not the only “different looking” person. Here, everyone is different, whether it be their outfit style, hair texture, or native language. Being surrounded by such a unique variety of people makes the city feel much more integrated and takes away the fear of judgment that is often found in many Americans. With that being said, there are still many instances where men are unpleasant towards young women, as they are not used to seeing their types of looks. Many locals are also not as friendly to Americans based on their previous preconceptions of tourists. So, being respectful to their culture is the number one way to remain at peace. 

As Americans are used to processed foods, fast food restaurants, and lots of added sugars, it is shocking to see a society that has very minimal amounts of these elements in their diets. Although they still have McDonalds, Taco Bell, and KFC, there are very few of them. Instead, there are cafes with fresh baked goods, sandwich shops with hand-made breads, and restaurants with fresh seafood and produce. “Tapas” are traditional Spanish small plates meant for sharing and to be paired with drinks, which are an immense reflection on their past-time culture. This is another element that reflects the relaxed Spanish culture. Some famous tapas are Croquettes, Pan con Tomate, and Calamares Fritas. The prices here were one of the biggest shocks to me. Grocery store items are mostly all under 5 euros, a glass of wine is 4 euros, and “Menu el Dias”- lunch menus that includes an appetizer, entree, drink, and dessert- are under 20 Euros. These affordable prices are another huge impact on the way of life, as money is not as much of a daily life stressor. 

The last thing I found surprising, yet very pleasant, is that politics are not a prominent topic of conversation among society. As we are used to the common disputes of American politics and the negative events that often follow it, it is so relieving to live in a world where government and people live in harmony. I am not saying there aren’t still issues, for example, the recent farmer protest that blocked roads with hundreds of tractors. Instead, I am saying there are not news stories every week of shootings, hate crimes, and drug overdoses. There are very few homeless people, there are no guns, and there are no everyday fears preventing everyday activities. The biggest crime here is pickpocketing, which although scary and unfortunate (speaking from personal misfortune), is settling to live in a world where violence and deaths are not a prominent element in society. 

Overall, I aim to share my experiences and observations with those looking to travel the world or study abroad and minorities who may be hesitant of traveling to a different country. My biggest takeaway living here has been fully appreciating how positive life can be outside of the bubbles we are used to living in. 

From buying a coffee and croissant for 2 euros to being able to walk around and not see police on every corner truly has opened my eyes to the possibilities of comfortable living. Not only do I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and explore the world, I ask “So what’s stopping you?”


Support Black-Owned Businesses: 450+ Places to Start Online

By Sophia Conti

While the economic challenges of the last few years have tested organizations of all stripes, Black-owned businesses closed their doors at twice the rate of other businesses during the pandemic. Studies show that less access to the financial system and lack of family wealth to draw from – both key avenues of financial security during economic slowdowns – are partly to blame.

Consumer spending habits are another major challenge for Black-owned businesses, which can struggle to scale up because of a misperception that their target market is a narrow demographic. Minority-owned businesses, however, are often marketing to broader audiences who never consider them.

I have personally experienced how convenient it is to visit the website of a prominent retailer and locate a significant portion of my shopping list in a single location. However, in order to contribute to the advancement of Black-owned enterprises in the United States, UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands, I have assembled an extensive roster of more than 450 Black-owned businesses spanning various sectors. Please take a moment to explore the list provided!