With the recent political events in Barcelona and Catalonia more widely, we have heard from many BCA Barcelona alumni and prospective students asking about the current atmosphere in the city and the experience of our students, BCA staff members, host families and residents.
BCA Study Abroad has been a part of the Barcelona community for almost 40 years. Through our programs, we are committed to helping students understand the complexities of the contemporary world and engage with local people and the issues that impact their lives. In the leadup to and since the referendum on October 1, our resident director, Dr. Carmen Barbosa, and local faculty have helped students to explore the historical, political, social and cultural context of the referendum. BCA programs are designed to foster scholarship, community engagement and guided reflective learning, and this semester in Spain has offered our students unique opportunities to reflect on recent events through their coursework, in discussions with Dr. Barbosa and their host families.
Reflections from the BCA Barcelona Resident Director
This fall, Barcelona has stood out in the news because of the independence challenge carried out by the regional government of Catalonia to the central government of Spain. While this challenge was taking place, the citizens of Barcelona and of the rest of Spain have continued with their normal lives, although being especially attentive to the political events around them. BCA students have lived this whole process with naturalness and interest in the events taking place, as well as with interest in the historical context of those events; they have also lived such process with surprise at the alarmism expressed in international news which differed from the reality they were experiencing.
BCA courses consider students’ interest so that, through lectures, readings and debates, they encourage student reflection on the Catalan question. Thus, in their history class, “Spanish Civil War,” students are introduced to the historical precedents of current Catalonia, to which conversations among Spaniards, journalists and news outlets make continuous references.
In the BCA course “European Union: Institutions and Policies,” the concepts of “nation” and “state” are analyzed discussing the differences between Europe and the United States with regards to both concepts. The EU’s electoral systems are also studied in comparison with that of the US. Different issues are debated that are related to the US, EU and the situation that has emerged in Catalonia. For example, does each nation need a state structure? Where do we place federalism?
In the class “Political Psychology,” students are introduced to the relation between ethics and politics, discussing the “ethics of conviction” (that of Hitler or Franco) versus the “ethics of responsibility” (that of Mandela). Students analyze differences between collective and national identity, as well as the role of current populisms in our society. The concepts of “legacy” versus “legitimacy” are also debated in class, concepts that are repeatedly used by the politicians regarding the recent events in Catalonia. Finally, attention is also paid to the role of fake news and its impact in people’s perceptions and in politics.
In addition to the readings and the discussions, students write a final paper for each course. These papers again present opportunities for students to reflect on current events at home and in Spain. One student, for instance, has chosen to write a paper comparing the independence movements existing in Catalonia, Vermont and Texas.
Throughout the semester, BCA students have remarked on the civilized and peaceful way in which recent events in Catalonia have taken place. Fall 2017 BCA Barcelona and Juniata College student Samuel Whersley noted in a written reflection that “As the first of October approached, political and social tension rose markedly. The pro-independence Sí movement began selling campaign material on street corners while the moderate voices continued about their daily lives… Marches and demonstrations were organized, drawing thousands into the streets. Remarkably, though, for all the excitement and mounting tension in the air, a peaceful civility pervaded.”
Students have also qualified the observation of these events, the discussions in their classes and their interaction with UB students and people in Barcelona as a positive opportunity to deepen their understanding of Catalonia’s social reality within the general frame of the rest of Spain and the European Union.
Dr. Carmen Barbosa