Conversations on Studying Abroad

What it's like to Witness Political Tension in Another Country

Dec 14, 2019 9:18:00 AM / by Isha Mahajan

During a time of political tension in Barcelona, student blogger Isha was able to learn about how locals feel about the issues at hand while observing the conflict from the outside.

This year has been a rather hectic one if we think of all political conflicts that have taken place around the world. Chile, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Brexit, and Kashmir to name a few have made the headlines to the big newspapers in the world and millions of lives have been affected during this time of political turmoil around the globe. Amidst all of these, there has also been a conflict in Catalonia that led to demonstrations around the region of Barcelona and its neighboring cities asking for the demand for independence from the rest of Spain. 

In the middle of October, there was constant news that would flash on our smartphones about protests happening in the city. On October 14th, 2019 the sentences of political prisoners who had been arrested during the organization of the October 1st referendum were announced. This announcement stirred up protests all around the city and little did we realize, we were witnessing a moment of political significance in an entirely different part of the world.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Barcelona_Isha Mahajan_Freedom Sign on Catalonia DayFreedom sign on Catalonia Day

Most of us study abroad students started feeling a little confused and worried about the situation, but as things settled, it felt like we were beginning to adapt and get a better understanding of the political scene.

CAPA as a program was really supportive. They made sure they alerted us about the places where the demonstrations were taking place and canceled a class or two when things got a little tense. This really helped to be aware of the spots that were not to be visited and we were able to get regular alerts from the team making sure they were checking on us.

This conflict was something that was talked about in almost all spaces - work, school and amidst social circles, and every time a different discussion would take place, it would make me aware of another angle of the story.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Barcelona_Isha Mahajan_Citizens Holding Libertat Signs in BArcelonaCitizens holding libertat signs in Barcelona

In my first week in Barcelona, I went to attend La Diada, Independence Day of Catalonia. People were out on the streets to celebrate the significant day in Catalonia’s history, and amidst this celebration, there was also a peaceful demand for independence that was taking place in various parts of the city.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Barcelona_Isha Mahajan_People on La DiataPeople on La Diata

Many people I talked with at the protest said that they wanted independence because they felt that they deserved an identity distinction of language, culture and more tax returns than the other regions of Spain and listening to their stories, I surely sympathized with them, but I felt that it was inappropriate to go out and support them. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Barcelona_Isha Mahajan_People holding Catalonian FlagsPeople holding Catalonian flags

By the end of the day, I was an outsider and I felt that I wasn’t aware enough about the situation to become a part of it. In times like this, I felt that the best move was to observe the whole conflict as an outsider, listening to different perspectives but supporting none. As things progressed, I surely started forming my own opinions listening to people and being a part of this culture, but having a neutral take on the issue definitely helped get rid of the confusion that took place while understanding the history and the current events that were leading up to the conflict.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Barcelona_Isha Mahajan_People holdinglarge protest sign Protesters

I come from a fairly small town in India and my university in the US is also not in a big city. I’ve witnessed rallies and been an observer to student demonstrations, however, being a part of demonstrations in a large city, with over 200,000 people on a road was surely something new to me. There were a few times I felt intimidated walking by myself, but by the end of the two weeks of chaos, I was pretty much navigating around it just like anyone else in the city was.

Overall, this experience taught me a lot of things. I was able to get a better understanding of how to navigate my way around times of conflict in a city, it made me more confident to be by myself in times of trouble, and lastly, I think it was just a memorable experience to be a part of. The two weeks when the conflict was at its peak, I had a really good time learning a lot of things. I was able to go talk to people and get a better local perspective on things, and also, take photos at some of the demonstrations around the city.


Thanks, Isha!

Isha Mahajan

Isha Mahajan is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Political Science and Journalism major at University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is studying abroad in Barcelona this semester.

Isha's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.


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Topics: Barcelona, Spain, Local Culture