In a country politically divided and its 8 former regional leaders of Catalonia arrested by the Spanish national government on charges of sedition with 6 released on bail on December 2, students enrolled in the Citrus Study Abroad program will be staying in Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, for the Spring 2018 semester.
With the elections for new Catalan leaders having been finished by then, the study abroad students will arrive in Barcelona February 16 where the region’s fight for secession from Spain is still occurring. With decisions yet to be made about its independence, the region is in a political battle with its own national government as its independence was suspended in October.
Citrus College Study Abroad Specialist John Morris said there have been no students or parents that have called and expressed concern about the current political climate in Barcelona. In comparison to Western European cities, Morris also said the amount of violence compared to the US is eye-opening.
“All our problems that we have, mass shootings, gun violence, violent crime, like it’s a lot higher here,” Morris said.
To illustrate the unrest in Spain, protests on the streets of Barcelona have drawn crowds as much as 300,000 citizens in support of the region’s independence. The Spanish national government was also reported to have raided ballot boxes in October during an independence voting event in Barcelona.
Catalonia’s fight for independence dates back after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. During his reign, Franco had made Catalan cultural expression intolerable under his fascist rule. Following his death Spain became a democratic nation in 1978 with the Catalan region being granted political autonomy again.
In addition to its relative autonomy compared to other regions of Spain, Catalonia is among the most economically prosperous counting for about 20 percent of the country’s 2016 GDP (Statistica.com). This makes the region’s battle for national sovereignty vital to Spain’s economic prosperity.
With recent large protests occurring in November and the national government of Spain showing direct opposition towards Catalonia’s actions for independence, the region’s political tension still lingers.
Past Barcelona study abroad student from the Spring 2017 program Chandler Boldig had witnessed several political demonstrations during his stay but said he felt safe overall in Barcelona and did not feel uncomfortable with the political tension he noticed, “I was just there as an innocent bystander to watch it,” Boldig said.
“…don’t be scared at all, you can’t walk through those streets scared because then they win first of all and second of all then you’re not gonna have a good time,” Boldig said.
Citrus students like Chandler Boldig study abroad through the American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS), a travel company that offers its services to Citrus and hundreds of other college campuses across the U.S.
Employed by AIFS for 26 years, AIFS Program Development Coordinator Paula Messina says student and participant safety is the program’s number one priority. “Since that’s our first priority, we would not put a program in a place that we felt was dangerous and (in)appropriate.”
Overall, AIFS and Study Advisor Morris said the trip is safe and highlight Barcelona as a good opportunity, “We’ve been monitoring the situation from the start and that we feel that it is still a location that is a safe one and a valuable one for students and faculty to experience,” Messina said.