Study Abroad Blogs
Each summer, Georgetown McDonough students study abroad in China, Spain, and England. Scroll down to see what our students experienced in Barcelona in 2013, and check out the photo album from summer 2013!
Last Friday, our ESADE-Georgetown program took us to a conference hosted by the Prince and Princess of Spain called Forum Impulsa. Prior to the conference, we were told we would hear from a variety of entrepreneurs in a variety of languages. Considering it was going to be a 14-hour day and I’m monolingual, I expected my conference to consist more of "zzzzzzz..."s than "ahhhh!!!"s, but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, the Forum Impulsa was one of the best days I have spent in Spain so far. What made it so great, you ask?
The Prince. As some may know, the Prince of Spain, Felipe Alfonso de Todos los Santos, is actually a Hoya himself. He received his master’s from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. As a true Hoya, he spoke eloquently about his optimism for youth entrepreneurship, the focus of the Forum Impulsa. He expressed his confidence in our generation to reduce youth unemployment through collaboration and entrepreneurship. However, the best part was when we got to meet him! Despite the obvious star-struck expressions on our faces, he was still so personable as he took the time to shake all of our hands and take a picture.
The Entrepreneurs. Although some speakers presented in Catalan and Spanish, the conference gave headphones to the attendees for translations. They covered everything from commercial space travel to bringing books to underprivileged children around the world. It was inspiring, educating, and entertaining. Before the conference, I thought that the speakers would be irrelevant to our situation given our age, but then I realized that it was 100% applicable because of our age. I recognized that we are the rising generation with new ideas, and it is our responsibility to actualize our creativity to make a difference no matter how big or small. One of most eye-opening speakers was Ryan Hreljac who created a nonprofit to bring water to villages in Africa. He began his mission at age 6!
The David Karp. For those who may not know, David Karp is the founder and CEO of Tumblr. Those who have met me know I am one of the biggest Tumblr fanatics out there, so to meet David Karp was unbelievable. First of all, his talk was incredibly influential. Mark Zuckerberg once said to him, "Don’t give up on being clever", and David never did. He started his company from a "selfish" idea and evolved it into a Top 20 website entirely due to his passion for programming. During the break, I was able to talk to him more about the business side of Tumblr. Talking to someone as humble as David Karp instilled in me confidence in my ideas and myself.
Someone once told me opportunity is when preparation meets luck. As such, attending the Forum Impulsa is one of the best networking opportunities a person can have. While influential people come to the Georgetown campus all the time, we rarely get the chance to talk to them one-on-one like we could at the conference. All of the entrepreneurs had reached such high altitudes of success, yet they were also all extremely down to Earth. I am by no means an expert on networking, but the atmosphere at the Forum Impulsa made it so comfortable to approach everyone from the Prince of Spain to David Karp.
I love the New York Giants. It has been months since we won the Super Bowl, and I still obnoxiously post "NEW YORK GIANTS 2012 SUPER BOWL CHAMPS!!!" on my Facebook wall. A Giants victory will leave me smiling ear to ear for a week. I’m the guy who secretly gave the Vittles employee discount to all Giants fans the day of the Super Bowl. I also embarrassingly shed a tear after the Carolina playoff game eight years ago (I still hate ex-Carolina running back Deshaun Foster for his performance in that game). Up until the past few weeks I have considered myself a "diehard" fan. However, now that I have seen firsthand what that entails, I realize that I am no such thing.
I have had the unique opportunity to be in three European nations over the course of the 2012 European Cup. In London, my boss graciously permitted all employees to take a break from the coffee-infused frenetic typing to watch the England v. France group play match. By halftime, the office was empty and everyone had relocated to the nearest pub. Grown men stood in suits, pint in hand, screaming uncontrollably at the pixels darting across the screen. In Holland, the streets were orange. Thousands upon thousands of orange flags dangled down from above, paper mache soccer balls roamed the streets, as did drunken Dutchmen.
London was wild, and Amsterdam was even more electric, but Barcelona was on a whole other level. If you walked down La Rambla, Barcelona’s main street, you would think there had been an evacuation of the city. Not a single person strolled the sidewalks. There would be absolute silence — a barren wasteland of empty sidewalk stands, street signs, and jamon serrano. Then all at once, the seemingly lifeless city would erupt in a moment of frenetic cheer and passion.
Over the course of my time here, the Spanish beat the French, the Portuguese, and the Italians to win the Euro Cup. We watched each game at a different bar, but regardless of where we watched, the dynamic was the same. Half of the bar was comprised of Spanish locals with red and yellow paint on their cheeks, and the other half made up of jazzed tourists who had become engulfed by the insanity through the electricity that the Spanish team brought to the city. You couldn’t find a seat. Everyone stood, all eyes on the screen, a sea of red jerseys. We were all individuals, but for those 90 minutes, we too were a team. We cheered together when Xavi executed a brilliant through ball, ooo’ed when Pique sent a shot blistering past the wrong side of the right post, and moaned when Balotelli broke through the back line. Simply put: Although we were outsiders, we were accepted as a part of the community. We belonged — and that felt good, really good.
Perhaps part of the reason why the experience has been so surreal is because it has truly exceeded my expectations. Prior to coming to Barcelona, I had been informed that Catalans (the people of the region in Spain in which Barcelona is the located) often rooted against the Spanish national team. Many Catalans feel that they are their own nation with their own unique identity. Even as dictators like General Francisco Franco made attempts to suppress Catalonian nationalism, it has remained steadfast and strong over hundreds of years. Catalonia is the economic engine of Spain. Even as Spain struggles, Catalonia continues to push forward and prosper. Catalonia citizens view the rest of Spain as an entity that is holding them back. Thus, when it comes to rooting for the Spanish football team, many citizens often dissent. However, this year was different. This year, 7 of the starting 11 players were Catalan, including stars Xavi, Pique, and Iniesta. This year, it was a victory for Catalonia just as much as it was for Spain as a whole.
After the final whistle blew in Kiev, Ukraine, solidifying Spain’s epic 4-0 victory over the Italians, the camera followed as Xavi and Pique knelt down in front of the gleaming silver trophy. The two posed for a picture draped in a flag — not of Spanish nature, but of Catalonia. Xavi then presented Spain’s Prince Felipe with a Catalonian scarf with which the Prince graciously accepted and promptly wrapped around his neck. When this occurred, the bar we were at shook with roars of joy and pride. It was at this moment that I realized what it meant to be a diehard fan. For the Catalans, their lives were inextricably bound to the success or failure of their local heroes. It was more than just a game and the team represented much more than just a team — it represented a community. It represented the unity of country and region that have long been at odds. It represented progress, but most of all it represented hope for a country that is facing an economic crisis of substantial proportions.
With a time difference of at least six hours, it is extremely hard to really understand the nature of the financial crisis in Europe. Yes, we read The Economist and watch the news, but I believe that only lets us scratch the surface and see the result rather than understand the cause or nature of the problem. If you walk around many major cities in Europe you will notice that there is no apparent economic downturn. Everybody looks happy, is extremely well dressed, enjoys long meals, and travels often. The reason you don’t see the effects of the crisis is because of huge safety nets and government programs that help unemployed people, but unfortunately, these programs are nowhere near sustainable.
In Spain, the situation is particularly delicate because of the country’s size. It is in the top five countries in the EU both in terms of GDP and population. What this means is that bailing out Greece is pocket change compared to bailing out Spain. The Spanish economy essentially has two major problems: on one side, it is burdened by extreme levels of private debt while on the other side, the economy is not sufficiently large to provide the growth necessary to pay those debts and help the ship stay afloat. How do you grow when every industry is already saturated?
Well, there are many possible answers to that question, none of which are easy to actually carry out and all of which require some sacrifice. At the same time, there is one particular region in Spain that, seems to me, is done wasting time and has found its answer. It is Catalonia. Catalonia is an autonomous community in Spain with a predominantly middle class population of about 6 million inhabitants, most of which live in Barcelona or its suburbs. This region is known as the most prominent economic region in Spain driven by a large median-to-small industry sector.
The Catalans have found their answer in entrepreneurship. Being in a university in Barcelona during this critical summer has placed me in the privileged position to observe firsthand how vibrant and enviable the entrepreneurship culture being established is. Having passion and collaboration as their dogmas, it is impressive how rapidly they have turned ideas into reality. I will share two quick examples to support my claim. At ESADE, our host university, we met a 26-year-old graduate who saw the opportunity for a water-free soap dispenser in Europe, so she founded a company. That company is now in three continents. Last Friday, we were invited to IMPULSA Forum — a conference hosted by Prince Felipe II exclusively about entrepreneurship. The conference featured impressive entrepreneurs, local and international, such as David Karp, founder of Tumblr, and David Rischer, founder of World Reader. These examples and many more make one thing clear: the Catalans are not staying still. The Catalans have found their answer to the economic crisis within themselves.