Reflecting back on my experience selfie-ing my way through cities, I realized just how different I felt holding up my cell phone in front of my face in Chicago versus Barcelona. The context surrounding my two selfie adventures differed so much and affected my experience journeying around the cities. Traveling around familiar versus unfamiliar roads somehow created separate feelings of comfort, discomfort, awe, and annoyance. What a complicated spectrum of emotions.
As a Chicagoland native, actively going in search of the city’s hotspots was not particularly challenging because I was already familiar with most of the attractions on my to-visit list. This sense of familiarity made it easy for me to track my route as efficiently as possible. Efficiency: a concept that would make my business teacher proud. While it seems obvious to find the simplest, fastest route to each of my Chicago destinations, I now see my method as a cookie cutter A-to-B type of journey. In Barcelona, however, my lack of familiarity forced me to act more like a dawdler. Especially in the Gothic Quarter’s maze-like streets, I wandered around to find my landmarks and on the way I enjoyed the scenic routes that I was taking. My unfamiliarity convinced me to take in my surroundings rather than rushing through. I wonder if my Chicago rush was influenced by the city’s own hustling, bustling attitude and if my care-free Barcelona self was reflective of European easiness.
The act of taking a selfie was definitely unnerving for me in Chicago. It felt artificial for me to act like a tourist in my own city. However, in Barcelona my arm and cell phone blended in with the millions of other tourists’ who visit the city each year. But if I was just like any other tourist visiting Barcelona, then why might I still feel discomfort roaming the city? The answer: diversity. Living in Chicagoland I have been spoiled with diversity for all of my life. As a child, my school district covered a population that was majority Latino. Now in college I attend one of the most diverse universities in the United States, and to me diversity is not just a statistic; it affects my sense of comfort and belonging. In Chicago I do not feel my minority status affecting my mood, because the faces I see passing me every day are all different. On the other hand, I feel as though I stick out like a sore thumb in Barcelona, a city that is less racially diverse than Chicago.
Of course anything novel will excite me, and seeing the many historic landmarks that Barcelona had to offer left me in awe of their beauty. However, contradictory to my cheesy facial expressions in my photos, I found myself many times feeling annoyed during my selfie adventures. This battle of awe vs. annoyance is evident in both of my selfie experiences. In Chicago I visited the Downtown Loop on a weekend where the hotspots were riddled with tourists. I was in awe of the busy environment, and it filled me with joy to see my city so lively. However, the tourist scene in Barcelona was just overwhelming. Though my favorite selfie (below) in Barcelona took place at La Rambla, it was after an annoying trek down a busy road where multiple people invaded my personal bubble by bumping into me. At Chicago’s own hotspot, the Bean, my smile was caused by awe of the diverse groups of visitors that came to snap their own photos. Perhaps it was the invasion of my small personal bubble that caused my annoyance in Barcelona, and my sense of belonging in Chicago may have caused my pride.
From this emotional roller coaster I have experienced in Barcelona, I know that I must work to find a balance. I expect to return home with the scenic appreciation I have developed here in an unfamiliar city. While roaming around Chicago may not be new to me, I can create novel experiences by taking a different path to school and looking up and around rather than straight and down while traveling my A-to-B. Though I continuously battle between my identity as an Asian-American and how that fits or does not fit in this European setting, I will search for my sense of belonging by visiting the Asian grocery stores here that give me a taste of back home. In this tourist-heavy city of Barcelona, navigating around the hotspots will allow me to begin treating this experience as a traveler rather than a tourist. With this mindset, I am confident that I will resolve the difficulties that may come with this new environment, and I am ready to face them head on.