Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go along with two other teachers at my school to accompany our 4 ESO (high school sophomore) students on their Viaje de Estudios, or class trip. This gave me some extra insight into the lives of Spanish teenagers, and I’d like to share with you some of the differences I’ve observed. I may be getting old (24 next week!!!), but I don’t think I’m so far removed from my teenage years that I can’t remember what it was like. As far as I can tell, being a teen here is VERY different from my experience at that age.
Difference #1: The Thrill Factor
We kicked off the trip with an action-packed couple of days in the Pyrenees Mountains on the France-Spain border: white water rafting, paint-balling and “canyoning,” which is essentially descending a long, cascading waterfall using a variety of techniques including rappelling, jumping, swimming and climbing.
This brings me to Difference #1: Spanish (or maybe specifically Basque) teens are overall, for lack of a better term, more badass than American teens. Tell me: if you went on a HS class trip, what sort of activities did you and your classmates do? I’m guessing it probably didn’t involve any extreme sports. You know, with wet suits, helmets, carabiners, cables and plunges into icy pools at the bases of several waterfall drops. I suppose it helps a lot that the teens here are just generally more active, thus in better shape, than most American teens. The fact that the people of this country don’t have an obsession with liability lawsuits like in the US probably helps facilitate these opportunities as well.
Difference #2: The Fiesta Factor
The second half of the trip was spent in Salou, a beachy resort town and notorious teen party capital of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. When I told anyone we were going to Salou, the unanimous response was “Ooooh…mucha fiesta!” It made me wonder, and still sorta does, why a school would willingly put a notorious party town on their high schoolers’ class trip itinerary. My school wasn’t alone in that decision either. In our beachfront hotel alone there were two other high school student groups from other parts of Spain on their class trip. On the nights in Salou, the kids would scurry down to our 9pm dinner, scarf down some food and head out on the town. The other chaperones and I hung out and had a few drinks before meeting up with the kids around 1am at whatever club they may be at. Just to do a headcount. To make sure everyone was still upright. And they were! All 35 of them could handle a night of partying better than a majority of American college freshmen. Their final curfew, around 4am (early by Spanish clubbing standards) was obeyed by every last one of them. That’s more than can be said for the average American teen, my former teen self included.
Difference #3: The Apathy Factor
Teenagers across the globe are known to have attitudes of apathy and angst unmatched by any other age group, but I think this attitude is stronger here than in the US. When I was in high school, most of the “cool kids” were also the smart, academically achieving kids. Though this may not be the case in the US as a whole, I’m pretty confident in saying that the relationship between high academic achievement and level of “cool-ness” is a lot more inversely related here than it is back home. For these teens, failing and repeating classes is the norm, not the exception. They talk about failing classes really openly and joke about it.
School performance isn’t the only place I’ve seen this attitude. To use an example from the class trip: we spent an afternoon touring Barcelona, and though the tour guide we had wasn’t stellar, I was appalled by how little the students paid attention during the tour. They slept when she was talking to us on the bus and wandered off when we were walking around with her. For many of them, it was their first time in Barcelona, and they just acted like it was the lamest thing they’ve ever done. I couldn’t figure it out. I remember going to Chicago and NYC for school music trips and being completely enthralled with the experience of seeing a new city. And don’t think I was the lone travel dork–my classmates were right along with me.
I’ve made a lot of generalizations here, and it is of course important to consider that my personal HS experience could be quite different from someone who grew up in a totally different corner of our vast land mass that is the US of A. And even though Spain isn’t geographically all that large, there are regional differences galore here too.
What do you think? Are Spanish teens better off than American ones? Does the significantly lower drinking age help them adopt a healthier attitude towards drinking and socializing in a party environment? How does their attitude of apathy and angst compare with that of American teens? I’d love to hear any of your thoughts–feel free to leave a comment!
I’ll leave you with a tune that’s very popular with the kids these days (one that I got to hear on repeat on our bus trip :-D):