Livin' La Vida Loca

SALAMANCA, Spain—Young people from all over the world flock to Spain for its legendary party scene. And in the summers, local teenagers really live the good life. Here, it feels like every night is the weekend. Although considerably less crowded during the work week, bars stay open late (‘til around 2 or 3a.m.) and many discotecas have just barely gotten started by 4a.m. On the weekends, it’s not uncommon to see partygoers stumbling home in the previous day’s clothes at 7 or even 8 in the morning. Much of the time, they fall into bed, sleep until lunch time, nap again during siesta, and then hang around with friends until it is time to go out once more.

I once asked a Spanish friend how this kind of nocturnal lifestyle was sustainable. Do these kids have summer jobs, or internships, or volunteer work, or anything at all that they have to do during the day? For the vast majority, the answer is: not really. Young people here are generally expected to focus on only one thing at a time. During the school year, academics alone occupy a student’s time. Given that entry into university is solely dependent on one’s grades and exam scores, extracurriculars, sports, community service, and work experience are of relatively little importance. Consequently, during summer breaks, most are free to do as they please.

Compared to the eternally crazy schedules of many American teenagers, this approach seems rather refreshing. In the states, high school students often juggle dozens of activities on top of their schoolwork, and increasingly plan out overly busy summers in order to impress universities. But having been here for almost four weeks now, I feel that there is something wanting in the lives of the local Spanish teenagers who seem almost singularly occupied with having fun. Certainly, most American students would eagerly welcome more carefree summers, but the experience of working a part-time job, of interning at a political office, or of tutoring younger children gives one a sense of responsibility and purpose that is satisfying in its own way. I can’t help but feel that in the long run, the pleasure derived from these types of activities is far more valuable and meaningful than the trivial amusement drawn from endless nights of partying.

Adrienne Y. Lee ’12 is a Crimson editorial writer in Quincy House.