Wednesday, 13 April 2011

UK students spend 5 million euros in one week partying in Salou, Spain

Saloufest is in its tenth year, according to one of the leading national newspapers in Spain. Actually, there is huge coverage of this event in all Spain’s media, and it’s all really bad. I’m writing this post as an English person resident in Spain. This is the kind of behaviour that makes you think there is no hope for the UK and that UK youth is lost in the pursuit of selfish pleasure.
Basically, between 5,000 and 7,000 students from UK unis get together in this small town on the pretext of a sports meeting. It’s pretty clear that sport is way down on the list of priorities once they all arrive: the whole thing is summed up in a quote in the El País newspaper, from 20 year-old Daniel: Sport? No thanks, I’m here for the parties, the girls and the beer.
In the first place, it’s bad for Spain, because it reinforces the country’s image as a destination for low cost, low quality holidays based on the 4 s’s: sun, sand, sex and sangría. The Saloufest is tolerated by local residents because it brings about 5milllion euros into the town. But this kind of short term tourism, replicated in one seaside town after another and throughout the summer, diminishes Spain’s prestige. I’m not saying the people who take part are bad or in any way unworthy of being allowed into the country. I mean that they will take home and communicate to their friends the same old stereotype of Spain.
How many of the uni students will return home without seeing the amazing sights in Barcelona, with Gaudi’s original architecture and its parks; or the Dali museum in Figueras along the coast. To say nothing of Madrid’s wealth of history, to be seen in its buildings and in its unmatched art collections, or Toledo, Granada and Santiago de Compostela, between them offering centuries worth of learning and history, with unique combinations of the Christian, Arab and Jewish cultures.
In the second place, it’s bad for the image of the UK. While the Salou residents are very happy to take the cash and clear up the trash left behind, the media are full of truly dreadful stories about the students’ behaviour. Just take a look at this search in El País for the word Salou, and you get 9 pages of links to articles. Typical headlines are: Hundreds of students parade naked through the town; Lost, a youth wanders through the streets, drunk out of his skull; As the night wears on the clothes come off – this one with a photo of a naked youth urinating in a shop doorway... the comments just go on and on, and they get even worse:
For Spanish people these are not some UK students, these are UK students. There is no mention of the ones who stayed at home and are working to pay their way, or, heaven forbid, even at home studying for the upcoming exams. No, just the assumption that what you see is what there is. And what you see is not inviting.
In the third place, it’s really bad for these young people themselves. Sport is meant to be a healthy, life-enhancing activity. Sport as an excuse for binge drinking is a threat to good health in the long term, and puts these young people at risk of terrible accidents in the short term. Nobody needs to read here of the damage that binge drinking inflicts on health, people far more qualified than I have made the case many times over.
Worst of all, I think, is the sense of waste: wasted opportunity, talent time and money. Imagine the good that could be achieved by 5,000 of the most talented, gifted, healthy and financially stable young people in the UK. These young persons are among the most privileged of the most privileged.
24.200.000 is the number of entries in Google when you search for Volunteering
$400 is the IMF’s estimation of per capita income in Timor Leste, in South East Asia:
5 million euros is the money spent by at the Saloufest.
What would you get if you put together 5,000 students, 5 million euros and a well organised volunteer programme for one week?
Thankfully, I know other young people in the UK who do not follow this destructive pattern of behaviour: young people who are hard working and serious about their uni courses, persons who take care not only of themselves, but who give of their own time to care for others, through faith groups, civil organisations or through volunteer work with established organisations. When they’ve swept up all the beer cans at Salou, maybe we can start talking about these students: less striking as news items, but more newsworthy by far.

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