I am officially back in the United States and all I can think about is the home and life that I created in Barcelona. Being back has been different, and I feel as though there is a lot to be done, but I am still trying to get through the clutter of jet lag and figure out where to start. Processing this entire experience has been hard, especially with these last four months feeling so unreal. I've spent the last four months volunteering with kids who know nothing about the world I come from, and some of them could hardly even imagine it. I go to an amazing university and have always prided myself on being smart, so it was incredibly humbling to meet 4 and 5 year olds who can speak 3 languages, meanwhile I'm still trying to perfect my Spanish, which I have been learning since elementary school. While abroad, I am so proud of myself for overcoming the language barrier. My Spanish has gotten so much better, and after awhile, I was no longer afraid to just put myself out there and try to talk. I feel like I learned so much more by just trying, even if what I was saying did not come out perfectly. When I get back to GWU, I do want to continue this kind of work and service, so hopefully I am able to find some type of volunteer work with kids that will work with my schedule. Barcelona taught me so much and it gave me so much, and I can't wait to give back.
My time abroad is quickly coming to a close and I am feeling very confused about it. I am excited to be returning home to my friends and family, but I am already missing the home that I have created and found here in Barcelona. Volunteering has helped me see Barcelona from a different perspective, and although my schedule with classes can be hectic, I love being able to squeeze in the time to do something that matters to me. Studying abroad is a privilege, and I live in a country that has created walls and boarders, blocking people from the opportunity of creating better lives for themselves, and here I am, in Europe, in a different country nearly every weekend. This experience has been eye-opening and has truly made me face privileges that I was not even aware that I had. I am proud of acknowledging that because in a world where I constantly feel as though I am a minority and I know the struggles that I face because of that, I had to step back and realize that there are people who really do have it worse than me, and that there is so much for me to be grateful for. I feel like working with these kids has shown them that the oh so amazing life that I live in America is not far off from theirs, and that if I am able to do something like study-abroad, they can too. Volunteering has greatly enhanced my study abroad experience because it put me in a position to interact as a local, not just a tourist. Volunteering placed me into someone else's world, and it gave me an opportunity to see life from their eyes. Although my study abroad program is not over quite yet, one way that I plan to continue showing my commitment to my community is by helping other students from backgrounds similar to mine realize that studying abroad is something that they can do, and helping them achieve that.
I am about halfway through my time to study abroad in Barcelona, and I have no idea where the time has gone. I have continued volunteering at the local elementary school called Dolors Almeda and I feel like interacting with the students there has continued to teach me a lot and make Barcelona feel even more like home. For me personally, volunteering has had its moments when it was a little harder due to the current political climate in Barcelona. With the big trial going on and Catalunya wanting its independence from Spain, there have many protests and demonstrations throughout the city. This causes a great impact on the metro and other means of public transportation, which makes it harder to get around. Also the fact that you never want to get caught up in the protest, so just being extra aware of where you are at all times has become increasingly important. Either way, volunteering has given me a chance to really get to know some of these students, and I think it has helped a lot in terms of their perspective of the United States and what it means to be American. With the students being so young, a lot of them have very big and grand ideas on what the United States is and it is so funny to hear the things that they associate the United States with the most. I feel like I've been able to give them more and more information on a place that a lot of them hope to go and visit one day, so I really hope that it lives up to what they are expecting. I also think that volunteering with these students has changed the way that some of their parents look at and see Americans. I feel like there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding Americans and this idea that we come here just to enjoy the beauty of their home without really getting to know it and contribute to it, and I feel like me coming in and helping teach their children and me trying to learn and understand their language and culture has truly gone a long way. I am very sad to see time going so quickly because I absolutely love it here, but I am very excited to see what these next two months have in store.
Nine out of ten times that I walk out my door here in Barcelona, the first destination I go to is my local metro stop. I live close to two metro stops; the main one I use is called Marina on the L1 line and the other one is Bogatell on the L4. I live a quick five-minute walk from the Marina metro stop which in three stops (about 10 minutes) takes me to the center of Barcelona, which is also where the IES Abroad center is. The other stop, Bogatell, is also a five-minute walk and in just 10 minutes the metro can take me to the Barceloneta beach. The transportation system in Barcelona is very well designed and accessible, as there is a metro or bus stop close to anywhere I would like to go within the city. It is also very cheap, efficient, and safe.
The best purchase I made when I first came to Barcelona was a T-Joven card (pictured below). It was 100 euros which sounded a bit pricey to me when I first bought it, however it is incredibly worth it and I would recommend it to anyone studying abroad in Barcelona. It is a 3-month metro pass that comes with unlimited rides either on metro, bus, or even the TRAM. I think one of the biggest benefits of the T-Joven card is that it also allows you to take the metro to Barcelona El-Prat airport without any extra charges, which has saved me a great amount of money considering an uber ride to the airport is almost 40 euros. You can also use the card to get to the outskirts of Barcelona for free. Last weekend, my friends and I decided to go hiking at the beautiful Montserrat mountain range. It is about an hour away on the metro so we were shocked at the fact we did not have to pay anything and could just use our T-Joven cards to get there.
Navigating the transportation system in Barcelona is very easy and convenient. There are rarely any metro delays, which is something I am going to miss when I return to living in DC where I sometimes have to wait 15 minutes for the next train to come. In Barcelona, you almost never have to wait more than 5 minutes for the metro. I also appreciate that on Fridays the metro is open until 2am and on Saturdays it runs 24 hours (in DC it closes at midnight every night, which means I never take the metro on the weekends). Overall, I have taken an uber or taxi very few times in Europe because the public transportation systems here are a much more efficient and cheaper way to get around the city. America, you need to step up your public transportation game.
My semester abroad was a series of memorable moments. Traveling to different countries, eating new foods, and meeting new people has brought me a new sense of the privilege I hold. These new experiences also revealed the American bubble I have lived in for most of my life.
One of my favorite, most memorable nights, was attending Carnival in Sitges, Spain, a small town about an hour outside of Barcelona. Carnival is a celebration that occurs right before lent. Much like Mardi Gras, Carnival is filled with colorful costumes, parades, and specialty foods.
On a Tuesday night in February, my friends and I were herded into a large bus, draped in shimmery boas and disguised in a colorful array of wigs and masks. I had been given a lesson on Carnival in my Spanish class, so we knew what to wear and what food to look for when we arrived in Sitges.
An hour later, we arrived in Sitges to find a long line of locals dressed in elaborate costumes. Women wore bright leotards and large glittery wings, men were dressed as animals with large headdresses and face paint. They danced to Spanish music as they waited for their turn to walk past the parade’s starting line. This was something I had never seen. Rather than floats sponsored by corporations and parade participants in t-shirts with company logos, the Sitges parade had a cultural focus. The floats were hand-decorated and the participants danced to carefully crafted choreography. I was so used to the capitalist spectacle of parades in the United States, that seeing something so authentic was shocking. ...continue reading "Carnival!"
I never knew how to answer the question, “what was your best moment abroad?” until I went to Split, Croatia. My friends and I decided to go after finding cheap flights right between our finals and hoping for a fun adventure. Little did I know, that Croatia was going to be the best trip I had abroad and the one filled with the most wholesome memories.
We decided to sign up for a popular day long boat excursion that travels to five nearby Croatian Islands so we could meet youngsters like ourselves. But on the morning, we arrived at the dock and we found that an Indian family from Australia had signed up for the same boat trip that we did. At the time, I thought it wasn’t going to be as fun but as we went to the first destination, I started talking to the mom and she was telling me about her family, work, and daughters. More importantly, we were instantly able to connect as individuals because of our Indian background. They offered us the Indian family snacks they brought on the trip and even paid for our lunch at one the islands. It was then that I realized my culture has brought me closer to people and given me a way to connect with them. That day, the mom told us, “we have taken you girls in as our own daughters today.” She truly welcomed us with open arms because we connected with each other through our Indian background. After being away from home for a long time and experiencing this memory, I gained pride in the welcoming culture that I came from.
As I look back at this incredible semester, I experienced so many different things, met incredible people, and most importantly, learned about myself. I loved Barcelona—living and studying in the city is much different than simply traveling to it. It gives you a different perspective and experience that only you can understand. But on the other hand, I was able to experience other countries and cities that were eye opening. And, what I found was that it wasn’t just about the place that you visit, but about the people you go with, the people you meet, and the experience you want to make out of it.
Croatia will always be my favorite memory, but Barcelona will always have my heart.
My time in Barcelona has come to a bittersweet end! I will miss my host family, especially my host mother, Josefina. I will miss the beautiful, bustling streets on a sunny day. Most of all, I will miss the people and the culture surrounding food, family, and life.
Since returning to the United States, I have noticed how cognizant I have become about certain aspects of American culture. Little things that were frowned upon in Spain, like to-go coffee cups, stand out in everyday life. I have found that I am more aware of the value of my food and am trying to maintain this level of respect that I got a taste of in Barcelona.
Upon returning to GW in the fall, I will apply the lessons I learned while completing service in Spain to the community service in which I participate in DC. The emphasis on forming relationships within service, as opposed to treating interactions like a business transaction, is a value I will continue to emphasize when serving others. I am grateful for my experience in Barcelona, as it deeply broadened my understanding of community service on an international level. I hope to return soon!
It feels crazy looking back at my original blog post (I am back in the United States now). I had so many new cultural experiences since early February. I traveled to Sevilla, Paris, Nice, Ghent, Brussels, Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento, Rome, Florence, Milan, Budapest, and many smaller cities in the region of Barcelona. I have learned a great deal about Barcelona’s culture, and my Spanish has significantly improved. Regardless, I think do not think my identity has changed considerably. There is a common perception that study abroad “changes you,” but I don’t know how accurate that is.
I certainly settled into Barcelona and became more comfortable talking to locals, allowing my “dumb American” identity to slightly subside. In my last week, I had a fifteen minute conversation in Spanish with a waiter at my favorite Mexican restaurant in Barcelona. I clearly had adapted better than many other American students, which was comforting to know. In March, when I was in line at a popular sandwich place, my friends and I were the only Americans to order in Spanish. However, my American identity was still very present. I dressed differently than Spaniards, I went to many restaurants that attracted other Americans, and I felt lost when visiting other European countries.
Other parts of my identity have remained completely stagnant. Now that I have returned to the United States, I realize that my ethnic and religious identity have not changed. I am still a slightly confused, half-brown atheist, but I am completely okay with this. I take pride in my unique identity.
You know what they say… April showers bring May flowers and the end of study abroad! Okay, I guess I’ve never heard anyone say that besides me. Everything has been super busy lately with finals and classes wrapping up for the semester. Last Wednesday, my program hosted a dinner to celebrate the end of the term. It was a great opportunity to have a variety of delicious, typical Spanish tapas!
The final exam in my Food & Culture course asked primarily about the differences we observed between the culture of food and charitable food services in Spain versus the United States. My reflection about our community service experience discussed the variation of professionalism and volunteer-customer interactions between Spain and the United States. For example, the Saint Egidio organization has a strong emphasis on building and maintaining community among the homeless population in Barcelona. As I was volunteering, Alba, the woman in charge on certain nights, explained that the church plays an important role in the lives of these people by not only providing sustenance but also by providing support. The church’s dedication to this goal is evident through its variety of food events, special Sunday meals, and the guidebooks they created to help impoverished citizens access food kitchens and sleeping shelters throughout the city. Furthermore, Alba described an annual event held by Saint Egidio that I found very heartwarming. The church holds a special day of prayer once a year for those who have passed away in the local homeless community. Alba stressed the importance of this event: “it helps for them to know that someone will remember them when they are gone.”
This type of community-building is not so common in the United States. Whether this stems from the presence of larger homeless populations or cultural differences in the United States cannot be said certainly. However, a cultural difference was very clear when I volunteered for the second style of food distribution, which I discussed in my previous post. There were several obvious differences between this type of food service and the equivalent in the United States. One was that a large variety of people came to receive the free meal; there were men in work attire who looked like they had come from work, groups sitting together and laughing, and couples eating together. This array of attendees was not limited to homeless people living in Barcelona, rather, anyone who could use the help of a free meal. Back home, although anyone would be welcome to receive the dinner provided for those in need, it is very unlikely that there would be anyone other than homeless individuals.