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By billienkatz

This post marks my last weekend in Barcelona, my last blog post while I can say that I am studying abroad, and the last moments where I can experience and not just reflect. As of Thursday I am boarding a flight headed towards JFK and I cannot even begin to grapple with how quickly this semester has flown by. There isn't a single bone in my body that is ready to part with this city, and I'm also really unsure of what I'm going to encounter when I return home.

Every trip back home is normally the same, nothing every changes. This time however, there has been one large shift: I have changed. Yes, some of it is external. I dress slightly differently, my skin has seen more sun than normal, and I am in desperate need of a haircut; however, it extends much further than what people are able to see when they look at me. The changes are internal, and operate how I have lived every day of the past four months.

Most importantly, however, is the milestone that I have now completed: studying abroad. Study abroad, especially at a school like GW, is a right of passage through your four years at school. It was something I constantly looked forward to, and I noticed how empty campus seems at times when you return back after winter break and a large portion of that year's junior class is missing. This semester, I was part of that missing class. I not only embarked on a journey that led me to IES in Barcelona, Spain, but I have now finished taking my finals and am left with making sure my bags are under 51 pounds and remembering to print out my boarding pass.

I've promised myself that I'm making one more trip to La Boqueria, having one more dinner at my favorite restaurant around the corner from my apartment, and the most important thing, making a pact with my close knit group of friends I've formed here, that we will all be back in Barcelona, together, in the near future. The idea of putting this experience behind me is terrifying and I'm nearly ready to give it up, but I am ready to relinquish this power, the power of experiencing an alternative way of life at the age of 20/21, to another group of students.

Barcelona has stolen my heart, and I am positive that I will be back; however, it will never again be in the context of studying abroad. As of my final post next week, studying abroad, will have turned into studied's crazy how much meaning the change in tense evokes.

Hasta luego Barcelona

By billienkatz

Somewhere in the midst of all of the traveling, immersion, independence, and figuring out where the 'study' fits into study abroad, this semester has flown by and I now find myself facing finals (not to mention the task of figuring out how to get all of my belongings back home). As a college student I always feel that finals fall at the most inconvenient time; however, this semester it's actually true. The way IES designed our academic calendar was that finals would begin right after Semana Santa, which was designated as our Spring Break. This means that after traveling for 7-10 days we suddenly have to come back to Barcelona, buckle down, and study? It seems like a simple task, but facing only eleven days left in this city and this study abroad experience, the last thing I want to do is spend time indoors studying.

Yesterday I spent the day walking all around the city and exploring the neighborhoods I kept saying I was going to go visit, and never did. This activity reinforced how vibrant and beautiful the city of Barcelona is, and how lucky I have been to be able to call it my home for the past four months. Now, the idea of preparing for finals and getting ready to say my goodbyes is both overwhelming and terrifying. I'm too conscientious of a student to forgo studying for my finals, but I know that this means I'm going to have to neglect some final explorations around the city. All of this is then met with the unsettling idea that I am about to board a plane back to New York, never to be with all these new friends in this same context of living and learning in Barcelona ever again. Seriously, IES, with this brewing internal conflict and potential end-of-study-abroad-crisis, how am I ever supposed to appropriately study for my Spanish Final? Not to mention that I'm still savoring the memories of my Spring Break trip that concluded  yesterday...this is almost too much for me to wrap my mind around.

I'm generally a person who has a set A to Z plan with plans B, C & D ready incase something doesn't go as planned. However, with eleven days to end my junior year of college, to pack up and leave Barcelona, and to try and make the days pass as slowly as possible, I'm at a loss for a plan, a means of organization, or a clear idea of how best to spend my time. What I do know for sure, however, is that Barcelona and this semester will always hold a coveted space in my memories and how I continue to live my life and view the world around me. Studying abroad is truly a milestone of an experience, and one that you cannot fully grasp until it is suddenly over.

By billienkatz

This past Friday I set out on my longest trip of the semester - a week long spring break. This coming week marks the start of Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week in Spain, and thus, a great excuse for an end of the semester spring break. The majority of people in my program packed their bags and jetted off (read as: flew into small, middle of nowhere airports on RyanAir) to destinations such as the Almafi Coast, Ibiza, and Greece. I chose to take the flight path arguably less traveled and set off for a week in Budapest and Vienna!

I'm currently two nights into the Budapest leg of my trip, and while the baths are incredible, and the Danube River at night is one of the most beautiful sights I've ever laid my eyes on, the best part of this trip so far has been reuniting with my best friends from school who I haven't seen in roughly four months. This is what I find so limitless about traveling and living abroad. Using my current example, there are five American students - 2 from Barcelona (including myself), 2 from Haifa and 1 from London. Now, what sojourning students from Spain, Israel and the United Kingdom are all doing together in Budapest may seem like the set-up to an awful joke, but this truly shows how small the world actually is.

Through different time differences, customs and boarder controls, student visas and passports we all managed to get ourselves to Hungary. There's something about strolling across the chain bridge with your roommate who you haven't seen since moving out last semester and before this study abroad experience ever began. In addition, when you trade in the streets of DuPont Circle for a string of consonants and harsh accents written in Hungarian, you have the ability to witness how some of your closest friends have grown and evolved since this experience began.

Over the course of the past few days this has been extremely insightful for me because I know that I am a different person than when I left a few months ago, but until I found myself surrounded by the friends I've known since the first weekend of freshman year, I had yet to truly acknowledge the metamorphosis that had and is in the process of taking place.

As my semester slowly begins to come to a close I'm hoping to give myself time to truly reflect on the impact of my experiences while still living here and being surrounded by both items, customs, cultures and people that are both comforting and familiar, and intimidating and novel at the same time.

My mantra as I enter my final few weeks in Barcelona is, I'll sleep when I'm back home. While this sounds a lot like it has to do with staying out late and taking advantage of the night life Barcelona is well known for, well, it's actually the quite opposite. I'm running out of time in this city I've fallen in love with and that is terrifying. I want to go back to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia. I want to wander the streets of the Barrio Gotic and get lost in medieval Barcelona. Most of all, I want my next three weeks to slow down because I'm just not prepared to say goodbye yet.

Then, on the other hand, I keep finding the urge to find some relaxing downtime because I feel as though I'm always running around. This is the paradox of being abroad - the act of having a general feeling of panic that you don't have enough time to accomplish all that you want to, but also just wanting the ability to catch up on three/four months of sleep that has been lost in the abyss of taking classes, exploring, speaking another language, traveling, and so much more. I've yet to figure out how I want to spend my lasts as and weeks in Barcelona, but I know that I'm never going to be completely ready to leave. I've grown accustomed to the slower lifestyle, the emphasis on family and friends, and a sense of adventure that I have never tapped into while in DC or back home in Connecticut.

I think I've done it. I think that I finally understand what causes study abroad students to have severe abroad withdrawal and with the biggest look of nostalgia to explain to others how it was the most amazing experience of their entire life.

Here's to making my last 24 days count,


By billienkatz

I just returned back to Barcelona from a weekend trip to Paris and I have never felt more at home as I do at this very moment. Maybe it had something to do with having to navigate Charles de Gaulle airport and the bus/metro system alone with no working knowledge of French, aside from croissant and crepe. On the other hand, maybe it was being scrutinized by Easy Jet as I stuffed my carry-on bag into a too small metal been to make sure it was within the correct dimensions and restrictions - isn't flying budget airlines a ton of fun?

While I had yet another incredible and moment worthy trip exploring a major European city, I found myself ready to return to the comfort of Barcelona and Spanish speakers and my metro system. The comfort in the Spanish language factor is ultimately what has lead to the reflection of this post. When I first arrived to Barcelona on January 7th I was terrified to have to speak in Spanish because while i knew my colors really well, my not so extensive vocabulary stopped there.
This is one of the most obvious ways I have grown over the last three,intend that I have been here. Not only am I fumbling through countries where I don't speak the native language, but I find myself being so ready and excited to seal and hear Spanish again once I know its time to head home to Barcelona. This makes me realize that despite the fact that this experience has gone by way too fast (I have exactly one month left), I'm proud of myself for not only
making Barcelona, the people, and their language feel like home, but for recognizing how far I have come in the last three months.
Here's to one final month that can maybe top the last three,

By billienkatz

Before embarking on the study abroad journey, I was bombarded by people (both friends, family and professors) who said it would be a major lesson in independence. This was almost insulting at times because I view myself as an independent person to begin with. Over the course of the past few weeks, especially since I really started jet setting around Europe, I've started o understand what everyone was talking about.

There is a sense of adaptability, resiliency, and go-with-the-flow attitude that is necessary while studying abroad, and in turn this manifests itself into a new form of independence. For the first time in my life I've been navigating myself around foreign cities where I don't speak the language and have limited access to WiFi and can only occasionally rely on google maps. For example, this past weekend I took advantage of having a Thursday off of school and took a five day trip to Rome and Florence. I was flying round trip in and out of Rome, and faced with taking the train from Rome to Florence and back again. I had already taken the train in Spain and had expected the process to be flawless and easy; however, as you can probably assume it was not.

First, I speak no Italian and despite what I thought before arriving, it really isn't recognizably similar to Spanish. Then, once I couldn't figure out the lines at the ticket office and weird number calling system (I had number A312 and they were called N4 and R109) I decided to give it a go at the ticket kiosk, which didn't work either. I don't have the chip in my debit card that all the European machines read, so my transaction was unable to be completed.

I should also mention that it was now approximately 2:23 and I had to get on the  2:31 train that was the last one going from Rome to Florence until the next morning. Low and behold, and only after  being forced to tip the man who helped me figure it out,  I was en-route to Florence. While this obviously isn't my most applicable example, its what has happened the most recently.

Overall, what I'm trying to get across is that everyone was right, being abroad does teach you an entirely new sense of independence that Ive never had to utilize before. In addition, in the process I have learned a lot about myself and how I approach and react to certain situations. For example, I have learned that I really value traveling with my parents and utilizing curbside check in, and that the world doesn't stop turning if I have to wear the pants and sweater multiple times in a row because my trip destination was colder than expected and I can only fit so much in a RyanAir approved carry on bag. Finally, I have learned that there is always room to grow as a person and learn more about yourself, and for me this has been my most powerful realization.

By billienkatz

1. Pan con Tomate - this simple dish is simply toasted bread with a tomato spread, but it is one of the foods that has stood out the most throughout my time in Barcelona. My first experience with this dish was when my roommate and I wandered into a restaurant around the corner from our apartment for our first Spanish meal just a few hours after stepping off the plane and where we were jet lagged out of our minds. This (for some reason) is a staple on most restaurant menus and a definite 'must order' appetizer.

2. Paella - duh. Paella is a staple of Spanish meals in general; however, you truly don't understand how incredible it is until you actually eat it in Spain. Barcelona, specifically, has really amazing Paella because it is a port city and all of the seafood used is completely fresh. The only downside for someone like me who tries to view my food as just food and nothing more, the fact that the Spanish keep the heads on all of their seafood ruins a bit of the meal for me.

3. Cava - while Cava is certainly not a food group, it is very possible to argue that since it is an alcoholic drink, that it is essential to the Spanish diet. This isn't to say that everyone in Spain drinks copious amounts, but having a few beers or glasses of wine/cava/sangria at any point in the day is totally normal. I even saw a 4 year old playing with a not totally empty beer bottle once...Anyway, back to Cava! Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine, which is grown and produced in the Catalonia region. Essentially, Cava is to Spain, what Champagne is to France.

4. Fresh Juice - I am a fruit fanatic, and the concept of fresh-squeezed natural juices that are abundant in Barcelona is potentially one of my favorite things about studying abroad here. There are two very distinct types of juice in Barcelona. The first, is very common and from a giant industrial sized juicer that is found in every restaurant, cafe, and little shop you walk into. The second, and my definite favorite, is the 1€ juice available at La Boqueria (the big open market). The IES center where I take my classes is about a 5 minute walk down Las Rambles to the Boqueria, and I often find myself taking juice breaks because it's just that good.

5. Chocolate con Churros - there isn't enough to say about this dessert, except for the fact that it is amazing, fattening, and may result in a bit of self-loathing if you eat one too many, but it is such a worth it while visiting and more importantly, eating in Spain!

By billienkatz

"Me pone un cafe con leche para llevar" is a saying you rarely hear in a cafe or restaurant in Barcelona, unless of course, the person saying it is speaking in a botched 'spanish' accent, and is American. This also may or may not be the summary of my abroad experience, in which, drinking coffee while walking, in class, outside of a cafe, or in a cup to-go is probably worse than FC Barcelona losing to Real Madrid.

Meals in Barcelona are extremely grounded within the family, which is the most central structure of Spanish life. As a result, meals are elongated processes (something I like, yet had to adapt to), you are never rushed to pay the check, and every bite and sip of the meal is consumed within the restaurant. Then, there's me, and the rest of the American study abroad students. I live off of 1-2 cups of coffee every morning at home, and during orientation for my IES program when they explained that coffee wasn't allowed in class, I took it as a personal attack.

I found an alternative solution to the weak instant coffee that was available in my apartment - cafe con leche. This drink uses espresso and hot milk, and combines to give the caffeine kick a person like me needs to be functional during my 9 AM classes. Un cafe con leche para llevar, which is translated into "a coffee with milk to take away" became my morning mantra, and since it's just a tiny cup of espresso and milk, I'm able to finish my cup quickly before entering the IES building.

Now that I am more comfortable in my host city, I decided that my coffee needs were more important than the stares and dirty looks I was receiving from my locals, as I walked down the street with my 'take-away' cup. Maybe this is culturally incompetent of me, and I know that my cross-cultural psychology teacher would not be proud, but this is a cultural faux pas I make day in and day out.

Me gusta mi cafe,


By billienkatz

American students are fed through an educational system, which stresses that taking classes and earning a degree are no longer enough to succeed in the workplace, much less, be able to provide for oneself and one’s family. The two semesters of classes we take each year are important, but there’s always a race to see who has the more impressive resume and who holds the internship with the most work hours during the academic semester. How then, do we define students? The standard dictionary definition of a student is: a personal who is studying at a school or college. Based on this, how would the dictionary define a GW student? Surely they would have to include interning on Capitol Hill, working at the next big start-up or non-profit headquarters in the heart of DC, or even just taking classes and attending seminars led by some of the biggest names in our country.

Using this above context as what I consider most college students to be, I was stunned to learn more about the educational system here in Barcelona. The entire conversation began in my Human Development in the Spanish Socio-Cultural Context class when we were discussing the stages of school children go through and how this may be similar and different to what we experience in the United States. Using our own personal student frameworks the conversation easily drifted to the rigor of internships and previous work experience, and my Spanish born and raised professor, had no idea why we thought students should be working.

As it turns out, a Spanish college student (say someone studying at the University of Barcelona) wakes up in the morning, sits through a few hours of class, goes home and does some homework, and then repeats the entire cycle again the next day, and the day after, until they have a degree in their hands a few years later. There is no consideration of working within the field you eventually want to forge a career in, and there is certainly no fear of competition when it comes to applying for jobs.

For all the flack Americans get for being lazy and not wanting to work hard, I find it interesting that our students are putting increasingly more pressure on themselves to be prepared for a future of jobs and success, as compared to other countries such as Spain that really has no “need” for resume building. If the United States adopted this, maybe high-powered professionals would be filling their own mugs of coffee! And, for all GW students scrambling around looking for summer plans, can I suggest a quick relocation to España?

I'll admit that I went into the creation of this blog, the same way that I went into the start of my new semester studying abroad - I was going to figure it out as I went. The good news in relation to the blog is that my posts are getting posted, and I'm really enjoying being able to re-live my experiences through a wide focus in a matter that allows me to relay the information back to the readers (whoever they may be). As it pertains to my study abroad experience, I feel as though I'm moving into my self-defined phase 2. Somewhere between my weekend trip to Prague that I just returned home from, and falling into my routine of classes, homework, and truly living in Barcelona, I've realized that the novelty of the experience has worn off. This semester no longer feels like an extended vacation, it feels like the true experience that study abroad signifies. I've found myself no longer marveling at how long I've been here for (3 days, 1 week, a month) and instead focusing on how much time I have to live not only in the amazing city that is Barcelona, but in Europe. This past Friday marked the close of the first month of my program, and since I have found myself focusing on the fact that I have all of February, March and April left, versus being fixated on the time that's passed since I last stepped foot on GW's campus or when I boarded my plane at JFK.

I have so much more to visit and tour, a ton more spanish to learn, and even more that I can't even imagine, but that I know is right in front of me. As a result, I've chosen to embrace this change in my thinking patterns and attribute it as my real beginning of studying in Barcelona.