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!
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.
...continue reading "Food Culture and Service"
I cannot believe it’s already April! Time has flown by and I continue to learn something new about Spanish culture every day. The first day of the month was also Easter, which is widely celebrated through Spain. Since the country has strong Catholic history, even citizens who are not particularly religious celebrate the holiday. My host family celebrated with their extended family in the countryside and most of Barcelona was quiet on both Sunday and Monday of Easter weekend. It is really interesting to compare this prevalence of a religious holiday to my experience in the United States, where there is more evident religious diversity.
Over the past month, I have become more involved at Sant’Egidio, the church with which I have been volunteering. Aside from helping on Thursday evenings, I have also been able to volunteer for the Tuesday evening shift. This has offered a new perspective on the work the church is doing, and the customs of community service in Spain. On Tuesdays, there is an entirely different system of providing food to the homeless population in Barcelona. Rather than delivering sandwiches around the city, the church runs a restaurant out of the community room. Although slightly more similar to my experience with soup kitchens and food pantries in the United States, this system had stark differences.
...continue reading "Voluntario en Sant'Egidio"
Two months in Barcelona have flown by! Aside from attending classes during the week and exploring on the weekends, I have been spending a lot of time experiencing the food culture. Anyone who has visited Europe could tell you that things move slower here, but food culture embodies that concept to the max. The American standard of ordering an "Iced Venti Latte to-go" is frowned upon; Spaniards like their coffee to be piping hot and enjoyed at a cafe among friends. Authentic restaurants and cafes have an extremely relaxed atmosphere, which is a nice change of pace. Spanish residents grocery shop at the local market each morning for the ingredients they will use that day, ensuring that items are always fresh.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the homeless population in Barcelona. Although less visually apparent at first, there are still handfuls of people living on the streets. I began my volunteer shifts several weeks ago at a church in the Gothic Quarter, which has helped me gain perspective. I was unsure what to expect going in, but was welcomed warmly by Alba, the woman who runs the program. She explained that this local church runs a food kitchen multiple times a week; the volunteers meet to assemble sandwiches, and then groups head off into the night to locate people living on the streets. I noticed many similarities between the initial part of my first evening and my experience working with food kitchens in the United States, but the rest of the night was starkly different. Back home, most of the organizations are run out of a building and homeless populations come there to receive food. At this group, we split up into small groups and each ventured into a section of Barcelona. My group headed towards Placa de Catalunya, which is a large tourist square next to my abroad program building.
Throughout the course of the next two hours, I experienced a lot of eye-opening moments. The two women in my group, Alba and Catarina, explained that the organization knows each of the homeless people in the city on an individual level. Alba explained that it is important for a friendship to be formed because they don’t want these people to feel like they’re only receiving charity. We spent ten to fifteen minutes conversing with each individual that we delivered food to, simply asking about their recent life and making conversation. This aspect of socialization was new to me because most of the food banks and kitchens in DC with which I’ve volunteered in the past don’t emphasize the human connection between the volunteers and the recipients of the food. However, this certainly made our work feel more meaningful. I look forward to returning each week, especially as my language comprehension improves.
Today, I have been in Barcelona just shy of one month. Among the countless empeñadas and ever-present reggaeton, I have finally begun to feel at home. I am living in a homestay, with a loving and spunky mom, Pepe (whom I adore), and her quiet yet thoughtful husband, Carlos. They have been married for 47 years and have a bunch of adorable grandchildren. We live in Eixample, one of the most central commercial neighborhoods in BCN. My program center is nearby, located next to the Plaça de Catalunya.
My program is IES ~ Liberal Arts & Business in Barcelona. There are roughly 750 students from all over the United States. As a political science major, I am taking one course relevant to my degree and a handful of other intriguing courses. Mediterranean Environment is an environmental science class that I selected solely based upon my passion for the outdoors. I’m also taking an intensive Spanish language course, to hopefully accelerate my retention of the language. My professors for these courses are phenomenal across the board.
Finally, I am taking Food & Culture. Despite its occurrence at 8:30 am, this is one of my favorite classes so far. My professor, Xavi, is the epitome of a passionate cuisine enthusiast. The significance of food in Spain is remarkable in comparison to the United States. This is not to say that the states don’t have any food culture (which is a discussion we’ve touched upon in class), but Spain’s rich history and regional diversity has led it to develop a pretty cool local menu.
...continue reading "Bienvenidos!"