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By neerjapatel

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.

As I expressed in my first blog post, I view myself as very multicultural. I was of Indian descent, yet was raised in America. This mixture of cultures was always a part of me, but coming to Spain made me appreciate and embrace it even more.

The community of people I have had in Spain has provided an enormous amount of support. My host mom always ties into my upbringing by discussing various aspects of Indian culture with me, from food to dance. She constantly recommends Indian restaurants for me to go to, and yearns for me to cook homemade Indian food for her. Building on that, I have been planning on doing a Bollywood dance in front of the Arc de Triomf with a fellow friend of mine. My host mom has not only been supportive of me, but has gone out of her way to tell everyone about it and show off my dancing videos to her friends. This might seem small, but its created an environment for me in which I feel comfortable and proud in who I am. If my host mom, who I have only known for a few months, can be proud of me, then I can be proud of myself.

My friends have also been a great supporter of my identity in the time I have been here. I have a very diverse friend group, (Pakistani, Spanish and Indian to name a few) and these people really have created a comfortable environment for me. My friends reflect all that I love; a sense of familiarity with similar upbringings they possess, along with the overall factor of diversity they possess.

...continue reading "Understanding Identity through Community"

By neerjapatel

Having grown up in Vermont, I have always been exposed to a sense of community. I was nervous when I first came to Barcelona, as it was a new city with a different culture. Although I knew a few people who were in the same program as me, I forced myself to go outside of my comfort zone by picking a random roommate and living in a homestay. This was extremely difficult at first because for the first time since freshman year of college, I was faced with a lack of familiarity. But, I quickly found my sense of community in Barcelona in a variety of different ways.

Picture 1: My roommate Emma has become one of my closest friends here abroad. With similar interests and personalities, we’ve been able to explore a lot of Barcelona together. Emma, as well as my host mom, have really made me feel like I’m at home in Barcelona.

...continue reading "Mi Familia"

By neerjapatel

Indian. Asian. Brown. American. All words that can describe me because of my origins, appearance, or citizenship. But this is not my identity. My identity comes from a combination of these terms and more, in what I would call multi-cultural.

My name is Neerja. I was born and raised in Vermont but my family originated from Gujarat, India. Growing up as a minority in Vermont, a 97% Caucasian population, I had to learn how to immerse myself in my own culture while in a very homogenous society. During my childhood, I was faced with a single perspective on my culture. My grandmother had lived with my family since birth, teaching me the ideals, lifestyle, and religion from my homeland. I grew up celebrating Indian holidays, speaking my native language of Gujarati, as well as practicing ethnic dances. This environment allowed for my passion and love for my culture to flourish. However, there was a lack of diversity in the community, making it more difficult to express my culture. But as I grew older and entered high school, I found ways to overcome the lack of diversity in my community, one of which included creating a Bollywood Dance Club to empower all different kinds of students to showcase talent and culture, resulting in only a source of pride for my background.

As I entered GW, I wanted to continue to express my culture in a different setting. I joined the GW Raas team, a competitive Indian dance team based on a type of traditional dance from Gujarat. Through this activity, I was not only able to gain a group of friends but a family with similar backgrounds and the same source of passion to dance as I did. Being part of this team was something I was always proud of and still am. Students from various backgrounds at GW came to support our dance team when we performed on and off campus for competitions. The growing support for the team and our culture is something that is allowing me to thrive at GW with the identity that I have.

Now, I’m in Barcelona; a city filled with excitement, culture, and adventure. However, it’s very different than DC and Vermont. As I walk around the streets every day to school, there is much less diversity than I expected but at the same time I feel welcomed by the Spanish people and their warm culture.

...continue reading ""Multicultural" in Barcelona"