This past weekend, most of my study abroad friends were away (whether it be at Oktoberfest or a weekend getaway in Paris), but I stayed home in Barcelona. I knew I wanted to do and see as much as possible as this was my last weekend here for a little while (I am traveling for the next five weekends in a row). This became an easy task because one of my closest friends at GW, my sorority sister Elizabeth, flew into Barca for the weekend from Sevilla. Elizabeth arrived with her three other friends on Thursday evening. They were starving after their flight so we went to a tapas bar close to their AirBnB, which was located in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Gracia. We had the classic 10pm Spanish dinner filled with patatas bravas, croquettes, pan con tomato, and of course, sangria. We had an early night as we knew we were going to have an action-packed following day. On Friday, we went to the typical most popular Barcelona tourist destinations — Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia. As a friendly tip for anyone planning to visit, book your tickets in advance for these two as they WILL sell out. Also, if you are visiting on a weekend, be prepared to wait a good 20 minutes at Parc Guell if you want to get your perfect Instagram photo at the iconic multi-colored mosaic benches. After Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia, we walked along Passeig de Gracia to do some shopping, as well as walked by the iconic Gaudi-style houses Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.
On Elizabeth’s last full day here (Saturday), we got a bit of a late start in the day but spent most of it around the Gothic Quarter neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends toured the inside of the Palace of Music (Palau de La Musica Catalana) which they said was incredible. I did not get the chance to go inside because I arrived late but it is beautiful on the outside and I definitely plan on touring it at some point in the next two months. Afterwards, we went inside of the ancient Barcelona Cathedral. This cathedral is one of my favorites as I think it is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. I am always walking past this cathedral daily after class, so I was thrilled to finally get the chance to see it from inside. After the cathedral, I decided to take Elizabeth and her friends to explore the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter. We did some window shopping, and stopped at a hole-in-the-wall empanada restaurant called “La Fabrica.” Not going to lie, the four cheese empanada I ordered was probably the best empanada I’ve had in my lifetime. We then walked along Las Ramblas, purse in hand trying to not get pick-pocketed, and to the famous La Boqueria Market. It was my first time truly exploring La Boqueria and I was overwhelmed by the amount of amazing, endless food displayed. I wanted to try everything but I settled on some gelato and a fruit smoothie. After a long day of walking and exploring, it was siesta time. We ended our day with more tapas at a restaurant in the “El Born” neighborhood. Elizabeth and her friends loved Barcelona and said it was their favorite city they’ve visited in Spain thus far. It was an amazing weekend for all of us, and especially sweet to have a close friend visit and remind me of home.
As I am nearing almost one full month of living in Barcelona, I have learned the importance that food plays in Spain’s culture. Food is central to a Spaniard’s identity, and is a way to live. The food that I find myself consuming almost every day here in Barcelona is “tapas.” Tapas are everywhere you go in Spain, and a big part of social gatherings; they describe more of a way of eating rather than a type of food. Tapas bars are the liveliest restaurants you will find in Barcelona – loud, filled with conversations and laughter, music, and open until the early hours of the morning. For those of you who are not familiar with “tapas”, they are an appetizer or small portion of any kind of Spanish cuisine. In other words, they are not meant to be a full meal. They can vary from cold dishes such as mixed olives or cheese, to hot such as ‘croquetas’ (I will explain what that is later). From my experiences so far, the best tapas are usually served standing in crowded, hot, smoky bars. These are often where you will find the cheapest tapas. My rule of thumb is that if you are paying more than 5 euros for a tapa, then you are not at an authentic tapas place and are paying the tourist price, so go somewhere else! Almost all the tapas I’ve had have been phenomenal, but some more than others – so, I decided to make a list of some of the best must-try tapas while in Spain.
Croquetas are definitely one of my favorite tapas dishes. A croquette is a small breadcrumbed fried food roll usually containing, ground meat, fish, ham, cheese, mashed potatoes, or vegetables. My personal favorites that I’ve tried here in Barcelona have been the ham and cheese, and the mashed potato croquetas. The closest equivalent to croquetas that I’ve had in the United States would be boardwalk crab cakes (but sshhhh- the Spaniards do it way better!).
- Patatas Bravas
Tied with Croquetas, my other favorite tapa dish are patatas bravas. These are essentially the French fries of Spain. The tapa consists of white potatoes that have been cut into small irregular cubes and deep fried. My favorite part is the sauce that they are served with, which is typically a warm aioli (usually of a garlic flavor) or a spicy tomato sauce. I have yet to go to a tapas bar and NOT order patatas bravas as one of my tapas; just like French fries in the U.S., each restaurant prepares patatas bravas in a slightly different way than the other, and the same can be said for the topping sauce. My goal is that by the end of my semester abroad, I will have tried plentiful different patatas bravas to be able to confidently conclude which restaurant prepares them best.
- Pan con Tomate (Pa amb tomàquet)
This tapa is exactly what the name translates to: “Bread with tomato.” Pan con tomate is considered a staple of Catalan cuisine and identity (Catalonia is the region in northern Spain which Barcelona is the capitol of). Pan con Tomate consists of white bread, which may or may not be toasted, with tomato rubbed over and oil and salt drizzled on top. While it sounds very simple, it is the perfect accompaniment to the rest of your tapas, or really any Spanish meal -- therefore definitely a must-try tapa.
- Tortilla de Patatas (or Tortilla Española)
If you Google “Tortilla de Patatas” what comes up is essentially what is commonly known as an “omelette.” However, this Spanish tapa is nothing like the omelettes that are commonly served in the U.S. In tortilla de patatas, pre-fried potatoes are the main ingredients after eggs. Chopped onion is also sometimes added to the recipe.
By now you are probably sensing that Spaniards really enjoy their potatoes, and you are not wrong!
“Chipirones” are baby squid or very small cuttlefish. They are usually battered and deep fried, and served with lots of lemon. They are a tiny snack but you receive a plate heaped with them when you order this as your tapa. I am not typically a big seafood person, however living in Barcelona is slowly changing that as the seafood in Spain is incredibly fresh and full of flavor. 10/10 would recommend!
My first week in Barcelona has felt more like a vacation rather than a school orientation. Every morning I wake up and see La Sagrada Familia from my window, I forget I am not in a dream and that I actually am living here for four months. Since the moment my plane landed in El Prat airport last Monday, I have felt constantly overwhelmed with excitement. I moved into my residence hall where I am living with 9 other students from the IES program on my floor. Three of them also happen to go to GW, which definitely made it easier to make friends and feel more at home in such a new environment. I had orientation the following day, and then my daily intensive Spanish class began.
Outside of class, I have found myself wandering around Barcelona’s streets, trying to immerse myself in the local culture, and eating a lot of new food (mainly tapas). One of my favorite neighborhoods I have explored so far is the Gothic Quarter. The narrow streets lined with cafes, restaurants, and boutiques have a unique charm to them that makes you want to walk around for hours.
On Tuesday, it was National Day of Catalonia which is considered a national holiday here, therefore we did not have class. Millions of people came out to show support for Catalonia’s independence. Protestors wore red shirts and red-and-yellow Catalan flags, and marched while banging drums, blowing whistles, and chanting slogans of support such as “Libertat!” It felt unreal to have attended an event that is going to go down in Spanish history forever.
To me, the biggest challenge so far in Barcelona has been adjusting to how late the locals eat and go out. For example, dinner only begins to be served at 8pm, while in the States I have usually finished dinner by then. Dinner is eaten late and goes on for hours, as restaurant-goers do not get up and leave as soon as they have finished their food (like in the States) but instead sit and chat over “café con leche” until 11pm. Then, it is common to go out for drinks and festivities, and often return home around four or five o’clock in the morning.
Above all, I am confident that choosing Barcelona for my study abroad location was the best decision I have ever made. I am so in love with this city, its culture, and its warm-hearted people. Other than improving my Spanish (and picking up on some Catalan), I am looking forward to really getting to know the heart of Barcelona, as well as exploring other cities throughout Europe. Until next time, ¡hasta luego!
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.
Since middle school, I’ve always viewed myself as multicultural bringing together my Indian heritage with my American upbringing. I never felt that one culture dominated the other which helps me to represent myself in all settings whether this be at home, at school, or in the workplace.
As I’ve come abroad, I’ve been faced with many challenges. Being in Barcelona, I have found challenges including differences in language, food, clothing, and much more. At first, this was a huge culture shock. I was in a new city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, and most importantly a huge language barrier. However, as the semester continued, I found myself adapting and turning ever challenge into a positive factor of the culture in Barcelona.
From my experience abroad, I am able to reflect on internal change and my identity. I still view myself as multicultural, but now I include the Spanish culture as a part of my identity. I travelled to Croatia last weekend and found myself in a country where I could not understand the language even if I tried. But, it wasn’t when I heard English that I felt at home but more so, when I heard Spanish. When I heard someone or a group of people speaking Spanish, it reminded me of home—Barcelona. In this sense, I think the way I view the Spanish culture and how it ties into my identity has changed the most for me throughout my semester. It has become a way I can connect with people outside of Spain. It has also become a way I connect with my friends that I made in Barcelona.