There and back
Far behind lay the days in January when the students of the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program arrived in Barcelona with a mix of nervousness and excitement. They arrived at a brand-new city and with hundreds of intentions and expectations, both individual and shared. During one of the orientation sessions that CIEE organizes during the first week of the students’ stay, we did an exercise with them to verbalize the reasons (and objectives) for deciding to study a semester abroad in another country. Of these reasons, two stood out: improving their level of Spanish and to have the opportunity to get to know well, not only the city (Barcelona) and the country (Spain), but also the continent (Europe).
(ALA students in San Sebastian)
Last week, months after their arrival and during the farewell event, we did a pause to search for a moment of reflection and balance of the term where we could check that these two main goals have been met. The students of the program have had the opportunity to discover for themselves (and on many occasions hand in hand with CIEE) many corners of the city, the country and the continent, which has permitted them to expand their geographic, but more importantly, their mental horizons; on the other hand, it was truly moving to hear them speaking with an absolute dominion of the Spanish language. They themselves must have been just as impressed as we were with how much they have improved.
(Guitarist and composer Joan Furió during his recital in the farewell event)
Seeing the students realize that they have achieved some of their goals is one the greatest gifts that all of us working at CIEE could receive. Because the achievements of our students are also those of the hundreds of the CIEE team, from Portland to many other places in the world. In CIEE, we believe that we can change the lives of our students. But after all these years, I have learnt something that twelve years ago, when I joined the CIEE family, I could not even imagine: that our students have also changed my own life. It took a while for me to understand that the transforming experience that we try hard to deliver to our students goes at the end in two directions… As our colleague, Dr. Kathleen Sidelli, Associate Vice President for Overseas Study at IU, and one of the CIEE Board of Directors members, said a few days ago in Madrid, “I [also] have the best job in the world.”
As always, at the end of the semester, I like to share with all my colleagues in the States the voices of the students from the CIEE ALA program in the Univesity of Barcelona. In this occasion, Ben (Amherst College) explains to us about his doubts regarding his decision to live with a host family and how this experience ended up being one of the most gratifying aspects of his stay in Barcelona; and finally, Claudia (Brandeis University) shares with us her experiences during the internship at the Vall d’Hebron Hospital at the Transcultural Psychiatry Program.
¡Buen regreso a casa a todos los estudiantes y hasta muy pronto!
Ben (Amherst College)
Choosing to study abroad through CIEE Barcelona’s Advanced Liberals Arts Program was one of the best decisions I’ve made throughout my college experience. Barcelona is an incredibly lively city with a unique cultural history. ALA ensures that each student is given the support and access to take full advantage of all that Barcelona has to offer.
Through ALA’s academic program, I was able to take classes at both CIEE’s La Casa and the University of Barcelona. The set-up was ideal; I had the confidence and support from my professors at CIEE to challenge myself and succeed at the UB, one of the top universities in Spain.
(Phillip –Tufts University– and Ben –Amherst College– with the Feliu family)
Electing to live in a homestay was maybe the hardest decision I had to make but also the most rewarding. I was afraid that living with a family would mean some sort of curtailment of my independence or personal freedom. However, my homestay family was the highlight of my abroad experience – I was treated like another son, exposed to exciting family dinner conversations and able to make meaningful relationships that far exceeded my expectation. I know that when I return to Barcelona, I’ll get a hot meal and a place to stay.
Barcelona is the apex of the European experience. You live next to some of the most famous architectural buildings in the world, you witness firsthand the vigor of the Catalan independence movement and you get to experience a gastronomical culture like no other. There’s no better place in the world to study, grow and live.
Barcelona has become my second home and the Catalan people my second family. It has been a semester I will never forget. I can’t wait to come back.
Claudia (Brandeis University)
I’ve done a lot of internships in the past in a wide range of areas from local NGOs helping women to internationally recognized organizations like the American Red Cross, but few have been as gratifying as my one in Barcelona at the Transcultural Psychiatric Program at Vall d’Hebron Barcelona University Hospital.
Claudia –Brandeis University– with her UB fellow interns.
The main reason is that as a research assistant to the senior researchers, I am given work that feels important. We have been working on refugee mental health, specifically women’s and girl’s mental health status, to try and understand what they might be going through and find/design programs and interventions that can take their needs into account. Given that the refugee crisis is so present and important, I feel like I am contributing my grain of sand into a great cause.
Another reason why I’ve enjoyed my internship so much is the work environment at the Hospital. Not only are the senior researchers, psychologists, and psychiatrists super accessible, helpful and inspiring, the other interns care about these issues as much as I do. To be part of such a passionate environment with my peers and mentors has been gratifying and has made my internship at the hospital feel like it’s not work at all, but something I thoroughly enjoy.