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7 posts from January 2012


finding my barcelona

Vanessa2Name: Vanessa
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Architecture & Design
Spring 2012
Home School
: San Diego State University

Well, after soul searching endlessly… it came time to deciding where in the world I wanted to invest my time and money to study abroad. The doubt perturbed my thoughts constantly from early in the summer before applications were due all the way until I arrived. Really, my decision process never rested, even after I applied and paid. I wonder from time to time if anyone relates to my indecision and my perplexing lack of euphoria. See… I’ve been abroad once before, so I have considered that the magic of the first has passed me already and that maybe my search for the same feeling of utter joy with every second of my time abroad was a false expectation I’ve placed on traveling in general.

My story, just so that I don’t confuse anyone any further, goes a bit like this. Name: Vanessa. Age: 23. Studying: Interior Design in San Diego. Studied Abroad: summer of ‘2008 in Rome. Reason for studying abroad in Barcelona: Pass please?

Let me explain. I’m a semester away from graduating after this semester abroad, so the self-sustaining, pay-your-dues, market yourself, competitive working world is very near for me. I feel the pressure of finding my niche, my passion within my career, in order to succeed and find a good job. Because my first study abroad trip to Rome changed me so much and had such a strong impact on me for several months thereafter, I guess I expected an encore. After all, who doesn’t describe their time abroad as “a life-changing experience”?

I mean, don’t get me wrong; I had some valid reasons for coming here. But if there’s something I’ve learned my first month in Barcelona, it’s that nothing in this world comes free and as much as our surroundings do affect our state of mind to some extent, in the end… we are what we want to be and where we want to be. That comes at its own price: we have to be passionate, dedicated, AND PATIENT.

So being here in Barcelona has become more of a metaphorical choice more so than a direct and decisive choice. Really… this city has so much to offer that no other could. That has been made clear. However, in terms of the answers I came in search of pertaining to my search for self and need to become enlightened with direction, I’ve realized that no place or person can be the sole solution. In the end, it is the breath of new and the fear of the unknown that plays a catalyst for growth in my experience here. I’m happy now to be more lost than ever in the streets of Barcelona, but more importantly… to be lost in the streets of my Barcelona, the city of my new chapter in life.



A return to normalcy

NB: Tonight’s post is best enjoyed with a pairing of the delicious Catalan red wine Priorat (as recent as 2010 will do, we’re students here) and the album “Els millors professors europeus” by Manel.

Matt4Name: Matt
CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Full year (Fall 2011 - Spring 2012)
Home School: Tulane University

Certain words stick in our heads.  Hearing mañana every day, I began to get used to this word quite a lot. Or I should say demà.  I don’t hear mañana much once I leave the university.  But I got used to this idea all the same that I was going to have as much time as I wanted.  Why rush things? But then that thing happens where you wake up one day and the next semester has already started.  And you wake up again to find yet another month is nearly over.

      I left for Christmas to say hello to the folks back home.  When I returned, I was filled with a great confidence—I knew exactly what I was doing.  I could catch the metro, go home, shower, eat, even siesta within an hour of my plane touching down.  It was a marked contrast to the “living out of a suitcase” lifestyle of last September.  I used that springboard to pick up right where I left off.  It was great to see old friends, even kind of thrilling in a nostalgic kind of way to take a nitbus in the wee hours of the matinada, but the surreal part was seeing all the Christmas decorations still up all over the city.  It was January.  Did anything happen while I was away?  Mañana.

Matt1      A few days after I arrived, the Cavalcada de Reis took place. This was a parade that involved the three wise men landing in Barcelona via ship to give the good children of Barcelona their “Christmas” gifts.  A lot of crafty graffiti projects in various neighborhoods just asked the estimats reis mags for a school.  Clearly no child painted that, not sure who they thought they were fooling.  Madrid saw through those phony requests and from Nou Barris to Agnès de Sitges, these schools will not be constructed any time soon.

     In order to abate the sensation that I was running out of time, I’ve made an effort to knock out the Barcelona Bucket List.  More on those projects in next month’s post.  But in the mean time, I’ve tackled some of the smaller but still significant goals.  I joined a running group I had seen from time to time and it was fun doing something I’d think of as pretty American surrounded by only Catalans.  It’s also been a good way to see some of the corners of the city I still hadn’t made it out to yet, as each week we run a different course.  For any study abroad students reading this, you should come to the Nike Store on Passeig de Gracià each dijous (Thursday) a les 20h. Its free to join and you get free Nike gear such as shirts that say things like “WE RUN BARCELONA” in size 30 Helvetica.  You know you’re jealous.

Matt2     Being Carnival season back home in the City that Care Forgot, I was craving some Jazz.  I had only seen one jazz session last semester; the first week of December I caved and found a free concert listed on the indispensible site  It was very post-modern, but the fact it was at a bar in a library late at night made it pretty exciting.  I recommend stopping by the venue Espai G if you get a chance.  This time however I caught a show at Jamboree.  The music was good, I’ll give it that, but the people were packed into seats, very close seats, which meant no dancing from the public, and the price to get a ticket made it an event that will go down as rare indulgence rather than regular outing.  That said, it was full of advertisements to more concerts in the area and I ran into a couple of musicians near the bar once it was all over.  All in all it gave the impression that if you want to experience very talented jazz, this is a great locale for a primer to the Barcelona scene.

     Lastly, I’ve met lots of interesting people through a Capoeira group that meets on Mondays and Fridays in Gracià. If you are interested in a martial art that is more about dancing, rhythm, working with rather than against your partner, team work, and the Brazilian culture in general, I highly recommend seeing what its all about.  Come at 8h30 either day and try it out free of charge. If it turns out to be your cup of tea, this particular group is going to Madrid in February for a batizado.  It’s a great way to get familiarized with the whole Spanish Capoeira community.  Axé baba!

      I almost forgot!  Before I go, I want to recommend you my park of the week.  If you’re like me, metro L9 is exciting—el nueve es nuevo! At parada Can Zam, there is a delightful park that runs along a very industrial river.  Great for biking and running, one direction of the park is perfectly groomed and fit for the whole family.  To the other direction is an untamed jungle.  For the more adventurous, I suggest checking out the uncharted.  Just bring a buddy or two.  Which reminds me, this past Sunday there was a “hash” in this park.  If speaking Catalan while running turns you off from the Nike run mentioned above, but you still want to meet new people, Hash House Harriers is an international organization that is full of English speakers and runs one Sunday a month.  Their motto: Drinkers with a running problem.  Bring 5€ for the alcohol buy-in and, if its anything like in the Big Easy, expect to receive an inappropriate nick name do lots of singing you won’t remember.

Matt3      Well that’s it for this post.  As the new semester is underway, one month in, its nice to feel like there’s a routine happening.  A return to normalcy—its funny to think this can all be normal.

Fins aviat,


First Week of Classes

Megan7Name: Megan
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Architecture & Design
Spring 2012
Home School
: Howard University

Wednesday was our first day of The City in Visual Culture class. It's taught by our resident director, Magda, who is great. It's offered in both Spanish and English and when I arrived to the English section, Magda was surprised by the amount of people in the class. She asked who was in advanced Spanish and we reluctantly raised our hands.  She then of course asked us to seriously consider taking it in Spanish.  I sat in on the Spanish section of the class that day (and on Friday) and as Magda's Spanish is much easier to understand, I could completely follow along. So I'm going to talk to Magda tomorrow and officially switch into the Spanish section.  The readings are in English and she said she could send us the English versions of the PowerPoints, so I guess the only thing I'm worried about are taking the tests in Spanish and doing our final presentation in Spanish too. But hey, might as well challenge myself and make the most of the experience, right?  Hopefully by then, I'll be comfortable enough with my Spanish that it won't be too big of an issue.  Since the language isn't the focus of the class, I know Magda will be willing to help if there's something I don't understand.  Maybe taking her class in Spanish will actually help me understand what's going on in my Spanish language class!

After that, we had our first studio session, which I had been nervous about for literally months.  However, it all turned out okay.  All the U of M students were placed into the intermediate studio, along with all but 5 older students with considerably more experience, who were of course placed into the advanced section.  Since the intermediate section is so large, it was randomly split into two studios with different projects (since there are two studio professors) and we were assigned said semester projects that very day.  This is very different from at the U, where they only reveal tiny parts at a time.  Also, we're actually designing a space, which may not sound like a novel idea for an architecture major, but my education thus far has been far more conceptual and theory based, with a focus on design thinking.  Because of this, the end project will likely be a really great addition to my portfolio and add some variety.  I really like the project my group was assigned. There's an organization called Maggie's Cancer Caring Centers with a few centers built throughout the UK and expanding now into other areas of Europe.  Although one has already been designed for Barcelona (without a site), we're essentially designing what we think would be an ideal center for this Mediterranean city (most of the projects have had very different climates and this creates a completely different design challenge).  It seems like a really great organization and I'm actually pretty excited about the project, although right now it's at the very vague stage characteristic of architecture projects which I always find a little frustrating. But that'll pass and it should be an interesting semester.

Megan1With AD students at the port Megan2AD students at the Cathedral
Megan3Overlooking the city

For more on Megan's experiences, check out her blog!


Museu de la Xocolata

AmaeliaName: Emaelia
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Portland State University

This last week has been filled with many delicious endeavors. One day this week, we enjoyed the delights of the chocolate museum here in Barcelona. The museum explained the origins of chocolate (including the coco contributions of ancient civilizations to deities). 

Signs were posted all around with the origins of our current traditions with the delectable treat.
Blog2 Additionally, there were sculptures made entirely of chocolate and colored white chocolate. This made the whole museum area smell heavenly.

 The Spanish Christmas Cake, eaten on the 6th of January, is a sweet tradition. Inside there are two prizes. One is a King, and the other a seed. If your piece of cake has the King, you are considered the King of the party and will have good luck in the coming year. If you get the Seed, you will have bad luck at have to buy the cake for the party the next year.

 At the museum, along with our tickets, we were given a piece of chocolate. It was a delicious dark chocolate and probably sells for about half the price of what our tickets cost.

This chocolate depiction of a Barcelona street made me smile... an my mouth water.
Ah, Sagrada Familia. One of the most talked about structures in Spain. Still not complete one hundred years after the death of its architect, this chocolate version does not even do it justice.

 The tools used over the years in the process of making chocolate appear similar to many other mill and cooking tools used for grains and such.

Saint George (Jordi) and his Dragon are very popular in Barcelona.
This chocolate grinding stone is among the more ancient pieces found in the museum.
*The Museu de la Xocolata is located next to the ESCI building where many Business students have classes. They also run a pastry making school.
** Check out Emaelia's personal blog here:


Teaching Internship

Arc de triomfName: Monica
CIEE Barcelona Program: Liberal Arts
Semester: Fall 2011
Home School: Vanderbilt University

I did an 8 hour/week part-time internship here in Barcelona. I was assigned to teach English at a public elementary school here in Barcelona. It was such an eye-opening educational and intercultural experience.

Before anything else, I need to explain the vast differences that exist between the public system school here and in the States. First and most importantly, here in Barcelona, all teaching is done in Catalan -- the official provincial language. This means that students learn math, history, literature science, geography, music, etc. all in Catalan. In addition to this they also get 2 hours per week of Spanish literature and English classes. School begins around 9am and ends at 5:05pm. It's a bit different because Spanish families have long lunches (also called siestas, but Catalonians don't really do much of a siesta) and many students return home to have lunch between 1-3pm.

The public school in Spain is divided into 4 sections: infantil (ages 3-5), primaria (6-11), secundaria (12-16), and bachillerato (college prep; 17-18). Students aren't necessarily assigned to grade levels, but there are 'cycles' that they go through for each of these divisions. As you can see, a public school can have students that range from 3 years of age all the way to 18-year-olds! It's quite interesting, really. In the school I taught at, the 3 to 5-year-olds had the entire first floor, the one right above the administrative and reception areas. The floor above that one is for primaria, while secundaria and bachillerato share the top floor. At my school, a class period for each subject is about an hour long and the teachers (not the pupils) move to different classrooms with the bell at the end of every hour. Therefore, I have five classes each week -- one with 14-year-olds, two with 13-year-olds, one with 11-year-olds, and one with itty bitty six-year-olds. It doesn't seem like a lot, but turns out to be quite a long and exhausting day!

I did not have a hand in grading students' work or administrating exams, since I am clearly not a certified teacher and I can't even speak Catalan. Instead, teachers allowed me to lead activities in class. The first couple of days of my internship, I was asked to stand in front of the class, introduce myself in English, and allow students to ask me questions in English so that they can practice speaking and pronunciation skills. Of course, this meant that I was asked similar questions multiple times each day by different English classes... questions ranging from "What is your favorite FC Barça football player?" to "Are American high schools really like High School Musical?" Then the teachers would show me parts of the English workbook or worksheets I can use with the students. Each class period, I would take a small group of students from the class and work with them on various things in a smaller classroom. This ranged from reading comprehension activities to helping kids come up with creative superheroes of their own. Working in small groups was often a lot easier for me, because it's a lot less attention upon myself and a lot more attention for each student, getting to know their learning styles and building a relationship.

Students here start English classes at the age of four, but even after two years of English classes, students have a very limited knowledge of English and can't really hold conversations with me in English. With the six-year-olds, the class begins with a  song that you can find here. It's a fairly simple song, and they all know it by heart probably because they have sung it ever since they began English lessons. After screaming the song at the top of their lungs, I tell them stories with colored flash cards and the students work on English workbooks full of stickers, stories about various animals, and a ton of pictures to color.

It's a lot more fun with the little ones, who always welcome me every Wednesday with waist-squeezing hugs (still too short to hug me properly). Honestly, though, it's also a lot more work, because it requires running around to catch kids jumping up from their seats and running from place to place. This might also be because the classroom setting in Spain is a lot more informal. To give another example, the kids all call their teachers by name (this ensured that the entire school knew my name within several weeks of the start of my internship), and they talk endlessly during class because supposedly Spanish folks talk with no end in sight.

So yesterday (Wednesday) was my last day at the elementary school. I was requested by one of my teachers to give a presentation about a typical American Christmas. So I stayed up until 1am the night prior, making a PowerPoint full of the most stereotypical Christmas traditions that my family personally has never followed. This included photos of Christmas trees and stockings, cookies for Santa, a big lunch with ham and potatoes, so on and so forth. I also added slides about how Christmas is celebrated in different states (i.e. Hawaii, as opposed to New York) and holidays that some folks celebrate alongside/in place of Christmas (i.e. Kwanzaa and Hanukkah), because Spain is fairly homogenous in terms of religious affiliation and practically everyone celebrates Christmas. I also had a little surprise for the class at the end of the presentation -- a sing-a-long YouTube video of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in English! I've always believed that music is a powerful tool with which one can learn a language, and an immensely popular one among youngsters.

So my other teacher caught word that I was speaking about American Christmases, and so I eventually ended up giving the same presentation four times to four different classes. And you know what? It was a huge hit! In my 3-4pm English class, the students were so enthusiastic that the second time we sang the song, they stood up, danced, and clapped along with the music. I wish I could have recorded it someplace other than in my overly faulty memory; the kids looked so happy! They also wanted to reciprocate, so they sang to me a Catalan song about towers and bridges (as far as I could understand) which involved a lot of drumming on tables and hand motions. And these are 14-year-old rebellious, hormonal teenagers that we are talking about... even at the start of this very class, there was a girl sobbing in the corner and refusing to participate because some boy in class had broken her heart. I was incredibly thankful to see her singing along and clapping with the rest of her classmates by the end of the hour.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted but ecstatic. I received probably hundreds of hugs and twice as many kisses (that's another awesome thing about European kids, too; they aren't afraid of kisses, not even the boys!) as a special goodbye, and got trampled by the herd of six-year-olds, who all wanted to hug me at the same time... I said my thank-you's and farewells to all the teachers, the internship coordinator and the principal of the school, which was very special as well. They gave me a regalito -- the school t-shirt and engraved pen! It was a perfect and appropriate parting gift... so don't be alarmed if you see me sporting a t-shirt with funny Catalan words on it sometime in the next few months.

All in all, it was the perfect little ending to my semester. I was so happy and grateful that perhaps -- just perhaps -- I might have been able to teach these kids a little something. Honestly, this internship was one main factor that greatly heightened my study abroad experience. I could have chosen to take a normal course which would have definitely allowed me to sleep/rest more. A semester-long course here in Barcelona is about 40 hours in classroom time, while my internship practicum plus the seminar was a good 130+ hours. Ultimately it did take up a lot of time, and the hour-long commute each way was clearly not too fun... I'm not going to miss the sardine-packed metro rides at 8:15am!

Yet, it was so incredibly rewarding in an inexplicable sort of way. When else would I ever get this type of an opportunity to directly interact with and teach students of such a wide age range? When else would I converse with locals in Barcelona and be able to practice listening to Catalan? It was an awesome cross-cultural experience, full of priceless moments that I had been given, for some reason, to enjoy and love.

I love school. I love learning. And now, I can say this... I love teaching.

Ciutadella park
For more on Monica's experiences during her travels, check out her great blog!


Bon dia Barcelona!

Becca CarneName: Becca
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Indiana University
Bon dia (good morning) Bloomington, Bon dia Chicago… Bon dia! Aside from acquiring a new favorite phrase (bon dia… incase you missed it), I am falling head over heels in love with Barcelona. A little over a week and I can already tell Barcelona will be difficult to leave. For now, I’m using my senses to soak it all up…
Hear: Take a moment, imagine a quiet town.
You good? What you imagined probably sounds nothing like Barcelona. Barcelona (like my beloved Chicago) is a city with a soundtrack all its own. Buses, cars, and mopeds fill the streets. Subways consume the underground. Clinking of glasses at cafes. American music blasting from stereos. Hard-soled boots hitting the pavement.
Barcelona’s sound in one word: movement.

Smell: There are many. My favorite smell will not surprise most of you: fresh bread. It is almost a guarantee to find a bakery on each block. A place that smells like bread, now that’s my kind of city.

Taste: Hey ma’- check out the cupcake picture I uploaded; I promise I’m not starving. For any foodie (like myself), Barcelona is a haven of flavors. Ham, potatoes, and seafood are staples here. Everything is fresh, prepared with olive oil, and delisosos (i.e. delicious, but I’m sure you got it)! 
Touch: On Three Kings Day (Spain’s final Christmas celebration), I met my new best friend, “Om.” Take a seat, cross your legs, and repeat after me… Ommmm. Cute name, right?! He’s everything a yellow lab should be (i.e. soft and cuddly) with an added Spanish flair. 
See: And by see, I mean people watching! Let’s talk about love. Affection is openly displayed in Barcelona (and it’s not just romantic). If Spain was Mount Olympus, Barcelona would be Aphrodite’s catwalk (although I’ve yet to visit Paris). Couples walk hand-in-hand, displaying what I can only define as confident vulnerability.
Until next time, hasta!



MackenzieName: Mackenzie
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Drake University

I had debated for a while whether or not it would be wise to do a home stay over a residencia while I was in Barcelona.  For those of you who are unsure what is what a home stay is when you live with a local Spanish family and a residencia is when you live on your own in a dorm-like building with other students in the program and some local students as well.  I ended up deciding to do the home stay for a multitude of reasons.  One it was a little bit cheaper because I wouldn’t have to provide all my own meals like I would in a residencia.  Secondly I would get to interact with someone who lives here in Spain and learn more about the culture and the language.  I’ve only been here a week, but I can already tell you I made the right decision.

I live with an older Spanish woman named Luisa, another student from CIEE named Lauren, and another exchange student from Brazil who is here until February.  Luisa is absolutely adorable!  Every day she makes the three of us staying here two meals a day: breakfast and dinner.  And let me just say she is a fabulous cook.  She makes us authentic Spanish food, which is a lot different then in the US, but it is absolutely delicious! 

Breakfast is usually some sort of bread.  It’s a very small meal here, which is a change for me as breakfast is one of my favorite meals.  My favorite breakfast we had so far was a couple small muffins, or molletes as they are called in Spanish.  Another one we had was croissant that we dipped in chocolate.  Many breakfast dishes are served with chocolate which is quite unusual for me.  However, the dinners that Luisa makes are my favorite.  Everything is homemade and always fresh.  The first night here we had tortilla patata, which is basically a potato omelet.  It was delicious!  Another night we had some sort of black bean dish.  I can’t recall the name of it right now, but since I normally don’t like beans, I didn’t think I would like it, but it turned out to be one of my favorite meals I’ve had here so far.  Luisa always serves the three of us staying here first and washes dishes while we eat.  I believe she eats after us, but I am not quite sure to be honest.  Even though she doesn’t sit at the table with us, she still talks to us and asks us questions about the day. 

I’ve only been here a week, but already my Spanish has improved with Luisa’s help.  Every time I make a mistake, she corrects me so that I learn.  And if there are misunderstandings, which there are occasionally, she pulls out her Spanish to English dictionary and shows us what word she was saying and vice versa so that we learn new vocabulary every day.  Felipe who is here from Brazil also speaks Spanish with us.  However, he is also fluent in English.  So when we don’t understand what Luisa has said, he will translate for us which has been really helpful.  My goal is to not have him translating for us anymore before he leaves in February… I think I can do it.

I think the home stay option will be a great thing for me.  It’s hard at first because all the people in the residencias have instant friends because they all live together.   You feel a little isolated.  However, in the end I am going to be able to gain a better understanding of the culture and learn the language a lot better.  I’m excited to see how much my Spanish will improve while I am here. :)

Mackenzie1This is my family I am living with in Spain. From left to right is me, then Lauren who is in CIEE as well, then Felipe who is from Brazil, and finally my Senora Luisa.

You can follow Mackenzie's blog here!


For further reading, we've had lots of great blogs submitted about homestays, here are some links to past posts: