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8 posts from February 2012


Vegetarian in the land of ham

HannaName: Hanna
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: St. Catherine University

Two of my biggest fears prior to my study abroad experience had to do with (believe it or not) food. Since I have been a vegetarian for 9 years, I was worried that:

  1. I wouldn’t be able to eat anything in Barcelona because it is a city that is well known for meat products.
  2. My host family would be insulted if I didn’t eat meat if they prepared it for me.

Since my stay in Barcelona, I have found out that my initial fears regarding food were wrong. I live in Gràcia with my host father, Ramon, and my host sister, Roso. Ramon is an artist who in his 50’s and Roso is a senior in college and is 23. From day one, they have been incredibly hospitable and do everything they can to make me feel comfortable in their home -when I first arrived to my homestay, one of the very first things that they asked me was what I wanted for breakfast the next day!

Ramon and Roso are vegetarians (although they do occasionally eat some meats and fish), which was a relief for me. My host family is also very ecofriendly and prepares meals similar to what I would eat at home with a Catalan twist. I haven’t had a meal with them that I did not like! I have even been given the opportunity to help my family prepare traditional Catalan foods like “pan con tomate” (bread with tomatoes, olive oil, and salt) that I would never have tried if I hadn’t choosen to live with a host family.

Hanna1Today for lunch we had a mixture of cooked and spiced vegetables with “avena” (a type of oats, but they look and taste similar to brown rice) and lentils.

Hanna2 Hanna4
Although I eat the majority of meals with my host family, I have also had the chance to explore some of the many restaurants and markets in the city.  In addition to regular supermarkets, Gràcia is the home to many ecomarkets that sell organic, fair trade, and vegetarian/vegan foods (similar to Whole Foods in the states but much smaller and independent stores). I love shopping for groceries and snacks at these locations. My favorite ecomarket is called Boca Bio, which is located off of Carrer d'Astúries in Gràcia.

Through this experience I have learned not to set expectations for something without experiencing it first.  Initially, I had expected to have a difficult time finding foods to satisfy my vegetarian diet in Barcelona, however now that I am here that is not the case at all. I am excited to bring a little of Catalunya back home with me to the United States by preparing foods like pan con tomate for my family!


Barcelona feels like home

Name: Dana
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: Northeastern University

Time really does go by as fast as people say it does. I still can’t believe that we’ve been in Barcelona for nearly 2 months; I still remember how nervous I was to be in a new, unknown city. But now, Barcelona feels like home. The best feeling is coming back from traveling and being so happy to be back home in this amazing city and realizing how much I missed it.

The Raval Neighborhood

What I love about Barcelona is how you can explore a new area or see something new and exciting every single day. Last week, our CIEE art history class went on a field trip to the neighborhood, El Raval, where our teacher led us on a walking tour and showed us an old Romanesque church. When our tour was over, I decided to explore El Raval a bit more; I ended up walking around, getting lost on the little side streets. It’s such a fun area; there are tons of cute cafes, crowded restaurants, and second-hand shops. It’s definitely one of my new favorite areas! Raval

The Raval

But probably the main reason why I love this city so much is because of the people who I’ve met; they are the nicest and most genuine people. Strangers will go above and beyond to help you; I’ve asked so many random people on the street for directions and they’ll stop whatever they’re doing to give very detailed instructions, pointing and doing their best to speak slowly (of course people can always tell that I’m not a native speaker). I also love our intercambios! I’ve become quite close with two girls and have gone out to dinner with them a few times. The first time they took me out for tapas with a few of their friends. They ordered me what they said are the most traditional tapas; patatas bravas, pan amb tomàquet, croquets, and so much more; it was delicious! We spoke Spanish the whole time which was a challenge; there were times at dinner where I would just stare at them and have absolutely no idea what to say because I couldn’t understand them! The next time I met up with them, we went out for sushi with my two other friends from CIEE; it was so much fun spending time with our new Spanish friends!

IMG00011-20120130-2000The Language and Culture program at an Intercambio with Local Students

I also love getting together with our Guardian Angels! We went out to a Flamenco show with them last week, which was incredible. The music was beautiful and different from anything I’ve ever heard. And Flamenco dancing itself is absolutely extraordinary. Each movement, each step, and each facial expression makes a statement. It seemed robotic and yet so fluid and relaxed.

FlamencoSource Flamenco Barcelona

Carnival was also this weekend; such a amazing holiday! On Thursday, a few of my friends and I went to a parade in El Born. It was geared to little kids and I loved it; there were kids dressed up as the Smurfs, knights, pirates, princesses, really anything! They were adorable; all sitting on their parents’ shoulders so they could see the parade. Unfortunately for us, the performers were speaking Catalan so my friends and I had no idea what was going on the entire time, but it was still so much fun! We tried to pick out words that we could understand, I think we figured out celebrate, and life, and that was about it; it’s hard enough trying to perfect our Spanish! Then on Saturday night, my friends and I went to Sitges, which was unreal! I have never seen such extravagant costumes before in my life. There were people dressed up as cows, babies, pirates, and we even saw a group of people dressed up as the Sister Act!

Dana carnival
Carnival Parade on the Passeig del Born

Another fabulous day trip that CIEE planned for us this weekend was to a small medieval town, Besalù and to the Dali Museum in Figueres. Both places were breathtaking; Besalù was tiny; with just a few little streets, shops, and cafes, but overlooked a beautiful river. The Dali Museum was amazing; I didn’t realize that Dali was so versatile; he worked with cubism, surrealism, impressionism, and so much more; it was extraordinary!

Dana besalu
Beautiful view of Besalù!

Dana dali
One of my favorite pieces in the Dali museum! I actually didn’t even realize that this was Abraham Lincoln until I saw it through my camera!


Photo Journaling

Erica shares her fantastic photos and thoughts with us. Here are some images from her first month in Spain. You can click on them to see them in larger format:

Photo of self Name: Erica
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Architecture & Design
Spring 2012
Home School
: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


Calçots 1
Calçots 2

For the calçotada day, students and staff at CIEE hiked up Mont Tibidabo to restaurant that serves the traditional meal with calçots (a large onion grown in Catalunya).  It was a very fun-filled day with good views overlooking the city and the sea, getting to know fellow students, and enjoying a traditional Catalan dish. 

The sea

A very prominent part of Barcelona that helps define the city and bring in tourism is its location on the Mediterranean Sea.  This photo was taken walking along the harbor where boats are kept.  It is a beautiful area to experience the outdoors within the city and eat some of the delicious seafood Barcelona has to offer.

Santa maria
One very important and cultural part of Barcelona is the Born district.  In the photo, you can see the church of Santa Maria del Mar- an old, beautiful church built by those who lived and worked by the sea –and the memorial of Fossar de les Moreres.  The memorial with an eternal flame was built over the cemetery of those who died in the losing battle of the Siege of Barcelona at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. 

Montserrat 2
Montserrat 3
The visit to Montserrat was by far one of my favorite day trips since being in Barcelona.  After a train ride outside the city, a ride up a gondola brings you to a monastery from the middle ages with a renown boys choir.  From there, you can hike to the top of Sant Jeroni  (1,236 meters above sea level) and have a fantastic view all the way to the Mediterranean and Pyrenees mountains.  It was a great day to spend with friends and enjoy a picnic in a gorgeous location!

Palau guell
In my Gaudi & Contemporaries class, we take part in several field trips to see the architecture of Gaudi.  The visit to Palau Güell was an awesome visit with fellow students to see first hand what we have been studying in class. 


Is This Real Life?

MinhName: Minh
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Liberal Arts
Spring 2012
Home School
: Tufts University           

We’ve all seen it.  Poor little David is as dazed and confused as ever and has no idea what’s happening to him.  He blabbers on in gibberish, trying desperately to form words that make sense.  Well, David, if it makes you feel any better, that’s how I feel about Barcelona.

            Slowly, I’ve been losing my grip on words.  While trying to improve my Spanish, I find myself lost in a maze of Catalan and English.  The former, I don’t understand; the latter, I’m starting not to understand.  When I get really tongue-twisted, even some of my first language – Vietnamese – will slip into my conversations.  There are times when I truly have no idea what language I’m speaking.  I don’t really have an adequate response to my dilemma either, but that’s because all I can do is laugh, since this is an amusing problem to have.  This is one of the biggest issues I’m having in this city?!  Let’s go over the facts again.  I’m an international relations major studying abroad in Europe, and so far, this blog post has been a whiny lament about the language barrier.  OK.  It’s time to wake up.  This city is fantastically multicultural, and that’s a good thing for me.  It says a lot about Barcelona that when I’m on the city’s version of 5th Avenue, Paseo de Gracia, I can overhear Mandarin, Icelandic, Swedish, and whatever it is that Argentines speak – because it’s certainly not Spanish.  But then again, I don’t think I’m truly speaking Spanish either.

            When I am speaking Spanish – or rather, castellano – it’s improving.  Last week, I asked my host mom what she had done that day.  She said she went to see the movie Grease.  I was confused (as usual), because she said it was an American film.  In my mind, she was saying the Spanish word for grey, or “gris.”  It was only when she name-dropped John Travolta that I finally understood what she was talking about.  Now, thinking in Spanish when talking to my sweet, super laid-back host mom is one thing. Taking notes for an ethics class when my motor mouth TA lectured is something else.  At first, my notes were absurd.  Half Spanish and half English, I’m surprised I was able to understand anything I wrote.  Almost all of my ethics notes are now in Spanish, which I’d say is pretty impressive, considering how little philosophy I understand even when it’s in English. 

            To add to the chaos, my linguistics professor asked us to write an essay outlining the history of our native language.  That means I was writing about Vietnamese in Spanish while researching for information in English.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he asked for us to translate our essays into Arabic for our next assignment.  I might never get used to this big pot of alphabet soup while I’m in Barcelona, and I’m okay with that.  What I’ve learned while being here is that most of my Barcelona friends feel just as unconfident speaking Spanish, so it’s a great chance for all of us to improve and teach each other Vietnamese and Catalan along the way. 

            Making mistakes is almost mandatory, because there’s no progress without them.  And if the collateral damage is that my English keeps getting worse, well…


Photos from my CIEE trip to Madrid and Toledo

Name: Rosie
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: University of Scranton

Rosie1We went on a group trip to Madrid with CIEE on February 3. This picture was taken in front of the Museo de Prado! An amazing art museum full with Spanish culture and history.

Rosie2The next day we had a day trip to Toledo. This was everyone’s favorite city! When you think of Spain, and picture what it would look like, this is it. From the buildings to the landscape, it had the aura and characteristics of old and beautiful Spain.

Rosie3Decidedly the best we have had yet this semester, Churros con chocolate in Madrid!


Barcelona and beyond

Becca CarneName: Becca
CIEE Barcelona Program: Business & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Indiana University

Classes and travel have picked up, and I am totally aware I've neglected my Barca blog. I find myself torn on what to share: my trip to Paris (cold but incredible and filled with a copious amount of crepes), culture (Barcelona is a people watchers paradise), or food (imagine a chocolate croissant with chocolate marmalade filling).

Instead, let's talk language. Correction let's talk languages (Catalan and Spanish). Even people who speak the same language have miss-communications. Now imagine you're making your way around a new city with a limited (but expanding) vocabulary trying to satisfy your basic needs and form meaningful connections with others. Naturally, the communication barrier gets wider. You are frustrated: you really want to communicate like a local. The native speakers appear frustrated, and a sense of alienation ensues. What to do?

  1. Start to laugh at yourself. You are going to "slaughter" the language at times.
  2.  Focus on the basics. Once you've mastered these, challenge yourself to express personal opinions.
  3. Enjoy the experience of feeling uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable reminds us of our resilient nature.
  4. And the most important, keep trying and enjoy learning!

And, realize while languages differ the desire to communicate with one another does not. We want to understand others and vice versa. A lesson that is applicable to language and beyond.


Barcelona- Montjuïc

Hasta pronto!


New places, new friends, new family

Name: Natalie
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: University of Colorado, Boulder

 “Take risks. If you win, you will be happier. If you lose, you will be wiser.”

Natalie1The view of the beach I encountered on my first walk from the UPF campus.

 People go abroad to “study” of course, but some of the more prominent questions that pop into all of our heads are: Where am I going to travel while I’m abroad? How am I going to meet friends? Where will I go out at night? Where can I find the best food? And of course, where am I going to live?!

Natalie3With my host family—they drove me up the mountains to
enjoy the beautiful view of Barcelona

 Deciding between the homestay and residencia option was a challenge for me. I was torn because I wanted to have the freedom to do whatever I wanted, but I also wanted to immerse myself more into the culture of Barcelona. After about a month of debating back and forth between which option I wanted to do, I decided to live with a host family. The night before I met my host family, I was so nervous that I think I got about 30 minutes of sleep, if that. Then the moment came at 5 PM the following day when my host mother, Rosa, came to pick me up and take me to my new home. My first impression of her was that she was one of the nicest, most genuine women I have ever met. Our first bonding moment was lugging my two enormous suitcases up two flights of narrow stone stairs up into her apartment. She kept saying expressions in Spanish, and I in English, until we got to the top of the stairs, completely out of breath, laughing hysterically.

 What I like the most about living in the homestay is that I feel like I have a home away from home. Rosa, her fifteen-year-old daughter Carla, and I eat dinner together every night and then spend an hour or so afterward just talking, watching the news, laughing, and telling stories. I have met other members of their family as well as their friends. Everyone is so welcoming and excited to meet me.

Natalie4Celebrating Rosa’s birthday together. Carla made a delicious apple tart and we sang happy birthday (they sang it in English for me) and watched a movie together.

My Spanish has also greatly improved since I first came to Barcelona at the end of December. Carla and Rosa correct my grammatical mistakes, edit my Spanish papers, and teach me fun phrases. My favorite moments I share with them are when we try to tell each other stories and the language barrier gets in the way. One example is last week when I asked my host mother to correct my composition for Spanish class. I asked her: “Puedes corregir mi composición?” She thought that I meant my composition, as in my outfit and went on to tell me I looked fine and that she liked my red pants. I tilted my head and looked at her very confused, wondering how my red pants related to my Spanish homework. After we both stood confused for about 30 seconds, we burst out laughing and figured out what each other meant.

Natalie2A group of friends and I spent a day at Park Guell where we
casually walked around and talked and enjoyed how beautiful it was.

I was worried before that being in the homestay meant that I wouldn’t be able to go out and meet people and that I would feel isolated away from everyone. It is actually the exact opposite. I have also made some very important friends that I know I will keep in contact with when I return to the states. I have made friends with people in my classes, other students in CIEE, and even Spanish natives that we met through our intercambios. Last night, I went to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant with two Spanish girls and two of my friends in CIEE. Not only was the food delicious and I was so full that I couldn’t move after, but I got to think of how nice it was to be here experiencing life with the local Spanish students my age. I have made friends here that I eat lunch with, travel with, hang out on the weekends, go out and have drinks with and also just sit around and do absolutely nothing with-just like as if I were home in the States!

On the hike with CIEE—Amazing day trip!

Natalie6At Ovella Negra for the Barca-Madrid game (Barcelona won! )

 Adjusting to change can be a difficult process, and often it is our first instinct to follow what is more comfortable. It was a challenge for me to reach outside of my comfort bubble and try new things, and I couldn’t be happier that I made that choice.

For more stories about living with a home stay, click here.


In his own language

Altman, Jacob okName: Jacob
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Language & Culture
Spring 2012
Home School
: University of Colorado, Boulder

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”  -Nelson Mandella

Having now spent almost a month in the city of Barcelona, my urge and desire to improve and expand my grasp on the Spanish language has increased more then it ever has before. Choosing to study abroad in Barcelona was a challenge to me. I was close to studying in London because one of my biggest fears was the language barrier and by studying there that would not be an issue. However, I feel as if the times when you are put into unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations are the opportunities in which you are able to grow and learn the most. Now that I am in Barcelona, I cannot be more satisfied with my decision. Not knowing as much Spanish as I’d like gives me a challenge and goal to help achieve little by little every day.

My primary reason for wanting to improve my Spanish is to be able to communicate with the people that live here. Not only because I don’t want to accidentally tell my host family that I’m pregnant, but also out of pure curiosity. Although I haven’t been in this country long, I have already met so many interesting and intelligent Spanish people, and I have so much I want to ask them and learn from them, but am unable to, due to my inability to speak their language. While this minor obstacle may deter most people from trying, this only encourages me more. Whenever I am hesitant to approach someone in fear of sounding dumb or saying the wrong thing, I think to myself that it is the only way I will improve, and I do it. I am well aware of how fortunate I am to be in this beautiful country and I am more then ready to take full advantage of my time here. I will try to learn more Spanish every day and am confident that one day I will truly be able to talk to a Spaniard, ‘in his own language.’ 

Jacob2With Jordi, one of the CIEE Guardian Angels,
local students who help the American
students to settle into life in Barcelona