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8 posts from March 2012


A false depiction or an uncomfortably too true summary?

Is the Betches Love This blog a false depiction or an uncomfortably too true summary of a Barcelona study abroad experiences?

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

When imagining my time abroad, I had every intention and confidence of breaking out of the American Bubble. Therefore, see so many too true shout outs of my experience on the Betches Love This blog makes me feel as if I have epically failed to do so. I have bought a scarf at an FC Barcelona game, been shocked by naked men on the beach, attended local lunes and gotten sushi about once a week.  My first half of my time in Barcelona I was disappointed in what I thought to be my failure at immersing. With one month left I have come to see the stupidity in my assessment. I have been living in a foreign city, exponentially improving in another language, trying new foods, meeting Spaniards, assessing the complicated context of Spanish and Catalan culture of Barcelona, and challenging myself.

Maybe I will not leave Barcelona ready to write a detailed travel book with all of Barcelona’s best local restaurants and special hidden bars. But I will leave Barcelona with a vast understanding of the city and Spanish and Catalan culture. More importantly, I will take the benefits of what I learned while trying to immerse.

I learned in the beginning through experience that just walking aimlessly at night hoping to walk into the city’s best non-American bars wouldn't get me very far. I soon realized that asking the Spanish students I’ve grown to become friends with to help me find some less typical tourist places works. I have developed skills to immerse.  I have gained confidence in my ability to communicate in a different language. I have a stronger ability to use maps and follow directions. I have noticed that in every other city I have traveled to, I spend less and less time lost- maximizing my time there. I have struggled with the differences between the culture of Barcelona and that of Los Angeles... but I have overcome them. 

So while many of these things listed in the Betches blog may correspond to my own experiences, as a cultured individual I have grown drastically. Through the struggles of attempting to break away from the American bubble I have gained tools that have helped me mold Barcelona into what I wish for my experience. I have gained confidence in my abilities as a traveler and as someone able to see beyond the 1 weekend in a city’s To Do list, and know that more local perspective of a city is beyond that, yet easily able to be found and enjoyed.


playing tour guide

Name: Sarah
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School:  Vanderbilt University

I think it is a tell tale sign that you have fallen in love when you cannot wait to introduce everyone you know to your new subject of infatuation.  Well, I have been dying to show my family and friends Barcelona since the first day we arrived and I finally had the chance to guide some of my college friends through the city this week.

My goal was obviously to seem like an expert in all things cultural, culinary, and historical in relation to Barcelona.  When my friends arrived, I helped them plan out their week and set them up with metro cards and maps just like our GA’s had done for us over two months ago.

I visited familiar sites like the Sagrada Familia and sent them in the well-known direction of the Picasso Museum.  I was surprised to see how well I had adapted to city life abroad and how well I know the city.  It was great to see Barcelona through the fresh eyes of my friends and show them why I love this city so much.

It was fun to show my friends what I have been doing and act as their guide, but it was even better to experience something new with them.

We went on a Cava tasting and winery tour at Spain’s oldest family owned vineyard, Codorníu.  We learned about the origins of the family vineyard that can trace its history back to 1551 in documents.  Cava is sparkling wine from Spain, but cannot be called champagne because only the French have the rights to this name.  We learned that the Codorníu family sent a spy to France to uncover the méthode champenoise, since the French were keeping their methods of engineering champagne a secret from the rest of the world.

Sarah6We went down into the 200,000 m2 cellar and saw some of the over 30 million bottles of cava and wine fermenting.  We learned about the fermentation process, engineering, and enology.  Then we drank and it was good.

We then happily traveled over to Montserrat in very high spirits to see the monastery and The Black Madonna and to go on a hike.  I loved sharing this new experience with my college friends and being reminded that Cataluña still has many more treasures to uncover.


Appreciating Where You Are

Name: Michael
CIEE Barcelona Program: Language & Culture
Semester: Spring 2012
Home School: Fordham University

Considering I’m at the 3 month mark in Barcelona (a scary thought) I can now reflect on what I’ve learned the most. Upon arriving, I knew Barcelona was known for some of the best site seeing in the world. I was never much of a site-seeing person because coming from New York City, every building can be categorized as a “site”. This quickly changed when I began to unravel Barcelona each metro stop at a time.

It all started with the Sagrada Familia on the very first day I moved in. I was in awe with what Gaudi had created and a building curiosity led me to other famous locations. After an exhausting few weeks I essentially covered all of Barcelona’s major sites. Since then I have seen much more, and I plan to cross other things off the list as well.

MichaelThe Olympic Stadium on Montjüic

The point I’m trying to make is appreciate where you are. I realized that after all I’ve done in Barcelona I had absolutely no idea what my home city was like. I’ve lived in New York City, one of the most famous cities on earth, for 20 years and I’ve never been inside the Empire State Building, on Ellis Island, or even come close to the Statue of Liberty.

After spending such little time in Barcelona and exploring every square inch, I came to appreciate what it had to offer. I learned that I can never take for granted what is around me because now, I know my time is limited in Spain. My goal for when I return back home is to get to know New York City the way I got to know Barcelona. I think only until then will I be able to appreciate the city I’m from. I now take this philosophy with me wherever I go. For a weekend trip I refuse to sleep late and waste time in a place I may never be back in. Getting to know everything a city has to offer is a very fulfilling experience, and this acquired appreciation certainly came from my time abroad.

Michael2Looking down on Barcelona from the top of Tibidabo Mountain


Messi becomes the highest scoring barça player of all time

Lots of CIEE students withstood the cold and rain last night at Camp Nou to watch Leo Messi become the highest scoring Barça player of all time.

From MSN sports report this morning:

"Barcelona forward Lionel Messi broke the club's all-time goalscoring record of 232 on Tuesday in style - and at the age of 24. Previous leader Cesar Rodriguez was thought to have scored 235 official goals for the Blaugrana but that has now been amended to 232 after a study removed three goals attributed to him.

And Messi wasted no time in overhauling the milestone - having scored an incredible 48 goals in 40 games for the Catalan giants this season, including eight hat-tricks - with another treble in a 5-3 win against Granada.

The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year slotted home Isaac Cuenca's cross in the 17th minute and then secured the record outright in the 68th minute when he lobbed the ball over Granada goalkeeper Julio Cesar, before rounding the keeper late on for his third.

Manager Pep Guardiola said after the game: 'You have few players who dominate like this, but he does it. You can compare him perfectly to [basketball legend Michael] Jordan. I want to thank the team for overcoming all adversity and this guy who is continuing to make history. It's all been said before about Messi. He doesn't only score goals, he scores great goals; each one is better than the last. We are seeing the very best in action. This kid is different, better, we are excited to have him.'

Rodriguez's goals came in the early 1950s and although he currently holds the record in official matches, Paulino Alcantara has the overall record of 369 goals in 357 official and friendly games."

Some CIEE student certainly got good seats! Can you spot our Language & Culture students hanging out with Messi?!!

This shot is from a great video of the highlights in El Pais. Click here to see it!


Architecture & Design Photography

Students in the AD program take an urban photography workshop as part of the core course The City in Visual Culture. The goal of the workshop is to strengthen the bond students have with the city itself. The group started in the neighborhood of El Born, which is in the medieval part of the city and is now home  to a mix of artists, tourists, hipsters and many immigrants. Boutiques and coffee shops sit beside Halal butchers and north African pastry shops. Each student was asked to consider the existing relationship between the building-scape and the people that inhabit it, and they were asked to express this photographically. A photography exhibit with the resulting works was put together at the CIEE Study Center.


Sus imágenes muestran cómo cada individuo construye una relación diferente con sus alrededores: los edificios y las personas que habitan en ellos, el estudiante tomando la fotografía y los residentes del barrio ...

Their pictures show how each individual builds a different relationship with his/her surroundings: the buildings and the people that inhabit them, the student taking the photograph and the residents of the neighborhood...




February Reflections

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

February always goes by too quickly, and marking the halfway point for the final semester I was hoping in vain it would be different this time around.  (We get an extra day this year, right?) 

February began and ended with a cena among friends.  Aleeix and I met in my Historia Antigua course.  I had previously exchanged a few words with him when I asked his friend Sandra for her notes for a class I had to miss, but this time around, thanks to the professor not showing up, I had a chance to talk much more with everyone: Aleeix asked me if I wanted to join for drinks.  Nobody spoke English, and even fewer would speak Castellano— but we managed to hit it off through my awkward Catalan and, most of all, our common love for the band La Pegatina.  So that night, we met up for a cena, and ever since we’ve been a solid group of friends.

Matt1At Empuries in the Costa Brava
Matt2Matt3Empuries - Greek and Roman ruins with the Pyrenees in the background

Not many days later I jumped on a bus for a fieldtrip with my Historia Antigua class.  As the only American there, I was looking forward to a “fieldtrip” a la catalana.  As it turns out, fieldtrips are pretty rare here, and this was not lost on me for a second.  When we arrived to Empúries, an ancient Greek-turned-Roman colony sitting on the Mediterranean, I stopped to take photos of the gorgeous views.  Everyone else?  Stopped to smoke and get a coffee from the makeshift hut/coffee stand at the entrance to the ruins.  When the guide arrived, I was excited to learn something new, and probably just focus on listening to catalan for a few hours.  (After all, the reading material before we left was a 30-page document by Josep Puig-i-Cadafalch on the ruins!) Instead, the few that did decide it was worth their time to join the tour spent the time texting, rolling cigarettes, and talking loudly over a guide that looked at the ground while whispering.  The towel was thrown in quickly after.  While lunch in the nearby town was nice, and the ruins of Ullastret made a pretty conclusion to the day’s sights, the highlight was really just spending hours hanging out with friends on the banks of the Mediterranean.  As far as school days go, and being one of the first warm days in February, that was about as good as they come.

Next up on the tour of February in Barcelona: Pecha Kucha Night.  PKN : BCN is an event that comes around every 4-6 months.  It is held at the Antigua Fabrica Estrella Damm, which means beautiful brewery chic for the venue—and unlimited Damm products.  (Bock Damm at last!) Much like a TED talk, PKN is where people come to exchange ideas.  Unlike a TED talk, presentations are limited to 20 seconds for 20 slides, 1 second per slide.  This is the 20x20 model.  It is often zany, very creative, and makes you go “ah-hah!” on more than one occasion.  The ideas can be about anything—and people take that quite literally.  The best part? The crowd’s reactions as slides—and one-liners—fly by while everyone downs beer after beer. 

Matt5Occupying the University of Barcelona during student protests on February 29th

One of the last things to happen in February was the strike declared on the 29th.  As austerity measures in Spain have made their way to cut backs in education, students, professors, and other university staff took to the streets to show their opposition.  As their demands against tuition hikes, salary cuts, health care reductions, and more went on through the day, crowds continued to gain strength, some of them taking a turn for the violent.  While the more violent actions are lamentable, the most interesting moment of my participation on 29F was not the peaceful march and shutdown of the University of Barcelona, but rather the post-protest “debrief” at la Pomepu.  The symposium assembled local organizers, professors, and participants from various locations to talk about the success, failures, and future of the movement.  It was in Catalan, which dissuaded some similarly interested foreign students, but the panel was very informative, and the casual nature of question-response allowed me to be comfortable enough to try my hand at a few questions in Catalan.  Coming from a background where protests are not very common, and do not seem to exact much change, the evening’s symposium brought an interesting perspective into focus for comparison.  While students here do not have the track record of countries like France (Sous la pavée, la plage!) the participants generally held an optimistic note.  To them, participation in Democracy is more direct: they demonstrate, literally, for or against major issues.  The issue seems to really derive from the concern that it is them versus the politicians.  In other words, representative democracy cannot run quite like in America because the representatives are made out to be more of the problem rather than a means to a solution.  Hearing this from such a young democracy, especially one that just had elections not but three months prior, actually made me a little uncomfortable.  Not because other forms of government are abhorrent to me, but because I started to wonder what exactly Spain had.  Was it a democracy?  I heard variation after variation of “we have a supermarket, but instead of competition each political party is offering the same thing.  The customers are upset, are claiming things should be different, but the managers have formed a collusion and are saying the customer is always wrong.”  If one feels they cannot participate, or in the broader case of Catalunya, that their concerns are simply ignored, then what role do you play, or even does your state play, in the government?  Maybe “play” is the key word these days.  The function of a democracy was being called into question.  And this sentiment was not uniquely held amongst a few, let me reiterate this.  But we have to remember I was around the mobilized, in American we tend to call them the “radicals.”  And true, in one way, perhaps the customers are not always right—tough cuts have to be made somewhere.  That being said, “where” is another discussion entirely that cannot be held here, space simply will not allow it.  As one teacher put it last semester, Spain has a “Democrazy.”  I can’t help but add before I shift topics a quote by Henry Ford: “'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”  I hope the best for these brave Catalan students.

Well, that is all for this month.  There were many more adventures that did not make the cut, but remember, in Barcelona there is always something going on every day.  All you have to do is get out there.  In next month’s installment, prepare for a review of Granada, as well as all the other adventures Barcelona has to offer as primavera becomes official. 

Thanks for reading,


It's all about the negative space

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

The nice thing about Barcelona is that it’s never too late to make your day memorable. You see, despite the common notion that studying abroad is an excuse to party for a semester and slack off in your classes, the Architecture and Design students at CIEE have quickly learned that just like back home, our leisure time is very precious! But as I was saying earlier, Barcelona offers a distinctive feel for us Architecture and Design students coming from an American system. Here, no matter what your career and its pressures… you are expected to enjoy the public spaces and wander the chamfered corners of the city. It’s truly a city designed to accommodate communal experiences more so than secluded, private corners. There is something to be seen or done at every hour of the day and night, and if the city itself doesn’t quite cut it on a Saturday, buy a train ticket to Tarragona for under 10 euro, go hiking to Montserrat, or catch a cheap flight to a neighboring European city.

This month, despite my reluctance to leave my desk from all the homework I have had, Barcelona pampered me. Carnaval brought a percussion parade under my street balcony and conveniently held a drumming show in front of my house so that I could sneak in on my way to the library. I didn’t make it out, but many of my classmates were lured into the city center to check out the Castellers. As if all of that isn’t enough, the city is beginning to warm up and the nightlife is becoming so much more tempting. Last night we made our way to Port Olimpic and got some sand in our shoes after a night of clubbing. Life isn’t too shabby here in Barcelona.

I have yet to do and see many things on my Barcelona Checklist, yes even now in my eighth week of being here! It’s not enough to see all of Gaudi’s modernism. There are so many layers to a city like Barcelona, one being because of its rich history and another being because of the diversity of its residents. My favorite part of the city, for example, is Barri Gotic. Even the name requires a closer look. The Gothic quarter in Barcelona is actually mostly from the 19th and 20th century. During those times, the gothic style was correlated to Catalonian artistic grandeur so many architects renovated the buildings in the Gothic-Revival style. Another interesting site is Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, whose history is peculiar thanks to its many stories (and I have yet to find out which is true). Then you have important landmarks to Barcelona, such as the Ferran-Princessa axis, that I get to walk through casually a few times a week. This street was part of a large project in the 1800s to open up the highly condensed city, which put in motion the modernization of the city. I could go on and on, you see!

There is no easy way to define, summarize, or condense one’s impression of a city that will encompass all popular consensus. With a stay this long, it becomes even more difficult because the more we adapt to our surroundings, the more our personalities, values, cultures, thoughts, etcetera influence our encounters with the city. Thanks to our City and Visual Culture Class, I can confidently write that despite Barcelona’ successful city branding, there is more here than an assembly of seductive icons and landmarks.


For Vanessa's previous post, click here:


Mi nueva casa: una instructora de yoga, un chico que se llama Axel y Luna, el perro

Name: Kristi
CIEE Barcelona Program:
Advanced Liberal Arts
Spring 2012
Home School

“¿Conoces a Eww-Dos?”

Le respondí, “Hmmmm, Eww-Dos, no. Creo que es la primera vez que oigo ese nombre. ¿Qué tipo de música tocan?”

Estoy totalmente inmersa en esta conversación con el hermano de mi anfitrión, Axel, cuando oigo que mi señora grita desde la cocina, “¡Se refiere a la banda U2!”

“¡¡¡Ohhhh!!! ¡U2, la banda, Bono, Joshua Tree! ¡Conozco a U2, por supuesto!”

Todo esto ocurrió la noche del pasado viernes durante la cena. Resulta que los momentos de la cena están siendo para mí las horas más agradables de mi tiempo en Barcelona. No sólo porque la comida está siempre presente y estoy tremendamente entusiasmada debido a mi obsesión por comer lo que sea, cuando sea y a pesar de lo que sea; sino también porque mi familia es una fuente constante de fascinación para mí.


Vivo con un perrito dálmata llamado Luna, una bailarina de mediana edad que se volvió instructora de yoga llamada Mariana, y su hijo de 17 años, Axel. Sí. Su nombre es Axel. Igual que Axl Rose de Guns N 'Roses. O como Axel Foley en Beverly Hills Cop. Referencias que, si alguna vez intentara explicarle, le harían sólo inclinar la cabeza y fruncir el ceño a causa de una falta total de comprensión. Es frecuente que los dos miembros de mi familia española me miren así cuando las cosas que trato de decirles se pierden en la traducción, o cuando simplemente no tengo ni puñetera idea de lo que estoy tratando de decir y me invento palabras en Spanglish (como ‘lacko’, usé  esta palabra el otro día cuando no podía recordar cómo se dice ‘falta... Sí, ‘lacko’ no es una palabra real). De cualquier manera, me siento como si la mirada pudiera traducirse a algo parecido a: "¿Era eso español?"

Pero la cosa más maravillosa de Mariana y Axel es su absoluta voluntad y su deseo de ayudarme con todo en mi nueva vida aquí. Cuando me olvido de cómo se dice algo en español, o no puedo recordar la palabra o el tiempo del verbo (los tiempos verbales españoles serán, de hecho, mi muerte. Estoy convencida.), ambos están siempre contentos de ayudarme a aprender. Me dicen la palabra y yo la repito. Luego, cuando me equivoco en la pronunciación al repetirla, me la dicen más lentamente. Mi familia está compuesta por las personas más majas, amables, y más acogedoras del mundo. Yo no podía pedir un hogar mejor, algo por lo que estoy especialmente agradecida cada vez que empiezo a extrañar a mi familia y amigos estadounidenses. Me han recibido con los brazos abiertos como a un nuevo miembro de su familia y las palabras no pueden expresar lo afortunada y feliz que estoy.

Lo siguiente que Axel me preguntó fue si yo conocía al famoso rapero americano "Tuhpaz". Una vez más, le dije que no estaba familiarizado con él. Una vez más, escuchamos la voz de Mariana tras la esquina gritando "¡Lo que quiere decir es Tupac!" Al instante, mi expresión facial mostró reconocimiento mientras Axel y yo continuamos nuestra conversación sobre cosas de gran importancia cultural: ¿quién era mejor, Tupac o Notorious BIG? Aquí no hay discusión. Obviamente, la respuesta correcta es Biggie, pero Axel no está de acuerdo, y continuamos nuestra cena como una familia feliz, nueva, a veces torpe, e increíble.