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3 posts from February 2016





We caught up with Christina (Vilanova University) during one of her CIEE Catalunya and Spain Through the Arts classes to ask her a few questions about her overall experience taking culture classes:


The CIEE staff had the opportunity catch up over a hot coffee with Maria (Vilanova University), Lucia (Barnard College), Abigail (George Washington), and Mitch (University of Minnesota).  

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How has your experience been so far?

Maria: I was nervous about my university classes but particularly my Management of Sanitary Institutions Class is just so interesting – it’s a small class with local students, and I’m learning lots of new technical terms in both English and Spanish from the professor. Actually I love all my teachers here! I really lucked out.

Lucia: I've been here since September, so on the one hand it was sad to see all the first semester guys leave, but also I’ve had the chance to adapt more and totally get over the culture shock etc. Plus it was pretty special to be here for Christmas!

Mitch: All my CIEE teachers have really interesting backgrounds and so every class is full of little anecdotes and stories to pass on!  My UPF classes are great too because my Strategic Management class is only with the local students, which is great for my Spanish and getting to know the culture.

Abigail: I just love it – if I could work here I think I’d just stay.  My Spanish is improving every day too (apart from the rolling Rrrr!), some days I have all my classes in Spanish and I start forgetting English!

How would you describe the experience of being an American in this foreign land?

Lucia: It’s fun to see the stereotypes that people have of Americans and satisfying to break them and show what we’re really like. Actually, defending your country against preconceptions makes you appreciate it even more!

Maria:  As a Nicaraguan-American here I have double the preconceptions to deal with – what Spanish people think Latin America / the US is like.  One of my favorite classes in CIEE is all about discussing the Capitalist System from a European point of view, it’s amazingly interesting as an American to hear these perspectives!

How’s your life here outside the classroom?

Maria: I’m living in a homestay with four children of various ages, so there’s never a dull moment! The youngest is a cute 4 year-old and speaks a total mixture of Catalan and Spanish and doesn’t seem to notice the difference, which is interesting.  It’s also fun having dinner together every day - it definitely helps in breaking out of the bubble.

Mitch: I learn a lot of Spanish in the classroom but find the best way of learning is out on the street and speaking with taxi drivers.

Finally, have you had the chance to travel?

Abby: I’ve been travelling a LOT this semester; I basically saved up all my money by not going last semester, and recently went to the South of France. Monaco was crazy, Rolls Royces at all the hotels etc, never seen anything like it, and I also went to Nice where my mom studied abroad years ago.

Mitch: I’ve been away pretty much every weekend – Madrid, Alicante, Sicily, and I’m off to the Canaries to catch some sun this week!



One of our students, Charlotte, from Carnegie Mellon University, explains in her personal blog the adventures of being abroad. In one of her posts she writes about how her experience abroad with CIEE changed her mind and gave her the possibility of understanding the world in a more open-minded way:

As I embarked on this study abroad experience, my worst fear was that my Spanish would let me down. I have pursued a degree in Hispanic Studies in part because in my generation, knowing Spanish is of global importance. Despite my commitment to this venture of studying in Spain, in the beginning I doubted my ability to become a fluent Spanish speaker.

Over the past three months I have confronted this fear head on. Initially I became easily frustrated because I struggled to converse with native speakers. As September passed, however, increasingly I could hear the distinction between words. Although I was unable to respond quickly, I recognized that I had experienced major improvement in comprehension.

In the weeks that followed, my spoken Spanish improved as well. November 3rd marked the day when everything changed. It was as though I had acquired so much vocabulary that suddenly I was able to speak more fluidly. While shopping or at a restaurant, I was better able to express myself. I began to initiate casual conversation while waiting for the bus. It seemed that everywhere I went native Spanish speakers complimented my Spanish.

Despite this improvement in my spoken Spanish, as a perfectionist I continued to feel discouraged at times.  

One day I confided in Andrés, one of my favorite professors. From the start, Andrés inspired me. It was evident that he strongly values his students’ success, and there is never a moment when he is not enthusiastic, so I felt comfortable talking with him. “I would like to speak to you about something that is bothering me,” I told him.

- “Come in.”

- “I often find myself feeling embarrassed by my accent because everyone responds to me in English, which makes me feel incapable of speaking Spanish.”

Andrés reassured me: “It is very common to feel like that, but if people respond to you in English, it is usually because they want to practice their English. Don’t worry about it – you can continue speaking Spanish while the other person speaks in English. Often, when someone hears from your accent that you are American, they think, ‘Ah, an American, straight out of the movies!”

I laughed. Andrés has a way of making light of a situation, and I felt much better.

I began to recognize how much I had accomplished. As our program director said last week at our goodbye lunch, in four months we had become capable of communicating in Spanish at an advanced, academic level.

On Saturday, I headed to the airport at the crack of dawn with my two (extremely heavy) bags. I felt a mix of emotions as I absorbed for the last time the sites of Barcelona’s distinct streets.

My first flight took off from Barcelona, Spain en route to Newark, New Jersey. After ten hours of travel and little sleep, I sat, bleary–eyed, at a café near the terminal waiting for my final flight. A lively girl who looked about my age sat down at the same table. “I love your hat,” I said.

A second girl sat down at the table.    

- “Thanks! I didn’t realize I was still wearing it,” she responded, as she removed the festive Santa hat.

- “Where are you headed?”

- “I’m going to Italy, and my friend is going to India. I’ve been living in the U.S. for the past year and a half, and I’m excited to see my family.”

- “That’s funny, because I’m returning from living abroad myself! It’s so weird to hear English everywhere.”

Laughing, she responded, “That’s exactly how I felt when I first came to America. I could barely speak English, and it was even more difficult because in Italy we learn British English. For instance, I used to say accommodation instead of housing, which would always result in blank stares.”

It was gratifying to be able to share with someone from a different culture our parallel experiences. In this moment, I realized how much living in Spain had changed me. It opened my eyes to an expansive world, and showed me the excitement of finding commonality despite different backgrounds. I feel exhilarated to be returning to the U.S. with these insights and look forward to applying them to my life.

Spanish translation:

Antes de esta experiencia, mi mayor temor era que mi español me fallara. Planeaba una carrera en estudios hispánicos porque en mi generación la habilidad de hablar en español es útil. A pesar de mi compromiso con este viaje, al principio dudaba que pudiera adquirir un español fluido.

Durante estos tres meses, he enfrentado este temor directamente. Al principio, me frustraba mucho porque no podía charlar con hablantes nativos. Sin embargo, para finales de septiembre podía oír la distinción entre las palabras repentinamente; es decir, aunque no podía contestar rápidamente, vi una mejora en mi comprensión.  

En las semanas que siguieron, también noté una mejora drástica en mi español hablado. El 3 de noviembre fue el día en que todo cambió. Por el mucho vocabulario que había adquirido, de pronto tenía la habilidad de comunicarme con más fluidez. Cuando iba de compras o comía en un restaurante, sabía qué quería decir. Empecé a charlar con desconocidos mientras esperaba el autobús. Parecía que todo el mundo quedaba impresionado por mi español.

A pesar de esta mejora en mi español hablado, como soy muy perfeccionista me sentía cada vez más desalentada.

Un día hablaba con Andrés, uno de mis profesores favoritos. Desde el principio, Andrés me ha inspirado. Evidentemente le importa mucho el éxito de sus estudiantes, y nunca hay un momento en que él no esté pletórico de entusiasmo, y por eso me sentía cómoda hablando con él. “Quiero hablar contigo porque algo me está molestando”, le dije.

- “Pasa”.

- “A menudo tengo vergüenza de mi acento porque todo el mundo me contesta en inglés, dándome la sensación de que soy incapaz de hablar en castellano”.

Andrés me tranquilizó: “Es común sentirse así, pero si alguien te contesta en inglés, usualmente es que quiere practicar su inglés. Entonces cuando esto ocurre, no pasa nada – puedes continuar hablando en español mientras la otra persona habla en inglés. Muchas veces, cuando alguien oye por tu acento que eres americana, piensa, ‘¡Ah, una americana, salida de las películas!”

Me reí. Andrés tiene una forma de mantener el humor en una situación como esa, y me sentía mucho mejor.

Empecé a ver cuánto había logrado. Como el director del programa nos dijo la semana pasada en la comida de despedida, después de cuatro meses hemos llegado a ser capaces de comunicarnos en español con un nivel académico avanzado.

El sábado me dirigía al aeropuerto por la madrugada con mis dos pesadas maletas. Sentía una mezcla de emociones mientras admiraba la última vista de las pintorescas calles de Barcelona.

Mi primer vuelo fue desde Barcelona a Newark. Después de diez horas de viajar sin descanso, me senté –lánguida– en un café cerca de la terminal para esperar el último vuelo. Una chica de mi edad se sentó a la misma mesa muy animada. “Me encanta tu sombrero”, le dije.

Otra chica se sentó.

- “¡Gracias! No me había dado cuenta de que todavía estaba llevándolo”, me contestó mientras se quitaba su sombrero de San Nicolás.

- “¿A dónde viajas?”

- “Viajo a Italia, y mi amiga viaja a India. Llevo un año y medio en los Estados Unidos, y tengo muchas granas de ver a mi familia.”

- “¡Que casualidad! ¡Acabo de regresar del extranjero también! Es una locura escuchar inglés por todos lados”.

Riendo, me respondió, “Yo sentía lo mismo cuando llegué por primera vez a América. Apenas podía hablar en inglés, y fue aun más difícil porque en Italia aprendemos el inglés británico. Por ejemplo, solía decir “accommodation” en vez de “housing” y siempre provocaba miradas vacías”. 

Fue increíble relacionarme con alguien de otra cultura a través de una experiencia compartida. En aquel momento, me di cuenta de que Barcelona me había cambiado muchísimo. Abrió mis ojos a un mundo expansivo, y me reveló que es emocionante descubrir aspectos comunes a pesar de las diferencias innatas. Me entusiasma regresar a los Estados Unidos con estas perspicacias para aplicarlas a mi vida. 

If you want to know more about her experiences abroad, take a look at her blog Aventuras de Char.




We have started another exciting term with the Global Architecture and Design program!

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As usual, during the Orientation all the students attended informative sessions about health, safety and academic requirements, among other topics. One of the most exciting moments of the students’ first day is when they meet for the first time the families with whom they will live during the semester. Look at Aria, Crystal, Melissa and Sarah with their host families!


The students were equally eager to start going to class. The semester began with an Digital Tools intensive workshop, taught by Aldo Sollazzo. For four days, students made their first steps in parametric architecture, developing parametrically designed 3d models by using Rhinoceros3d and plug-in Grasshopper. On the last day of the workshop, students printed their models using an Ultimaker 3d printer. The final output of the workshop was quite impressive!Gad1

Shortly after, they began working on their Future Cities Design Studio projects. Accompanied by IaaC faculty, one of the first days of class they visited the site for their projects, the mouth of the Besós River. Inspired by the river and the beautiful coastline of the city, they started with some form-finding exercises. We can’t wait to see how their projects unfold!