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Advanced Liberal Arts, Fall 2015, Newsletter III




A new term has just ended and many of the participants of the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program in the University of Barcelona are now heading home to celebrate the holidays with their families; others, however, are taking advantage of these last days of 2015 and will greet their families and friends visiting them to celebrate Christmas and New Years traveling through Spain and Europe. 

This difficult balance between being far from home, and at the same time, enjoying the opportunities that a study abroad experience can offer, finds a happy solution on Thanksgiving day. Being far from home on this day may be difficult, especially staying in a country where the references of this holiday are scarce, and the majority of the Spanish people only have references of this holiday through movies and television. But this unfamiliarity may turn into a perfect example of the intercultural component that our students experiment with while here. Charlotte (Carnegie Mellon University) and Maddie (Barnard College) celebrate with Lorena (her local flatmate in Barcelona with whom they shared an apartment during fall term) which was her first Thanksgiving in her life. Here you have some photos and a video of the dinner.


We end with Allie's story, from Vanderbilt University, who made a balance of her time here in Barcelona as a participant of the Advanced Liberal Arts program.

¡Felices Navidades a todos!

Allie, Vanderbildt University

My study abroad experience in Barcelona has been one I will never forget. Ever since I was a freshman in college I knew I wanted to study abroad in Spain and have been so excited gearing up for this semester, but once I landed in Barcelona I was surprisingly nervous about the semester that I had ahead of me. There were several girls from Vanderbilt in the Advanced Liberal Arts program Barcelona, but I knew none of them and with the initial language barrier I felt like an outsider and was unsure how my ‘dream’ semester was going to play out. Now, looking back on my semester, I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. I had the opportunity to take classes and interact with students at the University of Barcelona, making for a challenging but very rewarding outcome, drastically improving my Spanish. Living with a family in Barcelona has given me an insight to the Catalán culture and made me feel right at home. In addition, over the course of the semester, I worked as an English tutor to 5 kids and genuinely feel like I have become part of the Vega family. But most importantly, my biggest worry was completely dissolved. CIEE gave me the opportunity to make friends from all over the United States that I never would have met otherwise. From Barça games to weekend excursions around Europe to simply sitting around a table laughing for hours about nothing, we have shared countless unforgettable memories. These are people that I can honestly say are some of my best friends. CIEE and Barcelona have given me an amazing semester that I will always treasure. ¡Viva Barcelona! 





The University of Barcelona (UB) is the host institution of the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts (ALA) program. The UB is, above all, an urban university, outward-reaching and cosmopolitan just like the city where the campuses reside. And because of this, it plays a direct and active part in the urban fabric of Barcelona, becoming a hub of cultural activity for the city itself that our students take advantage of: music concerts, academic lectures or art expositions, are just some of the many resources that the UB offers to our students. The CIEE participants in the ALA program take direct enrollment courses with local students facing a new academic culture that sometimes needs time and necessary personal adjustments, but at the same time, it is a key factor to our students’ success at the end of their study abroad experience.

In this newsletter, I want to share with you the testimonial of Sarah and Maddie where they explain some of these difficulties and challenges, but also some of the rewards that they are already experiencing.

Warm regards from Barcelona!


Sarah, Indiana University

Studying abroad in the Advanced Liberal Arts program of CIEE in Barcelona, Spain has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I chose this program for the immersion opportunity it provides to integrate myself into the culture of the city and university lifestyle, but it has brought me so much more than that.

Barcelona offers all that you could want in a big city with a mix of gothic and modernist architecture, relaxing beaches, stunning mountain views, hidden parks, museums of every kind, and a rich history that leads to more chances for adventure everyday. I have realized that this environment is the perfect place to improve my Spanish fluency while living with a host family and taking classes at the University of Barcelona. Although tasks like finding my way around the city without a map, forcing myself to talk to local students, and comprehending 400-level Spanish lectures seemed impossible at first, now I have confidence to do them all. This program has helped me understand how to overcome any type of challenge, and because of that I have discovered more about myself than I ever thought possible. I have not only improved my Spanish speaking and comprehension, but have also opened my eyes to a new way of life and recognized the beauty in other cultures. It is safe to say that because of CIEE and the Advanced Liberal Arts program, I am now a stronger person, student, and Spanish speaker.


Maddie, Barnard College

When I first touched down in Barcelona, a bit travel-weary and nervous, I walked out into the terminal and found the large group of young people in neon orange shirts that I was searching for. These young people—our CIEE Guardian Angels are local, Spanish speaking students that join us CIEE students for various activities throughout the semester—introduced themselves, and I quickly felt at ease. After meeting them, my nervousness was dispelled, and I knew that it would be a great semester

After the two-week orientation that followed, my friends in the Advanced Liberal Arts Program and I began the process of choosing our classes at both CIEE and University of Barcelona. When I first laid eyes on the extensive course catalog that offered classes in Spanish on topics from economics to photography to poetry, I was a bit daunted by all of the choices I had laid out before me. However, yet again, CIEE knew what they were doing.  My advisers guided me through the process and helped me figure out an ideal schedule. Because of this help that CIEE provided, I have found a balance in a challenging, applicable course load full of Spanish language and culture that also allows for time to experience first hand this country that I am studying!

And CIEE certainly fosters this exploration outside the classroom as well. Two weekends ago, we took our CIEE organized weekend trip to Sevilla and Córdoba. As a group, we toured la Catedral de Sevilla, la Mezquita de Córdoba, and el Real Alcázar de Sevilla. At night, we attended a flamenco performance that blew us away with its combination of skill and emotion, and we were even left with free time to wander the crowded, lively streets of the cities. While on this trip, it amazed me how incredibly different the culture—both present and historical—of these two cities could be from that of Barcelona. With this trip, the program allowed us to see for ourselves the incredible cultural contrast that exists within Spain because of the varying historical influences in each of its regions.

Without these hands-on experiences that CIEE provides me with, subjects that I learn about in the classroom like the grandeur of Arabic architecture in Andalucía, the independence movement of Cataluña, or the ancient roman influence in Barcelona would remain abstract concepts for me. However, through the stellar classes, mentors, field trips, day excursions, and trips that CIEE has integrated into my study abroad program, I am now able to see, learn, and experience everything for myself.




6a010536fa9ded970b01b8d10b2fe0970c-800wiEMPIEZAN LAS CLASES

WP_20150907_002Finally, the moment has arrived and this week classes commence. This term, 20 students from 15 different universities will have their first contact with new professors, new classmates and new material. But for all of them, they will share the biggest new experience in their lives: different from their previous years on campus, this fall, they will encounter an academic culture that is completely new. We have been busy preparing the students during these past 10 days in an intense orientation in Barcelona where we have discussed at length the differences that exist between the American university system, the European university system in general, and the Spanish university system in particular. They know that they need to be patient that they must be flexible and mold themselves to the different requirements and expectations that this new endeavor demands. However, what is the study abroad program if not this exactly? 

Some examples: Miles (Tufts University) will take courses such as “Statistics I” and “International Economic Organization” in the University of Barcelona Economics department; Amy (University of La Verne) “Psychology of Work," " Psychology of Sexuality,” and “Witness Remembrance” in the Psychology department –in addition to “Arabic I” in the Modern Language department–; Elizabeth (Vanderbilt University) will try “Latin American Literature until Modernism” and “Spanish Narrative of the XX Century” in the Spanish Literature department; Kyle (George Washington University) has opted for “Online Communications,” “Contemporary Spain” and “Contemporary Spanish Theatre”; Anna will take “Anthropology and Feminism” and also “Literature and Cinema in Spain”; and Catalina (University of Minnesota) will concentrate in her major in Biology and will take, amongst other courses, “Cellular Biology” and “Experimental Design and Analysis of Data.” 

These are just some examples of the courses that the students from the ALA of CIEE program have selected, and without a doubt, will contribute in acquiring a new academic perspective in their lives as students. And, as I have repeated to our students so many times during orientation, when they go back home in December, they will see that Spanish isn't just a second language used for communication, but also an academic language. It is a great gift…



ALA students in a Bread-making workshop




Ala301The Advanced Liberal Arts program is coming to its end this week. The students are in that strange moment when the nervousness and physical exhaustion from their exam preparations are mixing with this underlying sensation of saying goodbye precipitately to a city that has been their home these last months. All they know that, with each daily trip that has been repeated again and again, the same steps made day after day, they are saying goodbye to that one corner of their street where they live, and they become aware that they will not see it again tomorrow. And inevitably, they will feel nostalgia of the future since it is unclear how much time will pass until they come back to this space, this light, and these familiar faces that have accompanied them silently while in Barcelona.

In the goodbye luncheon, I reminded them that Barcelona is already, and will always be, their city. And that the CIEE Study Center, which we call La Casa, it will always be that: their home.

Buen regreso a todos y hasta muy pronto.Ala302Mateo Llosa, Yale University

As a native Spanish speaker from Peru, I chose to study in Barcelona in search of a rather particular study abroad experience. My goal was not to learn a new language, nor was it really to improve any deficiencies in my Spanish writing or speaking, nor, even, was it to be exposed to a new and foreign culture. (We Peruvians have inherited much from the Spanish, and still share a rather wide variety of customs and modes of thinking and living.) My goal was to continue my studies in political philosophy at the same pace and level as I would have in my home institution, Yale University, and to benefit from developing political and philosophical thought in my native language. I did not want my exchange experience to constitute any form of parenthesis in my academic and intellectual development. 

The CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program enabled me to achieve this goal, and more. The UB offered an incredibly wide array of courses that CIEE gave us freedom to choose from, and program administrators worked closely with each one of us to ensure that we placed into those that better suited our academic demands. Universitat de Barcelona courses were taught by academics at the top of their respective fields, and classes were interesting and easy to follow. Furthermore, in my area of study at least, classes offered exposure to a mode of thinking reality, politics and society quite different to the one taught and thought within the American academy, which, although challenging at times, I found illuminating and refreshingly complimentary for our attempts at thinking global issues within our increasingly globalized world. The urge to 'think things in a different way', to reflect on things under a different light, echoed through almost all my diversely constituted classes. 

Finally, I would like to emphasize that the CIEE team is composed of remarkably caring, attentive and knowledgeable people. I got to know some of them personally, outside of our formal meetings, classes and events, and was taken aback by the level of genuine interest they took on our backgrounds, our plans, our study abroad experience and on our academic prospects and development.Ala303Tatiana Hill, Amherst College

When I arrived in Barcelona in late January, I was absolutely terrified about making a temporary home in an entirely unfamiliar place. A suburbanite who had never left the country, I failed to fully acknowledge the huge cultural experiment I had thrown myself into. However, as soon I became acquainted with the warm Residencia ONIX staff, ventured throughout the city, and interacted with locals I was aware of how privileged I was to live amongst stunning, eclectic architecture, palm trees, beaches, and a strong cultural tradition fueled by passion for the impressive history and resilience of the Catalan people. 

As classes began, I found the Spanish style of instruction and grading to be vastly different from an American, liberal arts college education. Fortunately, the CIEE classes, the instructors and administrators of the program served as a bridge between the American style of education and that of the University of Barcelona. CIEE Professors were more receptive to questions and always available to elaborate on a topic in class. This compassion and support from the CIEE program was quite reassuring in the midst of encountering the challenges of a very large university and different cultural expectations at university.

While adjusting to the academic demands at UB and the generally foreign environment, I made huge strides in my ability to speak Spanish, explore Catalan culture, and maneuver novel situations independently. On a recent trip to Madrid, not only did I engage in an intriguing conversation about the beauty and politics of Catalonia, but I received multiple compliments on my ability to comfortably carry a full conversation in Spanish. Though seemingly minor, these are the sorts of poignant experiences that studying abroad in Barcelona with the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program allows for. Through this experience, I have rapidly germinated into a worldly adult.Ala304





For our students, being in Barcelona means being in Europe. For many of them, it is the first time that they visit the old continent, and living in Spain is a unique opportunity –it is the unrepeatable combination of youth and the desire to explore new territories– to walk the streets of Berlin, London, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin… And the desire is so great to see Europe that sometimes our students forget that it is not necessary to cross the invisible European borders to encounter diverse landscapes, accents, customs, climate... Sometimes they forget that they can discover all of this right here in Spain.

In CIEE we are conscious of the importance of this, and it is for this reason that, amongst other cultural activities and field trips, we organize a weekend trip in one of the many corners of Spain that, in other circumstances, is not a priority destination for our students. Last week, we took a plane from Barcelona and, in less than an hour, we arrived in the Basque Country. It was fantastic to see our student’s reactions when they realized that at such a short distance –Far away but so close!– they can find such an important contrast in landscape, in customs, in language, and gastronomy. It was an unexpected discovery for them: sometimes, to travel far, it is not necessary to leave home…

Danielle, from Vanderbilt University, and Steven, from George Washington University, wanted to share with us in this Newsletter their impressions of last week’s trip.


Danielle Serphos, Vanderbilt University

The opportunity to travel throughout Europe during my time abroad is something that I will never take for granted. Upon arriving in Barcelona, I was beyond excited to find out that our Advanced Liberal Arts group would be traveling to Bilbao and San Sabastián towards the end of our program. I was looking forward to this trip from day one, and now that it is over, the Basque Country (País Vasco) certainly did not disappoint. Spending time with our intimate, small and close-knit CIEE program was filled with new experiences, food and culture.

We were accompanied by three separate tour guides as we were educated about Bilbao, San Sabastián and the ever so famous Guggenheim Museum. Without a doubt we managed to fit in the famous “pintxos” the typical regional food taking over restaurants in the Basque Country. Additionally, there was a well planned balance of structure and free time on the trip as I was simultaneously educated about all that Bilbao and San Sabastián had to offer and was given the time to explore and relax with friends. Whether it was the grey and cultural town of Bilbao or the blue beach town of San Sabastián, the weekend away from Barcelona was all I could have expected and more.

Ala1Stephen Conley, George Washington University

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel with my Advanced Liberal Arts Program to Bilbao and San Sebastian with the CIEE staff. I found the trip to be very interesting and engaging and everything from plane tickets, to the hotel, to our schedule was extremely organized. I particularly enjoyed this trip because of the opportunity to see parts of the Basque Region of Spain that I would not normally be able to visit independently. We stayed in Bilbao and got a walking tour, which was extremely informative and intriguing due to the industrial past of the city.

That night, our directors took us out to a great pintxos restaurant about a half a block from our hotel to watch a soccer game. The food was delicious and the restaurant was very cool! The next day we took a bus to San Sebastian where we had a walking tour of the city and had about five hours to both explore the beautiful coastline of San Sebastian and to try the local food. The final day we toured the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and learned about the relation between modernist museum and Bilbao. I enjoyed this trip and am grateful for the opportunity to experience Bilbao and San Sebastian! 




In the Advanced Liberal Arts program, we organized different linguistic exchanges throughout the semester in order to give ALA students the chance to meet locals of the same age, but also to meet people that are in similar fields of studies. Local students are always from the University of Barcelona, so in addition to the linguistic exchange per se, they also help with tips about courses, or even give them an introduction to the Catalan language. We always program the first encounter during orientation week. This way, ALA students meet locals literally a few hours after they have landed in the city, and some of these acquaintances quickly turn into friendships permitting both Spanish and English speakers to meet all throughout the semester to practice using the new language on their own in private language meetings. We believe that ALA students appreciate the chance to start practicing Spanish at such an early stage of their stay.

In this newsletter, two of the program participants explain to us their experience with this exchange: Paige with a young cinema director and professor of film studies in the UB, and Lauren with a Modern Language student.

Paige Polk, Rice University:

As a study abroad student, I anticipated that my semester in Spain would no doubt be filled with plenty of new and exciting opportunities. Just going to the grocery store is a linguistic and cultural exchange! However, I stumbled upon a more formal opportunity when I met with a friend over tapas. After a long day in class, I wasn´t sure how I´d feel about an organized meeting at the end of the day. However, I´m so glad that I said yes! It´s pretty easy to assume that a language exchange will be an awkward encounter with a stranger as you rattle off interesting facts about your perspective countries. But just like studying abroad in general, it´s best to enter without any expectations and an open mind. Only that way will you get the most out of your experience with a language exchange.  It turned out that we have far more in common that our different cultures would have us to believe. Even though we live on opposite sides of the world, we were able to have a conversation about pretty specific interests of ours that had some definite overlap. From portrait documentary film to the trials of long-distance relationships, it was almost too easy finding things to talk about!

01Lauren Pach, Indiana University:

It is sometimes difficult to make friends and meet new people when you are living in a city as large as Barcelona. Though we go to class every day with local students at the university here, it is still a challenge to initiate conversation with a classmate. The CIEE intercambios have been the best way for me to meet local students during my time in Barcelona. Both the local students and we CIEE students attend the intercambios because we want to meet people and we want to practice our language skills, so the conversation always flows easily. I have enjoyed getting to know local students from Barcelona, Catalonia, and all of Spain.

Beyond making friends, though, the intercambios provide a great environment for improving my language skills. I find that on any given day in Barcelona, I hear plenty of Spanish, but I don’t necessarily speak as much Spanish as I would like to. However, the intercambios force me to step outside of my comfort zone and initiate conversation in Spanish. It is always fun as well to help the local students with their English. When I listen to them speak English to me, I suddenly understand more or less how I sound to them when I speak Spanish. Both we and the local students are always modest in describing our language of abilities, but the intercambios have taught me that we are all better at communicating than we lead ourselves to believe. Overall, I am very grateful for the opportunity to get to understand the culture and people of Barcelona better by participating in the CIEE intercambios.


By Mar Modolell, Student Services

02One of the best ways to to get in touch with a culture is by being familiar with its gastronomy.

El pa de pagès (peasants bread) is one of the typical types of bread from Catalunya and is what is typically used to make the pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato). It is a rustic and aromatic bread with a crunchy crust that preserves the bread perfectly for days. In fact, it is even better the day after it is baked and at two days later, when it has had time to sit  “asentado” and the bread is more firm, this is the optimal time to eat it.

In CIEE we did a bread workshop for the students in a way that they could get to know the main ingredients of the bread, so that they can learn to make this delicious bread at home but also, so that at the same time, they can learn all the relevant vocabulary in Spanish.




As the end of this term falls upon us, the days of this year having passed by almost imperceptibly, we wanted to make a holiday toast with all the students participating in the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program in the University of Barcelona to celebrate all the new friendships made, the old friendships made stronger, to remember the good moments shared, but also to reflect on these experiences in Barcelona. If there is something that they all share, it is that they are all going home a different person. As this is one of CIEE's main objectives, I think that we have accomplished our mission.

ALA1Because it is true that living and studying in another country and in another language contributes like no other experience in broadening horizons and incorporating new perspectives on life. If you have also had the fortune to be able to do volunteer work, your local knowledge about the city and the Spanish culture is multiplied. And this is what happened with some of the ALA students this term. One of them, Rebecca, wants to explain to us (in Spanish!) something that we all know: one always gives what they receive and sometimes they receive even more than they give.

Thank you so much Rebecca for sharing with us your Intercambio de Experiencias

¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo! 

Mi voluntario con ASSIS: Un intercambio de experiencias

Rebecca Henríquez, Northeastern University

            Mi llegada aquí en Barcelona vino acompañada con la sensación de oportunidades infinitas. Una de las primeras semanas tuve la oportunidad a asistir la reunión de voluntario. Ya tenía una idea en mi mente de qué quería hacer. Laura mencionó ASSIS como una posibilidad para mí. ASSIS es una organización que ayuda a las personas sin hogar. Los voluntarios trabajan con la organización para crear un ambiente de tolerancia y seguridad donde los clientes pueden ir, comer y reencontrar su dignidad.

Foto 3            Mis primeros días con la organización fueron un gran éxito y comencé a acostumbrarme al sistema y a la gente. Roger, el director de ASSIS, me ayudó mucho y siempre me preguntaba si necesitaba algo o si tenía preguntas para él. Yo empecé ayudando en la cocina y sirviendo el desayuno. Así, conocí a mucha de la gente regular de ASSIS. Hay hombres de varias partes de España y Europa, pero también conocí a un hombre de Kansas, EE.UU. y cada persona tiene una historia impresionante. Para mí el servicio funciona en dos direcciones. Estoy allí ayudando porque es importante en un sociedad apoyar y dar una mano a mis prójimos. Me llena de felicidad cuando veo que estoy parte del cambio de una vida. Por otro lado, estoy aprendiendo mucho. Es una forma muy buena para practicar castellano. Hablo con la gente y compartimos nuestras experiencias y lenguas. Ahora cada martes paso la mañana con algunas de las personas que asisten a ASSIS y sencillamente no sentamos y hablamos. A veces creo que lo que más me gusta es la compañía de ellos, pero seguro que es un intercambio beneficioso para cada de nosotros. Hablamos de sus vidas o de mis estudios y de los Estados Unidos. Uno de mis conocidos, Jesús, le encanta la poesía entonces hablamos de literatura y poesía mucho. Hablamos de su hija y de la vida. Otro hombre con quien yo hablo le gusta traducir canciones inglesas a castellano para practicar su inglés. Es un viaje de aprendizajes para mí. Cada persona tiene un personalidad única y cada vez que yo voy, experimento algo diferente.

ALA3            Una vez, experimenté un aprendizaje que nunca voy a olvidar. Llegué temprano un martes y me pusieron en un departamento nuevo, la distribución de la ropa. Me enseñó cómo organizar la ropa y cómo entregársela a la gente. Con las primeras personas fue muy fácil y tuve confianza. Un hombre acercó la mesa y comenzó a hablar, pero no entendí lo que quería. El empezó a gritar y lanzar sus brazos al aire. Yo nunca había visto a aquel hombre y no sabía su caso. Me sentí muy mal porque no supe cómo ayudarle. Empecé a sentirme incómoda. Después hablé con Roger y él me explicó la historia de ese hombre. También me ayudó a poner la experiencia en un perspectiva positiva. Ahora entiendo la importancia de la paciencia con otros y conmigo misma. Específicamente, en una institución como ASSIS, es cierto que vas a encontrar a gente con problemas mentales y otros problemas. No es que tengo que temer algo, sino que lo importante es estar preparada y actuar de forma profesional cuando me enfrento a una situación adversa.    

            Me siento como una parte de una familia allá. Observo la gente cada vez que yo voy a trabajar y cada vez me fascina la cantidad de cariño y de compasión que los otros voluntarios tienen para estas personas. Y estas personas encuentran allí un hogar, mucho 



Debating politics in Barcelona

Studying abroad with the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program means a lot of things: improving your Spanish language and writing skills dramatically, understanding that there are other teaching and learning styles while attending a local university with local students, accepting that there are other ways to live and think that might be different from your own way, discovering a city beyond the texts, maps and pictures of a touristic guide, or being involved in the socio-political context of your new home.

The ALA participants of this fall’14 have had the unique opportunity of being in Barcelona during a vibrant political and social moment where the debate on the relations between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, and the possibility of a independent Catalonia, have been day in and day out on the front pages of the Spanish newspapers during the last months. Our students have not been out of touch in this realty, and their interest on this debate started the first day they arrived to Barcelona. That is why we have organized a series of talks on this issue to try to give our students a deeper knowledge about what is happening these days in the city and in the country.


Photo: Dr. Enrique Campomanes, professor of the CIEE “Contemporary Spain” course, giving the lecture ¿Cataluña fuera de España?: Origen y presente del sentimiento nacionalista catalán on the historical roots of the Catalan nationalism.

In this blog entry, Daniel, a Biochemistry and Spanish major of the University of Colorado Boulder, expounds his impressions of the debate. ¡Muchas gracias, Daniel, por compartir tu reflexión con nosotros! 


Independence. As Americans we have a deep and resounding nostalgia for this emotionally charged word and this word has found new fever in the daily lives of those living in Catalunya. Before I delve into my experiences as a foreigner living in these tumultuous times in Barcelona I feel the need to post a disclaimer. These experiences are just that, an individual reflection of personal perspective. I am a college senior who identifies himself as libertarian; as such there is nothing more valuable to me than personal liberty and the right of self-determination.

            Before arriving in Barcelona, thanks to Javier Krauel, Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Colorado and Barcelona native, I had a basic understanding of the current political situation and the historical tendencies behind it. I think this information was incredibly useful in my process of understanding the political environment yet nothing prepared me for the experiences I have had here. I remember my first encounter with the topic of independence was during a walking tour on one of the first days here. I remember walking and seeing mis-colored Cuban flags. These flags with their blue triangles with one white star superimposed on a background of red and yellow stripes hung from every possible window and balcony. Out of curiosity I asked one of our local student leaders what the flag represented and the response he gave me, I would later find out, was the typical Independista response, “oh you don’t know? It’s the independence flag of Catalunya!” After this bold statement he proceeded to list off his grievances. These arguments for independence and the emotions behind them would hit me full force on September 11th: The Nacional Day of Catalunya. We had been warned by CIEE to stay away from the demonstrations that day but, being the libertarian I am, I decided to attend. I was invited by one of the student leaders to attend the demonstration with her family and friends and it was nonetheless an interesting experience.

            Waiting for the train, there were masses of people in red and yellow shirts carrying their independence flags all of which were chanting. This was only an intro to my day; I waited as nine trains passed me by. All of which were pact full of these red and yellow ants and each time a train would come into the station the doors were bursting at the seams with people. It took me an hour to finally catch a train. Upon leaving the metro, I emerged into a sea of yellow and red that engulfed all of Gran Via: one of the major streets through Barcelona. Somehow, through all the madness, I found my student leader and joined her family in the crowd. It was a very festive environment: everyone was speaking in Catalan and there were gigants: typical large wooden status of peasants dancing to music sung in Catalan. I encountered other study abroad students and tourists alike from varying countries and all had the same overwhelmed expressions on their faces. I was enamored by all the culture I was experiencing, yet bit by bit these aspects started disappearing and everyone prepared themselves for a prearranged time. It was then that the festivities turned political and everyone played their part in this orchestrated show. 1.8 million people were on the streets that day all chanting for independence. I found myself in the crowd unaware of any political views joining in with my new friends in their chants.


Photo: Daniel participating in the National Day of Catalunya.

             As the day passed and the crowds dispersed I returned to my homestay. When I returned home I talked with my host parents and told them about my experiences of the day. They simple nodded and gave me a semi-disappointed look. My host dad Miguel then talked down on my student leader for inviting me to the event. Later that night after dinner we had an in depth conversation about his perspective on the issue of Catalunya.

             The great Spanish poet Antonio Machado in one of his poems from the Spanish Civil War speaks about a Spain divided in two. One part of the body of Spain is the rational part of the head and the other is the emotional part of the heart. This dichotomy represents perfectly the current political situation in Catalunya. In terms of political affiliation there are two extremes in Catalunya: those that support independence, Independistas, and those that do not. There exists a stark division in the Catalonian society in which the majority of Independistas are so convinced of their own ideologies that they assume everyone is Independista and anyone who disagrees is labeled a traitor to Catalunya. My host dad Miguel is not an Independista and upon encountering anyone who is Independista they feverishly argue with him to try and convince him otherwise. It is concerning that this polarized society has such hostilities towards each other which often times pit family members against each other. There exists now an unspoken ranking of who is more or less Catalan than the rest; anyone who is not Independista is labeled as less Catalan. I think it is incredible saddening to see this animosity between fellow Catalans. It is easy to see how emotionally charged people are in their beliefs yet what brought about the creation of this heavily polarized society?


Photo. Spanish poet Antonio Machado

            The financial crisis of 2008 caused great strains on the economy of Spain and with it unemployment has sky rocketed in the last few years. Couple this with some very clever politicians and a broken taxation system and one has a recipe for a strong nationalist movement. Catalunya along with the Basque regions of Spain are two of the most industrialized and wealthy regions of Spain in comparison to the mostly agrarian southern regions. Catalunya and the Basque Country provide the majority of industrial goods and services to the rest of Spain yet between the two there exist two distinctive systems of taxation. For historical reasons that carried over through the ages the Basque region is responsible for collecting and distributing its own taxes after which the region decides a fair sum of taxes to be given to the central government in Madrid. Catalunya has a more traditional tax system where the central government in Madrid collects the taxes and redistributes them to Catalunya as they see fit. There is less of an independent sentiment leaving Catalans feeling as if they pay for the services for the rest of Spain. In this sense I am very sentimental to Catalans because of my personal values in more regional power over taxation. There have been attempts by the regional government of Catalunya to gain similar taxation privileges as the Basque region but there has only been a luge warm response from the central Spanish government in Madrid. Thus Catalans feel that this is an injustice and because of this luge warm response nationalism has exploded in popularity in the last six years. I think the conclusion that most people would derive is that Catalunya has right to be angry and that perhaps independence would solve these fiscal problems. As such, in my opinion should Catalunya become its own country?

             Simply put: no. I consider myself a libertarian and I, like most Independistas, have a very romantic view on independence and the potential for change in a new country. However, when I took a step back from the emotional masses on the street and listened to the grievances of my host dad, a man who is facing a tidal wave of opposition, I realized the complexities of the situation.  Every day on television, in the newspapers, and on the streets there is a constant wave of propaganda from the political parties in power. It makes me curious how much of the Catalan nationalism is truly from the masses personal beliefs or the product of engineered propaganda shoved down the throats of the population. This was one of the grievances Miguel explained to me is that there exists a strong control of politicians over the public education system. For this reason most young people who are completing high school or starting college consider themselves Independistas because it has been engrained in them in their formative years. From personal experience I am quite sick of hearing about the Independista movement and their arguments because they are presented in literally all facets of society. Artur Mas the current president of the Catalan regional government is using the current economic shortcomings as a tool for his own political gain. He puts on a good show but you can see his true intentions in his body language. He walks with an air of pride in the power he is gaining from the Independista movement.

             In terms of the financial crisis politicians have coined the phrase “España nos roba”: Spain is robbing us yet this slogan abruptly disappeared as allegations of corruptions hit.  Jordi Pujol longtime Catalan regional president and a father figure in the modern Catalan nationalist reemergence recently faced allegations of corruption involving his entire family. Add to this the almost daily news on new allegations of corruption in both Catalunya and Madrid and my confidence for Spanish public institutions is zero to none. There is also a possibility for large scale instability if the country moves forward with independence. The Caixa and Sabadell two of the largest banks in Catalunya announced in September that if Catalunya gained its independence they would close all their offices and move out of the country. This would effectively destroy any credibility and financial stability for the potential introduction of a Catalan based Euro. The final barrier that I foresee for an independent Catalunya is the entrance of the country into the Euro zone. There would be obvious objections from Spain for the entrance of this new country as well as objections from similar countries that have separatist regions such as in the case of Belgium and Flanders. I do not see the possibility of the creation of a new country when there are these strong issues that deserve more attention. What is the possibility of a new country striving if its financial institution is fragile, its currency is unknown, and at the helm are the most corrupt politicians in Spain? 


Overall the issues of independence in Catalunya are extremely complex and the emotions behind these issues are powerful. My goal was to write a piece that gives a different perspective from the largely manufactured image that is presented to the world of every Catalan wanted independence. This is a gentle reminder that there are Catalans who oppose independence and are ostracized for their views. My observations are far from unbiased. In all honesty, as a foreigner it is not my place, not my right to decide or convince anyone in regards to the independence of Catalunya. These points are mere observations of a twenty-one year college senior living as a foreigner in Barcelona. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Catalunya and its people. My only hope is that all Catalans can find common ground in this polarized society and that their culture, their language, and most importantly their families can find a future of peace, prosperity, and unity. 

Daniel Lyon
CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts, Barcelona
University of Colorado Boulder
B.A. Biochemistry and Spanish 




Fuera del collage

A few months ago, I read that Barcelona is the third most photographed city in the world after New York and Rome. Our city closes the top 10 list of the most popular destinations in the world, but it seems that our visitors take a lot of pictures…

Places like the Park Güell, La Pedrera or La Sagrada Familia –and other buildings by the local architect Antoni Gaudí–, the Cathedral, Santa María del Mar or the FCB soccer stadium, cross through the light, thousands of times every second, the lenses of cameras and, in a question of seconds, they go from the LCD displays of multiple devices to other displays –and eyes– around the world through the social networks. Technology has changed our lives but also the way we look at it…

I am not sure what the impact could be on these most photographed cities list of the CIEE ALA program students in Barcelona, always prepared with their cameras and phones ready to catch a popular monument, but also a secret corner of the city or an unexpected moment that surprised them and that they want to keep and share. They are not tourists. They are students of CIEE and the University of Barcelona that, after the first days of taking pictures of the Gaudí buildings, find the confidence enough to explore the city by themselves or in the company of local students, to discover the other Barcelona, the one that keep their cameras “clicking” like the first day they arrived.

234“Mis primeros días en Barcelona”, by Rebecca, Northeastern University.

The first days in Barcelona were like something out of a dream. Between the jet lag and the sensation of actually waking up in Spain I had all my fears swept away. I felt a lot of support and encouragement from the moment we were met by the group of energetic and enthusiastic University of Barcelona students to the beginning of our intensive classes at CIEE. Our visit to Girona and Calella, la Costa Brava was one of my favorite first glimpses of Spain. As a group we were taken on a tour of the historic town of Girona where I could feel the richness of the culture and see the ancient buildings all around. Later that same day we went to Calella. This was truly a breath taking experience for me. I saw and I felt the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in my life. The feeling was humbling to say the least.

The same thought kept coming up in my mind: I cannot believe I am here. When classes began at the university a whole new exciting experience awaited me. The thought of walking into the main campus, built as a ‘temple of knowledge,’ completely captured me! CIEE advised us on norms of the classroom and student conduct, which was very helpful when it came to the first few days. My first days were a perfect balance of guidance and freedom to go out and fill myself with all the beautiful elements of the city and the culture.



NewsletterbannerThe CIEE and the Universitat de Barcelona classes are ending this week, and the students participating in the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program are quite busy preparing their papers and studying for their final exams. Next week, some students will be going back home. Some of them have been hired for very interesting internship positions in the States where their time in Barcelona (their proficiency in Spanish and their acquisition of intercultural competence during this term have been a key factor in some cases). Others will be spending more time here exploring different corners of Spain and Europe during the coming weeks before restarting their classes at their home universities.

At CIEE we try, as it is part of our mission, “to help people gain understanding, acquire knowledge, and develop skills for living in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world.” In my opinion, the 29 students this spring term are the perfect example of this: during these intense months in Spain, while attending direct enrolment courses at the Universitat de Barcelona and CIEE culture courses, and participating in an endless list of cultural and academic activities, they have not only improved their knowledge of the Spanish language (certified by the Instituto Cervantes’ Diploma de español como lengua extranjera, the DELE), but they have also learned that there are other ways to learn, and to understand and conceive the world.
We are really proud of them because we know that it is not easy to change one's country, language and academic culture. We are proud, and happy, because they have succeeded. And their success is CIEE's success and purpose. 





We leave you with a small example of a video that some of the Advanced Liberal Arts students made for one of their CIEE classes: