Exchange is one of the cornerstones of any experience abroad. The American students that participate in the CIEE Advanced Liberal Arts program exchange with the local youth: ideas, languages, conversations, moments, food, class notes, dances and kisses… Ultimately, they exchange diverse ways –yet always complementary– of understanding life.
The cultural and academic clash that our students experience is considerable. Even though we try to pave the way during orientation, when we warn them of the most frequent difficulties that a person will always encounter while living in new country, it is only first-hand experience of this new reality that may permit assimilation and incorporation into our cultural background.
(Adam –Columbia University–, CIEE and UB Prof. Mar Forment, Cecilia and Lilla –Tufts University–, Marcella –Saint Edward's University–, Eva –Williams College–, and Quinn –Vanderbilt University–)
Acting on professional bias –and why not admit it as well, a certain ethnocentrism–, we tend to focus on the perspective that American students have of the country and the chosen city and of its people so much that we forget the other variable of the equation: the local students. How do the University of Barcelona students perceive the CIEE students? What do they think and feel about them? What do they learn about and from them? Do the friendships that emerge in these months help to better understand the United States, its people and the values that they represent? These are difficult questions to answer. We know that some of these friendships that begin through these exchanges endure in time and that is when mutual comprehension between young American and Spanish students grow and become profound. We know this because the friendships –and many times also love relationships– that develop in these few months in Barcelona are translated in various two-way visits. For example, it is very common to find local Spanish students who have just come back from visiting their friends from CIEE in the United States or CIEE alumni that, years later, come back to Barcelona to solidify a friendship that distance has obliged to make virtual.
(Robert –University of Barcelona–, Jane, Nick and Sydney –Vanderbilt University–, and Daniel –Bowdoin College– taking a selfie and eating "churros")
For ten years now, we have had a tool at CIEE Barcelona that helps us respond to many of the questions that University of Barcelona students might have about American students and the United States. And it is for this reason that CIEE Barcelona started to collaborate with the Language Scholar Program at Reed College. Thanks to this extraordinary linguistic, cultural and academic program, every year a student from the UB is given the opportunity to live, study and work on an American campus. Thanks to Reed College, we can better understand the other side of the exchange between American and Spanish students. It is an honor and a source of pride for CIEE Barcelona to be able to contribute to and strengthen this exchange.
María and Lizara, two students from the University of Barcelona, tell us in first person what their experience in the United States has been like.
University of Barcelona students at Reed College
We are María and Lizara, this year’s Spanish Language Scholars at Reed College, Portland. Now that we are at the end of this adventure, we look back and we find it difficult to put into words just how beautiful this experience has been. Studying abroad implies many complicated decisions; the most obvious one is the willingness to be far away from all things familiar as well as your closest ones. Nonetheless, in retrospect, we feel extremely lucky to have been granted this opportunity.
Since the day of our arrival, Reed College made us feel at home. The faculty, the students, and especially the Spanish Department introduced themselves and helped us discover the genuine details that make Portland such a special city. “Keep Portland Weird” is a motto that made us fall in love with this rainy but charming place since the very beginning. We will have a hard time forgetting Reed’s campus, with the canyon that divides it, the Greek amphitheater, its gorgeous nature, magical red buildings, moss-covered trees and even its squirrels.
Furthermore, this experience has also been an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. We have developed a set of skills in a demanding but supportive environment. It has been a pleasure and a challenge for us to bring our language and culture (the Balearic and Aragonese, in particular) to America and be able to share it in an atmosphere as special as the one created in La Casa Hispana. We will hold dear good memories: movie nights, cultural parties, game board evenings, Cafecitos… with all the residents and reedies; and of course, we will remember all the classes where we have seen our students surprise even themselves with their growing knowledge of Spanish.
Nowadays, being so close to the end, we just have words of gratitude. Thanks Reed College and CIEE for making this dream come true.