Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Cassandra B. - Barcelona, Spain - Spring 2013

Hello all!
My name is Cassandra and I have been studying in Barcelona through the IES program. My program began January 7th, and ends April 18th. I am a Spanish major, and am living in a homestay.
First of all, let me rave about the IES Barcelona program. The staff here is remarkable. They are all extremely intelligent, helpful, and personable. I could not be more satisfied with everyone in this program. If you are coming to Barcelona through IES, take comfort in knowing that they will be here for you 100%.
That being said, I will begin discussing my experience here.
Barcelona is in the midst of serious debate and conflict over what seems like just about everything. This will no doubt be an extremely important moment in their history. From education, to healthcare, to language, to separating Catalunya from Spain - people are upset, and they do not hide it.
Demonstrations and protests are tremendously common, and I rarely have a week in which I do not see some sort of protest. Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing to be afraid of! They are typically peaceful, and IES always sends emails to warn of any bigger demonstration that may affect their students. Demonstrations often shut down surrounding public transportation, but the metro system is always a possibility! The protests can sometimes be a pain, but I honestly feel privileged to be a part of this amazing city right now amongst all this craziness. You should research some of the hot-topics over here, as they’re actually pretty interesting.
Alright, now I am going to move on to move on to discuss the actual city. Put simply, Barcelona is beyond beautiful, and has spectacular weather. I have traveled around Spain a bit, and seeing other cities has only made me happier in my decision of living here. Not only was it a part of some serious history, but its buildings are beautiful, its plazas are beautiful… even the sidewalks are lovely! There are like a thousand things to do here, and every corner is more interesting than the first.
As you can see, I am totally enamored with this city, but there are definitely things to be wary of. Pick-pocketing is a serious problem over here. Be smart and conscientious about everything you do. Ladies, have an over-the-shoulder purse with a zipper, and straps that would be difficult to cut - and always keep that purse in front of you! Try not to bring valuables with you, but if you do decide to take things like iPhones out, always know exactly where it is. On your first day of orientation, the IES staff will show you a bit how pick-pockets work, and how to avoid being a victim. I know a ton of students who have gotten their purses and/or iPhones stolen, and it is typically because of their own recklessness.
I have yet to be pick-pocketed, but I try to be very smart about carrying around valuables. If you are smart and knowledgeable about their tricks, you will probably be okay. I did some research before coming here so as to prepare as best as possible.
In regards to the language here, there is quite a discussion amongst the Spanish regarding the diversity of languages. I know that I was a bit nervous to study here because of the usage of the Catalan language. Well, I have not really had any issue with this at all. Granted, some stores or restaurants have signs that are in Catalan, everybody speaks Castellano, and you will not have any issues. I actually find their usage of both languages very interesting. Most signs in this city can be read in three languages: Spanish, English, and Catalan. 
Long story short: Don’t worry about not speaking enough Spanish - it will definitely not be an issue. Also, don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish. Most people speak English as well. 
Okay, so now I’m going to discuss my biggest hardship since the program began. There will definitely be hardships, but it is how you deal with them, not the hardships themselves, that will define your trip.
I had a very difficult first month here, because I had a bit of a struggle with my homestay here in Barcelona (I have since changed homestays). While this has not really been an issue for anyone else, I can confidently say that my host mom did not like me one bit. I won’t go into detail about the experience so as not to scare or intimidate you, but I grew sick of living there, and realized I was dreading going home to her every day. I also, out of sheer bad luck, received a roommate who… was not the greatest… and while most students bonded with their roommates, she had no desire to do so with me. I finally realized that this situation was not going to improve, and went to the IES staff to discuss it.
Like I said, the staff here is amazing - they had me out of my house in two days! I went to them Wednesday afternoon, and moved out by Friday morning! They said they would say whatever I wanted while I left my first house so I could leave comfortably and avoid conflict. They were incredibly accommodating, and very willing to listen.
Why am I telling you this? I hope you understand that while you will most-likely not encounter a home situation like I did, do not hesitate to talk to the IES staff if you have any issues. Also, don’t let these issues define your trip; you are the only one who can define this experience.
Although the first month was a bit of a struggle, it was still amazing. Take advantage of every day, and try not to let these kinds of issues bring you down. Be open to making friends and getting to know not only students in the program, but Spanish locals.
So you’re going to Barcelona? Sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride. There will be bumps, there will be struggles, but they will be nothing compared to this experience. Remind yourself of where you are each day, and remember to explore! Don’t be afraid to speak Spanish, and ask as many questions as you can! My host family discusses many hot-button issues during dinner, and it is fascinating to hear their view of things. Oh yeah - always remember that every abroad experience is different. Realize that no abroad is absolutely perfect or smooth sailing.
You are in for the experience of a lifetime in arguably the most beautiful city in all of Europe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cassandra!

I am going to be studying in Barcelona in the fall and I was wondering what is your favorite part about the city?

Ally Nee

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cassandra

I'm studying in Spain through the IES program next semester (although in Granada, not in Barcelona), so it's great to hear how awesome the IES staff is. Did you experience any form of culture shock? Aside from the homestay incident, was there every a time when you felt like you didn't belong in Barcelona?

Anthony Z - CPP 250

11:15 PM  
Blogger Katie Hun said...

Hello Cassandra

Barcelona seems pretty interesting and I was wondering if you could tell me if you've dealt with culture shock yet? If so, could you explain how it is effecting you while in Barcelona?

-Katie H.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra B. said...

This city is remarkable. Outside of its immense beauty, the people themselves have a wonderful way about them. It is a welcoming and proud culture, filled with tons of history. Sorry that this is so general - I honestly could write forever on how amazing this place is.

Anthony and Katie,
I guess in a few ways I did... I mean, the first day I arrived the airport taxis were on strike, and blocked the buses from leaving, so I had to immediately solve the puzzle of how to get to my homestay. I was kind of slapped in the face with Barcelona's culture haha. As far as actual psychological culture shock, I'm not really sure. My first month was clouded with personal issues regarding my home in Chicago, sickness, and an unfortunate homestay. So, I mean it wasn't really regarding the culture.. Although I am certain I will have reverse culture shock after this trip!

To answer Anthony's second question simply, no, I have never felt that way. This city has been extremely welcoming and I immediately felt like I belonged.

Hope this helped a bit - let me know if you have any other questions!

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Cassandra,

I was wondering if you had any tips on how to handle minor culture shock like what you experienced?

Jenna S- CPP250

12:16 AM  
Blogger Cassandra Barca said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:36 AM  

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