Category: Spain (page 1 of 8)

The Spanish Culture

Author: Kayla Doyle

Location: Granada, Spain

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I’ve been in Spain for almost two months now and I’ve had a bit of time to reflect upon my experience thus far. I am currently living in the south of Spain in Granada, which has a different style of life than other parts of the country. This past weekend I traveled to Madrid and was able to distinguish differences between Andalucians (people from the southern parts of Spain) and Madrileños (people from Madrid). I was also able to differentiate Spain and the United States in regard to various aspects of each culture.

To start, in the south they have a much deeper accent than people in Madrid have. In Andalucía, the people slur a lot of their words together and shorten them, making it the most difficult accent to understand in Spain. People from Madrid even admit that they can’t understand southerners. It’s kind of like the accent southerners in the US have and the different slang words they use. Another difference between Andalucía and Madrid is the different way of life each lives.  In Andalucía, they live the stereotypical life of relaxation and fiestas, and then comes work. Madrid lives a life that prioritizes work and school before vacations and relaxation.

Some things that are different in the Spanish culture than I am normally accustomed to in the United States are some of the little things that can sometimes go unnoticeable. For example, the paper here is longer than in the United States. I remember when my professor gave me a handout for the first time and I went to put it in my folder that I brought from the US, I was confused why it didn’t fit correctly inside. I then had that problem with other classes and realized the difference. Something small and insignificant made me curious to find other differences.

In Spain, coffee is a lot cheaper here. Given the portions are a lot smaller, the price is less than half of what I would normally pay for a drink at Starbucks in the US. Another thing is that Spaniards walk almost everywhere, they hardly use cars and some families don’t even own a car. The transportation system is very good in Spain and in most cities it is not necessary to drive places. Something that surprised me coming here was that when you go to a restaurant or out for tapas, the bill is all together, meaning you can’t pay separately. My friends and I always have to calculate how much each one of us owes and exchange whatever change we have to make it even. It sounds easy, until you have ten friends trying to pay for a two-euro coffee and everyone only has a twenty-euro bill, it gets kind of tricky.

A couple other small things that I thought were funny here is that there are always people with dogs walking on the streets, but it is very weird if you pet someone else’s dog on the street unlike in the US where people are a little more welcoming to that. Also, it is normal to invite a friend over to get together at your house, but in Spain it is not that way. It is said here that the house is only for sleeping and eating and the streets are where you get together with friends. This is one of the reasons why Spain is so lively at night.

In general, I enjoy things from both cultures and dislike certain things from each as well. In my opinion, Spain is a more socially driven culture as they frequently meet people in the street to get together. I do like walking here as well, so you can burn some of calories after eating a big meal made by your host mom. I do miss certain things from the US though. I miss iced coffee, being able to drive on my own, cooking whenever I want, and inviting friends over to my house. But don’t get me wrong, I am not ready to leave Spain yet, I still have two-and-a-half months left.

La Mar y Las Montañas

Author: Gabi Neuman 

Location: Granada, Spain

If you don’t speak Spanish, the meaning of this title is the sea and the mountains—in my opinion it flows better in Spanish with that lovely alliteration.  Last weekend I was fortunate enough to experience both of these aspects of nature on Friday (because we normally don’t have Friday classes!!!) and then Saturday, which was appropriate for Earth Day I’d say.  Granada, being part of Andalucía, is in southern Spain where some of Spain’s highest mountains are located, yet it is also only an hour drive to the closest coast.  It’s the best of both worlds, if you ask me.

On Friday, three of my friends and I took a bus to the coast of Granada around 9am and arrived in Nerja around 11am, a tourist coastal town close to Malaga.  After dealing with 2 months of straight rain, our first beach day was a major step up from being stuck inside all day every day.  We made it to the center of the town and found a brunch place that over looked the Mediterranean Sea (as you can see in the photos).  After finishing our second breakfast of the day since we had all already eaten at home, we headed for the beach.  In Nerja there are supposedly two beaches—one large one, or what you would typically think for a beach, and then a smaller beach with beach chairs to rent.  Being that we couldn’t find the large beach and we were standing right next to the small beach, we decided to venture down to the small beach where we rented chairs for the day and chilled for about 6 hours.  Once we were on the bus back to Granada, we unanimously decided that it was by far our favorite day in Spain thus far.

The next day, Saturday, we had a hike with our program and our intercambios.  Quick description of what an intercambio is.  Through the Central College program we partner up with about 7 students who attend the University of Granada (local Granadinos).  During the semester we go to places throughout the city with them such as an open air market, out for coffee, and our last activity which was a hike up through the mountains.  None of us knew where we were going so we did about 3 circles through the touristy part of the city and then proceeded to hike up past the Alhambra—the most famous site in Granada.  A side note about Spanish girls vs. American girls going on a hike: usually Americans are prepared to sweat since it is April in Spain and things are starting to heat up, especially when you’re going on a 4 hour hike.  This means that we wear sport shorts, t-shirts, no makeup, and our hair is up and out of our face.  Spanish girls are the opposite.  They have long leggings on, their hair down, perfect makeup, and if they were wearing a t-shirt they were one of the rare ones.  That being said, I’m convinced that Spaniards don’t sweat, so they can get all primped up for a hot and sweaty hike.  Just another cultural difference if you ask me.  Moving on…we started at 9am, walked past the Alhambra, meandered through a field of sheep (and sheep poop), and made it to the top of the mountain by around 1:00pm where there’s a park that the majority of people drive up to.  After eating lunch and playing a game of “Detective”(which is pretty fun but I would recommend playing it in your first language). After Detective, we headed back down the mountain which took about a third of the time as it did getting up.

All in all, I’m thankful for the weather change and that it actually looks like spring here so that I can experience the Granada that the rain wouldn’t let me see.  It’s a gorgeous city with lots of nature surrounding it that stretches from la mar to las montañas.  The best of both worlds.

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

It’s that strange time during my study abroad experience that I feel like I’ve been here forever and that I just got here all at the same time.  Being that it’s the middle of April, I’ve been in Spain for about 3 and a half months and I have just under two months left.  I just got back from Paris last weekend and I leave for Germany and Switzerland in about a week and a half—needless to say life is moving along very quickly and I’ll be back in the States before I know it, which blows my mind.

At the beginning of the semester or even more towards the middle during February and up until mid-March, I focused a lot on what I miss from home whether that be food, people, my bed, or whatever else, and I’m pretty sure that’s a normal process to go through at that point of one’s study abroad semester.  However, now that I’m closer to the end rather than the beginning of my journey here, I’ve noticed myself thinking about the things I’ll miss when I go home.  Here’s a quick taste of what some of those things might be:

  • The plethora of stews that Carmen makes (with many ingredients I never would have eaten in the U.S.)
  • Fresh oranges
  • BREAD (every day for every meal)
  • Walking everywhere (not when it’s raining, but nice weather is starting to make an appearance)
  • Seeing the mountains on a daily basis (the highest mountain in Spain is in Granada)
  • Having more down time than I’ve ever had in my life
  • Meeting new people from different countries (I’ve had close to 40 international students and professors stay with my host family throughout the semester)
  • Being able to travel to foreign countries for an extended weekend
  • Not having class on Fridays (that’s going to be a hard one to readjust to next semester)

There are so many things I miss from home right now, but when I go back to the U.S. I know there will be things I wish I had taken advantage of or appreciated more when I was abroad.  There’s so much I’ve already done in this short time, so much more to do, and a ton left to learn and appreciate about where I am now.  Whoever came up with the phrase, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, sure knew what they were talking about and I hope I take advantage of the small amount of time I have left.

***Hope you enjoy the pictures of my time in Paris, France—it was a blast***

Semana Santa—Tradition or Thought Process?

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

This past week in Spain was Semana Santa or Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  To say that Spaniards take their celebrations during Semana Santa lightly would be an extreme understatement.  The entire week is a vacation week, with processions taking place every day through the streets and crowds surrounding those processions in a swarm (think the size of Fourth of July parades but with tiny, narrow cobblestone streets…and no candy being thrown to onlookers).

Just to describe the process a little bit (which won’t do it justice, but anyways) each city or town has their own processions which consist of a group of men carrying a massive float that contains statues of Jesus and his crucifixion or the Virgin Mary, a large amount of flowers, a canopy covering the statues in some cases, candles, gold, and any other items that contribute to the enormous amount of weight.  There are about 6 rows of men manually carrying the float and there are even more men under the float that you can’t see.  From what one Spanish girl told me, each man can be carrying 100 pounds or even maybe even more, which is distributed just on their shoulders without any padding to help with the immense weight.  The float is preceded by a group of men and women whose faces and heads are covered with large pointed hats as they carry candles and also children and young people who swing the incense holder, leading up to the float.  The float is then followed by a band playing solemn hymns.  All in all, the processions are an amazing spectacle and a great opportunity to  to experience while being abroad.

While Semana Santa seems to me to be one of the most important traditions Spain has to offer, for some it also seems to be just that—a tradition.  Although the basis of the processions is to commemorate and celebrate the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection and reflecting on what that means, many seem to participate in the tradition as part of their culture and only for that purpose.  They remember their roots and history, appreciating the art and tradition but not taking in the reason behind the processions and why it is they are celebrating.  In all honesty it’s a little sad to me, coming from a Christian home and background where Easter is one of the most important days of the year, especially in the church, and makes me question the value of traditions and important religious celebrations like Easter and Christmas—am I celebrating with a purpose or just because it’s how it always has been?

Experiencing Semana Santa here in Spain has not only caused me to observe and question the cultural values of the Spanish, but also my own.  It has given me the opportunity to look beyond the surface of what we consider culture and delve into the meaning and actions driving that culture, whether that be traditions like Semana Santa in Spain or Easter in the United States.  This constant stream of learning seems to be a pattern of mine while being abroad, and hopefully I continue it during my next few months here.

When You Realize How Good You’ve Got It

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

If you read my last two blog posts you might remember me discussing the more “negative” aspects of studying abroad.  However, after this past weekend I’ve realized how good I actually have it here in Granada.  In a week my parents come for Semana Santa or Holy Week here in Spain. I’m still learning all sorts of things from this culture and the people.  I spent last weekend in Barcelona which was a nice escape from the 4 weeks of continuous rain we’ve had here in Granada (this much rain is a rarity but extremely helpful since southern Spain is currently experiencing a drought).

 

To give you a little background information on the city of Granada compared to Barcelona, Granada is home to about 235,000 people whereas the population of Barcelona is close to 4.6 million.  Just a tad bit bigger if you ask me.  While in Barcelona we visited La Sagrada Familia, a largely famous cathedral which Gaudi began in the 1800s and is still being constructed today.  The estimated year of completion is 2026 (supposedly), and it’s one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen—the photos don’t do it justice.  Another of Gaudi’s famous works is Park Güell which we also were also lucky enough to visit.  If you’ve ever seen some of Gaudi’s architecture it has a very modern look, especially considering it was created by a man who was born in the 1800s (as you can see in the pictures).  We also were able to travel to Montserrat, a suburb of Barcelona where a monastery is built into the side of a mountain and can only be traveled to by cable car or mountain train.  All in all the views and architecture of the city are incredible.

Even though the city of Barcelona is absolutely breathtaking, the weather was perfect, there was great food (we even got a taste of American), and I enjoyed myself in every sense of the word, I know now that I wouldn’t trade living in Granada for any other city.  Because Barcelona is so big we took between 10 to 15 taxis, walked about an hour and a half back to our hostel on the outskirts of the city, took a very confusing metro/train ride to Montserrat, spent a decent sum of money on food because as a popular tourist city prices are automatically increased, and were spoken English to about everywhere we went (also due to the tourist aspect of the city).  You could also spend a whole semester in Barcelona and still not see everything.  These aren’t necessarily negative aspects about Barcelona, but it is very different from Granada.

Not to say that Granada is better than Barcelona by any means because it’s not, but I know that Granada is the perfect fit for me.  I can walk to class in 10 minutes or walk anywhere in the city in under 30 minutes without having to use taxis, I don’t have to spend an astronomical amount on food, clothes, or much of anything for that matter, Granada still has a very rich history and many places to discover, and the locals generally speak Spanish to me.  Not everything is perfect in Granada, but it’s pretty great and maybe it just took me leaving the city for a few days to realize that.

Sometimes You Just Want to Sleep in Your Own Bed

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

Before I left on my study abroad adventure, I attended a few meetings last semester to prepare students who are studying abroad this semester.  I was told quite a few times about the culture shock cycle, which if you haven’t heard about, is a theory that describes the four stages of culture adjustment that a person faces when going abroad.

There are different takes on the theory and different terms for each version of it, but in general you have the honeymoon stage, culture shock, adjustment, and then adaptation.  To briefly describe the stages in my own interpretation, honeymoon is just what it sounds like.  You basically are in awe at all these new things, people, places, and all of the cool stuff around you. You can’t imagine how any of these things could be considered anything less than amazing.

A few weeks or months into your time abroad is when the downward slope takes place, moving you towards culture shock or frustration.  In this stage, things that were once new and cool aren’t new anymore and you start to see the differences between what you’re used to at home and how the people act here. You start to get frustrated with those differences.  However, it doesn’t just end there with this sense of frustration.  Gradually you start to adjust to this different and new way of life, potentially being annoyed with certain things, but also seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and the positive aspects of the culture around you.  This moves, then, into the final stage of cultural adjustment which is adaptation.  Essentially in this stage you have become part of the culture you are living in and may even consider it your own.

You might be wondering why I would describe the culture adjustment cycle.  At first when this cycle and these stages were being explained in those meetings I attended, I thought a lot of it was over exaggerated and that nothing in Spain could be bad because I would be traveling all the time, doing things I can’t do in the U.S., meeting new people, and all of that great stuff.  However, now I know that this whole culture shock/adjustment thing is real.  I am not saying that I’m hating anything over here by any means or that I’m not enjoying my time, because I truly am.  All I’m saying is that sometimes you just miss home and things that you don’t think you’ll miss before you go abroad are the things you miss the most.  So to share with you some of the things I personally miss:

  • Being able to go into the kitchen to grab a snack
  • Having less than 7-8 hours between lunch and dinner because midday hunger is a real thing
  • Eating not so extremely late at night and then going to bed an hour or two after eating (hardcore metabolism adjustment had to take place)
  • Living close/having access to a gym that isn’t packed with equipment and has a normal locker room
  • Real dessert instead of fruit for dessert (which is the cause for the hoard of chocolate in my closet)
  • Watching TV that isn’t just Spanish news
  • Going to bed early and not feeling like a “grandma” for it because your host mom and host grandma are still up
  • My own bed
  • Central heating (I knew about this before I left, but who thought it would be a good idea to let the inside of houses be colder than the outside all winter??)
  • Being able to communicate fluently and not think about what you’re going to say 5 minutes before you say it
  • Not having to ask everyone to repeat themselves 3 times which causes them to give up and come back to you in English
  • Wearing sweatpants/leggings outside and not standing out as an American
  • The internet working on a regular basis
  • Being able to watch networks like Amazon Prime or any other form of American TV
  • Free water & bathrooms

Honestly the list could go on simply with little, everyday things that I take for granted at home in the U.S. and don’t have access to here.  But again, in the big scheme of things these are just minor details of what it’s like living abroad and the fact that there will be good days and bad, there will be things from home you miss more than others, and at the opposite end of the spectrum there will be things you wish you could take back home with you when your time here is done.  I know this list might sound like a long file of complaints, but I really just wanted to put life into perspective a little bit.  Studying abroad for me so far has been amazing with lots of high points, but there are also a few lows here and there.  As a personal take away, I would say that studying abroad has not only opened my eyes to the beauty of different cultures around the world, but it has also shown me those things I take for granted and how much I appreciate my own country and where I come from.

The Longest January in History

Author: Gabrielle Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

I keep seeing these posts on social media about how January 2018 seems to be never ending.  I’ve been pretty disconnected from what’s going on in the world to make people think that January has been such a long month, but I have to agree.  I’m sure, however, that my reasons for this month seeming to last forever are very different.  January started out with arriving in Granada, Spain, meeting new friends and a new host family, learning more about the Spanish culture and the city of Granada, taking grammar classes, and finally taking two Spanish level exams.  Yet it didn’t end there.  Right after we took our official placement exams to see what track we would be placed into for the courses we are taking this semester, we left for Morocco.  I don’t mean that we had a day to think about the class choices.  No, we got our test scores and left 45 minutes later to embark on a trip to Africa for 4 days.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but from hearing past students’ stories about their trip to Morocco, I had no doubt I would enjoy myself.

In Morocco we met our American guide, Nate, who knows Arabic and has lived in Morocco for about 5 years.  Nate is a pretty awesome dude who knows some pretty awesome people.  For two nights we stayed with host families in traditional Moroccan houses in Rabat.  Traditional Moroccan homes have holes in the floor as toilets which are combined with the shower since running water is precious commodity in the country.  The home I stayed in luckily had a “normal” toilet (not a hole in the floor).  The beds were essentially cushions or benches surrounding each room, but they worked.  Meals in a Moroccan home also consist of everyone eating with their hands out of a large dish in the middle of the table (now that was an experience).  Apparently this happens in Spain too, but it’s not as typical as the Moroccan meals.  The most interesting part of the trip for me, however, was the Hammam.  Hammams are the public Moroccan bathhouses, where one can get their dead skin scrubbed off by a Moroccan woman.  The locals we talked with raved about the Hammam, telling us that when you leave it, you’ll feel the cleanest you’ve ever felt in your life.  Let’s just say it was a first and a last time thing for me, but definitely something you have to do once in your lifetime.

We only spent 4 days in Morocco, but I could continue on and on about it.  Every day, with the exception of the last day we were there, we met and talked with local students and families.  We talked with college students about politics, education, and Moroccan life, walked around Rabat with some of those same students, shared a meal with a farmer and his family in their home, and learned so much about the Moroccan people and their culture.  Before going to Morocco, I never really thought about the people we would meet, their outlook on life, or how similar people across the globe actually are.  After spending 4 days with them, I can confidently say that generally speaking they are no different than many of us.  They have dreams for their country to become a great nation and believe that there is hope for their people, even if their situations currently are not as positive as our own.  I never knew you could learn so much about a people and their culture in just 4 days.

After returning from Morocco on Saturday night, a group of 4 other students and I left for Italy early the next morning to get a small trip in before classes started on February 1st.  We visited Rome, Florence, and Venice in 3 days.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted but so excited for what the rest of this semester has to bring.  January may have seemed to be the longest month in history, but for me it was a good one.

The Beginning of an Adventure

Author: Gabrielle Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

 

If my calculations are correct, I’ve been in Granada, Spain, for about 6 full days now.  You would think that nearly 6 days isn’t enough time to get to know a new place or learn anything about the culture you’re living in.  I beg to differ.  First, I’ve experienced traveling on my own for the first time and how to deal with transportation mishaps.  While it wasn’t too fun at the time, looking back on it now I definitely learned more from things not working out rather than I would have had it been smooth sailing the whole way.  People always say that you learn from your mistakes, which is hard to fully believe when you hear it, yet now that I’ve taken part in that experience, I can vouch for its validity first hand.  About 28 hours after I started my adventure in the U.S. I finally made it to Granada.  Then the facts that I hadn’t eaten for nearly 12 hours and had slept for a cumulative of 4 hours during that 28 hour trip hit me hard.  Plus then there was the lovely aspect of jetlag to deal with.  Long story short, sleep is a beautiful thing and so is the city of Granada.

On Monday I was able to wander my new city for about 5 hours, taking in the different sights and beginning to familiarize myself with the main roads, yet most definitely not understanding where I was at that time.  A major point of success was being able to make my way back to the hotel I was staying at.  Tuesday began the first “real day” when we met all of the other students we were going to be spending the rest of the semester with—people I had only seen on Facebook (if you ever want strangers to become quick friends, send them to a foreign country together—it works wonders).  Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.  I hadn’t previously known these people yet they were the ones I would be spending a lot of time with over the next 5 months.  I can confidently say after one week that I’m so fortunate to have these 13 other students around me and that I already know that some of them will be lifelong friends, as cliché as that sounds.

Tuesday was also the day that we met our program director and our host families.  One of the first things our program director, Veronica, told us was that she wanted us to get lost.  It was my third full day in this country and I had successfully done this…twice.  Soon after making it to my host family’s home (my host mom and family are both great by the way), I left to make photocopies for the next day of meetings and quickly achieved the “goal” of getting lost.  All is well, obviously, but it wasn’t as enjoyable getting lost alone on small side streets as Veronica had made it sound.

Over the next few days our group experienced the city center of Granada through a tour with our awesome guide and teacher, Jose, along with a walk through Albaycín which has amazing views of the famous Alhambra (seen in the pictures).

There is so much more that could be said about this adventure after only one week, and the pictures don’t do justice to any of the views of this beautiful city.  I have so much to look forward to these next 5 months, even more to learn about the people, city, and culture, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have an endless amount of mistakes to make and learn from.

Fins Aviat!

Author: Angelys Torres

Location: Barcelona, Spain

If you are reading this I hope it is because you are considering a study abroad experience. I’ll start by saying, DO IT. Of course it is scary but it is also really exciting. And if you are one of those people who think you can’t do it, explore your options because you can. I knew that I don’t like being away from home for long periods of time and that I was going to need substantial financial assistance, but I didn’t let those things stop me from having my experience. And neither should you.

I am writing this final message because unfortunately, my experience has come to an end, but this could be just the beginning for you. So here is some “study abroad” advice that I picked up over the last month.

  1. Be prepared. From the moment that airline ticket is confirmed, the countdown begins. Preparations and orientations are well underway. In this time, it becomes easy to panic. Barcelona is the number one city in the world for pick-pocketing. I had learned this during orientation and immediately thought the worst. Rather than letting myself drown in worry, I packed bags with single zippers that would be easier to watch. I am happy to report that I made it through the month without being pick-pocketed. So don’t panic, be prepared.

 

  1. Don’t expect too much. Students often find themselves waiting for some grand life-changing moment the minute they step off the airplane and become disappointed when that doesn’t happen. Personally, that was me. I walked down onto the tarmac with a huge smile on my face ready to soak in the Barcelona sun. I found myself disappointed for the first few days because my reality did not match my expectation. Fewer expectations equals fewer possibilities for disappointment.

 

  1. Embrace change. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but studying abroad means being in a new place and a new culture. When we vacation, we only see little parts of that new culture. We often stick to tourist areas, stay in hotels, and only visit for a short time. Study abroad is not a vacation, and this distinction is actually incredibly important to make. In my short time, I changed from tourist to “local.” I explored residential areas, made friends with locals, and even began to feel annoyed by other tourists.

 

  1. Be open to new experiences. New culture means new lifestyles. Since study abroad is more of a “living away” experience rather than visiting, a lifestyle change is often necessary. Be open to those differences. You may be surprised and find something you really like. Barcelona, although a very populated city, is very laid back and slower paced. At first, this drove me insane but, over time I found that I loved taking my time and enjoying the small things.

 

  1. Remember who you are but find someone new. Being in a new place can be exciting and all encompassing. At times, it is easy to get lost in the daily motions. The secret is: there is no right or wrong way to have your experience. You know your likes, dislikes, limits and desires more than anyone else. Only you can bring those to life. So don’t be afraid to express yourself, take risks, go out on your own, or stand your ground. During my time in Barcelona, I was faced with more challenges than I could have ever anticipated. Each and every one taught me something new about myself. I was always me, but I was always growing, and that’s the real grand life-changing moment I was waiting for all along.

 

 

Am I the Same Person in Barcelona as I was in Valpo?

Author: Angelys Torres

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Cross-cultural identities are often difficult to understand. Cultures have different ways of expressing identity and value various characteristics. How does a cross-cultural experience like study abroad contribute to, change, or even help realize your inner identity? Are you the same person abroad as you were at home? Will you be the same person when you return as when you left? My experience abroad has played a major role in helping me realize my identity, and hopefully, I have observed some changes that I can continue to adopt upon returning to the United States.

What has it meant to be cross-cultural in Barcelona? In the United States, often I find myself referring to my culture as the Puerto Rican traditions, language, rituals and values by which I was raised. I identify with other Spanish-speaking individuals who share similar backgrounds and lifestyles; the people often grouped together as “Latinos.” Part of my original reason for wanting to study abroad, specifically in Spain, was to learn about the culture of the conquistadores or the Spanish conquerors that colonized many countries in Latin America including Puerto Rico. I expected to find some cultural similarities, to blend in, and to discover something about myself that I didn’t even know. In many ways, this was and was not the case.

In Barcelona, the majority of locals speak both Castellan (Spanish) and Catalan, the language of Catalonia. At first, I found myself at an advantage by being able to communicate fairly well with locals. Not having a major language barrier helped me feel comfortable and like I shared a similar culture. However, to many locals, my accent sticks out as clearly different. Often one of the first questions I am asked is,” Where did you learn to speak Spanish?” In this way, I find myself to be very different from natives to Barcelona. As time passed, one of the only similarities I have been able to appreciate between Puerto Rico and Barcelona is the architecture. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the historical context. However, I was looking for something more.

Who am I in Barcelona?  Since I quickly realized I couldn’t blend in, I began to explore what it is about my identity that makes me, me. In the United States, we often focus on things like race and ethnicity when we describe who we are. In Barcelona, my identity is almost wholly rooted in the fact that I am from the United States. My American culture is the biggest difference between me and other students from around the world. The students from the U.S. come from states all over the country. Sometimes I can find more similarities with an Australian than with another American. Regardless, locals group all Americans together and thus we share a common identity when we are in a different cultural context.

So who am I? I am both. I am a proud Puerto Rican woman from Chicago who has a passion for social justice and I am a stereotypical international student from the United States studying culture in Barcelona. Because of this beautiful blend, I won’t be the same person as I was when I left but, hopefully I will be a better version of myself.

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