As I sit on my balcony overlooking the park with the sun shining on my face I am struggling to put into words the overwhelming experience that I have had so far in Barcelona. Every aspect of this study abroad experience has been absolutely amazing. Nearly every person I talked to before I left for this trip told me that it was one of the best things that they had ever done and when I asked if they had any regrets it was only that they did not stay longer. I am no exception this. So far in my life, there have been only a handful of my moments that I knew in the present moment that they were truly exceptional and I would relish these moments forever. This is one of them. I am at the top of my roller coaster and enjoying every single moment that I am given. I cannot thank UofL, the donors, my advisers, my teachers, the ISA program staff, and especially my parents for giving me the encouragement and means to make this wonderful experience a reality.
When I first got to Barcelona I was honestly a little scared and nervous. Knowing no one and not being fluent in the native tongue is a daunting thing especially when you are in a foreign countries for four months. Typically, I am pretty aware of where I am and relative location, but for my first few days in Barcelona I was practically a deer in headlights and lost constantly. This was fantastic. I discovered places that I would have never gone typically and simply embraced the moment. Instead of being fearful of not knowing where I was headed, I viewed it as an adventure that would only enhance my experience of this city I was living in. Yet, with all the adventure and excitement my first few days in Barcelona were met with me being pretty homesick. Life is pretty different here and there moments when I wondered, how am I going to live here for four months? I looked at my calender and thought, “Wow, I have a long time left.” After that, the first three days felt as long as the first three weeks. Time has simply flown by. Like many others, I have met so many amazing people in my time here. My homestay mom, Rosa is the sweetest Spanish lady. She takes care of me like I was her own. I cannot thank her enough for easing my transition to this Spanish life. I have friends here now that I know I will stay in contact with and visit for the rest of my life.
Barcelona is technically a part of Spain, but anyone who is from here or has lived here long enough will tell you that it is actually part of Catalonia. Now, you might think I am just being picky by saying oh its Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and not just Barcelona, Spain, but there is a strong fervor here that Barça is truly Catalonia. The culture here is very different than the rest of Spain that I have seen. Every street sign, every menu, and most of what you will hear on the streets is Catalan. Although it may share some similarities with Spanish it is very different. Even though I do not know any Catalan I get by with my Spanish, but have learned that by extending the courtesy of greeting the locals with a little Catalan, it goes a long way. The Catalan people are very proud and have an extremely rich heritage. There is hardly a street here that is not lined with at least three or four Catalan flags. I am especially lucky because I am in Barcelona at a special moment in history where Barcelona is looking to vote for their independence in less than one week (November 9). Although it may have been blocked by the Spanish government it has not subsided the ferocity at which people are calling for independence and at the very least a democratic vote. I personally am a little biased because my homestay mom is very passionate about the issue and believes that Catalonia should be independent, but I believe it is only right for the people to be given the right to decide what they think is best.
My time here as been filled with so many great memories. September was packed with events including holidays such as La Merce (the annual city festival), which was an insane city wide festival with concerts, parades, and fireworks that rivaled Thunder over Louisville. Singing songs, dancing in the streets, walking in the parade, and lighting sparklers with the locals was a great experience. At times, I felt like I was a local and just having fun with over a million of my closest friends.
Every week here is seemingly filled with constant activities. Between going to class, laying out on the beach, swimming in the Mediterranean and hanging out with friends there really are not enough hours in the day. I can understand why the Spanish started taking siestas during the day. I have so many options here it is truly a blessing. I have gone to the Pablo Picasso museum and seen why he is so revered for his work. I have hiked the mountain to Tibidabo, the highest point in the Collserola mountain range. I have been to the clubs on the beaches and danced with friends until the sun came up. Before coming to Barcelona I had no clue what I was getting into and how much fun it would be. I cannot begin to explain to how much fun it is to get into a dance off against the locals on the metro at 2am or how wonderful it is to sit on rooftops looking at the skyline sipping on cheap Spanish wine. Living in Barcelona or Spain in general I would have thought that I would need to immerse myself in the culture but rather it kind of just wraps around you like a blanket and you begin to see why people love it here so much. They do not need all the amenities and luxuries that we are afforded in the United States (albeit they are nice), but they live for the simple pleasure of good food, wine, and company. Some of my favorite nights have been spent with friends just walking the streets of Barcelona and talking about life. I am exposed to so many different styles of living and how people perceive the same events differently; it is fascinating to me.
One of the best experiences I have had so far was going to the Barcelona versus Ajax champions league futbol (soccer) game. I decided just hours before the game I was going to go and bought a ticket front row behind the goal in the Barcelona fan section. When I bought the ticket I didn’t realize what I was getting into and since I didn’t own any Barcelona gear I wore my USA soccer shirt. I quickly realized that I needed to blend in so I bought a Messi jersey. That was definitely the right decision. I soon found out that I was in the heart of where all the dedicated fans go. They all had on their jerseys while waving their huge flags and banners around. They chanted the songs of support for the team and roared every time Barça got close. Now, Barcelona FC plays in Camp Nou which seats over 98,000 people and I swear to you every single of one of those seats was filled with die-hard fans. The stadium was electric. When Messi connected with Neymar for the first goal the stadium exploded and sounded like a fighter jet had just flown over my head. It was absolutely amazing. Later on when Messi scored the second goal for Barça, I understood why he was such a big deal. Not only is he lightning quick, but his footwork and mastery of the game are obvious. The fan section I was in began chanting his name and bowing to him like he was a demi god. After Barcelona won 3-1 it was an absolute mad-house trying to leave the stadium. Everyone flooded out into the streets and turned the city into a sea of scarlet and blue. After having been able to attend a game like that I am definitely a fan for life. I can appreciate why their motto for the club is, “Mes Que Un Club” or “More Than A Club”. Barcelona futbol is a way of life.
Although I am in Barcelona for the semester, it would not be a true study abroad experience without traveling and seeing the rest of what Europe has to offer. To date, I have been to Sitges, the French Riviera (Nice, Eze, and Monte Carlo), San Sebastian, Valencia, Peniscola, London, Narbonne, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Collioure, Montserrat, and Paris. I have loved each one of the places for their own unique features. My favorite (if I had to choose even though I love all of them) is probably London. In my four days there I go to see so much of the city including: London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Globe theater, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Belgravia, the National Gallery, Tate Modern Buckingham Palace, Picadilly circus, Camden Market, Burrough Market, the Eye of London, London Tower, Parliament, Big Ben, Millenium Bridge, Hampton Court, and Hyde Park. It was a whirlwind trip and I loved every minute of it. I have met some Americans who are studying abroad there and alot of them have not gotten to experience some of the things that I did in my limited time there. I did so much of that on my own and was happy I did so. There was nothing that was going to hold me back from seeing as much as I could.
Traveling and study abroad has taught me alot about Spain, culture, and myself. I have learned to not mind getting lost because I will always find something I did not know before. I have learned to try everything. I have eaten fish heads, had mussels for the first time, tried countless different types of tapas, and discovered my love for good french duck. I understand now that being uncomfortable is normal and actually good because I am much more open to new experiences now. I know that I need to be bold and just make decisions instead of letting others always decide. I have learned that you will always meet new friends and find really interesting people from all over and in my time that has included people from: Peru, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Russia, and France. Meeting all of these different people has taught me that getting to know other people enriches your life and also reminds you of your roots. While I have grown and changed as a person I feel even more proud now to be an American and a Kentuckian.
I am only a little more than half way through my study abroad and I simply am baffled at where the time has gone. It seems like only yesterday I boarded a plane to Barcelona and I know now that the remaining weeks I have left will go quickly so I intend to make the most of it. I have Prague, Dublin, and Madrid to look for to in the coming weeks and I am very excited for those. It might be cliche, but the one phrase that I think sums it up nicely is, “Life is beautiful.”
Until next time. Go Cards.