Hola from Barcelona!! Alli, Kaira and I are doing the Spanish LSA program here, which is the same program Paige and Kayden are a part of in Argentina. We are taking the same classes as them, and have had similar challenges and culture shocks along the way. Living in Europe has been completely different than being back home in Ohio or on campus at Dartmouth.
For starters, the weather is similar to spring back home, so we are completely avoiding the sub-zero temperatures and snow! The food, the daily schedules, and so many various aspects of the culture are completely different. For instance, whenever we are lifting at the gym we joined here, we are usually the only girls using the weights, and all the guys there tend to just stare at us. It’s a little creepy, but we’ve learned to kind of block that out. Also, working out, especially for girls, is really not a big thing here. My host family was shocked when they realized how often I go to the gym. It’s so much different than in the US where working out is super common and accepted as part of daily life. My host family is great. It is two young parents with two little kids. I’ve never had younger siblings so it has been fun having them around the apartment. I’ve even been helping the 10-year-old girl with her English homework.
The language barrier has been rough at times. For example, (sadly, more than once) I’ve told my host family I like certain foods I actually hate. It’s also really difficult in Barcelona because since Cataluña wants to be independent from Spain, everything is written in Catalan. Also, for me, eating gluten free here is also a little challenging because people just don’t really understand it. I have found that some places sell gluten free snacks and my host mom can usually find gluten free bread, but waiters (and my host family at the beginning) are usually confused since bread is such a large part of their diet here. In a way, it’s been helpful because being gluten free keeps me from constantly wanting to try all the pastries, breads, giant sandwiches, desserts, etc. that everyone raves about.
One of my favorite things we have done so far in Barcelona was going to a FC Barça game (their professional soccer team). As a sports fanatic, even though I wasn’t always sure what was going on since everything was either in Spanish or Catalan, it really a fun experience. The fans are crazy. They treat each game the way we would treat the playoffs in any major sport back home.
We just returned to Barcelona after having a ten-day break. We started the vacation with the entire group and our program directors in Madrid and Toledo for three days. Madrid and Toledo were both absolutely stunning. We did not get to spend a ton of time exploring Madrid, but for a large city it felt so much more open, clean, and less congested than Barcelona. Toledo showed us more of the older parts of Spain, with aspects of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures all combined into one place. On Sunday, we were let loose for the rest of the week, and Alli, Kaira and I began our explorations through the south of Spain.
First, we took a train to Cordoba. I think Cordoba may have been my favorite city we’ve seen so far. It was similar to Toledo with representations from all three cultures, but the architecture and atmosphere in the south of Spain is drastically different from the north. I loved the mix of palm tress and orange tress in every street and the beautiful gardens we saw at the Royal Alcazar. We spent Sunday and Monday exploring sites in Cordoba (and getting a body weight workout in together in our giant bathroom of our hotel) before heading on another train to Sevilla.
In both Cordoba and Sevilla, we had some setbacks with the weather, and with the exception of one sunny day, we spent the majority of the time walking around in wet clothes from the endless rain. For three girls we went through five umbrellas since the wind and rain completely destroyed some of ours. Regardless, the cities were breathtaking. As a history nerd, I have loved going around all the older towns of Spain and learning the stories behind the incredible architecture and landmarks. In Sevilla, we spent two days exploring again. It was beautiful and is a bit larger of a city than Coroba. We had lunch along the river one day and saw the bullfighting ring. Hearing the tour guide describe bullfights was absolutely terrifying. I think all three of us were wide-eyed and in shock after going through the museum in the arena. After hearing about the fights, I’d much rather be watching bull riding at a rodeo, hands down.
On Wednesday evening, we headed to the Canary Islands to meet up with other Dartmouth students from our program in Tenerife, one of the larger islands. This tropical get away was just what the doctor ordered as a vacation from classes and to escape the rainy days we had just endured. We stayed on Torviscas Playa until Saturday evening. I was perfectly content just spending my days lying by the pool and beach all day, soaking up the sun. Even though we loved traveling around just the three of us, it was really fun to meet up with about ten other people from our trip at the same hotel. Since it’s a really off-season for traveling, almost all the other guests at the hotel were senior citizens from northern Europe. Besides a few babies, we were definitely the youngest people there. Some of the guys on our trip even found a ping-pong table and spent a lot of their time perfecting their pong skills after the sun went down.
Everywhere we went the first question people asked us was “What sport do you play?” then “Where are you from?” The three of us stick out like sore thumbs everywhere in Europe since we are much taller than the average population here. One waitress at our hotel in Tenerife even asked to take a picture with us to show her kids how tall we were. Now, we are back in Barcelona for four more weeks until we have a week break between terms and our return to Dartmouth. We miss our Big Green family, but we’ll be back in the Hanover cold before we know it!
Katie Jarrett '16