Studying in Barcelona, Spain

Studying Abroad in Barcelona, Spain 

“Que bonita la vida, que curiosa tu forma de andar”

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I saw this phrase written on the inside of a stall in a cafe on my second day of my study abroad semester in Barcelona, Spain. It translates to something like, “What a beautiful life, how curious the way you wander.”

I still resonate with it after I’ve returned from my six months abroad. My experience has given me an education about culture, people, language, politics, history, and the world. I learned about myself, my own independence, potential, and leadership skills. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences and knowledge I gained from studying in Barcelona, and it will continue to positively affect me for the rest of my life.

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Barcelona, Spain 

The Global Leadership Initiative

 and Studying in Barcelona

The Global Leadership Initiative 

Through the University of Montana’s GLI program, I was able to pack up my life, and move half way around the world to study at La Universitat de Autómoma de Barcelona, or UAB.  As an English literature major with a Pre-PA (physician Assistant) emphasis, I chose Public and Global Health as my global theme and eventually decided to focus on mental health as my global challenge. I had some rather specific requirements to go abroad. I like to think that UAB chose me. It was the only available university in a Spanish speaking environment, with a psychology course for my GLI challenge, and English literature courses.

One of the most valuable experiences I had was taking a class called Ámbitos de Aplicación en Psicología de la Salud, or Areas of Application of Health Psychology. I took the entire course in Spanish, and I can safely say it was one of the hardest things I have ever accomplished. It really showed me how difficult a language barrier can be and also helped improve my Spanish immensely. I learned about the diverse psychological and mental effects of other health conditions like diabetes, obesity, fibromyalgia, hospice, and cancer.  Not only will it be useful information for GLI and my professional career as a PA, but I gained an understanding of how language barriers can affect the quality of health care. After my time in Barcelona, becoming fluent in Spanish has become a priority for my personal and professional goals.

My International Family 

One of the highlights of going abroad was becoming part of a family of international students from all over the world. Studying in Barcelona introduced me to many new people; we  were able to travel together, share problems and experiences together, and ultimately became life long friends.

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Exploring Barcelona

Barcelona is located in a region of Spain called Catalunya.  Many Catalan people distinguish themselves as Catalan, rather than Spanish. The people in the region often speak Catalan and especially cherish their own language, traditions, and history.

Barcelona is a different world than the sparsely populated, northwestern U.S. that I’ve always known. It’s a buzzing city of 1.6 million people. There’s a constant stream of people casually bustling down the street with deliberate destinations. Ordering a coffee, you will hear a blend of Spanish, Catalan, and English in the background babble. You might bump into a Spaniard, a Portuguese, or a Frenchman. It’s a compact city full of international diversity and a quiet buzz of constant excitement.

El Gótic

El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter, is full of small shops, tapas restaurants, bars, and apartments. The winding paths and Gothic style make it a popular destination for travelers and locals alike. I used to wander for hours in the Gothic Quarter, and loved finding new cafés to sip some café con leche (coffee with milk) and people watch.

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El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter feels like a city maze, with narrow cobblestone streets that bend and twist unpredictably.

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I was fortunate enough to have my family visit me during my time in Barcelona. Behind my dad, sister, and myself, Pont Gótic is one of the most famous images of the Gothic Quarter. 

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The tan buildings are usually five or six stories high, with layers of balconies and intricate Gothic styles.

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Looking up at the balconies you might see Catalan flags, plants, or drying laundry. The Catalan flag was often paired with yellow ribbon symbolizing the support of the release of a few Catalan politicians from prison. With recent political movements towards Catalan independence from Spain, the Catalan flag was more prominent than the Spanish flag. 

Montserrat 

Just outside of Barcelona, Montserrat is an incredible monastery nestled into a unique, towering mountain of curious rock formations. After a train ride and a gondola to the top, the place attracts a curious combination of hikers, climbers, tourists, and religious pilgrims coming from all over the world.

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The monastery seems small compared to the towering rock formations of Montserrat. 

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With the monastery to the right, and the mountain to the left, the transition between the two creates a unique blend of natural and architectural beauty. 

La Sagrada Família 

La Sagrada Família is an identifying highlight of Barcelona. Planned by the famous architect, Antoni Goudí, it is still under construction today. Throughout Barcelona there are many architectural works by Goudí, the Sagada Familia being the most famous. The church’s intricate Gothic exterior contains a progressive symbolism for the birth and death of Christ. It is said that Gaudí planned the church to be just short of the tallest point in Barcelona, with the reasoning that man’s creation shouldn’t reach higher than God’s creation.

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The inside is filled with changing colors from the large stain glass windows, and the branching pillars inside vaguely mimic trees and the image of sunlight filtering through a colorful canopy.

Bunkers del Carmel

The Bunkers de Carmel offers one of the best views of the city. As one of the highest points of the city, the ruins of an old anti-aircraft base sit at the top with a 360 degree view.

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My directly above my sister and I, the Sagrada Família’s tall spires stick out in the middle of the city. Far in the background, the Mediterranean Sea blends into the sky. 

La Barceloneta  

Right next to the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona offers a port, a marina, and beautiful sandy beaches.

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The W Hotel, (shark fin shaped building) is another identifying building in Barcelona’s skyline. 

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Barcelona is full of pedestrians, bikers, and skateboarders enjoying the sun, especially along the beach. 

Plaça d’Espanya

Plaça d’Espanya, or Plaza Espana,  makes an impression even from a distance. The towering dome of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is the national museum of Catalan visual art, displayed impressively with massive colorful fountains and preceded with many, many stairs.

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What I Learned 

Studying in Spain was the experience of a life time. I had the best moments of my life, and some of the worst. I learned more about myself, what I am able to accomplish, and how I want to spend my time and effort. I was integrated into Spanish culture and gained new perspectives of Catalunya, Spain, the U.S., and the rest of the world. I returned with ambition to become fluent in Spanish and to continue pursuing my GLI goals, personal goals, and professional goals. I am incredibly thankful for my experience in Spain and cannot wait to apply what I have learned to the rest of my life.

 

 

First Look at Barcelona, Spain

I am coming from the small mountainous collage town of Missoula, Montana.  Nestled in the mountains with a population of 72,000, it’s a spunky little town that I absolutely love.

Now I am halfway across the world. Barcelona is like another planet. The city is massive and people are constantly moving, weaving, buying, drinking, talking, laughing, and making their way through the day. Walking down Las Ramblas, there are small pop up carts selling fun touristy trinkets for as far as the eye can see.  The buildings aren’t skyscrapers, like I thought. Instead they stand five to fifteen stories high with beautiful sand colored exteriors, and large framed windows.

A building by the famous 1900’s architect, Antoni Gaudi. 

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Perhaps one of the most well known staples of Barcelona, The Sagrada Familia.  This magnificent church was planned by Gaudi, but it wasn’t built until after his death, and is still being built today. 

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Branching from different squares throughout Barcelona, long, narrow alleys connect, creating a massive, ominous maze. 

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A square near Barcelona’s city center. Palm trees and other vivid greenery is everywhere. 

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 The Bunkers del Carmel sit atop on of the higher hills in Barcelona. After a short uphill walk, these abandoned anti aircraft ruins offer a spectacular view of Barcelona. 

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Throughout the city, there seems to be a theme of yellow. Yellow ribbons gently wave in the wind from a fourth story balcony.  The Catalonia flag is everywhere. In the same folded shape as the breast cancer awareness symbol, I can sometimes spot a small yellow ribbon pinned to a passerby’s jacket. Barcelona is part of a north eastern region of Spain called Catalonia. This yellow propaganda symbolizes support for Catalonia’s independence from Spain, among other things. I strongly recommend reading about the political happenings between Spain and Catalonia. More on this later.

A protest gathers on an intersection in Barcelona. Yellow is everywhere. People make noise by talking, yelling, banging pots, ringing bells, or blowing whistles. Police cars, blue lights spinning, redirect traffic by blocking the streets that lead to the protest. 

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These first two weeks in Barcelona have shown me how much the world has to offer. I thought I could be content forever, nestled in the  mountains of the northwestern United Sates. This city has shown me how small I am. The world is teeming with people, culture, food, history, and every place offers an exquisite taste of humanity.