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What the Spaniards Taught Me

Katie Bosler

I’ve been home from Barcelona, Spain for a little over a week now, and as predicted, I can’t believe it’s over.

No, I haven’t experienced major ‘re-culture shock’, or felt overwhelmingly sad to be home. But I do find myself thinking about this past semester all day, every day and it almost feels like it never even happened. The friends that I spent the most time with there are spread out across the states, with different summer plans and jobs. I no longer have anyone to relate to about my journeys and experiences, which has left me not talking about them very much at all. You can see why it feels like it almost was a dream.

Now, I’m experiencing an awkward stage to the start of summer—no one else is done with school yet, and a large amount of my friends are still across the pond, enjoying their last trips throughout Europe. Despite the short time home, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my time in Barcelona and everything it taught me.

While its hard to piece together every little thing that I’ve learned and gained from being overseas, I find myself comparing the American culture that I’ve been thrown back into to what I experienced in Spain. There are many things I loved and learned from the Spaniards. I think we can all benefit from their unique outlook on life.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Experiment with tapas

In Spain, when you can’t quite decide on just one entrée for your lunch or dinner, there’s a solution—tapas. Tapas, the Spanish term for appetizers, are fun to order when you’re dining with a group and feeling indecisive about your meal. Ranging from eggs (tortilla), iberian ham, fish, bread with tomato sauce (pan con tomate), vegetables, fries (patatas braves), and more, you can try just about every category of food in one sitting. This makes the meal more exciting, you never know exactly what you’re going to end up with!  The portions are designed for everyone to share, so you’ll never have to worry about leaving hungry.

tapas

A standard tapas dish, a selection of meats including different hams and salami

2. Sit down and enjoy your meal

This took awhile for my friends and I to get used to when we first started dining out in Spain. We would order our food, receive it very quickly, and finish it in an alarmingly fast speed that is the norm in America. After a few days of waiting over forty minutes for our check after we finished our meals, we realized that sitting and chatting for an hour or more after eating was expected, and it would be odd if we didn’t do that. After awhile, we got very used to this custom and enjoyed elongating our meals with more chitchat.

3. Say “Hello” to everyone

While I view America as a very friendly country, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcome I felt everywhere I went in Barcelona and the rest of Spain. Whether you’re entering a clothing store, grocery, restaurant, or simply walking along the street, everyone says hello, regardless if you know them or not. By just by walking past someone, or coming within a few feet of them, it is customary to say, “Hola, buenas!” (hello) and acknowledge their presence. This would often make my day as I would be greeted by multiple strangers that I passed by.

4. Relax—There’s no rush

In Spain, no one is in a rush. This applies to almost every kind of situation that we find ourselves in here in the U.S. Spaniards simply like to take their time, and don’t believe it’s necessary to get all worked up with anxiety about being late (which makes life a heck of a lot easier). For example, waiting in long lines, waiting for the bill, or waiting a very long time for assignments to be returned are all very normal things there.

As a student, it was hard to understand how they could delay returning test scores and assignments for such long periods of time, but after awhile I enjoyed not having to spaz out about how I did on a test because I had a few weeks until I had to worry about it. You accept that things will get done when they get done, and its as simple as that!

5. Puente (long weekend)

The Spanish word ‘puente‘ means bridge, and it used to describe long weekends in Spain. Spain, and Europe in general, are notorious for having a large number of holidays and vacation days compared to what American companies offer. Spaniards will often have Thursdays, Fridays, or Mondays off of work. Also, during the summer, they will find themselves with several weeks in a row off for holiday, which is part of the reason they get to be such avid travelers. I had several puentes throughout my time in Spain, and I appreciated them very much as I was able to extend my weekend travels a day or two longer.

travel group

My travel buddies and I on a ‘puente’ weekend in Amsterdam!

6. Get outside of the house

This might have been one of my favorite Spanish customs. The Spaniards are constantly outside, spending time in their neighborhood parks, streets, or simply enjoying their meals outside. I loved coming home to my neighborhood, El Putxet, everyday after class around 6:00 p.m.  I knew I would get to see many families with their youngsters and dogs gathered around the park and streets, socializing with each other. This social scene took place before dinner, which wouldn’t be until 9 or 10 pm. It’s a perfect time to unwind from a busy day and catch up with your neighbors.

Barcelona beach

When the end of April hits, the beach becomes a prime destination for Spaniards in Barcelona

As I’m settling back home in Indiana, I hope that these lessons of Spanish life will always stay with me. I know my time overseas has changed the way I view the world and myself. I am a different person four months later. I now hope to focus more on the moment, say a hearty “hello” to passing strangers walking by and live life at a Spanish pace.

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Country Hopping- 5 Down, 3 to Go

Katie Bosler

It’s hard to admit that I have just about a month left living in Barcelona. As I write this I can’t stop thinking to myself, where exactly DID the time go? I had been warned by many study-abroad alums that the time would fly by. With trips, classes and many visits from friends studying abroad elsewhere, my four-day school week goes by in a blink of an eye.

It became clear very early on in the semester that traveling to other cities, whether throughout Spain, or across Europe, would become almost an obsession. When I first arrived I looked at a four-month window and thought there was more than enough time to visit all of the countries and places I had researched in the fall. As it turns out, one never has enough time to see all of Europe’s magical destinations.

The ability to travel almost anywhere within Europe with relative ease has allowed me to jet-set off almost every weekend. Though having only a few days in each city is never enough, packing your days with as much sightseeing as you can is worth it. This is probably what I love the most about this semester—getting to live in an incredible city yet at the same time exploring Europe from head-to-toe. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Of the magical places I have visited, my absolute favorites have been:  Paris, Rome, and Interlaken.

Paris

Paris was my first journey outside of Spain. The historical and cultural influence that surrounds the city is incredible. The French and Medieval collaboration make the city’s architecture unique to anything I’ve seen in Europe. Among my favorite spots were the Palace of Versailles and its gardens, the Louvre, and the cathedral of Notre Dame, all breathtaking.

Gardens of Versailles

Gardens of Versailles

One of the highlights of our trip was unexpectedly seeing the Eiffel Tour light up at night. We just happened to arrive at 7:00 PM, when the entire tower became illuminated with flickering lights. It lasted just a few moments and it was beautiful. To end our trip, we dined at one of the most famous steak and fries restaurants in Paris, Le Relais de Venis. For the price of 28 euro, we were able to eat an unlimited amount of the best steak we had ever tasted. An added bonus was that it was topped with an amazing, secret béarnaise sauce which has never been disclosed to the public.

Rome

I was lucky enough to travel to Rome with my parents. I can’t decide if I enjoyed seeing the sights of Rome or eating the food there more. Both were incredible experiences. The ancient ruins, the Colosseum, and the Vatican were my favorite stops during two action-packed days. Being able to walk among the ruins, with several parts of the old city still standing and intact, was an experience like no other.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Remnants of the Roman forum

Remnants of the Roman forum

The Italian cuisine was everything that I had imagined and more. While I consider pasta one of my most favorite foods, we were able to do a good job of balancing meat, pasta, veggies and dessert throughout each meal. Our waiters would explain that was the only way to dine. The veal, salted ham, and traditional spaghetti dishes were my favorite of the trip.

Interlaken

Interlaken, Switzerland is truly a winter wonderland. I had the incredible opportunity to go skiing for the first time there. Simply being in the Swiss Alps was enough for me to fall in love with the view. But being able to ski there made for a day I will never forget. I was able to master ski school with relative ease and quickly moved on to the more difficult slopes. The picturesque mountains that surrounded me made me feel as if I was in the middle of a postcard.

The lakes are also beautiful and it is easy to see why Interlaken is one of the world’s best vacation destinations for a sports holiday. In addition to the skiing, the area is ideal for hiking, kayaking, paragliding and many other outdoor adventures. It’s the perfect destination to do some “bucket list”, one-in-a-lifetime activities!

Swiss alps

My view of the Swiss Alps while skiing

My travels throughout Europe have deeply broadened my understanding of the continent’s importance and its historical and cultural impact on the rest of the world. I have learned so much about the people and their unique lifestyles. Growing up in Indiana, the thought of traveling internationally seemed more like a wish than a possibility. Studying abroad has given me the access and ability to visit places I had only dreamed about. It’s been an amazing journey so far and I look forward to squeezing in the remaining getaways I have left.

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Barca Barca Barca

Katie Bosler

Those who live outside of Spain tend to think the word Barca (pronounced barce-uh) is an abbreviation for the second largest city in Spain, Barcelona. For those of us studying here, it became clear very quickly that Barca was not a nickname for the city, but for its world-class fútbol (European soccer) club, FC Barcelona.

If you ask the fans here, following FC Barcelona is similar to practicing a religion. Locals who do not support them are basically shunned-it’s that serious. These Spaniards eat, sleep, and breathe fútbol. On match day you will find 99,000 rabid fans watching the game live at the incredible Camp Nou stadium. The arena is the largest in Europe. Those unable to secure a ticket view the game at a bar with friends or watching at home glued to the TV with family.

Camp Nou

The biggest fútbol stadium in Europe, Camp Nou

FC Barcelona’s motto is “mes que un club” (more than just a club.) It represents something bigger than athletics – it represents Catalan independence. Barcelona is one of the four coastal regions that make up Catalunya, the Catalan nation that has struggled to find independence from the rest of Spain for years. From the 1920’s under Miguel Primo de Rivera’s rule to the severe fascist ruling of dictator Franco, the Catalan culture and specifically its team, Barca, have been severally oppressed.

After Spain’s switch to democracy, Barca has grown to represent not only Catalan independence, but important life values ​​as well. These five key values include ​​Respect, Effort, Teamwork, Humility, and Ambition. Barca and its fans take pride in the fact that the way they play fútbol is not only inspiring the world in the athletic sense but morally as well.

Barca can credit its amazing history of feats on the field to its long list of world-class players. The current stars are Lionel Messi, Louis Suarez, Neymar Jr. and Gerard Pique, to name a few. Messi, 34, has been charted as the best player in the world for quite some time. To Barca fans, Messi is a god, and he is the key component of the on and off field success of Barca’s current team.

Lionel Messi

Barca’s superstar forward, Lionel Messi

Venturing into Camp Nou for the first time was a life changing experience. I thought I was prepared for the intense atmosphere and the insane fans, but the game and the venue itself had no comparison to American football or basketball on any level. I got to my seat an hour before kickoff, and the cheering and drums heard from all sections of the stadium had already started- they would not stop until the last second ticked off of the scoreboard.

 

Rowdy crowd

The rowdiest cheering section, right behind Barca’s goal

After attending a Barca match, it’s a bit funny to think about how sports fans in the US refer to themselves as dedicated or obsessed. Merely spending a week in Europe would be enough to realize that our fan followings are far too limited to compete with the addiction that fútbol is here. If we want to consider ourselves avid fans, we need to take some advice from the fans of FC Barcelona.

My roommate and I at the game

My roommate, Megan & I at the Barca vs. Levante game

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Getting Settled: The First 2 Weeks

Katie Bosler

It’s been just over two weeks here in Barcelona, Spain and I am pleasantly surprised to say it feels like I’ve lived here for months. While I have had to make some big adjustments to better adapt to this Spanish (or should I say Catalan) culture, everyday I’m surprised at the amount of similarities I find that remind me of my lifestyle back home. Coming from a suburban Indiana neighborhood, this move to a busy city street bustling with people (and dogs!) 24/7 has been exciting, different, and LOUD, to say the least. The street we live on is called Plaça de Joaquim Folguera (it took the full two weeks to pronounce it correctly), and our neighborhood area is known as El Putxet (a Catalan name). El Putxet is just twenty minutes away from the 1,680 foot mountain, Tibidabo, and from our street we can see the castle atop the mountain, which is best illuminated at night.

Sidenote: Catalan refers to the independent region of Spain that Barcelona, Geida, Lleida, and Tarragona make up. These four cities refer to themselves as Catalonians, speak Catalan alongside Spanish, and have immense pride in their independence from the other regions of Spain.

Plaça de Joaquim Folguera

Plaça de Joaquim Folguera

Tibidabo castle

Tibidabo – look closely and you can see the castle on top

Besides getting lost post-taxi drop off fresh from the airport and lugging our four 50+ pound suitcases uphill for 45 minutes (we were two minutes away from home), my roommates & I have been amazed at the ease that we have been able to communicate and do things here. Our ‘school’ IES (it looks just like every other sky-high building on the street) is located in a sprawling plaza that acts as a central location for all things in Barcelona, Plaça de Catalunya. To try to explain the vast entity that Plaça Catalunya is, I would say that “New York City on steroids” is the best description. To get here, we take the subway right outside our apartment and then have about a ten minute walk to our school building from the metro stop. When we aren’t in class, Plaça Catalunya gives us endless shopping and dining opportunities as well as all kinds of people watching, something extremely entertaining to do here when have a break between classes.

With two weeks in, I’m already certain that my study abroad experience will be unlike most others. This is due to the fact that there are not only ten, 20, or 30 other IU students here alongside me, but over 50, and that is just in my specific program. There are at least three other programs with IU students here as well. Somehow, I was oblivious to the fact that a mass group of fellow Hoosier students would be joining me. It wasn’t until the first day of class that I began to realize having at least five other IU kids in each of my classes would be a normal thing. At first, I panicked and had a negative attitude about being surrounded by so many semi-familiar faces. However, after a few days I realized that I only knew a select few of the 50+. As I keep meeting more and more of these fellow Hoosiers, I’m getting extremely excited by the fact that not only will we be making memories in Barcelona this semester, but our journey together will continue on to our senior year in Bloomington as well.

Barcelona from above

Barcelona from a birds-eye view

This coming weekend will be our first trip to Madrid. My roommates and I are very eager to explore Spain’s biggest city and see how it compares to Barcelona, the second largest. We will be traveling in a group of about 200 other students in the IES program. We will be going on a guided ‘tapas tour’, where we will sample different tapas, or appetizers, which are an integral part of daily Spanish cuisine. We will also be touring the Las Ventas bullring, one of the most famous bull fighting arenas in the world, known as the mecca of bull fighting.

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Packing for Barcelona: The First Test

Katie Bosler

So, you are getting ready for your semester abroad. You have never been more excited. What seemed like a dream freshman year is finally here. You hit every deadline and meticulously checked off all of the requirements.

But there’s one small catch. How does one pack for an entire semester?

When attempting to assemble your entire closet into a single suitcase, you need to be prepared to “let go.” I know it’s not easy, girls. You probably have an emotional attachment to EVERY article of clothing you own. But now it’s time to say goodbye.

In my daydreams, I envision myself walking along the cobblestone streets of Barcelona. I’m picturing a much trendier, cooler version of myself wearing clothes seen only in magazines. During these sporadic dreams, which occur only during class and study time naturally, I’ve come to realize that taking every t-shirt and pair of jeans isn’t a smart move, and it’s definitely not going to make up for my lack of “euro” attire.

So instead, I have come to the conclusion that my wardrobe will revolve around seven staple items that will rotate among my daily and nightly outfits. Among this collection are two pairs of short, ankle boots for walking (black and brown, of course), two pairs of trusty jeans (light and dark wash), a light, navy blue jacket (perfect for mid-fifties temperatures), a patterned scarf (how euro!), and my loyal brown wayfarer Ray-Bans (a must have for photos). While these items may not seem like much of a start to my Barcelona wardrobe, I have no doubt in my mind I’ll be able to tie them into whatever I assemble in my attempt to look as non-touristy as possible!

clothes for packing

the seven staples

 

As for the rest of the items I’ve imagined myself sporting in my daydreams, I’ll spend my two and a half weeks of winter break begging and convincing my parents to take me shopping because I’ll NEED to be fashionable there (c’mon, Dad!).

Spring semester in Barcelona will see a range of weather and temperatures. I know it will be a good idea to pack for all kinds of weather due to our weekend visits to other countries with different climates. I’ll pack a heavy-duty winter coat (daydreams of the Swiss Alps) as well as good walking shoes. I will also throw in a swimsuit (or two) and shorts because if I don’t travel along the coast and see the many beautiful beaches in Spain come April, I’ll be one unhappy camper!

So, it’s time to start packing. Let’s get ready for the most memorable semester of our lifetime!

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