I have been in Barcelona for over 2 weeks now and feel very comfortable with the city. I anticipated my struggles with cultural and language barriers and expected them. But what I didn’t expect was the type of program I was getting myself into. There is nothing horribly wrong with IES, I just don’t think it is the right fit for me. Let me explain.
Going abroad, I wanted emersion. I wanted to meet locals and live like one, to take classes with them and speak in Spanish as much as possible. This is not the kind of program that IES is and I should have known going in considering my ability to take classes in English. This is a program made of 100% students from the United States who travel every weekend, speak English in Spanish classes, go to the clubs every night and use taxis to get around. They are still very nice, but going clubbing every night is not the experience I want. Just thinking about forging my own path in a sea of people who already know each other stresses me out. However, thinking more, this pushed me more out of my comfort zone.
This past weekend I took a trip to Tarragona with the IES program and was thankfully reassured that there are people like me who exist. Really great people actually. In addition to my two awesome roommates, I met a group of students who want more than the clubs. They are from across the USA and many of them already know Spanish! They also want to try new foods and explore the city beyond the touristy areas. I’m excited for the adventures we will have together. Here are some pictures of our adventures in Tarragon where we learned about the history of Tarragona and participated in Catalan traditions!
Our first stop was to learn about and participate in the castillos (human towers) that is a Catalan tradition. Up to 10 layers of people tall and 5 people wide! After watching a couple of videos, we tried it ourselves (with instruction of course). The picture above is the first attempt. No matter a person’s body type, there is a place for them in the structure. Most comically however, is the “butt grabber” who must be very tall and firmly support the butt of the person above. We all had a good laugh at this. Later when more people were able to join, I was a human ladder where someone steps on my bent knee and shoulders to reach the shoulders of people standing.
Afterwards we were released into the heart of Tarragona to eat lunch. I walked around with my friend and eventually decided on coffee and croissants at a small café. It took us forever to select the place we wanted but it was worth it. After eating the two of us walked around the city. We gazed at the Mediterranean, read about and saw an amphitheater where gladiators used to fight and walked down the main street. Later with the group we toured a monastery and our tour was completely in Spanish! I was proud of myself for understanding almost everything. It was only in rooms with echoes that I had a hard time.
The following day we ate a traditional Catalan meal! We started with calçots (fire grilled leeks) dipped in a delicious orange sauce. We wore bibs and plastic gloves to eat the calçots because you must slide the burnt outside off to just eat the center and it is very messy. We ate two types of sausage, Catalan beans, lamb, tomatoes, potatoes, and crema de Cataluña! The meal lasted 3 hours and I was so full that I barely ate dinner that night.
Although it was a rocky start, I am happy to be finding my way and meeting great people.