Some call Spain the most beautiful country in Europe; from its Mediterranean landscape to its vibrant culture. For an American college student, living in Spain can come as a cultural shock due its its change of pace in the environment. While there is noticeable differences in everyday Spanish and Catalonian life in comparison to what American’s perceive as normal, many will embraced the differences rather than attempting to combat it. Such differences as time, rules of the house, specificity (in regards to many things like directions), personal space, tipping, and how university is set up are just few of the many things any American college student would notice. Getting adjusted to the timing of things should be more difficult to adjust to than dos besos, as it seems as if everything has been pushed ahead two hours (from meals to dancing at discotecas). The following multimedia report is a third-person account of an American student’s experience traveling through the cities of Spain; from Catalonia to the nation’s capital. How he did this was only achievable through the schooling of CEA and its Academic Integrated Cultural Activities Programs- AICAP for short.
The first two weeks of this student’s Spanish travels started in the vibrant city of Barcelona. Bouncing though historical sites sites like Montjuïc, the Gothic Quarters, and even Park Güell, to the more relaxing side of Barceloneta Beach, his eyes were open to views never seen before back in the states. In comparison to the US, monuments can date back to older moments in time- even longer than the entire history of America. The aspects of culture shock as discussed above truly gained shape. Once he was able to comprehend the differences between his native culture and his new environment, the American student felt confident in his upcoming AICAP adventures to Catalonia and beyond. His first stop was northern Catalonia to the land of three cultures; Girona. Alongside the Onyar River, the buildings are all tailored to a specific color which brings out the vibrant nature of the town. Its Muslim, Jewish, and Christian influence can be seen throughout. The narrow streets and segregated neighborhoods, like the Jewish Call streets, based on its history is what truly makes Girona remarkable. The streets of cobblestone were completely empty in this village where siestas are a commonplace. The truly breathtaking monument in the city was the Girona Cathedral, which shows its rich heritage in transitioning from a mosque to an extravagant roman-esc cathedral. The religious influence has toyed with the landscapes and architecture. What remains true, and was more outstanding than in Barcelona, is the presence of independence driven Catalonians. These unforgettable independencia flags rained from almost every window and this is something one should come to expect after learning about where the majority of pro-independence persons reside- outside the major cities.
Continuing in Catalonia was traveling through the wineries of the Penedès region and up to the top of Montserrat Mountain. Catalonia joins the likes of France with their very fine selections of wine and champagne; however, because champagne is only allowed to be made in Champagne, France- Catalonia has branded their own drink called Cava. Here one will learn how Cava is made and also how to drink it! Share cropping is common in Spain, especially in the south, and in Catalonia it is no different. After a drink of Cava and some native Calçots, the students were headed to Montserrat. With a name derived from the literal meaning serrated mountain, the different rock formations and piles of sediment are truly breathtaking. At about four thousand feet up, one can explore the area, climb the eight stages of life, tour the famous Santa Maria Cathedral, and kissed the orb of the Black Madonna. The vast landscapes varied from what one would be used to in comparison to Barcelona city; but, the values are shared among common folk in the area. Once one travels away from Catalonia towards Spain’s capital it is becomes easier to witness the segregation among all Spaniards. For one, it is close to forbidden to call a Catalonian a Spaniard because they truly believe they are different. From the language to their historical background, Catalans feel that Spain, especially the capital of Madrid is disingenuous. Talking to locals in both areas, there seems to be a true disdain towards one another. While there are some citizens who try and look past the politics of the current situation, many people cannot let go of the independencia movement. Nonetheless, Madrid is a fantastically diverse city. After Madrid, the last AICAP adventure as heads to Valencia- home of the famous paella dish. Immediately what strikes any visitor is the sense of community, the street art, and the passion for food in the area. One more noticeable mural was that of David de Limón’s Los Ninjas which could be found on almost every street corner. He is always seen with a spray can and some sort of symbol in the middle of his chest. The weather here was perfect, partly due to its southern location on the sea. Although Valencia is outside of Catalonia, its language called Valencian is almost exactly like Catalan. Valencia is a city that has many values aligned with Catalonia. Do not forget to check out the city of arts and sciences with its beautiful architecture designed to appear like a ship and sail- oh, and of course the famous seafood paella dish served over a warm skillet of Spanish rice.
In an interview conducted inside of CEA, Juan, a CAE employee who was apart of the committee to bring AICAP to life, was asked questions in regards to culture shock of American students and the values traveling to other locations in Spain can offer. Many of Juan’s answers coincide with the differences noted above. To watch the interview, watch the video below. To any American student who plans on studying abroad to the fruitful country of Spain, there are many things one should anticipate. Cultural differences, changes in landscapes, and contrasting political ideologies. Despite this, nobody should find difficultly adjusting thanks to the personable population of Spaniards and Catalans- just make sure to not get them confused!