Monday, December 20, 2010

Morocco and Home

My study abroad experience has come to what feels like a very abrupt end. But although it was far too short, and I was very sad to say goodbye to Barcelona and all the people I met there, it's nice to be home with family and friends, after a two days of stressful travel hell due to a snowstorm in London. Apparently they don't really know how to deal with "la nieva" in jolly old England.
The week before I left I went on a cultural exchange trip to Morocco through a phenomenal program called Morocco Exchange. We spent two days in a rural village called Amizmiz, and one night in the more touristy but still incredibly unique city of Marrakech, abound with snake charmers and monkeys. Amizmiz was incredible. The people were more hospitable than imaginable, and the Moroccan food, tea, and culture was like nothing I've ever experienced before. The people have very little, but they would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. An Islamic society, Morocco is actually one of the most progressive Muslim countries in the world. But it's still set up as a hierarchical society where men are the dominant members of society.
However, society is becoming more and more modernized and equal, and the newest King of the 3rd world nation enacted legislation which allows for women to officially petition for divorce if it is necessary, which had previously been illegal.
I came away from the experience with a respect for Moroccan people and culture, and a greater appreciation for the freedoms and opportunities we've been so lucky to be afforded here in the U.S.
And that goes for the entire "study abroad" experience. Barcelona is an incredible city that is all at once historical, cosmopolitan, modern and traditional, and one I think every should see once in their lives. But I'm glad to be home, and will appreciate my mom's cooking and being with my family and friends for the holiday all the more now that I've been away for some time. If you're considering going abroad-DO IT. I don't think the experience could ever be negative, as no matter where you are or how your time abroad goes, you'll learn things about yourself, your culture, and the culture of others that you will never forget.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Montserrat, Edinburgh, and Dali

It's been awhile since my last blog. Whoops! The less IO blog though, the more I have to talk about on each one.
A program trip to Montserrat, and the St. Benet monastery is definitely one of my highlights so far. Both are beautiful locations in the mountains just outside Barcelona, the fresh air and beautiful views were a welcome change of pace from Barca.
I also made it up to Tibidabo-Barcelona's classic theme park. The views from the top are incredible, arguably the best in the city.

I also made my first trip out of Spain, to good old Edinburgh, Scotland to visit one of my best friends, Katie Corn. She's a Junior at SMC as well. Edinburgh is beautiful, and it was great to be with Katie and have a personal tour of the city. True to form, I forgot my camera. This fact aside, I visited the cafe where J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter, went to a rugby game, and ate more fried food than I'd care to admit.
This weekend we had another program trip to Figures and Girona, including a stop at the Salvador Dali Museum. The museum is incredible, and the amount of classic Dali art I saw first hand is quite staggering. Girona is beautiful as well, and we had a great afternoon there.
Alas, it was out last Arcadia day excursion, marking the beginning of the end of my study abroad experience. I still have a trip to Morocco to look forward to though. And unfortunately, finals and final papers as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Bit of Traveling

Spain is a country with endless "must visit" locations. The landscapes, cultures, and ways of life vary a great deal throughout some of the regions, and the past few weekends I've been lucky enough to see a few of these unique places. My Spanish room mate Xavi is from Mallorca, an Island off the Eastern Coast of Spain, and a short 30 minute plane ride from Barcelona. I visited with a friend of mine from the program, and stayed in the gorgeous Hotel Valparaiso de Cala Murada in Manacor, Mallorca. The views, the beach, and the quiet, relaxing atmosphere was a welcome change from the never ending hustle and bustle that is Barcelona. I spent one day on the beach, one day in the capital city of Palma, and the third day I spent in a little town called Felanitx with Xavi and his family. The traditional Mallorcan feast prepared by his mother and grandmother was wonderful, and doubly satisfying because I spoke only in Spanish, which I'm actively trying to do more and more. The time spent with Xavi's family and friends was definitely the highlight of the trip. Oddly enough, I ran into some American tourists from my native Massachusetts, some of whom know students at St. Mike's. It's a small world, after all. Below are some views from the hotel, and a one from Palma, the capital city, and the incredible Cathedral there that Gaudi helped design.

The following weekend we had a program trip to Madrid. It was easy, fun, and felt like it was free because it was included in the program fees. We saw some beautiful sights, some beautiful museums, and maybe best of all I got to meet up with one of my favorite people from St. Mike's, Sarah Godlewski, who also happened to be passing through Madrid for the weekend. It was a great time, and it was nice to travel with everyone in the program.

The feel in the city is quite different than Barcelona. And though it's the capital of Spain, Barcelona just feels more electric, more exciting than Madrid. I suppose I am a little biased. On both trips, I was ready to go "home" to Barcelona afterwards. It's really something how quickly living in this city in another country becomes so normal.
For now, I'm struggling through mid terms and trying to write papers and study for exams and all that. Next weekend some more St. Mike's friends are visiting for the Halloween festivities, and that thought may be the only one that gets me through this week of doing all the academic things which are certainly the least favorable aspect of "studying" abroad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

La Huelga (The Strike)

It's no secret that the Spanish economy is in a quite deplorable state. A 20% unemployment rate in the country, with some regions experiencing even more severe economic downturn has left the people uneasy, and displeased with the current Spanish government. Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodiguez Zapatero is a man who is very much despised by a growing number of Spanish citizens.
The first strike I saw in Spain was two weeks ago, but seemed relatively unorganized, and passed by without much notice. The same cannot be said for the strike that took place, and is still taking place today. The CCOO, or Confederacion Sindical de comisiones obreras is organizing the strike, and has demanded, that all businesses close today to show their discontent with the Spanish government.
I woke up around 11 (school's closed due to the strike) and went about my usual routine, making breakfast and sitting around enjoying the day off.
A commotion began to stir outside, and as I stepped onto my balcony to see, the conflict between the protesters and those not observing the strike was coming to a head right before my eyes.
A Korean family runs a bar and restaurant just across the street from me, and opened their doors as usual this morning. As the group of some 200 plus protesters gathered around their business, chanting and demanding they close, the tension began to rise, and the elderly couple who run bar were visibly flustered. Sadly, they were even more flustered when the crowd began to vandalize their place of business. Chairs were thrown through the windows, and outdoor furniture was strew about into the street.As police stepped in to prevent the conflict from escalating further, and the protesters moved on having apparently accomplished whatever is was they were trying to, the restaurant closed its doors. The elderly woman stood crying,
This scene doesn't seem cohesive with the message of the strike, and the message of resistance by way of peaceful protest CCOO puts out. I was thinking about going out today to watch more of the protest, but have decided firmly that in a small show of defense for the family restaurant, I won't support the protest in any way.
Groups of rowdy, violent men and women who are willing to harm simple, working people like themselves, are more of a hindrance than an aid to resolution in any sort of conflict.
The protest is still escalating, thankfully though, not anywhere near my neighborhood. Sirens and chanting are in the air, and Spain is in a sense paralyzed today. The question remains as to whether or not any good will come of it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

La Merce

Another few weeks of my study abroad experience have slipped by. The time is going by incredibly fast, and I now sit here a bit begrudginly, forcing myself to take a (probably much need) break from this weekend's festivities in Barcelona. The festival of "La Merce," Barcelona's most historic and arguably most fun, has descended upon the city. The city is afire with street performers, concerts, and both traditional and modern celebration. Barcelona is one big party this weekend, and there are masses of tourists who have descended upon the city to catch a glimpse of the revelry.
I've seen some wild sites, like the Castiellers or "human towers," which soar to over six stories tall as they tremble and quake waiting for the pint sized top of the structure to shimmy up the backs of their fellow builders, for just long enough to salute the crowd, and slide right back down the tower.
The opening ceremonies, along with most of the other festivities, include huge, dancing dancing kings, queens, and other plaster characters. Then for some reason people dressed as dragons and devils literally run through the streets blowing fire at the crowd. Children were screaming and there was general panic in the crowd, mixed with merry absurdity. The Spanish are thrill seekers to say the least.
I also went to a Goldfrapp concert last night (free-the best part) and a wild light show in a park that was a techno-lover's dream.
La Merce is still going strong, tonight involves people being lit on fire and running through the streets. We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The First Week

The first week in Barcelona has gone by so fast it seems like I haven't really had any time to think about it. Myself and the rest of my fellow Arcadia student arrived lat Monday to beautiful Barcelona and haven't looked back since. We've experienced the food, the architecture (Gaudi mostly), the people, and the night life, and it's all more then I could have imagined. Barcelona seems to have a pulse like nowhere I've ever been. The parties are late, and the clothes are tight. That's europe for you. I love it here, and really like my living situation as well. My little room mate Xavi is only 18 and has never lived on his own before. We call him the freshman. He's from Mallorca, and island off of Spain. My other room mate is from New Orleans and is named Jen. She goes to Loyola. I was looking forward to cooking, but many friends live close by, and so I've been to someone else's apartment eveyr night this week for dinner. Classes seem rigorous but on the all and pretty enjoyable. Here are some views from where we've been, including Parc Guell and the Sagrada Familia.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Adios Amigos

It's my last couple of days here in the You Knighted States, and I'm happy to report that I had the chance to go up to St. Mike's this past weekend to say goodbye to my favorite people up there. It was bittersweet for sure. Some of those who will be studying abroad in the Spring won't grace my presence again until the fall of our senior (what?) year, but it's a very exciting time for a lot of us. Packing and all that is well underway, and I'm leaving for Spain on Sunday. It's all happening pretty quick here.
I'll be sure to update within the first couple days of my trip.