Officially in Barcelona!! Today marks day 14 and I am amazed how it has already been two weeks! On one hand, it feels like I have been here for months but then again, only two weeks ago I was in New York. My first days in this wonderful city have been filled with nothing but smiles, laughs, good food, new friends, and beautiful views.
My first thought upon arrival to Barcelona was that it reminded me more of Latin American cities and countries I have visited rather than the European ones. For me, this meant it had the urban and city-feel of Lima, Peru and the beachy, relaxed vibe of the Dominican Republic. The landscapes were filled with brown buildings, tall complexes (though not like New York City sky rises), and tons of palm trees interspersed throughout. Another thing that struck me on my cab ride from the outskirts of the airport, through the city, and to my homestay was that all of the drivers were incredible safe. Everyone seemed to be using their directional, driving at the speed limit, allowing people to merge – everything good drivers should be doing. My cab driver also made sure I was wearing my seatbelt. (Side note: he asked me in Spanish if I was wearing “mi cinturón de seguridad” which made me feel good since he believed, at least to some extent, that I spoke Spanish even after my sub-par directions to my destination). Following this, we drove down the main streets of Barcelona through the numerous neighborhoods I had previously only read about. As cliché as it is, as I looked out the window to my new city, it finally hit I would be calling a new city home. My cab driver pointed out the big supermarkets, malls, hospital, and city landmarks. Even with my suitcases and backpack screaming a tourist persona, I made a promise to myself to take advantage of all the opportunities my semester in Barcelona would present and to be more of a traveller than a tourist.
When I pulled up to my homestay, my host dad, Pepe, was waiting outside for me. He didn’t think I spoke Spanish so he gestured for me to follow him upstairs. We rode the elevator to the 7th floor and Alejandra, my host mom, was waiting at the door excitedly to welcome me with two kisses on each cheek. She was smiling from ear to ear saying “Hola Katherine” in her Spanish accent over and over – this made me feel so incredibly welcomed, which was assuring amid so many new things. Soon after I met Tita, the little golden Chihuahua, who was barking and sniffing the apparent stranger (me) who she would soon learn wasn’t leaving any time soon. I was happy to realize I had my own room with a window overlooking the city street called Avinguda Meridiana, a spacious desk, and closet that had plenty of room for some Barcelona shopping. Later that night, my roommate Alex arrived from Switzerland and we sat down as a family for dinner around 21:00 (aka 9pm). The time difference in eating is something I am still adjusting to as my stomach still growls around 18:00 for dinner, not knowing my meal is actually three hours away. Our home’s plentiful supply of clementines and bananas has helped curb my appetite, but I am always hungry for dinner (which Alejandra loves). One thing I realized early on was that my host mom insists on us eating a ton. As soon as we finish our last bite, she shovels second and third and fourth helpings onto our plate even when we say we are full. My professors have told us this is a Spanish cultural practice in which it is good manners of a host to insist on guests leaving full (or even more than full in our case). I was quick to familiarize myself with the phrase “estoy llena pero gracias” which means, “I am full but thank you”. (Pro tip: learn this phrase a.s.a.p. if you are planning on any Spanish dinner parties in the near future!) That night, we had a salad with lettuce, tomato, and corn with a vinegar-based dressing. It was amazing! This salad preparation seems quite typical as we have had the same salad (give or take a vegetable) almost every night and lucky enough, it still tastes just as good. The second course was a pasta and pork dish. I call it pasta, my host mom calls it macaroni, but it seems to be a penne/rigatoni hybrid. Regardless, I was happy for some carbs after a long day. Afterward, we enjoyed some authentic Swiss pralines (courtesy of my roommate) as well as some of my New York chocolates in the shape of Uncle Sam hats, both brought as gifts for our host family. A sweet way to end the day!
All in all, my first two weeks in Barcelona have been amazing. I have made friends to take on abroad with, stood at the base of Sagrada Familia, climbed Montjuïc, explored the Gothic quarter, treated myself to a fish pedicure, experienced the hype of Park Güell, fell in love with the palm trees, ate an authentic Iberian dinner, enjoyed the infamous nightlife, and realized that this semester is going to be the best one yet. Realization of the week: A quick way to learn Spanish is in clothing stores and at the gym. It’s important to learn how to say you need a different size or even when you need to ask where the socks are (if you’re like me and didn’t pack enough). Equally so, joining a nearby gym was one of my best decisions. It’s super convenient to get to (aka right across from my homestay) and there is a wide array of classes throughout the day. I quickly learned key “workout words” in my first pilates class as I did in my spinning class such as “¡Arriba!” to cycle out of the saddle. Week one and my Spanish is already getting better!