El Casal turns 10: reflections by our first students

Written by El Casal de Barcelona on . Posted in Blog

2014 marks our 10th anniversary! We welcomed our first El Casal gap year students in February, 2004. Some of those “pioneers” have offered reflections on their experiences and we’ll be posting them here over the next few months.

I can't believe it's been almost 10 years since I participated in El Casal! I feel like my adventures in Spain somehow make their way into so many of my daily conversations with people now. I catch myself saying, "When I was in Spain during my gap year...." so often that you would think that I had spent a whole year there instead of just a few months. I remember the amazing generosity of the locals we met along the Camino de Santiago; I remember the night a friend and I had to sleep on the side of the road near Montserrat because the hostels hadn't yet opened for the season; and I remember our crazy attempt at recreating a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at John and Ines's home.  I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the perfect break for me between a rigorous high school curriculum and a challenging college experience because it gave me the opportunity to slow down the pace and learn so much about myself and what drives me. I learned to be independent as I wandered the streets of Barcelona and volunteered in a clinic housing adults with cerebral palsy, but I always had an amazing support system in John and Ines and in my host family so I never felt completely alone. I have been incredibly grateful for the experiences that El Casal granted me. I now just have to find a way to make it back to Spain to relive all of those amazing memories!

by Emily: Phillips Andover Academy; El Casal (2004); Dartmouth College; Univ. of Pennsylvania

"Los intercambios": a cultural exchange

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El Casal students help with a project in an English class at Costa i Llobera school

What’s a gap year in Spain all about? Well, among other things, it’s a “cultural exchange”. People here will greet you with open arms and their typical Mediterranean hospitality. They sincerely want to share their culture with you and make you feel at home! You have something to give them as well: an opportunity to see and to understand your culture through your interaction with them. Spaniards suspect that news reports, movies and TV series available to them here may not be giving them an accurate or a complete picture of the American society. That’s where you come in!

The Feast of Sant Jordi, April 23rd

Written by El Casal de Barcelona on . Posted in Blog


Besides being perhaps the foremost writers in their respective languages, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, have something else in common: they both died on April 23, 1616. That’s as good a reason as any to celebrate National Book Day in Spain! Booksellers move their wares out into streets and avenues crowded with people looking for copies of current bestsellers, timeless classics, children’s books and comics.

April 23rd is also St. George’s Day, or SantJordi, in Catalán. George or Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia and England, among other countries. He is usually portrayed as a handsome young knight who has just slain a dragon and saved a damsel in distress. According to legend, the dragon’s blood is converted into roses.

Barcelona combines the books and the roses into one of the most lively and colorful days of the year, simply known as SantJordi. The tradition is to buy a rose for your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband or lover and to buy a book or two as well. The streets are alive with bookstalls alternating with stands of roses (about 4€ a pop in the morning, dropping to 1€ each at dusk)! The roses and the stalls are usually adorned with the senyera, the redand yellow-striped flag of Catalonia.

Yesterday’s SantJordi fell on a brisk spring day under a cloudless sky. For pictures, click on


Ready to do something different and exciting after high school?