Read about a typical day in the life of Blair, El Casal 2006
First of all, it is an experience in itself to wake up in Barcelona. If you are a suburban kid like me, the morning sounds of a city, especially a vibrant, cosmopolitan, Mediterranean city like this one, are something new. The last BCNeta garbage trucks finishing up a long night of scrubbing away signs of the tireless nightlife, someone blasting Shakira a few floors upstairs, a Catalán morning radio show, the general hustle and bustle of millions of people getting ready for another day… all the sounds remind the El Casal students what they are waking up to – a day in one of the most amazing cities you’re likely to find.
And it just gets clearer on the walk to morning classes. It’s a casual stroll along streets planned by a utopian socialist who had communal space and healthy light exposure in mind, streets planted with a surprising number of old trees and walked by an unbelievable number of fashionably shod feet. They are streets and corners you’ll come to know and love. You’ll stroll past modernist buildings with wrought iron balconies and huge iron, wood, and glass doors leading to painted foyers, past that café where, later today, you’ll have a relaxed three course Menú del día and past another where, unbelievably, a paint crew is having a cerveza at 8:45 in the morning, getting an early start to the daily cycle of caffeine and alcohol. Because this is the city where coffee can be cheaper than water and wine is included in every meal.
Celebrating events –birthdays, the end of a wonderful day hike– is a part of the El Casal group experience.
Balmes 163 will come to feel like a second home. And how could it not? This is where your surrogate parents, John and Inés, live and work. No matter how independent you are ready to be, it is invaluable to have people looking out for your best interest, ready to give advice about everything from guitar lessons to perspective on life, and it doesn’t hurt if those people happen to be warm, knowledgeable, and interested in what you are doing together. Because not only are you learning about Spanish culture in its linguistic, political, and artistic dimensions, but you are learning what it means to fit into that culture and navigate through a city which is marked by those themes right down to its Roman foundations.
But one of the best parts about El Casal is that it is much more than a cultural study program. Through both the internships and the homestays, each Casaler is given the opportunity to actively participate in the modern Barcelonan culture. So along with greater knowledge of Catalán Romanesque architecture, Almodóvar films, and the present subjunctive, each student brings away memories of unforgettable relationships. I spent many of my afternoons volunteering at a cerebral palsy center. All the afternoons I walked with Mabel, the 20-something afflicted with this condition, all the dinners –including the one I cut up and spooned to Carlos as the only guest on his 33rd birthday– and all the smiles I learned to interpret from María Angeles mean that those are people I will never, ever, forget.
And the homestay, oh the homestay! Who would have thought that an 18-year old Ohio girl would end up living with two slightly crazy older women in their quirky apartment full of good cooking smells every night (along with sounds of Spanish “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”), the occasional four-hour poker game, and the knitting lessons (because, yes, I did learn how to knit) to the soundtrack of Tom Jones, Leonard Cohen, and Frank Sinatra? Or that same gap-year-girl would have such a blast and would end up learning more about being an independent woman/ experimental eater/ adaptable house mate from those two Catalanas who took me under their substantial wings than I ever expected to learn from any two people, especially in only four months?
There is no way to understand a day in the life of an El Casal student until you experience one yourself. Every day, from the busy morning to long lazy afternoon, from voluntariado to dinner with the host family, from that drum party in the street to the latest Barça soccer news, will be different from every other.
Blair L. | Cincinnati, Ohio | Yale University 2011
El Casal Fall, 2006
Top photo: Bearfotos | freepik.com