I race down the two floors of my apartment building and step out onto the primarily pedestrian street. A crisp wind blows through my hair as I begin walking at a brisk pace to the Poblenou metro stop. The low sun bounces off my phone’s screen and I quickly unlock it to read a message from Charlotte- “getting on the first car at Jimmy 1 rn.” I smile at her choice of word; Jimmy 1 is just our affectionate name for Jaume Primer, a metro stop used by us with such frequency that it deserved its own nickname.
My boots click down the stairs towards the underground labyrinth of lines that is this bustling city’s primary mode of transportation. I swipe my metrocard, and the small glass doors pop open with just enough time for me to slip through. Yet another flight of stairs, a double check that I’m on the yellow line heading in the right direction, a 27 second wait (I knew this due to the convenient countdown the Barcelona metro utilized), and I’m jumping on the first car. I immediately spot Charlotte and sit down next to her as we relish in our successful planning that finally allowed us to organize the timing of this metro rendezvous. After many failed attempts, we finally accomplished the impossible: sitting together on a metro.
Unlike many other study abroad programs, the El Casal program encourages students to independently experience and master the skills of navigating a large city via public transport. Our three month metrocards enabled us to explore all areas of the city, rather than limiting us to our host family’s neighborhood or the crowded tourist sections.
Today, as with every Thursday evening, we travelled to one of those less touristy neighborhoods on the outskirts of Barcelona, known as Badalona, home to many immigrants, refugees and families living below the poverty line. Throughout my three months in Barcelona, I had the opportunity to volunteer at La Centre Sant Jaume which provides after school tutoring, workshops, and food to over 100 children from the Badalona area. Assigned a classroom with a group of six 11-14 year old boys, I quickly mastered skills of negotiation, bribing, and even straight out begging, techniques I hadn’t employed since my early days of babysitting.
In a typical afternoon, I attempted to decipher math word problems not only in Spanish, but also in Catalan, while strategizing how best to redirect the students’ homework avoidance tactics. And eventually we got there. I learned some simple Catalan vocabulary, and grudgingly the students realized that completed homework equated free time which led to games outside in the courtyard. Basic algebra skills were mastered, and I grew accustomed to a group of belligerent international tweens laughing at my lack of a pure Catalan accent and my inability to roll my r’s. Above all, I will always cherish the bond that developed between me and this diverse group of economically disadvantaged Spanish students, only miles away from the hustle and bustle of one of the most glamourous cities in Europe.
Alyson W. | Grand High School, Portland OR | American University
El Casal, 2016