The money I received from the Edith Baer grant made a huge difference on my year abroad. Year abroad can be a very expensive year for a student, and makes certain aspirations a financial challenge, such as traveling around your destination country, as opposed to staying in the one host university city/town. However this grant enabled me to do the things that I wanted to do and see the things and places I wanted to see.
My host university was UPF in Barcelona. Having studied Catalan in my second year at King’s and fallen in love with the language, it was my obvious first choice and I was eager to explore the culture and daily life in the area. The Edit Baer grant helped pay for my accommodation in the capital of Catalunya, which in turned freed up some money making it possible to do some traveling out of the city limits which would have been a financial stretch too far without the help the grant gave to me. I wanted to experience the political and social climate at a time when support for Catalan independence in particularly strong and tensions with the rest of Spain are high.
I was interested to see as much of Catalunya as I could, taking in all of the autonomous region which I hoped would give me a feel as to the general mood in Catalunya as opposed to only that of the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona. I used trains to get around, again the grant helping me to afford the rail tickets. I visited the historical cities of Girona and Tarragona, the beautiful coastal town of Sitges, the central region of Catalunya, Bages and even managed to spend a day skiing in the Pyrenees Mountains!
In the centre of Barcelona one hears more Spanish than Catalan generally due to the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of the city along with the high number of tourists (Spanish being the more commonly known internationally), and as a foreign student locals were amazed of even a relatively basic knowledge of Catalan and thanked you for making the effort and being aware of the linguistical and cultural differences. As I ventured further away from Barcelona the more Catalan I spoke and the number of Catalan independence flags I saw draped from balconies and windows increased.
Once I felt I had explored the region enough I decided that it was important to see different parts of Spain. I found some cheap flights to Galicia and Edith Baer helped me pay all the addition charges added on by Ryan Air! The vibes were very different there, a far more conservative area historically when compare with Catalonia. The linguistical diversity again evident in this area with Gallego being spoken by the locals (they sound like Italians speaking a Spanish Portuguese hybrid language, very pleasing to the ear). However, despite being in a similar position to Catalonia in terms of having their own language and culture there is no real independence movement and Spanish nationalism seemed strong judging from the people I spoke to. Their view on Catalan independence and the Catalan people generally was very strong, almost everybody I spoke to seemed to resent the Catalans, one taxi driver claiming ‘they can’t even speak Spanish Franco tried to help’ which in my view is rather ill-informed. This utter resentment, which is not like the regional rivalry in England which is playful and in generally good spirit, makes it somewhat more understandable the desire for Catalan independence. This first-hand experience of the political mood and situation on a day to day level was made possible by my travelling which enabled me to get a far wider and, I hope, more accurate view than one could get by staying in a single city.