by Sabrina Raven
When I first found out I would be spending a semester in Barcelona, I expected my life to be something like the film ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’. Fortunately, my experience was nothing like that, because a) it is an awful film (sorry), and b) my time was so much better.
The city itself is a magical place; in part a living manifestation of Gaudi’s wonderfully twisted imagination, and also a historic landmine rich with culture and a strong Catalan identity. Lost in the labyrinth that is the Gothic quarter, you feel yourself going back in time and retracing the steps of those who once walked the same cobbled paths thousands of years ago. Yes, Barcelona is a remarkably old city, first founded by Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the first century. It’s past is almost tactile with numerous cathedrals and castles dotted around the centre. However, it is one of their most recent additions that became a great favourite of mine – the beach! In Barcelona you get the best of both worlds: the trendy city vibe, with always something going on, and a relaxed beachside getaway. Barcelona’s beaches are not the worlds best, but the people it attracts and the surrounding bars and café’s are truly unique. I found my inner hippy amongst the street musicians, the organic food stops and the unicyclers.
The young artistic talent brightening Cataluña’s creative scene in Barcelona should also be noted. They make art that provokes emotion and not just something pretty to look at. Much of their work is showcased at various festivals the city hosts throughout the year. I was lucky enough to arrive right as the Festival de la Mercé began. It is a weeklong celebration of concerts, parades and exhibitions held around the city. By far the most impressive event was the fire procession. Paraders take to the streets carrying dragons made of fire. These dragons burn their way through the streets as onlookers keep a comfortable distance. The entire sky turns a deep red as they leave their mark. A personal highlight of mine from the Mercé festival was a free performance held by Manu Chao, Barcelona’s resident celebrity and renowned reggae star. It seemed like the whole city had arrived to watch him, everyone in high spirits.
Throughout my time in Barcelona I interned at the international office of one of Spain’s leading universities. Here I helped international students prepare the necessary documentation involved in acquiring and renewing their visa. I was able to build up my work experience as well as stay in touch with the student experience. Everyone on the Erasmus programme was friendly and open to trying out new things. I got to meet people from across the globe, including many Hispanic American students with whom I was able to practice my language skills.
I began the semester a total stranger to the city and it’s people but I emerged out of it a true Barcelonesa. By the end, I felt like a native: I got to know the people, the history, and the culture. I now realise this time abroad gave me an invaluable gift, a home away from home. Had I not received the Edith Baer Prize I do not believe my experience would have been anywhere near as enriching and educational as it has been!