From Barcelona with Love

by Sabrina Raven

 

 Picture1  [Plaza España]

 

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.

Picture2[The Top of Tibidabo Mountain]

 

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.

 

Picture3[Barceloneta Beach]

 

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.

 

Picture4[Inside La Sagrada Familia (Gaudí)]

 

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.

Picture5[Classical Architecture]

 

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!

The Closing Ceremony of the Olympics Game in Rio de Janeiro

By Paige Cornwell

Last year my birthday so happened to fall on the day of the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games. I had been living in São Paulo for about a month by the time my birthday came around, so I decided to go to Rio de Janeiro for my birthday weekend. Two of my SPLAS friends were living in Rio too, so it was comforting knowing I wasn’t going to spend my birthday alone!

 

Picture1 Morning of my birthday on Copacabana

Having been unsuccessful at getting closing ceremony tickets for a few weeks, me and Benjy were expecting a quiet night in watching the ceremony on TV. As you can see from the picture above, it was winter in Rio and my birthday was a cloudy and rainy day – a very different reality to what I had in mind of an all-year sunny and hot Rio.

 

Benjy kept profusely apologising about how my first birthday abroad was turning out to be underwhelming and boring. Sitting in a café in Ipanema, we tried one last time to get closing ceremony tickets at the Maracanã Stadium. By some sort of miracle, the website refreshed and we could buy two tickets for R$100 each (£25)!

Picture2

 

For £25, we had the best seats in the house, about 10 rows from the front – we couldn’t believe it. My cloudy, rainy, uneventful birthday suddenly became one of the most memorable nights of both my year abroad so far.

 

Picture3 The firework display

The closing ceremony was full of all thing carioca (related to the city of Rio de Janeiro) such as Carnaval samba dancing and a medley of Carnaval anthems. It felt like they played the song Cidade Maravilhosa more than three times. For me the highlight of this night was definitely seeing the ‘warm-up’ for Tokyo 2020. I’ll never forget seeing the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe dressed as Mario jumping out of a warp pipe. For my first birthday away from my family and friends back home, it was a birthday I will never forget.

 

In August, I had only been living in Brazil for a few weeks, and so the ‘Brazilianness’ of the closing ceremony did not really resonate with me as much as it does now. As I write this blog post, I have lived in the city of São Paulo for almost seven months and have visited Rio two more times. Thanks to the Edith Baer bursary, I have been able to travel to Rio and many other Brazilian cities and really made the most of my time here in Brazil.

 

 

 

My Experience as an English Language Assistant

By Isabella Kallan

I am currently on my year abroad in Saint Raphael, a small coastal town in the South of France between Saint Tropez and Cannes. I am an English language assistant at two French schools. In order to practice my Spanish on a daily basis, I have chosen to live with a Spanish language assistant, Moises. He is from Venezuela, so some of his Venezuelan slang is rubbing off on me. There is a group of Spanish language Assistants in this area that meet up every so often for celebrations and travelling, which has been an ideal way of practicing my Spanish and discovering this charming part of France. I have been able to explore the French Riviera, visiting lots of small quaint villages, beautiful rocky beaches and vibrant towns such as Nice.

Picture1I wondered through the small narrow streets of rural Nice called Vieille Ville and climbed up to the top of Parc de la Colline to discover the breath taking views and get sprinkled at the fountain. I have also been relishing the French cuisine, which includes their variety of cheeses, their sweet grapes and a plethora of desserts. I also have to point out that the fantastic weather doesn’t hurt!Picture2

I have also been able to travel to other countries in this area. I visited a small town in Italy called Ventimiglia for a daily excursion, to sunbathe under the warm sun and amble through the town. I also went to Monaco, walked to the top of Montecarlo to see the view of the harbour.

Picture3Monte CarloPicture4Begur

During the Christmas break I returned to Jaca, my little cozy Spanish town tucked in the Pyrenees. I went for a few cold hikes in the mountains and enjoyed some hot chocolate and churros. Although it is small, Jaca is a lively town, filled with life in winter and summer. Whenever I go to Spain I always end up in a bar, having a cold caña and some delicious tapas. I also got to spend some quality time with my Spanish childhood friends, who come back to Jaca whenever they can. I then spent a week in Begur, a town an hour north from Barcelona, right by the beach. It is a cute little town, with narrow streets of Moorish architecture. There are some prepossessing neoclassical mansions mixed with contemporary modern houses. I spent hours walking along the coast, soaking in the sun and watching the waves crashing against the rocks. As it is close to Girona, we decided to spend a day in this medieval city, wandering through the small narrow streets in the walled Old Quarter, known as Barri Vell, and visiting the grand Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, featuring Romanesque and Gothic style. I also got to practice my Catalan, which was a little rusty but I was able to ask for directions and order an ice-cream.
It is thanks to the Edith Baer bursary that I have been able to travel as much as I have and really made the most of where I am. I can finally fully enjoy my year abroad and just focus on enjoying every moment.

Volunteering in Columbia

By Peter Hopkins

Colombia is a fantastic country! I highly recommend it. I also recommend taking a break from studying to do something different. Thanks to the SPLAS department I was able to live and work in an orphanage for three and a bit months and it was amazing! The kids were great fun and living with them day to day talking all the time really helped me to improve my Spanish! Having a bursary from King’s is well worth applying for as well. For me it meant that I could do some fun things with the kids like, for example buy some musical instruments for the house and take them to see the football, which was amazing! In Colombia there are fans who dance and sing continuously for the full 90 minutes!

Having a bursary also allowed me to travel more than I would have otherwise. We took some of the teenagers to help out with a medical brigade in a poor town, working with people who’d been displaced by the Colombian conflict. We were able to take more teenagers than planned because I could contribute towards the travel costs out of my bursary money. We had a really great time and a tangible impact on that community!

Another experience I’ll never forget is another medical brigade we did, but this time with a smaller team, and that was to the Wayuu tribe in the far northeast of the country. We slept in hammocks under a canopy of dry cactus and beautifully clear stars, it was really amazing. We got the chance to help the people there as well, they live in a desert so they’re pretty short on food and water. The team I was working with are planning on going back with some engineers later this year to drill a well!

I got the chance to be a bit of a tourist at the end of my trip, although having lived in the country was helpful for knowing how to be a bit savvy and not get ripped off! There is so much to do in some of these South American countries! There is even good surf! Which I got to enjoy on the Caribbean coast. Colombia is great, and I get the impression that some of the surrounding countries are similar! The people are friendly, the food is great (especially if you like rice, beans and tropical fruit) and the landscapes are so varied and beautiful, from desert, to salt flats, to the humongous Andes, to glorious beaches and tropical jungle. Plus, it’s also a part of the world where you can really make a difference! For anyone planning a year abroad it’s definitely worth considering!

Bienvenido a Quito

by Hannah Baynham
Saturday, August 20, 2016
I arrived in Quito on Tuesday 16th August, ready to meet my new family and see my new home. Tired and a bit groggy, I met the lovely Margarita (my host mama) and her daughter, Ana Karina at the airport at 10am our time. They bought me back to the lovely flat where I’ll be staying for the next four months, and made me feel very much at home!

Margarita has two daughters, Ana Karina, who is married with a gorgeous little boy, Rafa, and Macarena who is my age, both super kind and welcoming. The flat is really great, on the 14th floor and at the top of the hill, each window offers super beautiful views across the sprawling city. It is very cosy and I feel very much at home here.

My time in Quito has already been pretty busy, full of meeting new friends and getting to know the area and my new university.

 

On Wednesday, Margarita and one of her fellow host-mum friends took myself and another exchange student to show us our new route to the university. The campus is in a really nice part of town, in Cumbaya, and really very different from what I’m used to at KCL. So much green space and really characterful buildings.

My first day at the university was on Thursday. I went along with my new friend, Natashia, both of us nervous and excited to meet lots of new people. On arrival we saw that there were LOADS of exchange students, in the same position as we were, all new to Quito, excited and nervous to start at the university. That morning we had a lot of introductory talks, all about being safe in Quito, what to do in case of earthquake, about the university, etc etc. It was very long but all very informative. The talks were followed by a big lunch for all exchange students, and was a good chance to get chatting to people and also the “Ecuabuddies” – a buddy system inside the university linking foreign students to Ecuadorians. The Ecuabuddies also gave us a tour of the campus, which was useful although I’m still very certain I’ll be getting lost regardless when I start classes on Tuesday!

Following a very long morning, we were then invited by one of the other host mums to join them on a bus tour of Quito Old Town for the evening.salsa-buddies-at-plaza-foch.

This was great as they took us all around the city, allowing us to see Quito by night, especially from the amazing view point ‘La Virgen de Quito’ on top of El Panecillo. Of course it was also a great opportunity to meet and chat to other exchange students, and I was super happy to meet two fellow Brits, uni of Birmingham students. The tour finished at a traditional Ecuadorian restaurant, selling impressively gigantic empanadas filled with cow intestines. Living the vegetarian dream!!

Yesterday, Friday, was a really great day. Me and two of the Brits I met the night before, Andy and Grace, ventured into Central Quito to take part in a four hour walking tour covering pretty much every inch of Old Town. Despite it being veeerrry long, it was super interesting, and we learnt loads about the history of Quito as well as Quito at present. On finishing that, we went for a typical Ecuadorian ‘almuerzo’ – $2.50 for soup, juice and a main, and we also went to a couple of museums. A pretty great day, although extremely tiring!!

Yesterday evening we treated ourselves to our first night out in Quito. Gringolandia, or La Mariscal seems to be the place to be in Quito for a night out, and it was absolutely packed full of people. There was live music, so lots of dancing in the Plaza Foch, practising our non-existent salsa skills, and of course lots of drinking and enjoying the atmosphere. A great night although definitely am paying for it today!!