25 October 2010

Late News

Due to an extremely unfortunate two-week internet outage in my apartment, I have not been able to upload this post from 10 October until now. Enjoy a little belated update:

Today it’s raining in Barcelona, the first time a shining blue sky has not greeted me. I’m ready to stay inside, though, since I have a lot of class reading to work on. My four classes for the next several weeks are Bilingualism and Multilingualism, Research Methods, Tools for Quantitative Analysis (statistics), and Crosslinguistic Influence. Most require me to read and comment on articles in the field of second language acquisition, and some will involve projects like reporting on the linguistic profile of my home country, designing a research project in bilingual studies, and using a data analysis program.
I also began Spanish classes on Wednesday, taking a forty-hour intensive that puts me with other international students. It’s a helpful forum for asking grammatical questions that bug me in my everyday speech, the equivalent of asking the difference between since and as. My Spanish is functional and even better sometimes, but the classes will help me with vocabulary, comprehension, and definitely the subjunctive verb tense. (In English this would be, “If I were you…” and in Spanish it’s rampant.)
Although I just began classes, this weekend is a welcome five-day breather. Tuesday is a national holiday celebrating Spanish culture, although it seems some nationalist groups abuse the day to downplay regional cultures, a very contentious issue here in Catalunya. Many of the customs we think of as Spanish, such as flamenco dancing, bull-fighting, and ¡Olé! in fact reference Madrid’s Aragón and southern Andalucia. They’re not indigenous to Catalunya, whose regional dance is called sardanas and involves circles of hand-holding jiggers. The Sunday I visited Park Güell, I met some on the Passeig de Sant Joan. Another Catalunyan tradition is castellers, or human pyramids, which I have yet to happen upon.
Speaking of traditions, the Rotary clubs in the Barcelona district have a spectacular fundraising tradition for Rotary’s campaign to eradicate polio worldwide. Every year, the clubs have a blind tasting of cava, Catalunyan sparkling wine. The winner boasts the Rotary symbol, and a euro from each bottle sold is donated to the campaign. Last year the district raised over 13,000 euros from sales, and this year’s winner was announced on Friday at the reception and check-presentation ceremony. We four scholars in the district were invited to attend and enjoyed cava, pan amb tomate (bread rubbed with tomato and salted, also a Catalunyan specialty), and smoked ham jamón serrano while meeting the district governor and young Rotarians.
And from today, 25 October:
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go to Berlin for the wedding of Susi and Nathan, two dear friends of mine. Susi taught German last year in the same high school in Brittany where I worked. Nathan is originally from Virginia and writes, plays, produces and records music. He sang a song he wrote for Susi at the reception, then we danced the night away to the 80's music most Germans adore. Also during the weekend I visited the German History Museum and its new exhibit on Hitler and German society, which portrays the build-up of Hitler's persona as an expression of societal desires of the time. Sunday was a perfect fall day to spend in Berlin's largest park, visiting segments of the Berlin wall, and eating a warm and filling German dinner. And now, back to Barcelona.

05 October 2010

A Spanish Life

Since many of you have not visited Barcelona, you may wonder what daily life is like here. Although my life as a foreigner and student may differ from that of most working Spaniards, this week is my best chance to establish a routine. For those of you who have followed my writing some, it might also be helpful for me to compare life here with other places I’ve lived abroad.

First let’s talk schedules. It’s true that if you live as Spaniards do, you will burn the candle at both ends—and rarely does the post-lunch pause actually mean having a siesta. Some stores open at 8:00am, most at 9:00, and some university offices at 10:00. I’ve heard of workers taking breaks for breakfast while at work, although I don’t know how common this is, although coffee breaks are rampant. Shops stay open until 2:00pm, and generally this is the most productive part of the day. Whether it’s for enrollment, bureaucracy, or shopping, my errands aim for the morning. Then I return home at 3:00 for la comida, the main meal of the day. My roommates, two wonderful Spanish girls, usually return home from classes at this point and we eat heartily and leave the table slowly. Businesses then reopen at 4:00 and most stay open until 8:00. I have evening classes between 6:00 and 9:00, and then I make the twenty minute walk back home to eat la cena, a lighter dinner meal, sometimes leftovers. We gradually move from eating to talking to homework for the rest of the evening, and bedtimes are late. World-renowned Spanish nightlife doesn’t start until midnight and often ends around 6:00am, when everyone comes back to have churros con chocolate. On Sundays stores stay closed and everyone takes a paseo, a stroll, around the parks and down the popular avenues.

As for language, I’m learning. People speak both Castilian Spanish and Catalan, a similar Latin-based language that has made a significant comeback since it was outlawed under the dictatorship of Franco, 1936-1975. In comparison with my past observations of Alsatian and Breton, regional languages in France, the regional language here has retained and even cemented its role in administration, education, and media. Public schools teach only Catalan and classes at the university may be offered in both languages; if you don’t speak it, Catalan language classes are offered free of charge. My roommates speak to each other and their friends in Catalan, so I’m looking forward to taking classes at the end of this semester. For now I’m focusing on Spanish, although all my Masters courses are taught in English. Although I’m not aiming for total immersion as I did while studying in Strasbourg, language intensives will help me move beyond the functional Spanish I speak now. Classes start tomorrow, 11:30am-1:00pm.

School and home life: I live much now as I did last year in Pontivy, France. It’s an academic life, with all the benefits of the academic schedule and calendar. I love being back in the student seat and thoroughly enjoy the Masters cohort I’ve fallen in with: Spanish students, young multilinguals from Belgium, Finnish-Brazilian couples, two culture kids, and a few of us Anglophones. My class last night on bilingualism could not have benefited more from this mixture, debating questions like: What is a mother tongue? What counts as bilingual? Do balanced bilinguals exist? What is “native speakerness,” and until what age can it be acquired? How is what you speak associated with who you’re speaking to, where, when, and why? I love being a part of these discussions. And then I come home to a living language lab! I question my roommates relentlessly about their Catalan, education, use, words, and more. I would love to study how reinforcing Catalan has affected speakers’ knowledge of Spanish and their use of both languages. The city is like a never-ending experiment rolled out before me, day after sunny day.

That’s why I came to Barcelona.

02 October 2010


I have been in Barcelona for one week now, and what a long week it has been. First, let me tell you of my arrival: I have worn out my beginner’s luck with travel. On the flight from Chicago to London, one of the passengers became very sick (in fact was having a heart attack) and we changed routes and landed in Boston to have him hospitalized. The delay caused me to miss my connecting flight in London, which may have been the most ill-timed mishap in all of flying history. Usually there are several flights daily to Barcelona from Heathrow airport, but I happened to be flying on day 7 of a French air traffic control strike. Ah the French, I think of them constantly. And I thought of them constantly during eleven hours of being on standby in Heathrow, hoping for just one flight to go through with a seat for me. I finally boarded a flight at 7pm, arriving Barcelona at 11pm, glad to be in Spain…but without my bag.

I logged my missed bag and made it to my hostel. Fortunately I was staying at the hostel where I had stayed a few years ago, so I knew my way around and was glad to see a familiar place. The staff were extremely helpful, but informed me that since the next day was a holiday (the festival of the Mercè, Barcelona’s patron saint), all the shops would be closed. So here’s to living out of a carry on bag! My bag did show up the following evening, late, and fortunately that day I’d made contact with Natalie, another Rotary scholar from Texas.

I stayed on Natalie’s couch for a few days while letting her show me around, help me get a phone, and look at apartments. Can I say she has become my patron saint? We also went out to some of the performance stages, because really the Mercè is a great time to arrive in Barcelona. And the weather has been beautiful, sunny and 70-75 degrees.

On Sunday I visited an apartment rented by Anna and Luz, two girls from Girona (a town an hour outside Barcelona) who are studying here and who just moved in themselves. Something about their new paint job (my room has a bright lime green wall) and friendly faces drew me in, and I came back later that day for la cena. La cena is dinner, but eaten later around 9 or 10pm, and is a lighter meal than la comida, the midday meal around 3pm. I really enjoyed their company and have ever since Tuesday when I moved in.

Since then it has been a whirlwind of paperwork and visits. All of my documents are in to the Universitat de Barcelona, waiting for the Rector’s final approval. On Monday I had a meeting for my masters program (Applied Linguistics and Language Acquisition in Multilingual Contexts) and am deciding which electives to choose so I can register next week when classes begin. I am now an official resident of Barcelona, although I need one more paper to go wait at the foreigners’ office to become an official year-long visitor to Spain. I’ve visited several of Barcelona’s main attractions, taking advantage of my free time this week. One of the attractions happens to be my university:

And today I attended my first event with my host Rotary club, arriving just in time for the district’s group meal out at a farm in the countryside. It felt great to leave the city and see the mountains, meet my Rotary sponsor Pilar and other members of the local club. I’m excited to present at a club meeting, which should be coming up here soon.