September 27, 2004
September 23, 2004
This is a good question. Well, let me give you a brief update on my last week.
Friday, Sept 17th
After class Burak and I went to a really nice gym called LA Fitness. We got free passes from our language school. I don't want to publicly admit this, but it was the first time I worked out in a gym since sometime in July when I left America. I was so happy to run and do weights. Plus they had a sauna (wet and dry). We later learned we can go once for free for each week we went to school at our language school so we plan to go 3 more times for free!
Saturday, Sept 18th
I went shopping in the morning because I was scared I would go hungry all weekend because of the odd hours the shops keep. There is almost nothing open on Sunday. I just need to tell myself I am in a place like Belgium because the hours were very similiar there as well. No American 24/7 places here. Well maybe one or two but that is all and they don't have everything you might need.
Our landlord took Burak to the paint store to buy paint. I cleaned out our room once again and when they returned I took a LSAT while they painted the living room salmon and our room sky blue. It looks awesome! We spent the entire day moving things, painting walls, cleaning up, and then putting our things back into the room. By the evening we were worn out and just rented a movie, Lost in Translation. We watched it with our roommates during dinner. It was a nice relaxing evening to a productive day.
Sunday, Sept 19th
I had already researched a church in the city but for some reason couldn't get my body up. Between being exhausted from the gym, the painting and moving, and the Spanish, my body wasn't cooperating at all. We spent the first few hours awake reading and officially unpacking our suitcases now that the room was painted.
Burak stayed home to prepare for his classes he was going to teach the following week and also his business and law school applications. I finally took up a new friend's offer to listen to reggae on the beach on a Sunday evening. I went to Barceloneta for my first time and tried to figure out where this club was she was talking about. She just said it is the third place right after a figure of boxes. Amazingly enough, I found it. I knew others that would be attending and we all put out towels and sat out near the music for about 4 hours. It was so awesome. I met a guy from San Antonio, Texas that went to UT and majored in Government whose parents are Mexican. Now basically we have all the above in common except my dad is from Missouri. :) Why is it you always meet the people most like yourself in far away places?
Sinead, my new friend, and I went to a magic fountain in Plaza Espana where they have a show of music, colors, and water. It was quite beautiful.
Monday, Sept 20th
I took a LSAT in the morning and had 4 hours of classes in the afternoon. After class, a new friend, Katy, from Texas came over to my place to talk about starting a Texas Exes chapter here. We brainstormed, ate dinner, and hung out with my flat mates. I later emailed out an email to a list of alumni I had received from the headquarters of Texas Exes. We plan to organize a Thirsty Thursday in early October. I already know 4 alumni not including myself here in Barcelona.
Tuesday, Sept 21st
After Spanish classes, Burak and I went to a free class about the Civil War in Spain that was between 1936-1939. Wow! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Just 70 or so years ago Spaniards were killing each other on the land that I am living on. I can't believe how brutal it was. I will write more about this. I really enjoyed the two part class I attended and plan to read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia after the LSAT. I am borrowing it from a friend.
Wednesday, Sept 22nd
I took a LSAT this morning and did better than I had been doing in Spain. I think the Spanish is really slowing down my brain in thinking in English on a complicated standardized test. I went to the internet cafe for 15 minutes because the free wireless connection we receive at home off of someone else's connection has been weak so that is why I haven't written to people much or updated the blog.
Wednesdays are my days to meet up with my new Spanish friend, Annabel. We share one hour in Spanish and one hour in English. We have been meeting at the KFC in the Sagrada Familia for the last two weeks and then venturing to a nearby cafe somewhere to chat. She is really nice and I learn a lot about the city and more about the culture with her. We plan to meet every week from now. I am really happy to actually have a Spanish friend because it might seem weird but living in a city of Spaniards it is easy to just hang out with foreigners. All but one of my flat mates is a foreigner and so are the students at the language school. When I start university it will be different.
Now, in true procrastination fashion, I need to prepare a presentation for my last class tomorrow. It is 11:11pm and I need to translate some info about the Dave Matthews Band and also put together a cool little presentation with music and maybe pictures. I know I might go crazy with this even though probably have the class won't even show up.
September 22, 2004
Faced with criticism that an $18 billion arms offer from Washington is too expensive, the ministry is issuing pamphlets to rally support for the special budget, which has to be approved by lawmakers.
“A cup of pearl milk tea for national security,” the ministry said in a colorful cartoon, which pictured a boy holding a giant plastic cup of tea next to photographs of a submarine, Patriot anti-missiles and submarine-hunting aircraft.
“We can buy top-notch equipment to protect our country (if) everyone drinks one less pearl milk tea every week,” it said.
Pearl milk tea, also known as “bubble tea” is a popular drink containing small white balls of glutinous sago.
Opposition parties have vowed to block the budget, saying the money should be spent on education and welfare. The military says the weapons are vital to counter a build-up by China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary.
“It’s very sad that we have to use the milk tea analogy to seek support for the arms purchase,” Defense Minister Lee Jye told parliament. “But we hope to use the simplest terms to tell people the arms budget is not too big.”
September 16, 2004
In Spanish to be (estar) constipado means to have a cold or 'constipado' is a cold. My new Spanish friend emailed me this last week about how she was so constipated she couldn't talk at work. What I told her today when we met up for the first time is that in English to be constipated is something other than having a cold. She realized this error and laughed a lot when she figured out what she had told me.
I still have my cold and I think it has turned into a sinus infection on my right side. I don't have any more American medicine like Nyquil or Alcasezer (sp) Cold and Flu and I don't know if this Spanish medicine is strong at all. The weather is getting much colder and I am going to have to quit wearing shorts. At night our room gets really cold and I am underneath a bundle of blankets.
Between the changing weather, the stress of change, and the AC in my classroom 4 hours a day my cold has resisted any form of healing.
My health shall resume again one day! I will keep you posted.
September 12, 2004
I asked about websites here in Barcelona when I arrived to find places to live, furniture, people interested in language exchange, and also jobs for my husband, Burak.
Just in case there is anyone in the same predicament, I have found out about the following sites:
All sites include classifieds ranging from work needed, apartments available, and people in search of language exchange.
I find my place I live in right now from the first website. I have already inqueried about used furniture and currently plan to meet up this week with someone I met that wants to exchange English for Spanish.
There are also many ads for places to hang out, cinema, theatre, and upcoming events. With so much going on in this town, it is almost too overwhelming. I feel like I have barely done anything in the last two weeks in terms of going out. But in reality, I have been settling in with a place, registering to school, taking Spanish classes, and now buying furniture for my new place. We have gone out several times but I know we have just scratched the surface of the night/cultural life.
At 3pm, we decided to get serious or well, Burak decided to get out of bed, and we started to really pack up our 5 suitcases and many random pieces of things into a series of about 10 grocery bags. We called our new landlord/flat mate and asked if we could move in at 5pm instead of 10:30pm like we previously arranged. He agreed on short notice and now our only task was to take all our luggage 5 floors of stairs (with no elevator/lift I remind you) and find a van taxi to take us all in one trip.
The taking our things DOWN the stairs was not as bad as taking them UP the stairs two weeks ago. We even had help from a flat mate. Then we called the taxi service. They told us a van taxi was on its way. We waited outside with our things. We looked like a mix between homeless people with all the groceries bags and tourists stuck out in the middle of the street.
Well, I knew it was a Catalonian holiday on September 11th but I wasn't sure how serious they were about celebrating it. I noticed flags up on many of the balconies as I waited for a taxi. Then we got a text message on Burak's cell saying that there were no van taxis available but they would try again in a couple of minutes. I had to use a dictionary to read the entire text because there were a few words and I didn't know and at the same time we were about 15 minutes from our meeting time with our new landlord, David.
I called the service again and learned that no van taxis are available because of the holiday but they could send a normal one. Ok, I thought..what other alternative do I have anyway besides hiring two taxis. Burak was on Las Ramblas trying to flag down a van taxi.
Finally our regular car taxi showed up and he looked at our luggage with an expression of doubt. I asked if we could put it all in and he said, 'Lets see.' We started loading it all in. Two huge suitcases in the truck, 1 in the backseat, 1 in the front seat, and then bags filling all the cracks between the suitcases. Burak and I were the only things left to have to get in. With our bodies covered in sweat from the 83% humidity that day and the heat coupled with the lifting, we squeezed into one seat in the back half on top of each other with our legs scattered where ever we could find room. And we were off........
We arrived in about 6 minutes since our old and new places are not far apart. You always get charged about 1-2 euro per suitcase for luggage in a taxi even if the taxi cab driver doesn't appear to touch some of the pieces. For that 5 min drive we were charged 15 plus euro. I gave him 17 just get it over with since David was there helping take our stuff out of the taxi and get us moved in. The taxi cab driver was happy and said thank you for the tip. One note of observation: The tipping etiquette in America is not the same here in Spain. Most service people are accustomed to no or very little tip. I will research this one a little bit more but I have read and heard about this. I felt happy to make him happy but at the same time the American rules inside of me felt bad to only 'tip' him about 1.5 euros for his work. But it was a tough call because he sort of already added his tip with the crazy price per piece of luggage. But on another hand, I moved from one flat to another for only 17 euro!
David helped move us in our new place. We had this very small antiquated elevator to take up our biggest pieces of luggage. With 4 people helping, we were moved in in no time. He showed Burak around for the first time and it was a good to check out the place once more since last week. The kitchen and bathrooms looked so much better than I remembered them last week. They were cleaner and had more lighting that in the pictures on my website.
We learned that our new flat consisted of two German girls, one Canadian ballet dancer, once Italian guy, the Spanish landlord, and then us two Americans. Everyone seemed nice. We still didn't meet the ballet dancer though and we are curious if he is the French or the English speaking type.
So unlike in America where I would have to have had a credit check and paid a huge deposit, we had no credit check and the deposit on the room was only 180 or a half of a month's rent. We are paying 360 for two people to live in a room in a shared apartment with all the water, electricity, and gas included. This is an absolute steal compared to everything I have heard in the city. Plus, I have this huge window that I am working beneath at this moment and have a nice view of the apartment across the street and a neighbor putting her laundry out to dry.
We had all our things in the room and then started to move the furniture around. We moved the beds together and discovered that one wall is not perpendicular to its other walls or in other words the corner we want to put the beds in does not have a 90 degree angle. How is this possible we wonder? Oh well, is our response.
Then we began to discover major dust everywhere! So we decided to evacuate the room of all our things and sweep and mop this place as it has not been cleaned for many moons.
So as seen in the photos of my website of the room, there were several pieces of furniture in the room for us to use. Yesterday I was dreaming of very cute room filled with IKEA furniture in every corner and now I have mix and matched pieces from a garage sale, nothing like my vision. We planned to go to IKEA on the day of the move, but then we learned it was close due to the holiday so we decided to just take out what we needed from our things and then we would go on Sunday.
After loading and unloading a taxi, loading and unloading our room, cleaning and rearranging furniture, and then reloading our room, we were quite exhausted to say the least. We cleaned up and enjoyed our new shower/bathtub. It was the first shower we enjoyed in the last two weeks after having to use that small portal at our last place. We then went out to a local place that happened to be open on the holiday. We ate sandwiches, had an order of olives, and drank a 1.5 liter of water all for about 8 plus euros. Life was going to be cheaper farther away from the touristy Las Ramblas.
It began to rain hard as we left the restaurant and walked a couple of blocks to the Sagrada Famila. Burak saw it for the first time. It is amazing that we are going to be living just a couple of blocks from an attraction people come all over the world to see. It is quite a site.
We had plans earlier that day to go out at night and meet up with these people at their flat before they headed out to a club. Luckily they lived only about 7 blocks from us so we had a nice stroll minus the rain.
At the flat, on the 6th floor, we had a beautiful view of the lightning in the sky and a wonderful fresh breeze. We hung out with mostly 3 English girls, an Irish girl, and a Spanish guy and then a mix of French, Italian, and Belgian came. There were three languages flowing around the room. I felt bad for Burak who doesn't know French or much Spanish. For me it was just really cool to hear things and understand them, but not really care as to what language it was.
But before long this new group left and we were back to speaking English. It was a lot of fun and we learned about where Burak could find teaching jobs and how much would be appropriate to charge for tutoring. How the average Spanish income per person is about 800-1200 euro per month. We heard that once a Spanish person finds a job that gives them a set income in the above range, they are happy and set to enjoy their free time. It reminds me of Belgium where they only work enough to enjoy life but in America where we seem to live to work. It was interesting hearing the observations of foreigners in Barcelona after they had lived in the city for a few years.
We had arrived at 10:30 pm and somehow it was about 2:00am or so. They decided if they didn't leave then, they would never get to the club. We figured going home now would help us get to IKEA the next day on time. With the rain gone, we slowly walked back home and crashed into our new beds not caring that we had no pillow nor sheets nor blankets. We were tired.
September 11, 2004
There are usually 4 meals in the day. A light breakfast between eight and ten, if you are up around that time. Then lunch is between two and three. Then this results in dinner's being later. There is usually a snack sometime between lunch and dinner. Few people have dinner before nine, and it is not uncommon, even on weekdays, to have dinner after eleven. My books says that all meals are quite heavy especially lunch. The lightest and most unsubstantial is, unlike in other countries, breakfast.
We turned the class into a soley conversation class which is always fun because then you are forced to speak, express yourself, and also learn some interesting things at the same time. We talked about politics in our own countries (we had an Italian, Swiss, Swede, and American for students with a Spaniard as our teacher).
Then we were asked what shocked us as we arrived to Barcelona and Spain in general for the first time.
One thing I said was that Barcelona seemed very liberal and to have a lot of hippy-looking people. Everyone agreed. Actually, our teacher explained that recently in Barcelona voted in a more liberal government.
In fact, he said, they a new law was enacted this last Thursday that said it was LEGAL to be nude in public places. My teacher even said he saw someone walking nude down the street on Thursday. I was just thinking about how in America, walking around nude in public places is called "indecent exposure" and can get you a fine or jail time. Interesting.
When I lived in Belgium for a year there was no need for AC.
When I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the city of eternal spring, there was a need for AC but there was no AC in private homes. Coming from Texas, I had a hard time adjusting to no AC in my room. We had a fan but my roommate couldn't sleep with the fan on but I couldn't sleep without it on. Anyway, it was so hot during the day that you just wanted to go home and sleep. I would sleep for a while but then would wake up after a couple of hours and realize I was sweating in my bed and that I had to get up, take a cold shower, and get to school before my brain fried anymore. You see, my university had AC.
It was actually ironic that I WANTED to go to school not for the learning but for the AC and I would often camp out there a long time in the internet room just to beat the heat and not be too lazy.
I lived in Turkey this summer without AC. In most cases just opening your window and letting the fresh air in was good enough. Sometimes, we had to turn on the fan that we bought when we arrived just to get a breeze. I actually got accustomed to no AC.
Then we moved to Barcelona. Well I should have realized that almost anytime you live near a beach in a hot place (like Houston year round or DC in the summer), you are going to be living with massive humidity. Oh yes, that is what we have here - Humidity with a capital 'H'.
Burak and I sleep with our room doors open to the rest of the flat just to get some 'fresh air' (because our window to the balcony faces the street which produces noise all day up until about 4 am). When we walk up the 4 or 5 flights of stairs at our language school, we are always sweating from the heat and humidity. I am basically sweating everytime I walk out my door. I never use concealer (makeup) because it would sweat off like oil running off water. I almost don't even use my powder makeup on my face because I am constantly sweating it off as well.
Oh so yes, I sweat a lot here. But the main reason I wanted to bring up the AC issue was because of my 2 week long cold.
At my language school, they have AC in the rooms to keep us motivated and awake. It serves a good purpose. But it is actually the only time when anyone comes into contact with AC for a long period of time while living here and actually causes many colds. Many people are sick or fighting off a cold but the alternative of turning off the AC produces this environment that makes you want to fall asleep.
Anyway, I hope my cold goes away sometime. This is quite peculiar.
I truly believe that there is a correlation between the places that are naturally hot and do not have AC in their lives with apathy and general low productivity levels as seen in their culture. Then in the places with AC or that don't need AC because it is not hot, have an increased drive to be more productive.
It almost reminds me of the invention of electricity and its affect on mass productivity. Before we had electricity and light beyond the time when the sun shared its rays with us, we could only work and produce during sunlight. Now with electricity and the light bulb, we can work 24/7 if we wanted to. It dramatically changed the way the world worked and in a way exponentially increased productivity. We were no longer dependent on the sun's time frame.
I parallel this with AC and the temperature of our homes. If we could function with a stable, comfortable environment that is not too hot keeping us from being tired and lazy, then we could be functioning at a peak level all the time and we wouldn't have to take an afternoon nap just because the sun's heat is at its highest.
I was asked Friday in my language class, how do we survive in Texas with the heat. I told them that everyone has AC (for the most part this is very true) and that I was sort of shocked that they didn't have it in houses in Spain. My Spanish teacher then added that many elderly people die of the heat especially in the South of Spain. This is why I am shocked. AC exists so why not evolve and put it in the home? He said it was a matter of money. It is a tough issue I guess.
In a way, a Texan could not fathom living without AC but yet it is the default not to have it in the home in many places in the world. It could be an issue of money, an issue of culture, and/or an issue of infrastructure.
It appears to me that the culture is extremely affected by the heat and its effect on the body in places that are hot and do not have AC in the homes. This might seem simple or it might seem dumb for me to bring up but I am quite curious as to whether there is a study on how heat affects the culture.
On the flip side, productivity is not everything. Everytime you mention heat in terms of Europe, people talk about how the culture of southern Europe is so much more friendly and jovial probably because of the good weather or sun exposure they get. While in northern Europe where the sun doesn't shine as often and it can be rainy, foggy, and depressing, they are usually a bit more cold and there are a lot of suicides. Of course this is a generalization and how do you really measure this, but it is interesting to think about.
Let me start this tema or topic by covering the definition:
bu·reauc·ra·cy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (by-rkr-s)n. pl. bu·reauc·ra·cies
Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures: The new department head did not know much about bureaucracy.
The administrative structure of a large or complex organization: a midlevel manager in a corporate bureaucracy.
An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action: innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.
I went to my university my first week of arrival in Barcelona and learned that I had to matriculate/enroll before I could get my international student card. Then I had to take the 30 min train back home and prepared to return back later the next week.
This Monday, I returned for my second trip. I got in line at my new Department's offices (Sociology and Political Science Dept.) that is only open from 10am-1pm through this process. Once I got to the front of the line, I learned how much I had to pay for my first semester's tuition. I promptly took out my credit card, (Even though my scholarship money had not come in yet, I wanted to speed up the process so I decided to pay on my own because I would receive the money soon anyway.) and then was told I could not pay with credit card at this location BUT had to go to the bank on campus to pay and then return to the office to prove that I had paid.
Ah! Ok, this can't be bad but it was already 12:55pm and my department was about to close. I ran to the bank on campus about a 5 minute walk and I got in line. There just happened to be about three Japanese students holding up the line having communication problems and the rest of the Spainards were waiting in line to pay their tuition as well. I could see the frustration from the bank teller trying to speak Spanish to the foreign student and then reverting to English before back to Spanish. In the end I don't think the student understood what was going on. I only overheard parts of the conversation and was dead set on getting back to my department before they went to lunch.
So I waited in line. I was right after the Japanese student for the bank teller that was struggling to communicate to the student. I could tell when I spoke my first word of Spanish she could hear my foreign accent and was probably dreading another similiar frustrating conversation. Well as it turns out, I was at the right place but I had to pay with a bank card or with cash. I didn't know if I had enough money in my checking account on my bank card and surely didn't have 1000 euros of cash on me. So, I left the bank and figured I would have to wait until another day.
I went to the international office to ask a couple of questions. I learned that I had to pay my tuition to finalize my enrollment to get my international student card to be able to go to a local police station in Barcelona and extend my student visa beyond 3 months as well as obtain my NIE, or the foreign identity number. So, I was waiting on the scholarship money to continue this entire process to be able to stay in the country.
I went home and later checked out the classes I had signed up for back in April when I first contacted the school. I realized there were much better courses out there and there were conflicts with the previous courses. I poured over the schedules and made a new course list for my return to the unversity.
I received my scholarship money on Wednesday, September 8th, so I knew I could go back to the university. I chose to return on Friday and prepared to arrive earlier so that I could finish in time.
Basically this went on forever. I waited in line and then they asked me why I wanted to change my classes. Well, first of all it is my scholarship money paying for the courses I am interested in and also why can't I change? Anyway they said I could change but they wouldn't let me take the courses in the morning like the schedule I had planned and instead only in the afternoon. So, I had to go back to the drawing boarda and check which courses would work well together and not conflict.
By the time I figured this out, the line was about 10 people long and there was only one person handling the students at a time. I ended up waiting for an hour in that line in total. Finally they helped me. There is something else to complicate this mess - I am not a Erasmus, i.e. European, student but a visiting student (from America). There are different prices and rules for Erasmus and visiting students. They aren't used to my type. There are not many if any at all Americans at my university.
So, they reconfigure my tuition, rewrite the forms, stamp several sheets, make copies, and then I am sent off to the bank again. This there were was a short line and I paid without a problem. I ran back to the Department's office and just happen to see the lady, Sara, who has been soooooo helpful to me this entire several month process, about to walk into the restroom. It was already their lunch time but she saw me and took my proof that I paid and told me that the form I had from the bank was proof enough that I paid and could now register through the international office.
Yes! Well I had to run to the photo machine to get passport sized photos for my id card and this took a couple of minutes. Then I ran to the international office that was even farther than the bank. I run in with 5 minutes to spare before they close.
After a couple of people cut in front, what language am I supposed to say - excuse me in anyway?, I get helped. Well, as a unique, non-Erasmus student, the guy at the desk had to stare at my paperwork for a couple of minutes before asking someone else what to do with me.
He then told me he needed a copy of the form that proved I paid. I said ok just go ahead and make one. No problem. Then he told me as he pointed to a copy store on campus that I needed to go to the copy place and make one copy for him to prove that I paid for my tuition. (Now you see, the Erasmus students don't have this problem of having to pay the department before enrolling but just visiting students like me.) And then, with 2 minutes to spare before they closed and the fact that I had origionally arrived at the international office 9 days ago to start this entire process and this was the 3rd time for me to be there without anything happening, I blurted out, 'Oh, God!' I know this was wrong but I think it was a moment of weakness where the pressure of finishing this entire paperwork process had gotten to me - not to mention the 30 plus degrees (C) with intense humidity unlike any other day.
The man aiding the man that was helping me heard me and told the man assisting me to just make a copy in the office. You see, there was a copy machine in the office just 10 feet away from me in fact. He made the copy and returned to me. He gave me my form back and then lots of goodies for the new students. He then said, " Come back Monday to pick up your ID card." Oh darn, I thought. It takes me 35 min one way just to get here and I am going to have to come back Monday just for this card? Of course this is the card that I need to go and get my NIE.
I tried to plead with him - I live so far away can't I just wait for it today? No, appeared to be the final answer. I asked for the free backpack all the students received but he told me that I couldn't receive that until I got my student ID card on Monday. Funny, how they give you books, folders, maps, etc. but they can't give you the backpack to carry the goods unless it accompanies the student ID.
So, when I share this story with other Spaniards or others who have lived in Spain for a while, they just laugh, smile, and knod and share with me their sympathy. This is typical of Spain and is worse in other cities and regions. "Just wait until you go through the process to get your NIE," a vetran foreigner in Barcelona told me, "you haven't seen bureaucracy yet."
Well, I have a feeling that scene in the movie will be echoing throughout my next year because my university is in the heart of Catalonia and most of the forms and signs are in Catalan. They even offer a free course to foreign students and give you a Catalan-English dictionary when you enroll at the International Office.
So I am really curious how this is going to work out. My Castillian has been improving over time and that is the one I had to prove that I spoke to come and live in Barcelona. I can read Catalan signs becuase the language reads like a mix between Spanish and French. But then I heard someone say that it doesn't sound like how it reads.
Anyway, I figure I will pick it up and that I will probably gain an understanding of the language even if I don't know how to write it nor learn the grammar. At least I can write my exams and papers in Castillian if I want to for school so that will be nice!
September 7, 2004
I flew in on a Sunday, had a cell phone by Wednesday night, and starting searching online by Thursday morning for an apartment.
Now, lets go back in history a couple of years to set up the situation. I lived in a dorm room for one academic year in college with another student (who actually became an awesome life-long friend). Then I moved into a 2-2 apartment with my own room and bathroom. Then I lived in a 1-1 apartment with my husband in Austin and then when we moved to DC, we could afford a studio apartment which was hundreds more than our last place in Austin, Texas.
When we planned to live in Barcelona, we dreamt of our own studio where we could host guest occasionally and have our privacy.
When I arrived on Sunday and started talking to people that lived in the city and soon my dream of a studio quickly vanished. Instead of my own apartment, I was going to be searching for a ROOM/HABITACION in a shared apartment/flat/piso.
Now we are currently living in a room in a shared flat and we luckily have really cool flat mates. As soon as I realized we would be living in one room in a shared flat for the rest of the year, I started to prepare myself for a new way of life.
Burak joked about the irony of the situation. The older, maturer, and supposedly more financially secure we get, the smaller our place appears to be. We went from a 1-1 apartment to a studio and now, to a ROOM! :) But oh well, when in Rome, you must live like the Romans. Or however that annoying quote goes. (Just kidding)
Anyway, I then had a problem of finding a place that would allow two people to share the room. When I said that it wouldn't be a problem for my husband and I to share a room, they would tell me that the room was too small for two people.
to be continued....
At my school, the administration offices are open from 10am to 1pm and then again from 4pm to 6pm. If that is always the case, they only work about 25 hours a week? Maybe there are some extra hours in there somewhere.
The internet cafe across the street doesn't seem to have any set hours. I just look out the window to see if it is open every other hour or so.
So they arrive to work around 9-10am and then work for a few hours. Then by 1-2pm people take a long lunch break. I think most people try to go home for this extended break. That makes me think that most people must live very close to their work. (Which isn't always the case in America.) Then they return around 4-5pm and stay open for a couple more hours. Most stores close up shop by 8-9pm. Apparently then the dinner time is from 9-10pm and then people might go out for the night.
I went out with people I met in the city to local restuarants and bars and walked home at a meager 3am and the major central street, Las Ramblas, was full of people as if it was day. Isn't unheard of for people to be coming home around 6 or 8am.
I even heard of these bars called 'The Afters,' that are open past 4am but you have to know where they are and knock on the closed door to get in.
After one week here, I am already going to bed at 2am and struggling to wake around 10:30am. Good thing I don't have classes until 3pm, but it really changes your concept of a day living like this.
I am here in Barcelona on a Rotary Ambassadorial Academic-Year scholarship being sponsored by the South Austin Rotary Club. My website has more information about the scholarship if you know anyone that might be interested. http://www.powersprep.com/rubypowers
Burak and I arrived at the airport with 5 huge suitcases and 3 backpacks. (We had to pay Turkish Airlines more than $100 just because we were about 100 kilos over the weight limit.) We waited around for a van taxi for our large load at the Barcelona airport, but we couldn’t find one.
And then, out of the blue, a taxi driver in a small 4 door car agreed to take us. He somehow filled his small car with all our luggage and we didn’t even have to sit on each other’s laps. (Just a few hours earlier, we hired 2 taxis to take our luggage to the Istanbul airport.) Not only was he a trooper, he was very nice. He talked to Burak about The Simpsons and told us where we absolutely have to visit in his city.
We quickly picked up the keys to our new apartment for the next two weeks from our language school and headed to our new place. We knew it was on the second floor but we didn’t realize that meant it would be 4 floors above the street level! Without an elevator, Burak and I developed new muscles carrying the 100 plus kilos of our luggage up all those stairs.
We took breaks in-between suitcases and took advantage of the break time to get to know our new flat mates. We were going to share our flat with one German guy, one Irish girl, and one Scottish girl. It is a 6-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms, several small balconies, a kitchen, and a living area. It is just two blocks from Las Ramblas, a very beautiful and now touristy center street in the city. The next week the apartment gained two Swedish girls and one French girl. We now have about seven nationalities represented in a 6 bedroom flat.
We started language classes on Monday morning at 8am. My classes are paid for by my scholarship and we are paying for Burak’s classes on our own to help him break into the language. It is a great way to meet other people in the city and to improve our Spanish skills. I took a placement exam at 8am and was quickly placed in an advanced course. It was going to be a challenge to remember all the grammar from just two years ago when I lived in Mexico.
We asked for afternoon classes so that I could study LSAT in the mornings. On a typical morning, I study LSAT or do something that is necessary to settle into the city. In the afternoons from 3-7pm, I am in class where I learn new grammar rules and use a lot of the time to converse.
Every evening we have been hanging out with people we have met, roaming around the city, or doing something to check off our list of things we had to do once we arrived. I enjoy just getting lost in the small crooked streets or looking up at all the gorgeous architecture of the huge buildings. It might sound silly, but part of the reason I chose Spain was for its architecture.
I am taking the LSAT October 2nd in Madrid and use my extra time to take practice tests. My university doesn’t start until September 27th so it will work out really well.
I have met up with one Rotary scholar so far who is traveling around on his way to Salamanca. I am excited to go to the country-wide Rotary Scholar seminar on September 26th in Madrid to meet other scholars going through the same process and to learn more about Spain.
In terms of getting settled, I am quite amazed how easy it is to move into a new country. In one week, I had obtained a mobile phone, bank account, an apartment for the year in addition to checking out my new university and finishing one week of language courses.
This week I already have several plans. I am having my hair done by an Austrian classmate on Tuesday. I am going to a Brazilian party on Wednesday. My flat mates plan to go out for traditional Spanish tapas on Thursday. Friday night our school has a free culture class on Spanish wine. Saturday we plan to move into our room in our new flat. In my free time I am going to study LSAT.
When we first arrived I asked many questions to anyone in the city that knew how to find a place to live. I thought I was going to be able to find a studio to live in for the year but soon realized that the cost of living was higher than I expected and that we would more than likely be living in a room in a shared flat with others. In addition, in Barcelona, people live in relatively apartments and so the outdoors and the local cafes/bars become their living rooms. This was one of the first culture shocks that I experienced in my new home.
As soon as I got a cell phone, I was able to start searching for places. After finding a good updated website, I called about several ads in the area while I was trying to keep in mind my daily commute to school and how far we would be living from the center of the city. (As a side note, the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona is not really in Barcelona but actually probably 20 km outside and about a 30 train ride from the center of the city.)
I agreed to take the first place I found. It allowed double occupancy, it was close to the center of the city, and was just 4 blocks from Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. We will be sharing a room in a flat with a German girl, Italian guy, and one other person yet to rent the extra room. It will cost a total of only 360 euros, which I hear is a bargain for two people.
Our lives will probably be a version of The Spanish Apartment, a French film about a French Erasmus student who lives in Barcelona for a year in an apartment with people of several nationalities. We own the DVD of the film and have watched it at least 7 times so far including last week.
At our flat, we had Germans, Norwegians, Scottish, Swiss, Austrians, Americans, and British watching the movie. With the film made in French with some Spanish and English, we decided the best way to view the movie was in the original form with English subtitles. Good thing most of them knew English enough to read the subtitles. It was a unique dilemma to experience.
I went to my university today to enroll. I will be working on a Masters in political science and international relations at UAB. It is quite an experience to go to the school where everything is in Catalan. (The Spanish that is most commonly spoken is Castilian.) Luckily, Catalan reads a lot like French (I lived in the French part of Belgium) and Spanish. Apparently it doesn’t sound like French though.
There are a few people at my school that have taken me under their wing and have been helping me through the enrollment process. Walking through the campus I realize that it is like my first day of school all over again but at the age of 23 this time. I don’t really know anyone on campus and eventually want to fit in. I am taking notes on what the student wear, how the girls fix their hair, and what bags they use to carry their books. I plan to do some shopping before school starts to try to blend in and try to make some Spanish friends.
I am waiting for my scholarship money to arrive to pay my tuition to get my international student card to get my national identity card to be able to live in the country past my visa’s expiration. The bureaucracy might annoy others but I think it is just sort of funny. Additionally, I worked on Capitol Hill for a little while so I know bureaucracy exists all around the world.
I have been fighting off a cold this last week. It has been raining here off and on and it has been quite humid. I have been living without air conditioning for 2 months and I think the AC in my language classes has been affected my health. I am getting better though.
I am waiting to hear about my hosting Rotary club and my Rotary counselor. I look forward to getting involved in the club.
I also met a fellow UT longhorn in my class and we plan to start a Texas Exes in Barcelona. That will be a great way to meet others in the city.
I want to get involved in the community through community service but also through guitar, cooking, and/or dance lessons. It will be a great way to meet natives and really learn the language and the culture.
I could probably write more but I just wanted to get a note out about my first days here in Barcelona. I have been looking forward to this for 4 years since the first moment I came to the city for a few days. I am really happy to have the chance to live here.
If you want a postcard, send me one from where you are from and also email me your address. I am planning to make a wall collage with all the postcards that I receive.