September 7, 2004

My first week in Barcelona - Settling In

I arrived in Barcelona on August 29th, just one week ago, and it has been a marvelous experience ever since.

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.

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.

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