My Study Abroad Experience

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Barcelona, Spain is somewhere I never thought I would have the chance to go to. But when I learned of CEA and their program here, I had to take advantage. I have always wanted to study abroad but I never knew where and once I was presented with this opportunity, I was over the moon. I always knew it would be an amazing experience, but I never thought it would compare to this. To sum up what this experience has entailed would be impossible, but writing about it is a great way to help explain.

13532832_1065872086856929_134676324399694845_nFrom learning to live with new people who have very different lifestyles and backgrounds to traveling on the weekends, this experience has been life changing. Besides the city itself, my favorite part of studying abroad was the people I had the chance to meet. My roommates were from Kansas, Georgia and Arizona so I was lucky enough to learn about different lifestyles from the United States as well. On top of the chance to meet other Americans, I was also introduced to local friends. Going out with them and allowing them to show us around the city was amazing. It was really interesting to learn about Barcelona from a local perspective.

Traveling on the weekends was another opportunity that I was lucky enough to take 18118810_1146833282094142_8307658241948532453_nadvantage of. Traveling is something that requires immense patience, street knowledge and can sometimes bring out the worst in people. From trying to navigate a foreign city without Google maps, to dealing with the biggest complainer in your group, the biggest thing I learned was simply patience. Patience is something I struggled with before coming abroad but is something that is needed to succeed and make the most of the experience.

16143003_1065867600190711_8838851271856486439_nThe best part of this was not the traveling or the people but rather Barcelona itself. Having the chance to live in such a beautiful, energetic, clean and unique city is something I will never forget. My favorite times were the times where I found myself aimlessly walking around popping into local stores and coffee shops. I think that was the best way for me to get to know the city.

 

Since the minute I stepped foot on Spanish soil, I have been changed for the better. It is something that I cannot explain but I know in my heart that I have become a better person, a harder worker and more grateful than ever. The best way I can explain the way I feel about Barcelona is comparable to falling in love, but much deeper.

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My Favorite Place in the World

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As I look back at my experience abroad, I realized that I spent a lot of time scrambling trying to do everything that I had forgotten to do. From museums, to Park Güell to trying all of the live markets. As I was focusing on all of that, I realize I had completely overlooked my favorite place. This place is the Bunkers del Carmel, the place I will miss the most. The uniqueness of the area, the beautiful views and the relaxing environment is something everyone should experience, but it hasn’t always been that way.

History of Bunkers del Carmel:

Bunkers del Carmel came from the Spanish Civil War in 1937. They were formally used barcelona-during-spanish-civil-waras underground military bunkers. Dating back to ’37 the bunkers were used as part of an anti-craft battery against attacks from fascists. They also stored a great deal of guns and weapons used in combat.

imgresWhen dictator Franco came into power as the Civil War ended, the guns were taken away and locals began using the bunkers as shelter. In the late 50’s-60’s the bunkers provided shelter to nearly 7% of Barcelona’s population adding up to nearly 3,000 people living in that area.

It wasn’t until the 1992 Olympic games when Barcelona’s biggest 1052px-1992_Summer_Olympics_logo.svgtransition began that the city began to relocate the residents in the bunkers to flats and apartments around the city in attempt to clean up the city. The village was abandoned completely.

In the 2000’s locals began visiting the area to enjoy one of the prettiest 360 views of Barcelona. It was said to be one of Barcelona’s best kept secret until recently it has become very popular. It is a famous place for people to have a picnic, drink some wine, enjoy and watch the sunset.

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When I first arrived in Barcelona, my friends and I stumbled upon this area by taking the wrong bus and it ended up being the best thing that could have happened. When we got back down, we realized that we had no idea how we even got there in the first place. But after research, we learned that it is pretty easy, but also confusing. Here is how to get to the Bunkers:

BUS:

  1. You will need to take the 24 or the V17.
  2. You will get off at Gran Vista- Turó de la Rovira
  3. From there, you will walk uphill for about 10 minutes where you will stumble upon the slabs of concrete with paths and plants to explore.

METRO:

  1. You can take the L4 or L5.
  2. Get off at either Guidardó I Hospital de Sant Pau or La Teixonera.
  3. The closest stop is Turó de la Rovira.
  4. From there you will walk on foot for about 15 minutes or hop on a bus to the top.

 

Here is a 360 view of the bunkers:

 

Sitges- A Hidden Gem

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Sitges, Spain is a small beach town located just 26 miles southwest of Barcelona and is most commonly known for sandy beaches, clean water and windy cobblestone streets. The small alleys consist of cafes, bars, local shops and delicious gelato. When exiting the alleys you will be led to a beautiful beach where the sun is shining almost 100% of the time. It is small enough to be explored in a short time period, so be sure to plan a day trip when visiting Barcelona! Here is some history and tips on how to do Sitges right.

“Sitja” in Catalan, silos which are deep pits in the ground used to store grains is where the 2552405name “Sitges” came from. It is suggested that approximately 53,000 years ago, many silos were located in Sitges. In the 1700’s Sitges was bombed during the War of Succession. They fought off soldiers demanding food and shelter, as well as pirates and bandits coming up the coast. The people of Sitges stayed strong overcoming these hardships and building a warship as well as a rock formation called “La Fragata” where they rebuilt the church. The church stands strong today and still has a canon out front in remembrance of the 6 canons used to protect the town.

antiguas2186 la puntaThe church that still stands in between the beaches of Playa de la Fragata and Playa de San Sebastion is called “Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu I Santa Tecla.” It is considered to be the towns most famous monument and is often used in postcards. As wars continued during the nineteenth century, Sitges continued to make remarkable improvements and as ties with Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Americas became closer, business started booming. They were able to invest in banking, vineyards and railways to nearby cities. This continued through the nineteenth century as they progressed and economic growth boosted.

In the mid-twentieth century piped water, the telephone and electricity was introduced. They specialized in the shoemaking business and nearly 75% of their workforce was in the shoemaking industry. As Sitges became more IMG_4993popular it was soon known for a home to
sculptors, painters, poets and singers. During the Franco regime, tourism picked up and they began building museums, art galleries and hotels around the town. After Franco was seized, they were allowed to continue their culture, traditions and culture such as “Carnival” which was banned during the dictatorship. Sitges is now known for its gay vibrant night life and its relaxed, laid back vibe.

Now that you have a brief history of what Sitges once was, lets learn about how to make the most of your visit to this beautiful town.

How to get there:

One of the best parts about Sitges, is that it is located just outside of the beautiful city of Barcelona and it is SO easy to quickly get there. If you find yourself by Passeig de Gracia (one of the more popular streets located in central Barcelona), all you have to do is pop down the stairs in the metro stop and buy a ticket for the R2 Renfe train. The tickets are just 8 euros round trip and you will have a view of the beautiful beaches along the coast the entire time.

Once you hop off the train, grab a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop and keep walking straight. After just a few blocks, you will be greeted by the sight of sunny skies, blue water and sand soft enough to sleep on. It seems that everything in Sitges is within walking distance, so don’t rely on needing cab money!

While you’re there:

Although Sitges is far less touristy than Barcelona, there are still so many enjoyable and interactive things to do. From exploring museums, viewing historical landmarks, to relaxing on the beach and eating tapas or drinking cocktails along the coast.

Museums:


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Although most people know of the common beverage, Bacardi, most people don’t know that it has a strong connection to Sitges, Spain. Facundo Bacardí Massó was actually born in Sitges in 1814. After many struggles and hardships, him and his wife began distilling rum and created the first ever white-rum. There is a museum built after them where you will learn about the history of Bacardi, how it is distilled and you even have the chance to sit back and enjoy a free cocktail at the end of the exhibition with your ticket.

 


Cau Ferrat Museum

Cau-FerratIf drinking is not your thing, or you are with children this museum might be more your speed. With ancient art, modern sculptures and works by famous artists including Pablo Picasso and other local Spanish artists. With new exhibitions opening all the time, you are sure to get a glimpse into the history of Sitges along with the artwork connected.

 

Landmarks:


Passeig Maritim

This is a walk you cannot miss. This marble street is lined with restaurants, shops and sculptures on one side, with bars, sandy beaches and an ocean view on the other. Although this street can be slightly crowded (nothing in comparison to Las Ramblas), it is perfect for an evening stroll or a sunrise walk. Be sure to keep an eye out for locals selling their beautiful works of art and steer clear of the vendors attempting to sell you knock off purses.

Church of Sant Bartomeu y Santa Tecla

Getting up close to this old church is a must do. Known as the “post card picture”, it is the most famous landmark in all of Sitges. Be sure to go around sunset because the shining of the light on the church results in a magical view of the up close detail. If you want to get inside the church, try to avoid entering on the weekends as there are typically weddings.

 

Beaches:


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La Playa de Sitges

This is the largest and most prominent beach in the area. It is known for being clean, safe and full of entertainment. When you enter the beach you will quickly notice the lack of trash, resulting in laying on the most clean sand you will ever see. There are typically people playing fetch with their dogs, playing games or practicing musical instruments. The fun never ends!

Playa Balmins

If you prefer peace and quiet while laying at the beach, this is the one for you. It is more secluded and less crowded. It is a perfect place to hang out all day and enjoy the sunshine without being crowded by many people.

Food/ drinks:


When in Sitges, you just cant go wrong with food. Almost any restaurant with great tapas and better company will not disappoint. If looking for cheap tapas and delicious drinks, start roaming the narrow alleys through out Sitges. Not a far walk off the beach, you can find small bars and delicious gelato! Whenever in a small town, it is never a bad idea to check out a local fresh market to find some locally grown food. So, if you’re looking for a cheap DIY dinner, stop by a market, grab some snacks, bring a blanket and go eat and enjoy a sunset on the beach- you will not be disappointed!


Overall, Sitges is a must see if visiting Barcelona. Because of the easy transportation, quick walk and most importantly, lack of tourism- Sitges is a place that anyone will enjoy.

Sitges, Spain

 

img_3834Sitges is a small town located on the coast of the Mediterranean in Spain. It is best known for its sandy beaches, sunny days and the infamous carnival. After visiting Sitges twice now, I have realized that it is one of my favorite places in Europe. However, the two experiences I have had there have been completely different and I think that is what makes it so special.

Day trip:

My day trip to Sitges was actually an AICAP for CEA. We started off in El Penedes, Spain at a winery with a traditional Catalan meal. To be quite honest, I had no idea that afterwards we were heading to Sitges. We were dropped off right in-front of the beautiful beach and the first thing I noticed was the lack of tourists (well, besides the big bus of college students that rolled up for a tour).

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Supposedly, Sitges has an average of 300 sunny days per year. This doesn’t surprise me whatsoever as the sky had been filled with clouds all day until we arrived. I think that is something truly amazing about that quaint beach town. Not only do they have one of the cleanest, softest, most relaxing beach I have ever been to, but sunny blue skies to accompany it. I remember sitting there on the creamy, smooth, delicious sand and never wanting to leave. Besides the beach and blue skies, the narrow streets filled with tiny shops, patatas bravas and some of the best frozen yogurt I have ever had.

 

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Night Visit: 

The night visit was completely different from the day trip because of one major factor: the Sitges Carnival. Each year leading up to Lent (a Catholic holiday), the town throws a week long party for people to let loose before Lent begins. Yes, they celebrate Carnival everywhere (basically Mardi Gras), but no one does it like Sitges, Spain.

We decided to go on the last night, and typically the most crowded night of carnival. It was Fat Tuesday so people were drinking and eating, dressed up in drag and silly costumes to go crazy one last time. There is a huge parade that makes its way down Rua del Extermini. There are huge groups of people drinking and dancing, giant floats and lots and lots of loud music. The parade is something I’ve never seen anything like before and I am not exaggerating when I say that I was finding confetti in my hair and clothes for days after. So. Much. Confetti.

Overall, I would say that Sitges is a hidden gem that everyone should get the chance to visit. It is beautiful, quiet, quaint and full of life. The people I encountered are some of the nicest people in the world and they really seem to follow Catalan culture. And if you’re ever near Spain for Carnival- make it a priority to dress up and have the time of your life roaming the streets of Sitges.

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(This is a photo of me thriving at Carnival, if you look at the ground you will understand why confetti was falling out of my boots for days.)

 

Adjusting to Life Abroad

Ever since I was little, I have been the person that everything bad happens to. It actually runs in my family. “The bad luck Bunkenburgs” some may call us. A couple examples: my mom bought a brand new car only for it to be smashed by a tree the same night during a thunderstorm. My dad got a hole-in-one while on a golf trip but no one saw, so he didn’t win the money. In the past year, my brother has gone through 4 iPhones simply because of bad luck. I could go on and on about events that have gone completely wrong in my life. Maybe it’s pure stupidity, maybe its karma for shit talking my friend in high school or stealing $20 from my mom to buy drunchies, 13346803_882830291827777_4801652900513557985_nbut anyone who knows me truly believes it is simply just bad luck. No, I am not trying to have a pity party about my “sad” life because I truly believe that all things happen for a reason and I am a better person because of the struggles life has so generously thrown at me. But because of the constant struggling and having to jump over obstacles to complete simple everyday tasks, my parents were very worried for me to live in a foreign country for 4 months.

They warned me that life abroad would not be all sunshine and giggles and as much as I hate to admit it, man were they right. From day one, adjusting to life here has been quite difficult. Met my roommates, we went to dinner and drank a couple of glasses of wine to come home and remember we had no sheets and no towels. Our first thought- lets go to Target and get some! That is when reality sunk in… they don’t have Target… where will we buy anything ever?! We tried to find some sort of store near us that would sell some sheets when we realized everything was closed besides the 24-hour supermarket next door. We bought some paper towels and cheap shampoo and faced the reality that we were about to use paper towels to dry our bodies after a shower and we would have to use a couple of sweatshirts as blankets until we found where to buy a blanket.

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(my roommates)

The first couple of weeks were easy. Everything was so new and freshIMG_1568.JPG and our schedules were quite busy. However, something bad was bound to happen at some point because bad luck follows me. We were running so late for a flight to Morocco to meet up with my roommate’s dad who was there for business. We were full on sprinting through El Prat airport. I was about to board the plane when we realized that the wrong persons name was on my ticket. After many tears and begging, the reality hit that they were not letting me on this flight. I sat there in shock watching the plane with all of my friends in it take off while I was trying to figure out how to get back to my apartment. I ended up taking the Aerobus (which by the way is one of the greatest things out there) and got dropped off at the wrong location. I was standing outside and it started completely down pouring. I stood there in the rain trying to hail a taxi completely bawling my eyes out.

I got back to my apartment and was sitting alone and I will never forget being so homesick and just wanting to talk to my mom so I gave her a call and she told me she couldn’t talk because it was 4AM in Minnesota. I just lost it… I’m talking tears and snot running down my face for hours. Everyone who saw me was terrified and to be honest, so was I. How could this happen? How am I alone in Barcelona on my first weekend? How could I be homesick when I am living in the greatest, most beautiful city in the world? I felt selfish and ungrateful but it had to happen to make me realize that our time here is limited and I cannot focus on the negative because I will forever regret not living everyday to the fullest.

So yes, this has been an adjustment and everyday is a struggle but it has been an unreal experience. Everyday I pinch myself and try to convince myself this isn’t a dream and I am living the best life I ever will live again.

 

The Real Side of Study Abroad

From what you have seen on my social media everything is perfect, right? I am going on trips, eating delicious tapas and making so many friends! There have been no bumps in the road, everything has worked out perfectly and I have an endless load of money left. I am across the world and living the perfect life! If you were to stalk my multiple social media accounts you would probably think that all of the above statements are true and I am living the ultimate study abroad life. In no way am I saying that you’re wrong; my life here has in fact been absolutely amazing, but what you see online is so much different than what my everyday life entails.

(Expectation vs. Reality)

I rimg_3636-1emember creeping on my friends Facebook album of her studying abroad in Barcelona. It looked absolutely perfect. From traveling to lavish cities on the weekend to taking long walks on the beach in between classes and eating delicious food with extravagant drinks on the side. I pictured myself strolling down the street with a coffee in hand and not a worry in the world.

 

 

img_4335-1Well people, I am two months in and I have somehow (not sure how) scavenged up enough money to buy a small latte from a local coffee shop so I would have a quiet place to study (because why would they have an easily accessible library). The music is blasting, someone is changing their babies diaper on the table next to me and the wifi is going in and out. When connecting to the wifi, you are required to check in on Facebook so people think I am drinking a cute latte in a little shop and just relaxing when in reality I am plugging my nose so I don’t smell a dirty diaper and trying not to make eye contact with the creepy man staring at me in the corner. What a life. This is just a sliver of the real side of the so-called perfect life I am living over here.

I truly think that only people who have studied abroad will understand that every single day is a struggle. From trying to figure out the metro to explaining to the pharmacist that I would like cough drops and not cough syrup in Spanish. By the way, after all the years I have taken Spanish you would think that I would know how to say the word “cough” or at least how to say that I am sick. Anyways, who would have thought that figuring out how to take a bus from the airport to a hostel in London located next to Big Ben would have been such a pain. “London is Americanized”- yeah right. People think that we just landed in a new country and immediately had everything figured out with a glass of wine in our hands but they have no idea of the hassle we go through to get there.

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(Struggling on the metro)

Everyone here would agree with me that the littlest tasks here are made into a big struggle. When will they wake up and get a Target here and when will they realize that splitting the checks into separate bills would make things so much easier for everyone involved?! However, the small everyday struggles are what makes this experience so amazing. I love that everything is an adventure and it is a journey to get anywhere. I love that I don’t have a car so I am forced to figure out public transportation. I love when I accidentally walk past my apartment (7 blocks past, to be exact) and end up finding my new favorite croissant place. The best memories I have had here are the most unplanned and unexpected events and I wouldn’t change a thing about everything that has happened so far (besides putting off studying until the complete last minute- HA).