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This post is the second in a two-part series. Read the first part.
I have been told I speak Spanish with a heavy American accent, but if there is one thing I can say like a native, it is “espresso with oat milk over ice to go, please.”
The man ahead of me takes his croissant and black coffee, and the barista signals me to order at the counter. I take a calming breath, and repeat the same line I have been practicing everyday since my arrival to Barcelona two months ago in my head.
“Café con hielo y un poco de leche de avena para llevar, por favor.”
I dig through my purse for the correct amount of euros, and I am still searching when the barista returns with my coffee, clearly exasperated by the hectic Friday morning rush. She asks me in Spanish if it is possible for me to pay with a credit card or apple pay, agitated by my inability to quickly claw my coins from the depths of my bag.
“No, lo siento. Me robaron mi tarjeta. Y mi teléfono también,” I reply.
“No, I’m sorry. My credit card was stolen. So was my cell phone.”
What feels like eons later, I have retrieved the coins and, with a “muchas gracias,” am out the door and on my way to the metro.
If you want to learn how to be truly mindful and present in every moment, I recommend getting your phone pickpocketed, which apparently, is easier than I could have ever imagined. I have been without a phone for one month now. It was stolen sneakily—and very gracefully, might I add—out of my zipped purse along with my credit card and driver’s license during my second week in Barcelona. The new phone that my parents mailed me from home is stuck at customs in France, and I have little reason to believe it will be released anytime soon. So, whereas previously I might have spent this ten-minute metro ride listening to music or texting my friends, I now people-watch or read my current book, The Secret History. I also eavesdrop—a lot. But ONLY if those near me are speaking Spanish. If you eavesdrop on a conversation in your native tongue, it’s nosy, but if you eavesdrop in a foreign language, it’s educational. A young couple to my right establishes their dinner plans, two young boys to my left laugh over a Spanish Youtube video, and the loudspeaker alerts me that we have arrived at my stop.
I finished yoga school two weeks ago, and it was an incredible experience. I believe that practicing yoga daily, combined with my involuntary off-the-gridness, have made me much more present and aware, for which I am very grateful. Since finishing yoga school, I have been attending a Spanish school, which begins at 9:30am and finishes at 1:30pm every weekday. I have met some really cool people from all around the world in these Spanish classes, and I have formed a great friend group with three girls from Sweden.
When class is finished for the day, I meet up with the Swedes and we head out for a fika, which is technically the Swedish word for snack but, as they have explained to me, is a word with much cooler connotations which are not reminiscent of cheese sticks during recess. We walk to a cafe and I order another coffee: it’s my time to shine ~en español~ once again!
After the fika, I ask my friend Karin if she has time to attend a yoga class with me before its time for pickup at the preschool. Karin is 19 years old from Gothenburg, Sweden—also on a gap year—studying Spanish and nannying in Barcelona. Since finishing my YTT, I have been trying to maintain my personal yoga practice everyday, which becomes exponentially more fun when I successfully convince a friend to join me at a class, like I do today!
After yoga, I part ways with Karin and take the metro back to my apartment, where I hop on my laptop and let my parents know that I am still alive, which I do three times per day: in the morning before heading out to Spanish school, in the evening before heading out for the night, and later in the night when I have returned safely home. In all honesty, I have been very grateful for the break in social media that came with my phone-robbery and refusal by the French government to release my package into Spain. One of my goals for my gap year is to go off social media entirely, but I quickly realized upon my arrival to Barcelona that would be impractical, as all of my friends here communicate solely via instagram DM. I doubt that my will-power alone would have been enough to keep me off social media for all but fifteen minutes per day, but I do find it really difficult not to be in more frequent communication with my family.
I DM my friends asking about our evening plans and hop in the shower while awaiting their response. My shower, as well as the entirety of the bathroom, is covered in a thin layer of black mold, which might explain the chronic cough I developed shortly after moving in. But, aside from that small detail, both my apartment and my roommates are very charming. Given I found this living situation by posting an advertisement on the internet (19 YEAR OLD GIRL SEEKING FUN ROOMMATES IN BARCELONA!!), I’d argue that living happily despite a little mold is a great deal.
By the time I am out of the shower, my friends have formed a plan for the night. I met this friend group on my third day in Barcelona, and they are truly some of the best friends I have ever had in my life. My first three days in this city were incredibly humbling and included me following a group of teenagers into the public zoo, which did not end as I had hoped (with them welcoming me into their friend group and inviting me to a Spanish house party), and instead ending in a much sadder and more pathetic way (with me spending 20 euros on a ticket to enter, only to wander aimlessly around the zoo alone for two hours. (It was a great zoo though.)) I promise I am neither a creep nor completely socially unaware (as you would have full reason to believe after reading the prior sentence), I just did not know one single person in the city and knew no other way to make friends than going up to people on the street. Luckily, everything worked out, as I ended up meeting, in my opinion, the coolest people ever just two days after my pathetic zoo experience. Rewa, Maxime and Niky are all studying abroad in Barcelona while they get their undergraduate degrees, and they are from England, Greece, and the Czech Republic, respectively. Kai and Pierre are also studying abroad while they earn their master’s degrees, and they are from Germany and France, respectively.
A group of Pierre’s friends from France are visiting for the weekend, so he wants to show them Ovella Negra, our favorite place to start on a night out. Kai also has a friend visiting who wants to go to Razzmatazz which, with 5 separate floors each playing different genres of music, is the largest discoteca in Barcelona. Meet at Pierre’s apartment at 10 before heading to Ovella Negra and Razzmatazz? Rewa, Maxime and Niky are in.
I cook some dinner, take a nap and facetime my family to let them know I’m going out for the night but will text when I return home. I grab some cash (enough to hail a taxi on my way home but not enough to be in a lot of trouble if I happen to get pickpocketed again), text my friends I’m on my way, and I’m out the door!
July 2021, the Thierfelder kitchen dinner table.
“Quinn, what is this obsession with Barcelona? You do realize they hardly even speak Spanish there, right? Why would you go to a Catalan city to learn Spanish?” asked my mother, cutting her grilled chicken.
“I don’t know, Mama. I just have always had this romanticized dream of living there,” I replied.
At the time, I truly did not know when or why the Barcelona seed had been planted in my mind. However, months of reflection later, a certain brochure comes to mind. One Wednesday of sophomore year, a spokesperson from School Year Abroad visited my Spanish class to encourage us to apply for a transfer term of high school to a Spanish-speaking city, promising rapid language development and memories of a lifetime. He handed us brochures for the Barcelona exchange program. Having never traveled to a Spanish-speaking country before, I was obsessed with the idea of immersing myself so deeply in a different culture and the opportunity to practice my Spanish language skills. And the kids on the brochure, enjoying jamón ibérico under Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, just looked so dang happy.
Memories of Cheetah Girls 2, the feeling of the Spanish sun against my skin, the scent of patatas bravas wafting through Mediterranean Sea-salted air, and visions of discotecas and moonlight vespa rides flooded my senses. Thus, while planning where I would spend the fall of my gap year, I bought Frommer’s Guide to Spain and drew hearts in the margins on page 237: Barcelona.
I decided I did not want to do an organized program for my gap year, meaning I did not want to move to Barcelona with a group of other American gap year students. I knew that moving to a foreign country would bring challenges whether or not I had the support and structure of a program, and I really wanted to throw myself into the deep end of the living-abroad experience. Having just graduated from a boarding school of 800 students, where everyone knew everyone’s business and our time was structured to the second, the idea of relocating to a foreign country, where I could build a life entirely on my own (or at least 3 months of one) and meet people with different experiences and cultures than my own enthralled me. So, I found two roommates online, and I booked a flight to Barcelona.
I found a yoga studio that offered a 200 Hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training course, which would include eight hours of training every weekday for one month. I had occasionally practiced yoga throughout high school, but I preferred more high-energy forms of movement, such as dance, spinning classes, or running. The latter forms of movement served as ways to get outside of my brain and away from my thoughts through exercise, and I found yoga’s focus on meditation and push to go inwards daunting. However, one of my goals for my gap year is to learn to undo some of the high-strung and perfectionist qualities I developed in my four years of what I call “trying to get into Duke,” aka high school. I was enticed by visions of myself finishing my YTT as a new, incredibly zen person, and I was happy to have a month of yoga school to provide structure as I got settled in Barcelona.
“Okay,” my mother said around her grilled-chicken chewing, “I’m still not convinced Barcelona is the best place to learn Spanish, but I do think it would be an amazing experience nonetheless. You should
totally do it. Just don’t get pickpocketed.”
This post is the first in a two-part series. Read the second part.