Becoming Catalan

The key to traveling is to understand that things don’t always go as planned. Most likely, you will spend more money than anticipated because of the high prices and ridiculous exchange rates, you will miss a train which ruins your schedule for the day, and you will get lost a few times.  There’s no reason to be upset, just use that time to explore another area and make the best of every situation. In Spain especially, people tend to be late and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. This culture gives me an opportunity to not stress about unimportant things and I feel I have become accustomed to a sense of unpredictability.

I arrived in the Barcelona airport on the night of January 6th. Sitting waiting for baggage claim was the strangest feeling. I was so excited I had knots in my stomach and had so many thoughts running through my head. I wanted to like the family and for the family to like me. I wanted to have the experience I imagined.

The first indication that I was in Catalonia instead of Spain was the airport signs. The largest font was in Catalan, then Spanish, then English. It was a complete change from London. I was excited to hear kids speak in Spanish as they were playing because I was able to understand bits and pieces. It still boggles my mind that as a five year old, they were more confident and fluent in a language I had been studying for longer than they had been alive. 

The awaiting friends and families of the passengers were behind a fogged door and I saw a glimpse of crowded people each time someone left. I wondered if my host father was standing out there waiting for me. Meeting him in person I felt would be the official start to my life in Igualada.  My luggage came and I made the walk through those doors. I’m not sure what I expected, but it seemed that every person waiting for the passengers was a Spanish gentlemen about the age of my host father. Keep in mind, I had only seen his pixalated picture on Skype video, so I just sat in the middle of everyone on top of my suitcase figuring it would be easier to find me than me find him. I thought I should have been nervous, but in reality, I wasn’t. Even though I had no mode of communication whatsoever, I knew he would come and things would turn out alright.  Turns out I was right.

Igualada:

Catalonia is very divided about becoming an independent state. When I first saw the flags supporting Catalonia independence, I thought it was for the football team (or soccer for us Americans). That’s a little embarrassing to say that now but oh well, live and learn. Interesting blog post: Independence of Catalonia (note that this was written before the referedum in November 2012).  I’m understanding bits and pieces of it but from what I understand, becoming independent poses a problem with the constitution of Spain as well as the laws of EU. Therefore, I think laws would need to be changed before they can become independent. Not impossible, as history has shown, but difficult. I definitely need to do some more research though.

I am not going to have a very strong opinion one way or another because I do not know enough about the situation and have not lived here long enough to really understand.  So my stance is this: I live in Catalonia not Spain. I am interested in learning Catalan but I want to learn Castellano (the Catalonian word for Spanish) first. Already, I have learned there are many traditions specific to the Catalan culture and I can appreciate their pride. It is difficult to tell you how it differs from Spain, since I have never lived outside of Catalonia, but I can say that Catalonia has its own rich culture to offer.  

A government-esque building supporting independence. It’s very unusual that the quote is in English. The text in black roughly translates to: Igualada is a nice (caring) town. It is a city of industry and workers and is urban, modern and full of nice people.

Just to let you know, I have not seen any riots, marches, or dangerous displays in support or against independence of Catalonia. If you Google Catalonian Independence you will see protests but it is simply what the media chooses to show, so you must take it with a grain of salt.  In my every day life, I haven’t heard much about it either. The only indication is the flags that often fly off of people’s balconies that show their support of Catalonian independence.

Two examples of flags that support the independence of Catalonia, one with the blue triangle and the other with the yellow.

More Catalonian independence flags in Igualada.

There is also a large recession in Spain/Catalonia right now, which they call the crisis. Due to the crisis, many individuals are interested in learning English, so they can maximize their opportunities for work. Once when I asked for directions, the store owner went out of his way to help, and printed us out a map of Igualada. The entire time he insisted on talking in English because it gave him a chance to practice.

Well, the food was just so great here, I was in dire need of some exercise. Unfortunately, at 22, I am officially an adult so I had to pay the adult fees for the gym. Therefore, I’m determined to get my use out of it. Each week I go to swim practice and the first day I had no idea what to expect. It was labeled as a class so I could have been walking into a senior water aerobics class with the classic floating barbells and jogger belt (see picture below). Thankfully, it was similar to masters swimming in the United States. Basically a designed practice for previous competitive swimmers, looking for exercise and a way to keep up their swimming skills as a late 20, 30 something year old. I have not swam competitively and consistently for about five years, so I was a little nervous. Turns out, I had reason to be. The coach likes to practice his English so after each set he explains in Catalan, he translates it for me. I try to understand as much as possible but Spanish and Catalan really are two different languages. I knew it was going to be a rough practice when after the warm up, my arms already felt like jello. So we moved onto sprints. I promise I was trying but my arms felt like a windmill, getting me no where, so I kicked like crazy to make up for my lack of arm strength. At one point, the coach explained the set to me again because he thought I didn’t understand the drill. Nope, I really was just that slow, on the verge of sinking. Anyway, slight tangent but I’ve continued to go to swim practice every week and it definitely has gotten easier.

What my class could have been…

A great view from my bike on my way to the gym.

Panoramic of the bridge I take to get to the gym! It goes over an enormous gorge measuring at about a 100 foot drop.

I have a lot of freedom, which can be good or bad depending on who you are. I was extremely involved in college and was determined to find things to do here as well. I only work with the children from 5-9 pm each night and all day on Saturday until 6pm. They are absolutely wonderful.  During the week, I help them learn English through games and often narrate my every action so they can get used to hearing the language. I will pretend I don’t understand a game so they will have to explain it to me in English and encourage them to talk when I can. I adore these kids and am extremely impressed that they are learning Spanish, Catalan, and English. Much more than I knew at that age. 

My neighbors!

One of the many small streets in Igualada.

This past weekend, I traveled to Montserrat with my host family. It was stunning! The mountains were made up of very large and smooth rocks and there was a church snuggled right up against the side of the mountain. We went to one of the services in the church, which lasted around 40 minutes. It was all in Catalan so I simply enjoyed the experience. The church itself was magnificent, with gold plated statues, elaborate details, and religious figures depicted all around the church. After the service, we stood in line to touch the hand of the Virgin Mary, which is situated a couple stories up above the altar.

View of Montserrat from the road, en route!

My host family making their way up to the church.

Entrance to the church.

Not my picture but it shows the church pretty well.

Gold plated and elaborate details in the room of the Virgin Mary.

View of the church from the room of Virgin Mary. Altar is directly below us.

After that, we climbed up about a kilometer long path that lead to a cross in another part of the mountain. As you climb, many people choose to say a prayer for the Virgin Mary while holding their rosary beads. It is a time to collect your thoughts and be relaxed. At the top, there is an enormous cross with a fabulous view of the mountains.

View of the cross from church.

View of the church from the path leading up to the cross.

Faith Lindsay is currently participating in the CE Au Pair in Spain program.

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