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Through Different Lenses

Eleanor L. is currently a junior at SYA Spain and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Germantown Friends School in Pennsylvania.

One of the things that initially drew me to SYA was its promise to provide opportunities for its students to explore the country around them. More than just learning Spanish in a new city that you would begin to call home was the possibility of applying that knowledge to a different part of the same country. I wanted to know Spain well enough to not only compare it as a country to the U.S., but also to compare its distinct regions to each other.

There are three main ways I’ve been able to satisfy that desire: host-family vacations, independent travel, and school-led trips. Independent travel is a wonderful way to venture through the cities of Spain with friends and it has taught me how to organize an amazing trip: from transportation tickets to activity reservations. You also have the perfect opportunity to embrace spontaneity as you journey out of the known Zaragoza to a new city with things to see and experience around every corner. Through traveling independently, I’ve visited Sevilla, Barcelona, and Madrid. On top of independent travel, SYA offers school-funded/organized trips. These trips take you to places you wouldn’t necessarily choose to explore for independent travel. Through these school trips, I’ve gone to Alquezar, cities in the region of Extremadura, and most recently, Barcelona.

View from Parque Güell

For a transition between the cold, windy winter of Zaragoza to its warm and dry spring, we participated in a week-long school excursion to either Madrid, Valencia, or Barcelona. I and about 20 other SYA students chose Barcelona. The teachers gave us a list of non-touristy and unique activities in order to get to know Barcelona on a deeper level. The recommendations formed the foundation for us to develop additional activities, specific to our own needs and desires.

As a result, the trip was a perfect mix of managed independent exploration. We had the support of the school to guide and instruct us, but we spent the majority of our time independently.

One of the more touristy highlights of my trip was visiting Parque Güell, the mosaic-filled, architecturally majestic outside park designed by Antoni Gaudi. As for museums, the MACBA was a favorite. Even on a Tuesday afternoon, the plaza in front of the contemporary art museum was filled with people of all ages skateboarding over its slanted surfaces. The Picasso museum was also a front runner with one of the most complete collections of his works. 

One of the more uniquely Barcelona activities I took part in was related to my friend’s capstone, the end of year experience-based project that each student proposes and develops. She is researching the coffee industry in Spain, so we visited excellent spots for her to do interviews, such as Nomad Coffee. Nomad Coffee produces coffee beans that are roasted in Barcelona and sells them to stores around the city. We went to their main location and indulged in the smoothest coffee I’ve ever tasted. After the café, we washed our palates with eclectic goodies bought at the colorful Boquería market.

On the topic of food, one of the best parts of this being a school trip was our ability to experience authentic restaurants together. Two favorites were a seafood paella place on the edge of the beach called Chiringuito Las Sardinitas and a traditional Catalan tavern called El Glop. At the second restaurant, we rubbed garlic and crushed tomatoes on tostadas and ate crema catalana for dessert.

It is a completely different experience to view a city from the lens of a tourist than to visit a city with family or school or friends. I’ve now been to Barcelona with friends on independent travel, with my mom on a school break, and now with school. Each time, I’ve gotten to know a different aspect of the city. Each time, I’ve found more differences and similarities to Zaragoza. This trip was just one more chance to take full advantage of living in Spain, and I enjoyed it completely.

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