Microcosm: IWU adventures in Barcelona


Photo courtesy of Nathan Douglas

By Erica Witzig, staff writer

One of Illinois Wesleyan University’s greatest accomplishments is the amount of opportunities created for students to study abroad. Almost 50 percent of all the university’s students have studied abroad by time of graduation, compared to only 14 percent of undergraduate students nationally.

The first Microcosm of the year asks two students – Spanish education major Nathaniel Douglas and nursing major Callie Phipps, both studying in Barcelona – what life is like for an Illinois Wesleyan student meeting the outside world head on. The two sophomores describe culture shock, host families, and much more.

Erica: First of all, what is orientation like?

Callie: Like the best vacation I could never afford! We go to beautiful historical places and get to bond with all the other students on the trip. We’re experiencing things I never dreamt I would be doing.

Nathan: It was a lot more fun than I expected. We took so many awesome tours to see lots of great monuments and buildings, but nothing super touristy.

E: What’s the best place you’ve been so far, sight-seeing wise?

N:Our tours of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and Girona were both so epically beautiful and full of history. I also went to a Barca game, which was just absolutely mind-blowing.

E: What are your host families like?

N: So nice! I’m with an older couple who has been hosting students for over ten years. My roommate and I each have our own rooms,.

C: My señora’s name is Gloria, and she’s extremely accommodating. There are two other girls from Illinois Wesleyan here, plus two girls from France, one from Russia, one from Brazil and the last one is from America. I’ve never been so close to so much culture before.

E: Is the language barrier excessively difficult?

C: In the homestay, it’s not bad, although they talk faster than I’m used to with strange vocabulary. In the short time I’ve been here, though, it’s already getting much easier. The difficult thing is that much of Barcelona also uses Catalan, which is slightly different than Spanish. It’s not much different, but it does thicken the barrier.

N: It’s not at all! I’m learning a lot already. Barcelona is, effectively, a bilingual city. While most signs are in Catalan, you hear people speaking Spanish everywhere. They do appreciate it when a foreigner speaks Catalan – so it’s been fun to practice both languages!

E: What has been the biggest culture shock so far?

C: It’s surprising how eco-aware they are. In America, it’s popular to like eco-friendly trends or products, but that’s the extent of it. Here, it’s frowned upon to take a shower over 10 minutes long. Everyone walks or takes the Metro. Also, personal boundaries are way different. For example, I went to lunch and the waiter could tell my group was struggling to figure out what the food was, so he asked if we would sit with a stranger alone at a table who could help us. It was surprising, because you’d never do that kind of thing in the States.

E: The international students I interviewed last year said Americans often seemed superficial. What does the atmosphere seem like over in Spain?

N: I can really see now that we live in excess in the States. My room here is smaller, and so is my desk and my bed and even my coffee.

E: The all-important question: how does food differ over there?

C: I’m a vegetarian, so it’s less exciting for me. My homestay does a good job of finding tasty new recipes without meat, but the restaurants are more challenging. The majority of vegetarian options actually have fish in them, which I don’t eat – but what I can have is still delicious.

N: It’s a million times better. Everything has so much more flavor here – I cannot even describe how delicious the food is. I had a goat cheese salad with my lunch the other day that was more delicious than anything I’ve ever had on campus.

E: Illinois Wesleyan students who study abroad often have the opportunity to go to several different countries while out of America. Do you plan to go elsewhere?

N: I’m going to London at the end of this month with a few IWU students. I also plan on spending my spring break in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, so I can climb Mount Teide – the highest point in Spain.

C: I’m beginning to plan a trip to a concentration camp, and I’d also love to visit the Anne Frank museum.

E: Any closing comments?

C: I’ve seen three different ways to flush a toilet. My favorite was the one that looked like a light switch.

N: There is lots of Catalan pride EVERYWHERE – and the toilets are pretty cool.

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