I would like to make an unconventional move and start off by thanking people. Thank you to my parents, family, friends and boyfriend for supporting me financially and emotionally for the last ten months. And thank you for reading my blog during this year. Writing a blog has been a wonderful challenge, and having people read it and talk to me about it has been even better.
This will be my last entry. I hope you like it.
As I write this I'm sitting on the couch in my Aunt and Uncle's house, nestled happily in the French Alps after swimming in their pool and being wonderfully and generously fed. Luxury like this I have not known in years, and while I am delighted to be in the company of family in such beautiful surroundings, my holiday in France heralds the end of my Erasmus year in Barcelona.
Since my last blog entry, I have finished my exams, which allows me to reflect on the year in an academic sense. From what I've gathered across my ten months in the UB, the variety and diversity of classes is significantly better than UCC, but the standard of teaching and examination is startlingly lower. Students can end up taking six or seven years over a four-year degree, by virtue of repeating modules over and over again, never being quite sure of when or if they will graduate. Essays will be assigned with anywhere between two and seven days notice, can be handwritten and handed in a few days late without reprimand, are usually given as "oh, around two pages" and will returned within the following week. This came as a huge shock, having come from the rigid UCC protocol of knowing the date weeks or months in advance, having to type and double-space everything, and being severely marked down or even failed if you don't hand it in on time. While their lax attitude is a welcome change, I can't imagine it works well in the long run for permanent students. Overall, the campus is beautiful, the classes are interesting, but I can't help but think that you don't learn quite as much as you should.
I did however learn many more things in the last ten months. The most obvious of these would be how to live with other people. Having spent 21 years living with my parents, older sister and older brother, I was well used to leaving things on the stairs to bring up later (and not actually doing it for days), being given out to time and time again for not putting my dirty plates and cutlery in the dishwasher after eating, and generally treating my home as just that - my home. Living with strangers is not so, especially when the dynamic of the household was as fragile and ever-changing as it was. I lived with six different people in ten months, representing five different nationalities and between the ages of 21 and 40. I have witnessed breakages, breakups and breakdowns, and I firmly believe that if I could survive ten months in Carrer de Santaló, I can survive in any house. This isn't to say it wasn't a happy place to live - on the contrary, it was almost always spotlessly clean, sun-soaked and full of books. I was more than glad to have the company of two friendly and pretty cats for any lonely evenings. And I have very warm memories of flatemate dinners together, movie nights, parties and general banter. But at times it was a hard place to live, and for this reason I feel my tolerance for other people has risen, and my own discipline as regards cleaning and respect along with it.
So I learned to live with other people. But I also learned how to live with myself, from the numerous evenings left alone in my apartment to my final few days in the city. It's an important skill, knowing how to enjoy your own company, and while it's still not something I'm entirely happy or comfortable with, I now know that it's not the worst thing in the world to spend a few hours or a few days by yourself. If I hadn't been by myself on a few occasions during the year, I wouldn't have learned how to repair the toilet in our apartment when its flush was acting up, taught myself how to make pasties from scratch (I was too embarrassed to take up the kitchen for so long when other people were around), taken up the guitar and glockenspiel as often, read as many books or discovered as many beautiful things in the city.
One of things which will stay with me most from my Erasmus year is how much I learned about Spain, Barcelona, Spanish and the Spanish culture and people. By the end of June I felt more in tune with the rhythm and life of the city than I ever believed I could. I now know when things will be closed for siesta, what kind of shops will be open on Sundays, where to go and where to avoid. It only dawned on me in my final week that the reason people couldn't understand me or asked me to repeat myself wasn't due to the standard of my Spanish - it was merely because I wasn't talking loud enough like they do. I could sleep easily despite the smell of cooking coming from the apartment below and the noise of the television from the apartment above, both at 3am. I know what authors to read, what music to listen to, what time How I Met Your Mother (or, as the case may be, Como Conocí A Vuestra Madre) will be on TV and what time all the free papers will be gone from the University foyer in the morning. I have favourite cafés, restaurants, shops and streets, and favourite waiters and assistants who work within them. I have an internal map of the city woven from my own experiences and memories. As I became a part of Barcelona, it became a part of me, a part I hope will never leave.
The only thing that could stay with me more from the year is the people I met. So here's to you, you crazy diverse bunch of crazy diverse people. The faces that will surface when I remember my Erasmus experience will be those of the UCC people who accompanied me, who were not only there to talk about how we missed "proper tea", but also as a real rock in times of trouble, and will remain true friends. Those of my flatmates, in particular a certain tiny American who got me in trouble more than she was worth, but who still always helped me out when I had to behead a chicken, mop up spilled mercury on the bathroom floor or clean chocolate ice-cream out of a white lace cushion, laughing at me all the while. This certain roomie will always be in my heart, along with another English roomie who only stayed for a month but was no less lovely for it. Two more English girls, all of us brought together by crisscross connections, will also always remain lovely to me, and even though they only have three kidneys between them they are still indie in Birmingham. Special thanks to the Spanish boy who brought us to a grunge gig in a church hall in the middle of nowhere. Kudos. I learned that Prague, a city I have a serious grudge against, can wield some wonderfully funny and talkative girls with excellent taste in music. The only other Irish people in the city gave me some good times in museums and parties and with the President. And there was the lovely girls who made French class much more bearable. (There was also Pilar and Carlos and Mullet Man and all the other crazies from lectures, as well as Always-Late, Yak Face, Yak Face's BFF, Scruffiacelli, Meritxel, Smiley Norwegian, Future Husband, Girl Crush and all the other colourful characters whose names we never really knew or cared enough to find out.) It strikes me as amazing that there are so many great people I intend to remain friends were all brought together from all over the planet purely by the freak coincidence of being in Barcelona at the same time. Some of us are staying behind, but all of the people I met over the year will never be in the city all at the same time again. Our friendships were born of the time, I believe they will stand up to time.
This time last year I was so scared. I was petrified of moving away from the comfort and warmth of my own home and the unconditional love of my parents to a strange frightening city where I knew no-one and no-one cared about me. I was excited to be independent, but mortified of failing. I wanted desperately to learn better Spanish, but I was deeply embarrassed that people still wouldn't understand me and I wouldn't understand them. All the positive emotions I had attached to Erasmus and Barcelona were tinged with negatives, but I can safely say now that all trace of negative feeling towards the whole experience have been erased. It's hard to communicate the weight of what circulates in my mind when I think about the last year, but the impression it has made on me is overwhelming. I will remember sun-drenched beaches and shady streets, the sheer level of noise emanating from every corner contrasted with the eerie silence which descends on holidays, the smell of garlic and tomato and saffron and seafood when you pass restaurants in the evening, the taste of San Miguel, Estrella, Moritz, Voll-Damm, Cacaolat, jamón ibérico, patatas bravas, Cosmo's pan con tomate, Champañería's croquetas and butifarras, cupcakes and buñuelos. The sound of the broken pavement tiles on Carrer de Enric Granados as you cycle over them, the combination of seagulls and pigeons, watching the bare trees on my street slowly become a canopy of green to keep the upper-class residents from feeling the oppressive, humid sun beat down on them. I will try so hard to remember everything, but I know that some things will just always stay. It has been a wonderful year, filled with wonderful people and wonderful experiences, and while I am happy to go back to Ireland, I am sad to leave Spain behind. Barcelona, thank you for everything. Te amo con todo mi corazón, y siempre te amaré.