For the duration of Fall Term, junior Alec Hegg has been seeing sights across Spain. Hegg joined the Knox Barcelona program with an interest in seeing the dynamic between the locals of Barcelona and the government in the year following the independence referendum, when the significant majority of voting citizens voted for Catalonia to become its own nation apart from Spain.
“I thought it would be a really cool experience because you got such a different cultural background going on here in Catalonia, especially with the whole political situation going on now,” Hegg said. “Everywhere you go, you can’t walk along any street in the city without seeing at least one banner for independence.”
Expressions of the Catalan independence movement have additionally been presented to Hegg in the form of protests and rallies. Arriving Sept. 1, he has lived in Barcelona during major city holidays throughout the last month, such as the National Day of Catalonia, the festival of La Merc, and the anniversary of the independence referendum on Oct. 1. While the Catalan language is prevalent across the region, Hegg stated that he hasn’t experienced much of a language barrier.
“The basic situation is that most people will know both Catalan and Castilian Spanish but they’ll have one that they prefer speaking,” Hegg said. “A lot of times if two people are in a conversation, it might start in Catalan, and then switch to Castilian but if you make it clear that you really don’t understand Catalan, everyone has some level of Spanish that they can reply to you with.”
The Barcelona participants have been able to see other aspects of Spain outside of Catalonia through a trip to the Pyrenees, where they were able to stay in a pueblo hostel with a more rural backdrop. Additionally, Hegg took a weekend trip to the city of Madrid with a friend where he experienced how different the culture was within a short distance in the same country. An evident difference between Barcelona and Madrid was which football (soccer) team locals support, both cities being home to famous rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.
“Someone from here in Barcelona explained it to me in a way that I thought was pretty funny,” Hegg said. “‘Sure there are differences in region and culture and language, but the biggest difference is football.’”
Traveling has been one of Hegg’s favorite elements of his stay thus far. Along with being able to hold intelligent conversation in Spanish, he hopes to visit areas such as Toledo, Seville and Galicia before the end of his stay.
Having never been to Europe, junior Cara Chang has immensely appreciated the first month of her term in Prague, Czech Republic. In the past, Chang has travelled significantly in other portions of the world. The Prague program has not only enabled her to visit a continent she hasn’t yet explored, but has also allowed her to take classes for her International Relations major and Gender and Women’s Studies minor. She expressed that her current learning environment lacks more progressive perspectives which she is accustomed to at Knox.
“In my Gender and Women’s Studies class [in Prague] the views are more traditional — I got so used to American liberalism and that kind of education, that I wasn’t used to the more traditional education I’m getting here,” Chang said. “Things are not as liberal as Knox and sometimes it’s really frustrating.”
While she values the educational aspect of study abroad, Chang is primarily focused on letting her term abroad catapult her personal growth. She admitted while she enjoys the program and the members in it, she hasn’t been engaging with locals in Prague as much as she’d imagined.
“I think it can be hard to get out of your circle because everyone in this program other than me is American and when we go out in groups, we’re all speaking in English. We barricade ourselves together,” Chang said. “Czech people are very polite and reserved, so they’re not going to reach out.”
Chang has already planned a way to reach the Czech outside of her program group. She has arranged to volunteer in a program called Czech Friendly, established to help mitigate negative public stigma around immigrants in the Czech Republic. While volunteering, she will focus on interviewing owners of native cuisine restaurants around Prague.
“We interview immigrants who have started restaurants, we write articles about them and publish them online to help battle xenophobia and help Czech people overcome that ‘anti-immigrants’ sort-of attitude,” said Chang. “I’m gonna be interviewing people and writing about their stories, like story-telling.”
Chang is looking forward to getting to know more citizens of Prague and visiting more European cities such as Berlin in the coming months.