Final Post: Thoughts and Goodbye


As I wrap up my time in Alicante, the predominant thought I have is where did all the time go? I have grown to love the experience of living in a country with a second language, as it is a constant puzzle to figure out what people are saying, and constantly keeps me on my toes. I feel that I have grown and developed so much since coming to Spain, both in my language skills and my identity as a global citizen. Although I have only cracked the surface on the amount of cultural experiences that I needed to have in order to consider myself a citizen of Spain, the amount that I was exposed to certain proved to provide a taste of the many subtleties that differentiate Spain.

One of the only things that I would change about my experience is that I would have spoken more in Spanish with the other study abroad participants. Although we tried to speak in Spanish at all times, often times it was easier to convey the message in English, so we relied on the crutch instead of making use of all the resources available to us. That being said, the experience of living with my host mom and constantly speaking Spanish with her made up for a lot of the other time, because there was no other option when conversing with her.

My biggest takeaway from the summer besides the language would be the ability to immerse myself in a situation in which I felt uncomfortable. I went to Spain not knowing anyone or anything about the country, and was able to make it through the difficult situations with relative ease. Even though there were some times when I wished that I would understand the language perfectly, learning new words and the colloquial language was constantly exciting and provided new revelations. I hope to visit Spain again soon.

Las Hogueras

I was fortunate enough to be able to witness the primary holiday of Alicante, which is called Las Hogueras. This day celebrates the feast day of San Juan, or Saint John. Over a million people attended the festivals, and the festivities lasted a full two weeks. During the first week, there were displays of las hogueras, which are giant art displays that cost 100,000 euros to make each. Every neighborhood creates and then displays their own hoguera, which gives the character to the neighborhood. In total, there are over 30 hogueras on display in the city. Every day, firework-like bangs called las mascletas go off in the center of Alicante during the day, which leads to a full day of partying and drinking through out the streets. Then, on the weekend, people head to the beach to make bonfires and jump over them. One of my friends actually got burnt while trying to jump over the fire.

The biggest night of the festival is the night of San Juan, when the hogueras are burned to the ground one at a time. People proceed through the streets until they are all burned, which lasts until 5 or 6 in the morning. Overall, it is a huge festival and there is partying, drinking, and tons of tradition throughout. The night used to be more focused around religion, but as the country became more secular, so did the festival. Now, El Día del San Juan is only the name of a day, which doesn’t bear any religious significance to the largely

non-practicing country. On all levels, the citizens of Alicante see the festival in the same way. Although some know more about the history than others, the intent and cultural practices are what stand out for mostly everyone living there.

I had a lot of fun participating in the largest festival of Alicante, and surely enjoyed learning more about the development and significance behind it.





The Role of Food in Alicante

One of the most significant experiences I have had in Spain is the difference in cuisine and the importance of food. In Alicante, food plays a huge role in ordering the events of daily life, and people take great pride in creating dishes that are to taste. While here, I have participated in many different cuisine experiences, including two different cooking classes. The first was a tapas preparation, where I learned how to make ensalada rusa and tortilla, which is the Spanish omelet. This was very exciting because I learned all about the ingredients and preparation, as well as the rationale for the importance of each of the dishes. When it gets very hot in the summer, cooler dishes are needed that require minimal use of the oven and are lighter to eat. These tapas that we created served exactly that purpose, the ensalada rusa required no cooking whatever, and the tortilla did not take long to create.

More importantly, the second cooking class I took was to make arroz a la banda, which is a very traditional rice dish and a specialty of Alicante. The dish contains a variety of seafood, which reflects the location on the Mediterranean. In addition, the preparation is very specific and related to paella but with a richer paste as a base. Overall, Alicantinos feel a connection with this dish because of the generational connection, and the influence of their own society on its preparation. My host mom has spoken multiple times about food preparation, and always emphasizes the health of the food she makes through the use of olive oil. Food is not just food but an identity for the region and helps the family to come together socially during mealtimes. In addition, since it is not common

for people to invite others to their house, they instead meet up for tapas or drinks, which reinforces the importance of food in the center of Spanish culture.

Opinions on Los Toros

            For class, we had to go interview people on social questions to see the contrasting opinions between Spain and the United States. One of the most important cultural issues in Spain is the role of los toros, or the bulls. It is a very controversial issue in Spain because there are strong cultural and historical ties to the killing of bulls in bullfights, as well as the running of the bulls, but many people are against these practices because of animal rights practices. In Catalonia, they have outlawed bullfights, but all other regions, including Alicante, have legal bullfights at least once a year. I witnessed both a bullfight and the running of the bulls, in order to gain a sense of what actually happened at these events before judging them.

After learning more about the toros, I went on the streets and asked people what their opinions were of the bulls. Most of the people were against bullfights to varying degrees, with a few people saying that they did not have an opinion on the issue. There was one older man that said he was in favor and regularly attended. My professor herself was in favor, and said that she had been influenced by her father, who was a huge bull supporter.

It is very hard for me to evaluate the opinion on los toros because I do not have the influence of history in my opinion; I only see the issue as an animal rights one, not one of the identity of Spain. Therefore, I am biased in my analysis of whether it should be allowed or not. Some of my friends that also saw the bulls for the first time were excited by the prospect and were not against the practice, which shows there is still a draw to watching a bullfight beyond just the historical significance.

Post-Program Reflection: Thank you!

Learning a language is hard, takes guts, and takes conscience efforts every minute of the day. I would go to bed absolutely exhausted with my head spinning at the end of the day but gradually found that the original confusion of constantly translating turned into intuitively understanding and responding in Spanish. One of the largest challenges for me, that I anticipated in my pre-program blog posts, was the intimidation of speaking to native speakers. Especially in a city that receives such heavy traffic from foreigners because of tourism, I was worried that my attempts to speak Spanish would be scoffed at. However, I found that people of Barcelona to be very warm and appreciative. On one occasion our waiter at a restaurant actually commented how wonderful it was that an English speaker was making efforts to practice Spanish and even help correct some of my grammar and vocabulary. Overall my fluency greatly improved in part due to the fact that I was receiving formal instruction in class side by side with my own experiential learning every day. Because of this I was able to put the new grammatical structures, colloquial phrases, and vocabulary that I was learning to use in daily conversations

One of the largest impediments to my language acquisition was my fellow american students. I spoke Spanish during my daily classes, in shops, restaurants, taxis, while shopping and with my host family, but when I would spend time exploring the city or on weekend excursions with my American friends, as much as we intended to speak Spanish, we always ended up reverting back to English because it is our shared first language. This constant flipping of Spanish and English possibly held me back from making even more strides towards fluency. To someone who is considering applying for an SLA program, I would recommend finding a program where you are living alone with a host family or with other international students rather than being surrounded by like-minded Americans.

In addition to the development of my language skills, I also deepened my understanding of how to interact with and live within another culture. In order to engage and understand cultural differences I first needed to form relationships. Although you can learn much through observation I found that my true cultural understanding came from conversation built on trust and mutual respect. In order to engage sometimes fragile or loaded cultural topics, I first had to build relationships with my host family, teachers, the local coffee shop owner, museum tour guides, etc on different levels. By approaching their culture from a humble human level rather than as an american comparing a “superior” culture to “inferior” one, the natives could sense my legitimate interest in learning and understanding and responded positively to that.

This experience definitely opened up my eyes to the importance of learning language. In the United States there is not a necessity to speak another language in order to communicate, get a good job, be successful, etc. However, by being monolingual we limit ourselves so much. A simple example: In my art and architecture class we covered the work of Antoni Gaudi in depth. One of his most famous techniques is called “trencadis” in Catalan, however because this artistic technique is unique to the region of Catalan, the word does not translate. Because I do not speak Catalan I could understand what this technique was in theory but never fully capture the meaning, essence, and etymology of the word.

On a larger scale, by limiting myself to just English I would never have gotten to meet and know my namesake, Fabiola, on a deeper level. I never would have formed relationships with my spanish host family. I would miss out on friendships and life-shaping experiences because of an inability to communicate.

This experience shifted my worldview from a very american-centric view to a broader more global view. It is important that we make ourselves a bit more humble and attempt to learn and appreciate other languages and cultures rather than imposing English on those we encounter.

I hope to use my Spanish abilities to volunteer in South Bend on a weekly basis with the local latino population, excel in my Spanish literature classes, and connect with and understand the stories of immigrants as I travel to the US-Mexico border this winter with a CSC seminar. This experience has solidified foreign language as an essential and central aspect of my academic pursuits. I will now be able to engage Spanish literature, political problems, and current news in Spanish rather than in translation. It has also given me the inspiration to begin learning Arabic in order to more deeply studying the middle east as well as the complex relations between Spain and Morocco.

From a personal perspective, the SLA grant helped me to engage with family friends who I otherwise would lack relationships with. During my time in Spain I was able to connect with my mother’s friends, mentors, and hosts who were so important in the formation of her identity when she spent several years abroad, and now also mine own.

To anyone that is considering applying for an SLA grant, there is no reason to not do it. The best way to learn a language is through immersion. You get to constantly practice, begin to pick up patterns, watch yourself because more functional and independent, and make noticeable improvements every day. Foreign countries need to see more engaged and passionate students who have a genuine interest in language and culture in order to counter growing anti-americanism. Whatever your level, being immersed in a language will help you make incredible strides and being able to communicate and understand linguistic nuisance to better connect a culture and its people is invaluable.

Thank you so much to the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures and the Summer Language Abroad Grant program for continuing to provide incredible opportunities for students linguistic, academic, and personal growth.

The end :(

I can’t believe it – it is already the last week of my stay in Alicante! In so many ways, I feel as if I just arrived. When I told my host family that my flight leaves Saturday morning, in just six days, they were visibly shocked—my mamá thought I had another week! With this realization, we have come up with a list of things we have not gotten around to doing: on Wednesday, I am teaching them how to make chocolate chip cookies; on Thursday, we are playing our last tennis match; on Friday, we are going to their favorite restaurant. My host mother also lamented that she hasn’t made me her special brownies, or taken me to hike up a nearby mountain they love, so we decided that I have to return and then we can complete these tasks too.

The end is approaching quickly, and I have so many mixed feelings about my departure. In many ways, I miss my life in the United States; I, of course, miss my family and friends, and could not be more thrilled to see them, but I miss some little things too, things I hadn’t appreciated at home before living in Spain, like free water, air conditioning, and big cups of coffee! On the other hand, there are so many people and places here that have made my experience so great, and that I cannot imagine saying ¡adios! to already. Obviously, at the top of this list is my host family. They have been so generous, kind, and simply fun. I will miss my mamá’s sweet smile every time she checked on me, my papá’s endless dad jokes, the little sister I never had asking me for advice, and playing tennis with my brother. I hope this will not be goodbye forever, because I have truly grown to appreciate and love this wonderful family as my own.


I will miss the city itself, too—its sandy beaches, its history, its energy. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t admired my surroundings on my morning walk to the tram with a deep sense of awe and gratitude.


Finally, I will miss the language. Though I knew I had a passion for Spanish before arriving, I was embarrassed by my lack of skills; I was struggling to keep up, and hesitant to talk. Now, after so much practice and rapid advancement throughout the past several weeks, I absolutely love listening and speaking this beautiful, challenging, exciting language. I am no longer scared to contribute or make a mistake. On the contrary, I will gladly make mistakes if it means I will be corrected and improve further. While, of course, I will continue taking demanding Spanish classes at Notre Dame, that setting can never compare to being completely immersed in the language. I am already exploring my options for more Spanish language development next summer. 🙂

Los Estados Unidos

Over the past several weeks I have spent living with and getting to know my family, we have discussed los Estados Unidos, the United States, a lot. They always have questions, but I have quickly discovered that they know so much about our language, culture, and conventions already—much more than I had known about Spain before this summer. For example, my hermana, María, loves American music. She listens to Green Day and Avril Lavigne every day, and she enjoys watching our music videos on Youtube. She is extremely curious about everything she sees or hears in these, always questioning what a certain phrase in a song means, or inquiring if the popular girls in America are really always cheerleaders. She also told me that she wants to go to college in the United States for a couple of months (at first, she had Harvard in mind, but I’d like to think that I have convinced her to go for Notre Dame instead J). My hermano, Miguel, watches American TV shows and movies. One day, as soon as I arrived home after class, he came racing up to me to show me that a character in “Malcolm in the Middle” had been wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt during an episode. From these popular movies and songs, my Spanish siblings are aware of American holidays, customs, cities, and more.

My Spanish papá’s perspective is different. He is more interested in historical and current events, which I have found produce a more negative image of the United States in his mind. He is constantly mentioning Trump’s latest news-worthy decision or tweet, and he has told me several stories, one about an American sea vessel claiming treasure found in Spanish waters and another about the United States (in his version) unrightfully detaining a Spanish lawyer. From these conversations, I have gathered that while he admires many things about the United States, he does not worship it in the way many adolescents do; he considers that our country, at times, has acted and continues to act entitled, racist, sexist, and more. It has been very interesting to hear about their views of our country and culture.

The Bulls

Currently, one of the more controversial topics in Spain concerns the toros (the bulls). The bull fights that take place throughout the whole country are a very long-standing tradition and notable aspect of the culture. However, while some Spaniards still consider this practice acceptable and important, it is estimated that at least half of the present population are against the bull fights because (I tell you this, reader, in case you are as blissfully ignorant as I was upon arrival) the bulls are always killed afterwards! Thus, the majority are against this massive scale of animal cruelty for the sole purpose of human entertainment. Yet the issue is certainly more complicated than that, because the industry of the toros in a substantial part of the nation’s economy, from the many jobs it provides directly to the millions of tourists it attracts each year.

I decided to ask my professors about their thoughts on this topic. One, a middle-aged man, immediately responded that he does not support it whatsoever because of the aforementioned slaughter of the toros. He commented that most of the people he knows are also not in favor, but that it tends to still be defended by older generations. My other professor, a young woman, hesitated for a moment before answering. She explained that, of course, she does not like that the bulls die, but that her grandfather was a bull fighter and that her whole family still enjoys bull fights, so she has gone several times. She appreciates the tradition, and also mentioned the significance of the toros to the Spanish economy as one of the reasons she is reluctant to advocate against the custom completely.

When several of my classmates decided to attend a bullfight in Alicante this week, I chose not to join them, and I am glad. While I acknowledge that the subject is complex, and I respect other opinions, I personally had no interest in seeing the bulls tricked and teased before marching off to their deaths. Turns out, most of the other girls ran out of the arena 10 minutes into the show anyway. Guess it was a good choice!

Already 1/4 done?!

And just like that, Week 2 comes to a close! My life here is starting to settle down a bit, to become more of a routine—but at the same time, I still cannot believe I get to live in this beautiful place for two whole months.

My favorite of my three classes is my colloquial language and conversation class. We learn a lot of really valuable vocabulary and expressions—the kinds of things one can’t find on Google translate. The material has been more helpful than I could have ever imagined; every day my family says something that I only understand because of that course. There are certain slang words that are particularly interesting, one of which is leche. Literally, leche translates to “milk”, but they apply it in all sorts of different ways, both positive and negative, in the local dialect. For example, pegarle una leche means, more or less, “to hit someone”, while ¡Eres la leche! means “You’re the best!” Another intriguing term is hostias. This word translates to “hosts”, like the Body of Christ, but here it is used as a cuss word used to express shock or frustration.

Fortunately, I was able to ask my Spanish siblings and parents about their thoughts on these expressions. According to them, leche is very normal in this city and region, but nowhere else. All Alicantinos, men, women, adults and children alike, understand it and say it frequently. Hostias is different, however. In fact, one time my host dad said it at the dinner table while relating a story, but when I told him we had just learned that word in class, he blushed as my host mom shook her head. He was embarrassed that I had caught that word because, as my mom explained, he should not have said that in front of me and the other kids at the dinner table. Clearly, that word is more inappropriate. Instead, there is a similar word that many people, especially kids, use to stop themselves from saying hostias, which is ostras (the beginnings sound the same in the Spanish pronunciation).

These kinds of terms certainly can make understanding native speakers more difficult, but it also makes learning more interesting! Who knows, maybe soon I will feel bold enough to try using one myself.

Anti-Tourism in Europe’s Third Largest Tourist Destination

Outside one of the city’s most bustling tourist attractions, El Mercat de Boqueria, hanging a sign painted in English “Tourist invasion, GO HOME”. The strategic placement in a side street directly off of Las Ramblas, the most congested area of the city

All over the city are smaller stickers in many different languages, primarily catalan, Spanish, and english that proclaim “tourism kills the city”. I first noticed this message hanging outside of Park Guell and then found it posted all over the metro stops, telephone polls, and outside other landmark attractions.

At first this sentiment really offended me. Although the majority of the natives that I came in contact with were nothing but friendly, you could definitely feel that some had grown tired of the more ignorant tourists and branded all that looked american into this category.

Even so, how could the cities largest source of income for their economy be “killing the city”. In fact it seemed that tourism was making the city thrive, it’s what put Barcelona on the map after the 1992 olympics and is giving income and jobs to so many when other parts of Spain are majorly struggling.

However after I examined this issue a bit more deeply I realized what a double edged sword tourism really is. When you have millions of people who are looking to consume a culture, get an “authentic” experience, it forces the people of Barcelona to market and sell their culture, their history, their art, their food and in turn cheapen it. When every restaurant, show, tourist shop etc, is boasting an “authentic Spanish experience” to simply sell to foreigners, it looses all authenticity.

Something that troubled me was tourists’ misunderstanding of what Spain is as a whole. Spain, historically has been separated into different kingdoms in different regions that have developed distinct foods, cultures, festivals, and even languages. When you come to a city in Spain you are experiencing the culture of the particular city or region of Spain, a true singular Spanish identity and culture really doesn’t exist. However, because so many people are ignorant to this history, in Barcelona there were endless advertisements for flamenco shows (a tradition that matriculates from Andalusia and is seldom practiced in Catalunya), pincho bars (food that is native to Pais Vasco region of Spain), and “Spain’s best paella” (a recipe that was invented in Alicante in the province of Valencia).

This anti-tourist sentiment comes from the citizens of Barcelona constantly seeing their cultured being cheapened, simplified, and sold, and mixed with the traditions of other regions of Spain (remember Catalunyans are very proud people and the purity of their culture is something very important to them). They see their most famed landmarks, the works of Gaudí, being overrun by tourists and in turn being worn down by all of the foot traffic through them. They have increased traffic, heightened prices for restaurants and shops and more. Although many people come to genuinely learn, many tourists are on vacation and are using their time in Barcelona to relax, entertain them for a week, then return to their home, breeding a sentiment that the culture is meant to serve their leisure, but is altogether inferior.

Barcelona also gets an incredible amount of American students studying abroad during the entire year. It is a shame to say that the general stereotype of these students in that they come simply to party, not to learn and speak Spanish. So even this more engaged role of student has been relegated to the same level as tourist.

During my time in Barcelona, however, I have truly tried my best in my own small way to fight this sentiment with a genuine interest and engagement in culture and language.  I spoke Spanish whenever possible, I asked questions about culture, I avoided negative comparison to American culture, I ate foods that I might not have liked without complaint, and I inquired to my host mother and teachers about this anti-tourism movement to better understand the perspective of the natives (this is really no large feat, just expected behaviors of a respectful human being that are often forgotten). This experience has made me rethink how I travel, how I interact with a culture, and how I practice a language.