Movement

The only thing that’s permanent is change.

 

It’s been 4 months since I’ve moved to Barcelona.
Since then I’ve had the privilege to have visited sixteen museums and heritage sites (pictures coming soon):

 

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC, the National Museum of Art of Catalonia)
Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB, the Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona)
Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum)
Casa Batllo
Palau Guell
Monestir de Pedralbes
Museu del Modernisme
Museu del Disseny
Fabrica del Sol
Museum of Jewish History
Museu del Art Girona

 

…all of which–with the exception of La Fabrica del Sol which was under renovation–I would recommend if you are traveling to Barcelona.
Moreover, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to six cities (Sant Pol del Mar, Sitges, La Palma, Andorra, La Molina, Girona), strolled through four parks (Parc Guell, Parc Citudella, Parc Pedralbes, Parc de Montjuic), attended four musical performances, one stand up comedy show, one stage performance, three lectures related to cultural management, visited one printing press, shifted out of the Master’s Degree to the Postgraduate Diploma in Arts & Cultural Management (a story for another post), signed up for two dance classes which I did not go to, worked three part-time jobs, moved flats once, met loads of people from all over the world, and have learned quite a bit about European culture and this wonderful city called Barcelona.

 

All these novel experiences are just the beginning and have of course, irrevocably changed me. My philosophy is that novel experiences are by default, positive. So whenever I have to make a decision, I usually try to go for the one that has some degree of uncertainty, but always, always, I choose to act, as opposed to inaction. In this way, the change is encouraged, if not welcomed, and sometimes, the change can happen on my terms, as opposed to the common condition where change is seen as an unavoidable imposition.

 

Moving to the Spanish Apartment, as well as the new flat (which I have dubbed Rockafort–as that is more or less the name of the street) was surprisingly simple, although the circumstances around it were anything but.

 

When I was moving to Barcelona, I sent an email to everyone in the university’s Master’s program, asking if anyone was looking to share a flat. I got a few responses, and the result was that I had a place to stay–paid for in advance–even before I had set foot in Barcelona.

 

The rent of the flat was divided by everyone, and a month later, the occupants had risen from four to five, reducing our individual shares. However, this would only be until April, by which time the rent would go back up again. This, including the fact that one flatmate–who shall remain anonymous–and I were basically getting on like a house drenched in ice-cold water, made me decide it was time to make a change.
So I began asking around, and it so happened that Lena, one of my classmates, had just moved into a flat with a room available. Upon visiting the flat and meeting the other occupants, I decided that I could live here. I contacted the landlord, made the reservation and started moving my things that same day. Being the cheapskate that I am, I tried to move everything on foot: a twenty-minute walk at night in the winter. Only in Barcelona can someone get away with this.

I had to find someone to take my old room, however, as we had agreed prior to my moving in that should I leave before the end of the contract, then I had to find a replacement. Equally important was finding a good person to move in, someone who wouldn’t flip out or make the others feel unsafe (as I mentioned, there are no locks on any of the doors in the flat—not even the bathrooms).

Although I thought I cleaned out my former room pretty well, I forgot to sweep the floor and wipe the table.
Although I thought I cleaned out my former room pretty well, I forgot to sweep the floor and wipe the table.
Surprisingly, this again proved to be easier than I expected. Minutes after posting a notice of the room in various fb groups for Erasmus students and others related to housing in Barcelona, I already had several offers and had scheduled visits that same afternoon. In the end, I decided on a French Erasmus student taking up a Masters in Economics at the University of Barcelona. Three days later I had handed her the keys to the flat and had already spent one night at Rockafort.

 

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FB is not a total waste of time after all

 

The change of flat included having new flatmates: three Spanish guys–Adria, Alvaro, and Ricardo, Anna, a Korean, Lena from Hamburg whom I go to school with, and a wonderful pug named Fiji, who is clearly everyone’s favourite occupant.

 Other changes include a considerably smaller and colder flat, room, kitchen, bath and toilet to share, less amenities (no lift or dishwasher), slower wifi, and hot water that disappeared while you were showering when any other faucet was switched on. On the brighter side, cheaper rent and cool flatmates all of whom—with the exception of Fiji–are professionals who preferred to speak Spanish, giving me the chance to practice my castellan.
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Rockafort

 

Below is Adria, who isn’t in the above photo because he works crazy hours:

I will be writing a bit more about my new flatmates in a future post, but basically, a lot has changed over the last 120 or so days, and unavoidably, I have changed with my circumstances. The frequency and intensity of these shifts, being compressed in a small amount of time has also accelerated my growth as a person. Having only a few people to call upon in an emergency–all of whom I’ve known less than half a year–taught me to be truly independent and self reliant. Also, it taught me to do something I have not done before: How to develop close friendships in a short amount of time. It means I have become better–not the best, obviously–at relating with others, an invaluable life skill regardless of who you are and where you’re from.

For this alone, all other benefits of studying and working abroad notwithstanding, makes the entire experience of putting oneself out of one’s comfort zone absolutely worth the price of admission.

Then There Were Five

 

Meet the latest addition to the Spanish Apartment:

(drumroll)

Gerson
Such is my ignorance of Latin Americans that I thought his hair was not naturally curly.

Meet Gerson, a theatre graduate from Baranquilla, Colombia (the hometown of the magnificent Sofia Vergara and Shakira). He won a Young Talents Fellowship under ICETEX to take a diploma in Arts & Cultural Management at the International University of Catalonia. He has acted on the stage and on television, and plans to one day have his own TV show.

As a member of Fundación Doctora Clown (Clown Doctors), he dispenses the medicine of laughter to sick children in the hospital.

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Gerson (far left) dressed as his clown persona, Coco.

Unlike the rest of us who are doing the Masters Program, Gerson is taking the non-degree track of the program. He opted to take the course in English in order to improve his communication skills, instead of choosing the Spanish track. He really wanted to study drama or something related to performance art, he said, but he couldn’t find any courses within the fellowship’s budget in Spain. So now he is studying the legal aspects and tools of cultural management instead of acting or dance. It is twice the challenge for him.

So now we are five (at least until April, which is when Gerson finishes his studies).

He is a welcome addition to the flat first because now our individual rent payments go down. It is also good to have another Spanish speaker in the flat aside from Awat, so that we non-Spanish speakers have more opportunities to practice and learn Castellan, something I have not been doing as much as I should. Thirdly (pun intended), it is great to have another person from a developing country with whom I can share common experiences and traditions.

Moreover, another male in the flat is better than being the only thorn among the roses. Being surrounded by females both at school and at home–pleasant though it may seem–can get quite exhausting. Having relatives and friends who are gay, I’m accustomed to interacting with homosexuals, although it is the first time that I will be living with one. Most importantly, however, is that Gerson is a welcome addition to our home because he is a good person with a pleasant sense of humour.

It does not come without its drawbacks of course. Having more people in the flat means less space and as I’ve written about previously, getting along with three people is challenging enough for me as it is.

Only time will tell.

Back to School

Education is what remains after the schools and teachers are done with you. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

source

Regardless of where you are in life, the first day of anything is always a nerve-wracking experience. As I first stepped through the gates of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya the day after I had arrived in Barcelona, I felt the nervousness that everyone feels on that first day of school. Add to the fact that I had yet to unpack, was still adjusting to the six-hour time difference, and had spent my first night sleeping on a piece of cardboard.

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Slept like a baby.

It helped that I was with my three flatmates who were my schoolmates as well. At least I could get to the university without getting lost. They all had 3G on their phones so could easily use Google Maps or City Mapper (I highly recommend this app) to easily get from point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost, as I frequently do.

After officially enrolling, the other students and I were greeted by Dr. Consuela Dobrescu, the academic coordinator of the program. Each of us was handed a folder containing a planner, highlighters, a folder, a pencil, and a calendar from the university. She then toured us around the campus which was composed of two buildings, one with five floors and another with six. UIC was so much smaller in area than the universities back home. It was not tiny by any standards, and in addition to my course, a Masters in Arts and Cultural Management, they also have graduate and doctorate courses in Business, Education, Architecture, Humanities, and more. Another stark difference is how few personnel they require. There are perhaps two people in charge of security, a few more for custodial and food services, and the rest are academic and administrative staff. At the DLS-CSB School of Design & Arts where I taught illustration, the building is thirteen stories and they employ a small army of security guards, custodial personnel, drivers, and non-teaching staff. Of course, they have over 4,000 students, but in the Philippines, labor is cheap.

School was never a place for learning for me, I feel. I had spent nearly 50% of my life to date in educational institutions, with four years resulting in a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (a course especially designed for those who do not know what they want to do when they grow up—which is an accurate description for who I was in college and even after), and a year in the University of the Philippines taking up the Certificate for Professional Educators Program in order to teach.

But here I am now, paying a significant amount of money out of my own pocket, traveling more than halfway across the world to sit in a classroom and to listen to lectures. At thirty-five, I am the oldest in my class and two years older than the academic director of my program. My brain stopped creating new connections over ten years ago, and millions of my neurons have ceased to fire by now, so my ability to acquire new knowledge isn’t all it used to be.

So why am I going back to school? And why all the way in Spain?

Go to page 2 to find out.

Arrival

 

It is a strange feeling, arriving in a foreign country for the first time. It is a process that continues even after you have walked out of the airport, even after you have unpacked your bags, taken your first shower, or have had your first meal.

I arrived in Barcelona airport before noon, and after using the mere 15 minutes of free wifi that they make available to contact my flatmates to get the address of our apartment, I then had to figure out how to get there. My first attempt to board a bus to the city taught me that they do not give change for anything larger than €20, so I had to go back up to the airport to have money changed into smaller denominations.

The weather in Barcelona is optimal for human existence. It was October and you can walk around in a shirt beneath the midday sun and not sweat a drop.

TIP: When arriving in a new country, bring the local currency in smaller denominations. The bus fare from the airport to the city is €5.90, while the regular bus fare within the city is €2.15. Buying a prepaid card as early as possible will save you money right off the bat. For example, a card worth 10 trips costs €10.30 (only €1 per trip), and is valid on the bus, tram, and metro. Multiple swipes within an hour also count as just one trip.

You could, of course, take a taxi, which I’ve learned is quite reasonable, and not cutthroat in their rates (unlike airport taxis in my country). Out of habit, however, I do not take a taxi if I can help it.
My first interaction with the locals was on the plane. Marta and Angela were two ladies who ran a travel agency, Atlantis Mara, and they had just taken a group to Myanmar for several days. So I was quite lucky as they spoke english and suggested places to visit and so on. I chatted with one of their clients about football, and learned that tickets to watch a match in Barcelona Camp Nou costs at least €50, but that there are clubs you can join which gets you a discount.

In the arrival area, there are information centres, banks, money changers, and a surprisingly large number of dogs. I suggest that unless you’re changing large amounts, you can get better rates elsewhere.

Distracted at Plaza España. It’s always better to make your way to your destination before getting into sightseeing.

As usual, I immediately got lost (even back in the Philippines, I have a horrible sense of direction). Despite having consulted at the tourist information booth, I missed my stop and had to take another bus back. Fortunately, there was a tourist information booth here because I couldn’t find the bus stop. Then, after receiving directions, I decided to sightsee for a bit, then proceeded to wait at the wrong bus stop for a bus that never came. I tried asking a few people for directions (all the Spanish phrases one has learned become so much harder to remember when you really need to use them), and was eventually pointed in the right direction by a waiter.

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The youths who man the tourist information centers are the best. They are multilingual and extremely helpful. This guy at Plaza España was way friendly and spoke spanish, catalan, english, and even korean.

TIP: As they tend to stand outside, waiters and shopkeepers are good people to ask for directions. Senior citizens are also happy to help, but one I spoke to completely ignored me after several “Buenos tardeses.” She either had really bad hearing or simply did not want to have anything to do with a FOB like myself. Also, take a cab if it’s not that expensive.

By the time I got to my flat past 3, my shoulders were screaming (my pack weighed around 20kg). I rang the bell, introduced myself to the voice over the intercom, and was let in by a young Spaniard named Jose, who turned out to be the property manager and the son of the owners of the flat.

We rode up on an antique elevator to the fourth floor, and I walked into what would be my home–and to meet the people who were to be my flatmates for the next ten months–for the very first time.


TIP: When looking for long-staying flat rentals in Barcelona, search out sites like JustLandedBCN, AirBNB, or Loquo. Also, don’t ignore ads simply because they don’t have photos. I plan to write a more detailed post about flat hunting in Barcelona in the future.

The Year of Living Dangerously

 

In less than a week I will be saying goodbye to my family, my friends, my country, and all that I know so well.  Goodbye to the familiar food, sights, sounds, currency, routes, weather, and smells.

It won’t be the first time I’ve gone abroad to study. When I was in secondary school I was a YFU (Youth For Understanding) exchange student to Norway where I was hosted by several families. When I left the Philippines for Norway in 1996, the Internet was still a novelty in those parts of the world. Letters were sent through the post instead of through email, and I remember my father giving me $2500 as pocket money for one year. It was the most money I had ever had , and by the end of the year, I hadn’t  even spent all of it.

The wacky pose was already in Oslo but didn't become a phenomenon until much later. Hartvig-Nissen Skole, Oslo 1996
Spot the odd man out. Hartvig-Nissen Skole, Oslo 1996

Seventeen years later I am once again heading out into the great unknown, but this time on my own. After weeks of gathering the necessary paperwork I have taken all my savings, liquidated my investments, made a downpayment on the tuition fee, and bought a one-way ticket to Spain. I don’t have a place to stay when I arrive, and since my funds aren’t enough to cover living expenses, I plan to work in order to support myself during my studies.

This is a chronicle of my journey, a life experiment if you will, and perhaps, it may serve as a guide to any of you out there who dream of venturing outside your comfort zone. Of making mistakes, of falling flat, so many times that you become immune to the pain, and become very good at dusting yourself off.

See you out there.

For a theme song, I thought This Year from the Mountain Goats’ The Sunset Tree album would be appropriate.