By Ana Martin
Hello again from Barcelona! Since I last wrote, I’ve settled into my life as a Fulbright Research Fellow conducting research in the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Barcelona. The work on my project is going well and overall my experience so far in Barcelona has been a rewarding one, both on an academic and personal level.
As you might expect, my life here is quite different from what it was living in Champaign, but I have been enjoying the change and have met so many kind and supportive people in the process. I’d like to show you what a typical work day in Barcelona is like for me:
8 - 8:30 a.m.: I wake up in my two-bedroom, third-story apartment in the Sant Antoni neighborhood. This neighborhood, or barrio, is mainly residential with lots of apartment buildings as well as small stores, pharmacies, bars, bakeries, etc. It´s about a 15 minute walk from the beautiful, historic, city center of Barcelona, and also well connected to metro lines that make it easy to get to other parts of the city. I share the apartment with a girl my age who has lived in Barcelona all her life. In fact, the apartment that we share is the same one she lived in as a kid with her family.
9:00 a.m.: I leave the apartment and head to the metro. If I´ve snoozed too long to make breakfast, which is more often than I´d like to admit, I might grab a croissant and café con leche from the corner bakery to eat it on the go… I know, very American.
9:30 a.m.: After my 20-minute metro ride, I arrive at the Physics and Chemistry Campus of the University of Barcelona, where I head up to the Chemical Engineering Department on the 6th floor. The campus here is very different than that of UIUC. The part of campus where I work consists mostly of science and engineering departments, which are housed in several different multi-story buildings. Other departments of the University can be found in different parts of the city. There is no central quad or Union building uniting the campus like we have at UIUC. There are campus-style universities in Spain, such as the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona, but the people I have talked to say they are not as common.
10:00 a.m.: In the lab, I work with another graduate student and two undergraduates on the waste-to-bioplastic project. I´m learning a lot about the scientific theory and practical challenges of producing bioplastics from organic waste that I didn´t know before coming to Spain. At the same time, it has been exiting to be able to apply and even teach some of the skills that I developed at UIUC in a different setting. The experience has broadened my perspective of the research field and my confidence as a researcher within it.
1:00 p.m.: (or 13:00 as you´ll see it here – the 24 hour clock took me some time to get used to) Around this time of day, we might have a group meeting with the professors supervising the project. This is where language can get interesting. Barcelona is in a part of Spain called Catalonia where most people prefer to speak their native language, Catalan, rather than Castilian Spanish, although they are fluent in both. At the same time, students and researchers are interested in practicing English since most scientific research is published and presented in English. Also, students here have to write and defend their final thesis in English, which is motivation to practice whenever they have the chance. Therefore, our group meetings often involve a mix of English, Spanish, and Catalan.
2:00 p.m.: Time for lunch, or la comida, as it´s called. This is typically the biggest meal of the day, and as you can see, it´s later than we would typically eat lunch in the United States. Sometimes we may even eat closer to 3:00. I usually bring a packed lunch, what they call here “tuper” derived from the word “Tupperware”, and eat with the other graduate students in the breakroom. Having a coffee after a meal is very common here, so after eating lunch my lab mates and I usually head downstairs to the campus bar for a coffee.
3:00 p.m.: Back to work to finish up whatever work might be left to do. Before moving to Spain, I expected, or maybe hoped, that this was the time of day everyone gets to take a nap, or siesta. But it turns out the siesta is not as common as you might think. It’s more commonly reserved for weekends, unfortunately.
6:00 p.m.: I leave work to head back home on the metro. From time to time, my lab mates and I may go for a caña, which is a small beer, before getting on the metro. Back in my neighborhood, I might pick up some groceries on my walk back to the apartment. Grocery stores here are not like the giant ones that we have in the United States. It´s more common to buy your fruit from a small fruit and vegetable store, your bread from the corner bakery, etc. Open air food markets are also very common, in which you´ll find several food stalls each selling a different type of food like veggies and fruit, cheeses and cured meats, fresh seafood, etc.
6:30 - 9:00 p.m.: My evening activities vary. The variety of things to do in Barcelona can be overwhelming! There is so much history, art, architecture, clubs, music, shows… the list goes on and on. These days I´ve started taking swing classes in local social center with another Fulbright researcher. This also gives me an excuse to spend time in the Gothic part of the city. I also like going on bikes rides in and around the city, or going out with my roommate and her friends to explore different restaurants and hangout spots. Barcelona is also surrounded by several beautiful natural parks which I hope to visit more of. In fact, next week I´ll be skiing in the Pyrenees! And did I mention the weather was great?! Sorry…
9:00 p.m.: Finally it´s dinner time. If you thought lunch was late, dinner, or la ceña, is even later. Actually, 9:00 is still
considered early. For instance my roommate might not start making her dinner until closer to 10. After dinner I might watch a TV show with my roommate or Skype with friends and family back home. With the time difference (7 hours ahead of Champaign, 9 hours ahead of California where my parents live) it can be tough keeping in touch with people.
Overall, my experience living abroad has been eye-opening. I have broadened my perspective of my research field and the goals for resource recovery from organic waste in Spain and Europe which I’ll talk about in more detail next time. Through my interactions with the people I´ve met here, I have made (what I hope will be) lasting friendships and furthered my understanding of Spanish and Catalonia cultures. And most of all, the little differences I’ve experienced in my daily life as American living in Spain have made me aware of some of the challenges and struggles that a person can face as an outsider immersing into a new culture. This, I think is the most powerful lesson I´ve learned so far, and one that I believe will help me be more patient and accepting of others in both in my professional career and in life in general when I return home.
All photos courtesy of Ana Martin. Top photo features Ana at the lab with two of her labmates. From left to right: Marc Garrigo, Chemical Engingeering, Univeristy of Barcelona, Spain; Ana Martin; Raul Paniagua, Chemical Engineering Department, University of Barcelona, Spain.
Ana Martin is a 6th year PhD student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Illinois. She is spending the 2015 - 2016 academic year living and researching in Barcelona, Spain on a Fulbright Research Fellowship. Her research centers on wastewater treatment. Ana will be reporting in from to field to tell us all about her experience as an Illinois graduate student living abroad.