University of Calgary

Postcard from Spain

June 25, 2009
Carly Sponarski, a Master of Environmental Design student, jumped at the opportunity to go to Barcelona, Spain. She spent the fall semester designing, exploring and relishing the Spanish culture. Here’s her postcard home.

Why participate in a study abroad program?

I am currently doing my Master in Environmental Design (EVDS), specializing in environmental science. A part of the EVDS degree requirements is a course we take in our second year and the students have the option of doing the course in Calgary or in Barcelona, Spain. The possibility to study abroad was one of many reasons I decided to come to EVDS in the first place. I have travelled to Europe before and I thought it would be a great personal and learning experience to live in a European city for a few months. Our course was a project-based study on an area of Barcelona. In groups we were given different areas of the city and we were asked to design something. It was an interesting challenge because the groups had at least three different disciplines from our faculty. We had to learn how to work with one another and decide on a single concise and unique design for our site. Knowing the type of work we would have to do in this course I thought Barcelona would be a great city to try something new and challenging. It is a truly unique city full of history, art, science and culture.

Tell us about Spain.

Even though Spain in geographically smaller than Canada, the people and the culture are just as diverse. Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia State in the northeast of the country. It is a state with its own language, Catalan, unique culture and a very independent history from Spain. The people of Barcelona are friendly and passionate about their way of life. Throughout my time there I witnessed many Catalan festivals, holidays and traditions. It was really inspiring witnessing people of all ages maintain their culture and way of life. On many occasions I would see the traditional drumming band parade down a street to celebrate Catalan’s independence or special holiday. The drums were very haunting but beautiful.

Any interesting topics or findings you discovered?

Coming from a biology background and now an environmental science master’s degree, I was thrown into a course that was architectural and urban design oriented. This required me to learn a new way of designing and looking at a problem. It was an interesting learning experience, one I won’t soon forget, and I have incorporated different aspects into my own thesis work. What I loved was that I learned the history of Barcelona from Roman times to present day through architecture and urban design, which surprisingly enough provided a well rounded view of how and why Barcelona is the city it is today. It also gave me an appreciation of the city and its people. Through my project I was able to look at the environmental condition of the greater Barcelona area through time. It was interesting to see how humans used and developed the landscape through time and how this affected the landscape and water systems.

At present I am working on my thesis. My research is examining social trust issues in the government in regards to wolf management.

Tell us about your Barcelona journey.

My time in Barcelona and the cities I visited was fantastic. I would take time for myself to discover areas, stores, and sights that were unique to me. I love having memories that are just mine. One thing I would do was go for walks at random times in the day, I usually didn’t have a plan but where my feet and iPod would take me. One day, near Sagrada Familia, I stumbled across this large boulevard much like Rambla de Catalunya with a large centre boulevard dissecting the lanes of traffic. It was here where parents brought their children to play. Grandpas played soccer with their grandchildren, Moms chased their kids and children learned how to play hopscotch. It was here I choose to take a break at a café to drink a cup of tea, write in my journal, sometimes sketch and just watch people. During my walks I found fantastic stores, my favourite undiscovered bakery and my favourite vantage point of the city. Barcelona is an extremely dense city with millions of small streets, hosing shopping gems. I discovered my favourite places by stumbling across them. And through getting lost in this massive city, I fell in love with Barcelona and created my own experience and relationship with the Catalan culture.

Barcelona has its own set of smells, noises, sights and tastes. What caught me off guard was the difference in smells and noises in comparison to Canada. For example: One night, as I was getting ready for bed, I started to hear this low rumble in the distance. Over the next few minutes, the rumble grew and grew into drumming, chanting and cheering. I opened my window to look for the source but the cast iron bars across my window blocked my view. The mass of sound was dancing towards my apartment so I quickly ran down my stairs and out in to the street. As I stepped out of my door I was bombarded with visual, audio and olfactory images. There was an organized crowd carrying Catalan flags and burning torches. They chanted in Catalan, so I obviously had no idea the purpose behind this swarm of people. Behind the torchbearers, there was a drum line. The haunting beat created by the drums provided images of battles past. The air smelled of smoke and sweat. The gang turned into the Memorial plaza beside the Cathedral Santa Maria de la Mar. The square had been decorated with flowers and flags. Here a mass of people came together to remember the dead from revolutions past. So it is memories like this one, the good, the bad and the ugly that Barcelona definitely provided me with. And lucky for me, wonderful random cultural experiences happened all the time.

Would you like to share any words of wisdom?

When you are studying abroad you will experience tons of new activities, food and culture. It is always great, especially if you start to feel a little home sick, to incorporate activities that remind you of home. For me going to the movies was a fun and comforting activity.

For more information on study abroad programs please visit the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad (CISSA) website ( This postcard was supplied by CISSA.

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