Category Archives: Dustin in Spain

Goodbye and Hello

I’ve been stateside now, back in Idaho, for one week. It’s really great to be back at home with my family and friends. But there’s also a feeling of sadness or emptiness too, as I’ve left my other home and family.

Goodbye is such a trite expression. But when we actually have to say it, and really mean it, it’s profound. It hurts. Saying goodbye to Barcelona, my host-family, and the new friends, it’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But that’s the bittersweet moment of study abroad I suppose. To know that you’ve done something incredible.

So onto the topic at hand, reverse-culture shock.

As I stepped off the plane, the first thing I see are the rolling barren hills of the surrounding horizon. Not more than a hundred yards from my town’s tiny airport is the familiar site of rundown trailer parks and uninspiring housing. There is no architecture. There is no art. There really is no culture to speak of in that regard. Because where I’m from is a simple place. Its history is brief compared to that of Barcelona. So it’s not really fair to even compare the two. But I would be lying if I said if I wasn’t just a tad shocked to remember that I was just in one of the most bustling and beautiful cities on the planet and now here I am in something so mundane and simple.

I was also surprised to see enormous vehicles again, and not a moto-scooter in sight. I suppose what adds to the emptiness of my home is that there are no people just walking about or casually sitting at street-side food and bar establishments. The culture here in the States, even in our largest cities, is for everyone to own a vehicle and drive it. So despite my city of 35,000 being literally 1/20th the size of Barcelona, the traffic felt just as bad.

The day after I got back, I went to the grocery store with my girlfriend. It wasn’t my usual street-front fresh produce stand, but instead a big box store, another icon of American culture. As we perused the isles, I was awe-struck for just a moment that I could understand every single conversation happening around me. No longer was I bombarded with Catalan, Spanish, Chinese, German, etc.. just English. I haven’t decided if I like that or not — but at least now I can be certain I’m not being teased in a language I don’t understand! 🙂

My girlfriend and I are hosting a little dinner with Spanish and Catalan style cuisine at our house, in an effort to maybe bring some of what I experienced abroad, home with us. That’s all we or anyone can do really. By bringing some of it back with you, using it in your life, you can hold on to some of those memories.

In the coming weeks I am applying for graduate school. I definitely believe this study abroad experience will benefit my application and make me standout from others. This truly is a unique and life-changing experience. I look forward to encouraging others as I go on in my studies and career to study abroad — take advantage of opportunities like the Gilman or the Fulbright and a host of others.

A sincere thanks comes from my heart to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Gilman Scholarship Program, and to my family and friends (wherever they are in the world).

Be excellent to each other.


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Gilman Scholar Dustin Ellis’ Daily Life – Homestay

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Dustin Ellis. Dustin is serving as a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the academic year 2014-2015 studying in Barcelona, Spain. The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.


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Thoughts on Cultural Shock and the Reverse


Above is the chart by which I’m supposed to evaluate my experiences and offer some thoughts on whether or not I agree and why or why not. I’ll simply go through each point in order for clarity.

Phase 1 (Arrival) Everything is awesome when you’re pa… Wait. Everything is new, interesting and exciting. This is true, but frankly I still feel like everything in Barcelona / Catalonia / Spain is pretty much awesome. Perhaps if I were in a more exotic or less developed country I could imagine the ‘awesome’ factor wearing off.


A spectacular view from the Teleferic on Montjuic.


Phase 2 (Couple weeks in) Differences become apparent and irritating. Problems occur and frustration sets in. I don’t really identify with the chart on this point. I had very little issues adjusting or coping with cultural differences. Probably the only real big issue I had was simply adjusting to the time difference for sleep.

Phase 3 (4 weeks or so) You may feel homesick depressed and helpless. I think I definitely had and still experience this randomly. No matter how much I love Barcelona, I’m still longing for my closest loved ones. This feeling may have been much worse had I not met a great group of people here, and I can imagine that for some this is much more severe. Also, it was nice to know that from the beginning, my girlfriend was coming out to visit.


My girlfriend, Kaylee, came to visit for 9 days.


Phase 4 (6 weeks) You develop strategies to cope with difficulties and feeling make new friends, and learn to adopt to the host culture. Between school, my language exchange partner, Gilman stuff, and my new friends, I’ve never really had a chance to just relax. I suppose that also helped deter more feelings of homesickness.


The International Studies Abroad group I’m in.

Phase 5 (10 weeks) You accept and embrace cultural differences. You see the host as your new home and don’t wish to depart or leave new friends. There is definitely some truth in this. I do feel a sense of ‘home’ at my home-stay. But as I’ve said before, it is still pretty impersonal and I feel more like a guest at a hostel than I do a member of a home.  Certainly, the friends I have made here are great, and I do wish a few of them lived closer in the states, but to say that I don’t want to depart is a stretch. I am looking forward to departing because I have plans and goals that I need to get moving on. I can’t sit around in Barcelona! (Maybe if I was 10 years younger..)

Phase 6 (10 weeks) You are excited about returning home. Yes, I agree. Compared to Barcelona, the city of Lewiston is a sleepy village… I could go for some time in a sleepy village.


The Lewis-Clark Valley. About 40,000 people.

Phase 7 (Week or two home) You may feel frustrated, angry or lonely because friends and family don’t understand what you experienced and how you changed. You miss the host culture and friends and may look for ways to return. Technically, at the time of writing this, I haven’t returned home yet. But I know that I’m going to encounter some degree of these feelings. Studying abroad is an eye-opening, mind-expanding and emotionally challenging experience. I can’t expect people to understand something so profound… nor can I hope to even possess the eloquence to adequately express how it feels.

I can also attest to thinking about ways return already. In fact, I may pursue applying for the Fulbright Scholarship since I am graduating this semester!

Phase 8 (3 weeks at home) You gradually adjust to life at home. Things start to seem more normal and routine again, although not exactly the same. I can only say that this seems likely.

Phase 9 (4 weeks at home) You incorporate what you learned and experienced abroad in your new life and career. Again, I feel like this will be the case. I am sure I’ll be more conscious about recycling and water-usage because of my time here in Spain. I can also see myself drawing on this experience as a selling point for my applications to graduate school and future employment opportunities.


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Barcelona the Brutal Beauty.

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal of what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

My time here in Barcelona has been nothing short of exceptional. However, there are moments where I have a sort of clarity about my circumstances. I realize that even though I am calling this place home for the duration of my stay, it’s nothing of the sort. I own nothing in this home – I have no rights to change or alter my surroundings. It’s true that I am invited to feel at home, but in reality, it’s more akin to staying in a hotel – the kind where if you even touch the candy on the dresser, the ultra-sensitive scale detects your curiosity and charges your credit-card. So, in an effort to avoid such charges, you spend your entire stay cautious and in a certain state of anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong – I am elated about my circumstances in Barcelona. My host-parents are the best, the food and living conditions they provide for me are top notch. However, it’s just not like home. A lot of that is partly because where I am is missing the people that mean the most to me in my life, such as my parents and girlfriend. Furthermore, there is a persistent awareness that all of this is temporary – as I write this I am already on the downhill side of my time here.  Because of the lack of loved ones and this temporary circumstance, it’s difficult to ever truly feel at home.

The little decorations in my room. They’re ok.. but not exactly my style!

I would say I feel most at home when I’m just out in the city, or seated at a quaint eatery among locals – watching futbol. Barcelona is no longer an unfamiliar and daunting dame. With each day that I’m here, it feels more like I live here, the streets are familiar, the neighborhoods recognizable and the people identifiable. It feels good to have some wayward soul approach and ask for directions, and without hesitation I can respond in English (and maybe Español!).

I love walking Barcelona.

So, is traveling a brutality? I suppose it is, no more than life itself. After all, I believe that life is really only defined by our experiences, which only come to us because of our innate drive for adventure.  Socrates said the unexamined live is not worth living – I would add that life without travel is not worth living. So in this respect, a life well lived is not without a bit of brutality. A little suffering and pain helps articulate and emphasize those moments of splendor and beauty – of which Barcelona is more than not.

Near Arc De Triomf, I was walking and just had to get a picture of this sunset.

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Three days in Barcelona


Hola y bon dia!

My first days in Barcelona have been nothing short of an exciting, yet exhausting, whirlwind. Adjusting to a nine hour time difference, jet-lag, and being in an unfamiliar place has taken its toll on my mind and body. I won’t bore you readers with too much right this second, but wanted to check-in with a picture update!

Originally a bull fighting ring, now converted into a shopping mall.

Many of Barcelona’s large intersections of main streets feature fountains, statues or green spaces.

The ‘block of disagreement’ is a place where tourists gather to marvel at the work of famous artists/architects such as Gaudi. These buildings were designed in a sort of rivalry to be the best.

The Metro, Empty.

Fountains in front of the palace. These have a full color and music accompaniment, similar to the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. Better view here in Barcelona.

The palace of Barcelona. It serves as a museum now.


The old gothic style part of the library at my university (UPF). It serves mostly as an area for quiet study.

On Montjuic (Mountain of the Jews) you can stand at this lookout point and see the port of Barcelona along with much of downtown.


My bedroom in Barcelona. Small? Indeed. However, it is sufficient for sleeping and homework!

The view from the apartment I live in.



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First Impressions, Culture Shock, and Activities!

photo 2aa

I snapped this photo while walking around some of the less traveled side streets of Barcelona.

¡Hola Amigos!

In this blog entry I discuss pre-departure anxieties, first impressions, cultural differences and some of the things I’ve started doing here in Barcelona!

Pre-Departure Anxieties

The build up to leaving the country for the first time was a bit nerve-wracking. However, the anxiety was different because I wasn’t simply going away for a week or two, I was leaving for 3 months. I was going to live with people I don’t know, in a place I’ve never been and to function in a language and culture I barely understand.

Was I excited? Absolutely. But to say I had no reservations or doubts would be a lie. Even still, there is a certain level of anxiety. My Spanish has been improving at light speed compared to the progress I made in Idaho – but I’m still a novice. On top of that, my Catalan is even worse, which complicates matters in Barcelona, particularly with this uprising of independence from Spain – but I can talk about that another time.

First Impressions

Upon arriving in Barcelona, probably the first thing to hit me was how humid it was everywhere. The airport was hot and humid; outside was hot and humid, it was impossible to escape. I remember thinking that there was no way I could survive this for three months.

Luckily however, it turns out that I happened to arrive in a sort of unseasonable hot and humid week. The temperatures have since fallen a bit and the humidity has also subsided some. In general, I find the weather to now be most enjoyable day and night.

Somewhat related to weather conditions is the notion of fashion. Prior to departure I had read that in Spain, for the most part, men do not wear shorts. However, Barcelona is the outlier (probably because it so cosmopolitan and internationalized). Unfortunately, due to my pre-conceived notions based on what I read, I only brought one pair of shorts with me….and several pairs of pants.

Furthermore, my efforts to appear as little like a tourist as possible were futile because Barcelona is literally a tourist town. It receives eight million visitors a year, 70% of whom are from outside Spain. This does, however, make for interesting metro rides. I’m likely to hear Catalan, Mandarin, Spanish, Farsi, English and German in a single trip across town.


There are many bus tours happening in Barcelona all the time.

Speaking of languages, my primary concern in Barcelona is the fact that while it is part of Spain, the region is known as Catalonia, and this region has its own distinct language that sounds and looks more like French than Spanish. Catalan is still a minority language compared to Spanish, but there has been significant momentum by the Catalan government and education system to re-instate it as the primary language. Most everywhere you could visit has Catalan listed first, Spanish second, and if you’re lucky, English.


These signs are all over the underground metro system. No fumeu is Catalan, No fumar is Spanish.

I bring this up because my pre-departure research suggested that Catalan was only spoken by 45%of the population and even less of the population knew how to read and write it. So I didn’t expect it to be as predominant as it actually is.

Cultural Differences

Being over five thousand miles away from home, in a place with many more millenniums of history and culture, there are bound to be a few things different from Lewiston, Idaho.

First and foremost, water usage. Here in Barcelona, water is conserved at a great level. People are greener than in the States. People here take shorter showers and they never let the water run. For example, in the States when you shower, it’s typical to be in the shower for 10-15 minutes with the water running the entire time. In Spain, not only do showers not exceed 7 minutes, you actually turn the water off while you’re soaping your hair and body, only turning it back on to rinse (which actually makes more sense than leaving it running if you think about it). Furthermore, all toilets are equipped with the big and small flush option. I don’t think I need to elaborate much more than that.


Another cultural difference is the general wealth equality and social system. Spain is a capitalist liberal democracy just like the United States; however, they have addressed some issues of wealth inequality differently, such as having nationalized healthcare. Additionally, their ‘service’ sector jobs pay significantly better than their American counterparts. As a consequence, the idea of tipping is almost non-existent. In the states, tipping has become so ubiquitous and expected, the service can be terrible and they still tack 20% in gratuity just because. Not so in Spain. In fact, there isn’t even a tip section on receipts at restaurants. And if you do tip, it need not be more than a euro or two for even a tab of 40 euros. The same goes for taxi rides. But perhaps what is most perplexing is that the food, drink and taxi rides are not any more expensive than in the states, and indeed are often times cheaper because there is little or no tipping.

Perhaps the most obvious cultural difference, however, is the issue of health & wellness and more specifically; obesity. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are no overly obese people in Barcelona. Indeed, I have yet to encounter many people who could even be considered overweight. Don’t get me wrong, the Spanish aren’t all well-shaped gym rats, either. However, due to intelligent city design and planning (mixed-zoning) and sustainability efforts, people here walk and use bicycles much more than in the States. As a result, their healthcare costs are significantly lower, and their lives are generally less expensive, and I would argue, more enjoyable.


Here you can dozens of mopeds and bicycles locked up. This is a common sight in Barcelona.


This is the public bike system. You will see racks like this all over Barcelona. Basically locals can check a bike out, ride it to another rack somewhere else and drop it off.


Getting Involved

Part of the study abroad experience, maybe the most important part, is the immersion aspect. This means more than just living with a host family or going to school. It helps to just wander the city, get lost, and talk to locals when you can.

More specific ways that I’ve been getting involved begin with what is called the intercambio exchange. Essentially this is a program that matches local residents with international visitors. The purpose of this program is for each person to have the opportunity to practice their new language, such as English for them and Spanish for me. I actually meet my first partner on Monday, so stay tuned for that update.

The second activity I am getting involved in has been made possible by being a Gilman Scholar. The volunteer program is with the U.S. State Department. Essentially, I prepare a presentation and then visit under-served and low-income high schools around Barcelona to talk about a variety of topics – in English. The purpose of this is to expose school students to Americans and give them a chance to use their English with a real native speaker. I just had my meeting at the U.S. Consulate, so I haven’t given a presentation yet, but I plan to develop that over the next few days and begin my Barcelona lecture circuit as soon as possible.

I’m already thinking of opening up with a little exercise I picked up from some professors back at Lewis-Clark State College. I will give the class a blank sheet of paper and ask them to draw a map of the world as best they can. This will serve as a way of gauging their geographical awareness, but also get them to think about how they conceive the world in their minds and in their life.

Well amigos, that’s it for this installment. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more. The next video comes out in a couple of weeks and will be about my daily life – where I go, what I see, etc.

¡Hasta Luego!











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Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Dustin

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Dustin Ellis. Dustin is serving as a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent during the academic year 2014-2015 studying in Barcelona, Spain.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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