Adding It All Up – A Reflection on Our School of Social Work Spain Education Abroad Experience

By Joshua Goldman

16 USF students, 1 USF graduate, 2 USF professors, 3 days in Barcelona, 8 days in Alicante, and 3 more days in Barcelona. It’s funny how so often we measure life numerically. For the graduate students in USF’s Master of Social Work Program, this study abroad in Spain counted as 6 elective credits. We can count the participants, days spent, and credits earned, yet how do we reconcile the experiences gained and the lessons learned? How much introspection will yield true understanding of the impact this study abroad played in our lives? This cannot be measured.
So what more can we measure? According to recent statistics, an estimated 28 million Americans still live without health insurance coverage. In Spain, all citizens are able to receive health services for free or minimal copays. Even immigrants can receive many of these services. How can it be that the wealthiest country in the world lags behind in such a basic necessity?
The answers aren’t so clear. And while Spain offers health and social services to its citizens as a right, there are still issues. It did not take long to hear stories of a someone’s loved one waiting 8 months for leg surgery, or addicts waiting 2 months to enter rehab when every single day presents temptations that may prevent any hope of recovery. Religious organizations and NGO’s help fill the gap the best they can, and oftentimes work with the government to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Yet issues surrounding funding remain, with any economic downturn presenting a serious challenge to maintaining the social welfare system.
After speaking with doctors, educators, social workers, priests, nuns, clinical psychologists, and administrators, a larger picture begins to come into focus. This picture tells the story of the human condition. Every person has their trials and tribulations, failures and successes, moments of love and of heartbreak. Both in Spain and in the US, there are professionals dedicating their lives to improving the lives and well being of others. In the US, social workers fill many roles, as case managers, therapists, advocates, and community organizers to name a few, and in many diverse settings. In Spain, social workers do not have quite the same amount of job flexibility, yet their motives remain pure.
Both countries still face a host of social problems. Vulnerable populations continue to struggle. Politician too often are quicker to defend their campaign backers and corporate interests than the constituents who elected them into power. After spending two weeks in Spain on this study abroad, I am hopeful. I am convinced that as long as there are people who care, fighting for the rights of all people to live long and prosper, then the world will be okay. Forget Democrats and Republicans, citizens and immigrants, Europeans and Americans. We are all people; we are the human race. Let’s work hard and care for each other, and together we can and will overcome all obstacles. I thank Dr. Carrion and Dr. Joshi, Cynthia and Armando (our guides in Spain), my fellow student travelers, USF, Barcelona and Alicante, all the agencies and professionals who gave us their time and energy, and all the people who engaged with us during this trip. This unforgettable experience was both educational and life-affirming. I encourage anyone reading this blog to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and travel.

Why we are social workers

By Alyse Walton

There are moments in life where we get to experience something life changing, moments when we are humbled into silence and reminded life is a gift.

Wednesday, May 31st, our group was given the privilege to visit a very special house. Some of the kindest people I have met live in this home. It was created by nuns to care for those at end of life as well as those unable to care for themselves on their own due to a chronic mental or physical ailment.
During our stay, we learned this home only allows for women to stay. The home is supported through a gift system. The nuns only allow gifts to be given — they do not go out looking for charity or handouts, they simply rely on God to handle all of their needs. The sister informed us that in her many years at this home, her husband (God) had never let her down.
This is where we came in as a group. This home has many different responsibilities and needs, such as rehabilitation, house and ground keeping, laundry and food services, and much more. Our group was able to immerse ourselves into this home through hands-on service. We broke into groups and some of us helped clean up outside, some of us hung clean laundry, some helped in rehabilitation, and some with kitchen duties. The rehabilitation center was my area of experience, so I will tell you a little about that. In this area, I worked with two groups: those that had mobility and those that did not. Regarding the people who did not have mobility, I watched as nurses checked for comfort: were they dry, how they smelled, how they looked, and if they were responsive.
The second group was those that had mobility. We helped them stretch, play a few games, go on a walk, and do tests with them to gauge their mobility levels. Some of these tests included walking on stairs, riding a stationery bike, throwing a ball, and screwing in objects for hand rotation movements.
Once we completed our assigned stations, we all regrouped and provided entertainment to these individuals. Laura hula-hooped, we all sang, we clapped to the music, and provided them some small gifts in the form of USF pens. This was a tear-jerker of a moment to see and feel all of their gratitude. The staff and some of the residents said sweet words of thanks.
This experience was eye opening and a reminder of why we are social workers, why we need to be advocates to push boundaries and stay true to ourselves and the people we are advocating for.

La comida de España

“The Food of Spain”

By Amanda Molé, MSW

Food is an important part of every culture! Here are some of the delicious foods we experienced when we traveled to Spain.

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Tapas! Tapas are “snacks;” small dishes that are eaten together as part of a meal. Here, you can see tortilla española (egg and potato pie), brie with fruit spread, brie with roasted vegetables, and a potato croquette.
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Sangria, a mixed drink typically made with red wine, fruit, and brandy.
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Paella is a traditional Spanish dish normally made with rice, saffron, and seafood. This version is vegetarian paella, made with artichokes, peppers, and mushrooms in place of seafood.
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Postres, or pastries, are everywhere!
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Horchata is a delicious cold drink made from ground almonds, ice, cinnamon, and sugar.
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Carmelized goat cheese with balsamic vinegar.
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Flan, a traditional Spanish custard.

Adios, España

By Britney Jenkins

Today started dark and early for the majority of us, especially those with flights before 10am. Before I dive into the events and emotions of today, I’d like to enlighten you on those from the night before. We were treated to a beautiful stroll through the Parca de Montijuic, which was beyond breathtaking. As we made our way through the park, the reality set in: in just twelve short hours, we would be on our way back to the States. As I was walking through the park, my mind began to drift back to the day I arrived in Spain and how exciting it felt to embark upon this cultural experience through the country. I have never been off the East Coast, much less out of the country, so this was something completely unknown to me. I reflected on the emotions of being in another country with people I had only just met, the differences between the States and Spain, meeting my host family for the first time, and all the memories made. I was pulled back to reality by the beautiful water show, where crowds of people filled the once almost empty park. To me, the water show reflected our emotions and experiences while in Spain and was a perfect way to end such an experience.image1

After the water show, we made our way back to the Residencia, but before we could get to the train we came across street performers! They were so much fun to watch, and talented, too. We arrived back at the Residencia where we all shared our goodbyes because we knew 4am would come all too soon. Those who were once strangers were now connected by our amazing journey through Spain. I almost didn’t want to sleep because I knew the morning would come and it would be time to leave, and sure enough, it did.

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As I prepared to meet the cab downstairs, all I could hear in my head was the song “Leaving On a Jet Plane” — very fitting for the situation. I met Jade, Darlene, Nathan, and Spencer downstairs. As we waited for the cab, I felt a sense of sadness as we said goodbye to Spain. At the airport, we all parted ways and began our long journey home. Beginnings are always scary, endings are always sad, but what happens in between is what makes the lasting impact. I can’t fully reflect on my time in Spain because it all seems like a blur, but I do know I am leaving more than I was, more than I am, and with a greater understanding of who I want to be. Knowledge is power, and I know that is one of the greatest gifts Spain has given me. I have broken bread with complete strangers who welcomed me into their homes and lives as if I always belonged. I have witnessed the culture that is deeply rooted in Spain’s foundation. I have embraced the culture and tried many foods that were not in my comfort zone.

I have a new hunger for exploration, a greater understanding for people around me, and a desire to soak in as much as the universe is willing to share.

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Sagrada Familia

By Spencer Thorpe

Today was the last full day of the study abroad trip, and the morning consisted of a visit to the Sagrada Familia. Construction began in 1882, and it still has a very long way to go before it is complete, with an expected completion date almost 10 years away. The church is a result of, and heavily influenced by, the work of a man named Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi spent his life creating this masterpiece, regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. During the audio guided tour of the cathedral, it was noted that the final and central pillar will be close to 560 feet tall. Gaudi did not want it to be any taller, as he was noted as stating that it should not be any taller than the mountain Montjuic, as nothing man made should be taller than something created by God.

The architecture was unbelievably amazing, with architectural detail at every corner of this Gothic style cathedral. A constant theme throughout this experience involves the use of nature for the benefit for those who need it. The Sagrada de Familia was not any different, and there was incorporation of sunlight into this masterpiece. This was done using stain glass windows meticulously laid out to create the projection of warm and cold colors on the pillars and walls inside. Furthermore, nature was incorporated when designing the support pillars, as the guided tour informed people that the pillars were designed with the thought of trees in a forest in mind.

By far, this cathedral is one of the most impressive things I have ever laid eyes upon. I think it is important historically, so one can connect with the past, and recognize the prevalence of religion throughout the history of Spain. Finally, it demonstrates the ability of spectacular creation on behalf of man, during times of great innovative advances.

Hasta luego

By Jade Jessurun

Goodbyes are never easy, and though many people say they are bittersweet moments, often times they are more bitter than sweet. Growing a strong and solid relationship with your host family can certainly be a prime example of bitter being superior. Julia was my host mother for the past seven days in Alicante. To many, seven days seems quite brief, but it was just enough to develop an intimate relationship. Julia has welcomed me and my roommate, Darlene, with open arms into her home. Although that alone can speak volumes about one’s character, it was her generosity that defined my experience in Alicante.

From the moment Darlene and I stepped foot into her home, the term “study abroad students” stayed on her doorsteps. She treated us as if we were her own kids, which can easily explain the motherly love we have received from Julia. From fresh clean towels, to daily home cooked meals, three times a day, she wanted us to experience the raw culture of Spaniards. I am confident that no restaurant could have compared to her mastery of cooking. We have received authentic foods of Alicante, as well as Spain in general. Being the foodie that I personally am, the best way to get to MY heart is indeed through my stomach. This was easily achieved by the first meal, on the first day.

Language barriers were present between Julia and I, but luckily Darlene, who is a native Spanish speaker, was able to ease the flow of communication between me and Julia’s family. Reflecting on the communication process, as high as the barrier may have been between Julia and I, I have discerned that vocal expressions were not necessary. Our daily hugs and kisses on the cheeks spoke higher volumes of our relationship than words could ever express. Love can be felt and expressed in several different ways, but with Julia, I felt it and noticed it in many forms. For that, I will always be thankful.

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Aside from the family cultural immersion, I want to spend time detailing about the scenery in Spain. To say it is beautiful would be selling it short. From the ocean on one side, the city on another, and mountains incorporated in the background, driving back from Alicante to Barcelona today, this is exactly what I observed. Scenery. It can clear your head, fulfill your heart, and make you appreciate the smallest things in life. The right scenery can make you realize how small your problems are and how to value bliss and tranquility. While many people sleep on the scenic and beautiful ride back, I try to do the same. But I can’t. I simply can’t because of the beauty that is present right outside my window. It is a perfect opportunity to forget about life stressors, and to simply reflect on recent experiences.

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As our study abroad experience is slowly, but surely, coming to an end, we spent tonight in the beautiful downtown area of Las Ramblas. With the streets full of people, locals trying to sell the tourists items, and live musicians attempting to earn spare change with their talents, I remembered: this is where it all started. 11 days ago, we were all staring at the stores and buildings in awe. Today, we knew exactly where we were, how to navigate the streets as if we were locals, and fulfilling our nostalgic memories. Spain has offered so many cultural immersion opportunities, educational opportunities, and enjoyable experiences as well. Until the day that we can all come back to visit Spain again, especially Alicante, it is hasta luego for now.

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Parc de Montjuic

By Nathan Eder

Our visit to the Parc de Montjuic was nothing short of amazing. It was an immense park, packed with people either looking to sit and enjoy the view, wanting to exercise, or to learn some history. The Parc had ample running room, and in its center it contained the Palau Nacional. The Nacional contains four different museums focusing on architecture and art in the Catalan region, each museum focusing on a different time period ranging from the Gothic era to the Modern movement. All of this is also across the street from the various sites where the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games were held (complete with tiles on the sidewalk with runners’ names). It was all a perfect example of Spain’s focus on art, history, and health, which are all so ingrained in the culture and great to finally get to appreciate in person.

With so many things to see and do, what could possibly cap this park and make it so well known in the Barcelona area? A magical water show. For an entire hour, the Parc’s central fountain area shoots off an artistic aray of jets, shooting off into the sky (and at us) to dazzle and amaze. These jets are synchronized with constantly changing lights, which depend on the music that’s playing. Did I mention that they had music synced to the show? Yep. The show started off with a symphonic cover of Queen (their vocals still), then a section of popular music, followed by cinematic soundtracks (think Hans Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack), and ending with classical music.

The whole visit, especially the water show, was a brilliant finale to our epic journey throughout Spain.

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