The journey to Alicante

By Jamie Hoagland

We left for Alicante this morning. Initially, the drive was a mix of city with rocky mountains off in the distance. The drive was littered with patchwork gardens and buildings that are surely hundreds of years old. As we drove through the countryside, I imagined what it must have been like when those buildings were erected. The care and intention which went into each tile, brick, and all materials used to create the still functioning structures is outstanding. I appreciated the bus ride as it provided me a view of the country I would not otherwise be able to enjoy. I am overwhelmed with the deep sense of rich culture and history that is on display. It is unlike anything I have experienced. There were industrial sections just off the highway that could be distribution points or manufacturing sites.

Farms are scattered along the drive of what I assume to be olive trees since olive oil is a huge export for the country. I saw a farmer on his tractor tending to fields that appeared to be in the initial phase of planting. Then another farmer positioned in a field of more mature trees appeared to be inspecting the progress of the olives.


Eventually, we stopped at what would be comparable to a U.S. highway rest stop with gas to have lunch. Interesting enough, Spain closely monitors the hours driven of the public transit operators with devices located on the bus. Information on how long and how far the bus driver has gone can be calculated. It is mandatory for the operator to stop for 45 minutes for every 4 hours driven. The stop was in a field with a beautiful view of mountains off in the distance. Although the population I have spoken with continues to explain how hot Spain is, particularly in Alicante, I find it to be extremely comfortable. We were provided a sack lunch of an apple, water, and traditional sandwiches of bread with cheese and meat. While I sat in the shade away from the highway, a slight breeze made the experience exceptional. The view of the mountains made it easy to be completely present within my surroundings.

Back on the bus, we moved up into mountains and I know this because my ears were feeling the pressure. Up in the mountains, a view of the Mediterranean Sea was offered and it made for a magnificent back drop. The deep blue water lining the coast outlined what looked like traditional Spanish residences was fairly breathtaking.


Once we arrived in Alicante, we stopped at a McDonalds to take a bathroom break and engage in group discussion on what to expect upon our arrival and meeting our host parents. My anxiety was beginning to build slightly. The unknown is often the most stressful experience I can translate. We arrived! The host families were all sitting together with smiles and looks of anticipation as the bus pulled up to the curb. They all seemed to be genuinely excited to meet their new guests and assist us in immersing ourselves into their culture.

My friend, Kat, and I were the first to be introduced. Two adorable ladies, of whom we would refer to as senior citizens back in the United States, were locked at the elbows standing together eagerly awaiting our initial interactions. Vale, pronounced Volley, is a short, sweet looking grandma type and a fast talker. We verbally introduced ourselves with the help of Darlene (shout out to Darlene; you rock!) and Vale led us to her car. It took approximately .06 seconds to figure out this adorable lady speaks absolutely no English. However, this is okay because I speak no Spanish. It seems as though the culture does not make distinctions between adults and seniors like we do in the United States. In many interactions with the leaders we have met about these distinctions most respond with, they are adults.

We made it to the trunk of her car, placed our bags inside, and after a few minutes of blank stares and intense lack of communication, I realized she is asking if we have anymore to place in the trunk. I say, “No mas.” She laughed at me and gave me a friendly nudge of approval.

I sat in the back seat and Kat was in the front while Vale was having a fast and furious conversation. Kat appeared to understand some of it and gave simple answers. I was suddenly more appreciative of Kat’s existence on Earth than ever before. Without someone around that can get the basic gist of what Vale is saying, it would have been a very long and confusing week.

As we made our way to Vale’s apartment, she gave us what I assume was an educational discussion on local sites, such as the bull fighting arena. She also provided us with loose directions on where we came from and how we were getting to our destination. We arrived at her apartment and she parallel parked her tiny car in a spot only a real pro could manage. Vale is a total boss.

Upstairs, her apartment is extremely clean and very cute. She provided us with a brief history of her family from the pictures on the wall. I believe she has a son, a daughter, and her husband has passed. But, I could be totally incorrect due to the language barrier. Vale brings us to our bedroom where she assigns us to our bunks, shows us where to store our things, and gives us a brief run down on expectations and how to use the shower.

We moved onto the patio where we reintroduced ourselves in a less chaotic situation. “Me llamo Jamie.” “Me llamo Kat.” Kat, this brings some confusion so we do our best to clarify. “Me llamo el gato, meow.” Again, she laughs and shows affection as if she has known us all our lives.

She moved into the kitchen and brought out potatoes to peel. I asked if I can help and she politely but sternly told me no. Those potatoes were peeled in no time flat.

We used Yelp to show her a vegetarian restaurant in the area we may like to visit in the future. This ignited a frustrating and chaotic discussion about gluten, meat, and cheese that only the foreign ministry could have negotiated with less freight.

Apparently, Armando left out dietary restrictions and we brought it up like a surprise. (Note to self: no more Yelp.) Vale quickly got Armando on the phone and they worked it out with little to no issue. Vale communicated many things dealing with Armando I will never know.

Vale made us a torte potato like a real Spanish grandmother would. Tasty. We made our way into the bedroom and set ourselves up and contacted Darlene and Jade who are just across the street staying with Vale’s BFF. In this time, Kevin showed up. Kevin is an American who is staying in the front bedroom on a different study abroad program and has been here since January. He explained Vale has foreign students in her home often and gets it that we do not speak Spanish. He explained, what I am beginning to understand on my own, that she is a uniquely sweet lady and we have nothing to worry about. He leaves in a week but he speaks Spanish so this gave Kat and me more hope.

Kat and I explain to Vale that we are going to meet our friends and explore the city. Vale smiles and waves her hand at us signifying we are on our own. We meet Jade and Darlene and take the bus to the last stop. We know it was the last stop because the bus driver told us to get off of the bus. It dumped us out near the water and Las Rambla where it appeared there may have been a flurry of entertainment and action. However, it was getting late and most of the vendors and entertainers were packing up or had already left. We made our way to a bar Kevin suggested but opted for another near his suggestion since that one had accessible outside seating. “Uno Mojito por favor.” After our drink, we walked the 18-minute walk back to our host families’ homes and ended what I believe was an amazing first day in Alicante.

Linda’s host mom served paella!

Spanish social work and culture

By Laura Breeze

Today started with a visit to FEFCO, whose initials are loosely translated as the Foundation for the Education and Information of Cancer.  This nonprofit seeks to educate people about cancer, as there can be misinformation or simply a lack of information. They have websites focusing on four different populations: Breast cancer, prostate cancer, older adults with cancer, and relatives of individuals with cancer. One similarity between the men of Spain’s culture and the men of American culture is there is a lot of pride that can prevent the men from seeking help. A difference,however, is how relatives are involved. In America, we tend to be very individualistic, and we primarily deal with private insurance. Because of this, we don’t have programs that focus on relatives as often. But of course, a serious illness will affect an entire family, and better information and support to more than the individual with cancer can be a great benefit.

Our next stop was the Pere Torres Foundation. This is the School of Social Work in Barcelona. Since we have been here, we have been learning that social work in Spain is very different from social work in America. There are multiple aspects of social work that we’ve learned, from practices closer to counseling, to finding resources to clients, to macro practice related to laws. Most social work practice in Spain seems to be focused on connecting people and families to different resources, things that we might consider mezzo practice. They do take a lot of courses that appear similar to our curriculum, and it seems they have similar values, but it is not exactly the same profession.

After the educational visits, we were able to have fun and experience Spanish culture at a Flemenco show in Barcelona. I became extremely hyped when I learned that the area was used in the movie The Cheetah Girls 2, which was a favorite movie in my childhood. Once we went inside, we got to experience a calm and intimate atmosphere. The show was performed by a guitarist, a percussionist, a singer, and two dancers. It was amazing to see how well all of the different elements worked together. The guitar, rhythm, and tap of the dancers shoes all went in perfect time. It was lively and fascinating, and wonderfully Spanish. As a whole, the day was a wonderful blend of learning about the programs in Spain and enjoying their culture.

La Casa dels Xuklis: “The Butterfly House”

By Besima Halilovic

The Butterfly House is a non-profit organization that provides housing for families from all over Spain, as well as other countries, whose child is battling cancer. The name of “The Butterfly House” is actually ‘La Casa Dels Xuklis.’ The house consists of two floors. The first floor provides families with a kitchen, laundry room, dining and living room, which are all common areas. The first floor also includes individual family apartments. The second floor consists of two rooms: one is used for entertainment for the families, and second room is used for teaching/education of the children. The house has 25 apartments for the families with children up to 18 years of age. The property is surrounded by a garden, flowers, and outside sitting area, as well as a meditation room. The meditation room is used for meditation for employees as well as for parents, and also as a ‘calming room’ for parents in crisis. It is separate from the main house.

The vegetable and flower garden outside of La Casa dels Xuklis.

Visiting the Butterfly House has been an inspirational experience that has changed my perspective when it comes to working with the most vulnerable population (children) battling cancer. I also believe that our tour guide, who is a Clinical Psychologist, couldn’t have been a better example of a professional who cares and truly loves her job. Her demeanor and her tone of voice were comforting to me as an individual as well as a future social worker. Working with children who are battling cancer can be emotionally challenging. The Clinical Psychologist, Pepa Gonzalez, helped me realize that I can acknowledge my emotions without negatively impacting care for the clients.

“It is possible to be human and a professional at the same time.”

Los Toros outside of La Casa dels Xuklis

Sant Pau Nouveau Site

By Linda Baldwin

”Ampareu Syor, als benefactors y als asilats d’aquesta Santa Casa aixi en la terra com en lo Cel e inspireu sentiments de caritat envers d’ella. Amen.” This is a quote whose letters were carved out of stone and creates the balustrade (banister) in the original main hall of the Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau. It translates as: “Succour Lord, the benefactors and the inmates of this Holy House here on earth and in Heaven and inspire towards it sentiments of charity. Amen.”

This is just one of the amazing architectural wonders that comprise the Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau in Barcelona. The hospital was built between 1902 and 1930. It was designed by the Catalan modernisme architect Lluis’ Domenech I Montaner. There are 12 separate pavilions and the underground tunnels that link them together were used to transport food and medicine from pavilion to pavilion.

The word “amen” carved in stone.

The hospital was built with the intention to not only provide function through its open space design, but beauty and comfort to those who stayed there. What struck me was Lluis’ Domenech I Montaner’s intent is what architect’s consider “cutting edge” today: building structures that incorporate light and serenity into their designs. Montaner accomplished this over a hundred years ago.

The beautiful hospital, now a museum, as seen from the outside.

Today, this hospital is a museum and is also home to international organizations like the United Nations who work to improve the living conditions of citizens.

Advances in medicine and the demands of technology led to the building of the new Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau, which is within walking distance of the old hospital. There are 46 beds in the new hospital, 3 levels and 4 wings within each level. Services for patients are free because of the universal healthcare system Barcelona practices. This is one of the main differences I observed as a social worker. Our healthcare systems similar reliance on funding was evident as well. As we entered into the new hospital, “NO JUDEIL AMBELS NOSTRES SOUS” was the sign hanging above the entrance. It translates into “Don’t mess with our money.”

Some of the ornate designs inside the hospital.

Discovering the International Practice Model

By: Candis Hardin

Entering a new country opened my eyes to a whole new world. Along with a new area from an international social work perspective, it is important to look at the culture and history of a particular area. In Spain, there is a major influence of the Catholic religion and Gothic architecture from years ago which still stand and help make up the beautiful country that stands here today.

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Entering the cathedral.

Today, we as a group were able to view Santa Maria del Mar, a cathedral in Barcelona that embodied history and culture all in one structure. The 14th century Catalan Gothic architecture of the Santa Maria also had historical roots in how much Catholicism has influenced the people of Spain. In the past, people belonging to the Catholic belief believed the closer you were buried to the church, the closer you would be to entering Heaven once Christ had risen. In Santa Maria del Mar, there are still graves that lay beneath the church as you tour within. From the events today, I feel that we were able to see the importance of the social development perspective as part of the international social work practice model.

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An example of the Gothic architecture inside the cathedral.



USF Bulls have landed in Spain!

Hola, familias y amigos! Los Toros (Bulls) have landed safely in Barcelona, Spain. Check back daily for more updates about our adventures. Our Toros en España blog will feature a different student (or students) each day, as well as new pictures! See you soon!

Blog admin: Amanda Molé, MSW