The Catalan Question: Bianca

I’m not entirely sure how much coverage this situation got in the New Zealand media, but at the very least after the last few months I am sure that you will have heard about Catalonia and their attempt at independence. I am not a journalist or even studying journalism but after reading some of the reports from the BBC and other international media outlets I thought I would add my opinion of what has been going on, as someone who is living in Spain as it is happening.DSCN9448DSCN9455 - Copy

I guess the best place to start when considering recent events is the referendum that was held on the 1st of October in Catalonia (for those who do not know Catalonia is one of the regions of Spain with Barcelona as its capital). Personally, I almost forgot the referendum about the referendum, with so much going on at uni and a number of deadlines fast approaching, it wasn’t until minutes before 6pm that I checked in on the progress. I was incredibly shocked to see a number of reports about the police brutality, particularly in Barcelona. After speaking with a few people in my residence about what we were seeing on TV it was pretty clear that none of us knew the explanation for the violence. What we did find out in class a few days later was that the referendum had been declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain in September as it was in breach of the 1978 constitution – which the Catalan people voted in favour of at the time. Not only had the referendum been declared illegal by Spain, but the High Court of Justice of Catalonia had also given orders to the police to prevent the referendum, which included orders for the arrest of various individuals who had helped to organise it. These orders were not followed by the Catalan police, with videos being posted on the internet showing police officers walking past voting stations, waving and smiling. It is for this reason that the Spanish Civil Guard was deployed to carry out the orders that the Catalan police ignored. Based on the way that I have seen these facts represented in the media I believe that the Catalans played a much smarter game in regards to media coverage, almost every article that I read had the Catalans looking like the victims and the Spanish government portrayed as the oppressor.

Not only was the referendum illegal, it also did not meet the minimum international standards for elections. We found video footage showing people bringing the – supposedly empty – ballot boxes into one of the voting stations before the start of the referendum. This footage shows one of the ballot boxes being dropped and rather than being empty a whole sheath of voting papers fell out, all marked in favour of independence. Usually in a referendum or vote there is only one ballot per person and you are signed up to vote in a specific station, however during the Catalan referendum, the electorate were able to vote at any voting station and print the ballot at home to bring to voting stations; this resulted in there being no limit to the number of ballots one person was able to post in the ballot boxes.

The question on the ballot to which voters could answer “Yes” or “No” was “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a Republic?”. According to the official results of the referendum the “Yes” side won with 92.01% of the votes. However, when everything that we were seeing in the news is taken into consideration along with less than 50% voter turnout with a high proportion of the “No” voters not attending due to being asked not to by the constitutional parties, doubt is cast on the validity of the result.

What I heard from a few of my classmates with family in Catalonia is that their family had voted “Yes” during the referendum and at the time strongly believed that Catalonia both had the right to be an independent state and that it should be one now, were beginning to doubt in their decision. It only became clear after the referendum that if Catalonia claims their independence from Spain they will no longer be part of the European Union and that they will not be recognised as a country by the United Nations. This fact was made even more real by the round 1400 businesses that pulled out of Catalonia in the aftermath of the referendum and the sudden spike in unemployment that this caused. Historically and still today Catalonia is one of the most affluent and successful regions in Spain. The fact that they have always had to pay more taxes to the state because of this has always been a point of contention for the Catalans. They see themselves as a different nation, first Catalan and second – if at all – Spanish.

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The question that I heard over and over during the course of the last few months and the one I want to leave you with is: does every nation have the right to its own state? As an extension of this question: Should the Catalans be allowed independence from Spain?

 

If you want to discuss this further or have any questions about and exchange in Spain feel free to send me an email to bsta867@aucklanduni.ac.nz.

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Campus Life: Bianca

I guess we all have a certain expectation of what campus life will look like at university, I know I did starting UoA and again coming here to Oviedo. However, the expectations of clubs, events on campus both specifically for exchange students and all students in general and in general just hanging out with friends on campus, have not been met by my experience here at the University of Oviedo. Now please don’t take that the wrong way, that there is nothing to do here and that I am having a horrible time because that is NOT true. What is true though is that I have to organise all my own fun, there are very few organizations on campus, there are no restaurants on campus and the campus life that we are used to just doesn’t exist.

Before you all make up your mind that there’s no way you want to come to Spain, let alone Oviedo, let me explain a little.

Timetables vary depending on what faculty you study in and which year of your degree you are in. For example, all the classes that I take in the faculty of economics are between 9am and 12:30pm (there are also afternoon classes if you prefer to sleep in). While in the faculty of chemistry, if you are in your first year your classes will run from 9am to 2:30 every day, with a few exceptions for field trips and tests. However, if you are in your second year of a chemistry degree your classes start at 1:30pm and run till 7pm. Personally, because of the mix of classes I take at both faculties I have class Monday to Friday from 9am to 2:30pm, three days a week I have a short break in the middle, while Wednesdays and Fridays I have 6.5 hours of class without a break and I am always late to physics because I have to run from one faculty building to the other. This is because unlike at UoA where classes start at 5 minutes past the hour and finish 5 minute early (or they are supposed to) here classes start at the scheduled time and finish at the scheduled time, assuming they are both in the same building this isn’t a problem.

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I think I have mentioned this before, but the University of Oviedo has 7 campuses, so living in the university residence means that I live on one of the smaller campuses. In my opinion there aren’t really any campus traditions that I have been able to find. The residence I live in has a few but again I feel more like there are routines that form throughout the semester/year. Although the residence does have a few students who have lived there for up to 4 years so there are some traditions that happen every year. One that I have already spoken about is the Novatadas, so I won’t go into detail about them again, but they are like initiations for new residents that want to participate and they are a great way to get to know the people that you are living with. Another one that I had almost forgotten about because it is such a long time ago now, is a welcome ‘dinner’ they have every year in the second week of classes. This starts off with a meeting in the salon held by the Director of the residence and by the previous year’s student representative. After the meeting has concluded, we all go into the cafeteria for a tapas style standing dinner with unlimited beer and sangria. The part that made this seem like a tradition to me was that half way through eating the food all of the previous residents broke out into song, singing the residence’s songs.

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Talking about campuses, the faculties of the university are split between campuses. The campus I live on has all the sports facilities (running track, gym, pool, indoor courts) and the faculty of information technologies. This means that the Sunday football games are played, quite literally, across the street from where I live and every Sunday there is a group of students from this hall that take a drum and go support the universities team! Meanwhile the campus I study at, is quite a bit larger, housing the faculty of economics, law, biology, chemistry and a research facility. Each faculty has a cafeteria in it, my top tip would be to make use of these. They have a range of sandwiches for one euro each, reasonable coffee for less than a euro (or so I’ve been told considering I don’t drink it) as well as a daily menu i.e. a three course meal for 6 euros.

 

When it comes to uni organizations/clubs I hadn’t found or heard of any since I got here, so to make sure that it wasn’t just me I asked a friend (a Spanish student from Oviedo), she only confirmed what I thought, while there are about 5 clubs that she is aware of, none are advertised and neither of us knew how or where we would be able to join them. The only club that I have seen any activity from is the feminist association, they have hung posters around the campus about violence against women.

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The one group that I have seen a lot of and who regularly organise both events and trips is ESN or the Erasmus Student Network. Their most famous event is their Martes de Tapas, or Tuesday tapas nights. These take place in a different tapas bar every week and ESN provides tapas for all. They are a lot of fun and a great way to meet a lot of people, but due to my schedule I haven’t had much chance to go.

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After a tapas Tuesday, everyone is up for a bit of fun

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I am really enjoying my time and have had a lot of great opportunities, however if you are expecting the kind of campus life from UoA or from the movies it just isn’t a part of the culture here. Although there are a lot of other things on offer, you just have to be prepared to make your own fun.

Until next time, Bianca.

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Food, Glorious Food: Bianca

As you can tell by the title of this blog, it is about one of my favourite things: FOOD! I will warn you now that this post ended up being a lot longer than I planed… Before coming to Spain all I thought of when someone mentioned Spanish food was paella, tapas and Spanish tortilla BUT there is so much more especially when you come up north. The most famous foods around the food are those that are typically eaten in southern Spain, while you can also find a great deal of these in northern Spain (for example I have been eating Spanish tortilla for breakfast nearly every day) they also have their own culinary traditions up here.

Traditionally Asturians are farmers, Shepherds and fishermen; this is reflected in the local gastronomy. The native breed of cattle here is prized for its milk and over 10 different types of cheese are produced from various milks in the region, 6 of which I have been lucky enough to try. They are delicious! I have always been a huge fan of goat’s cheese and they do it really well here, there is even a restaurant where, among many other types of pizza, you can get goat’s cheese pizza, delicious! The most famous cheese of the region is a blue cheese called Cabrales cheese; I will admit that this is the only food I have tried so far that I do not want to try again. It is a very strong blue cheese and as someone who does not usually like blue cheese, it was way too much for me.

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Asturias has 1300km of coastline and their history as fishermen means that seafood is also a big part of their food. One thing that I couldn’t get over to begin with is how much tuna the people here eat! I do live a catered uni residence and at least 4 times a week we have tuna, be it tuna steaks or tuna in the daily salad. I admit that I have come to really enjoy having tuna in my salad but we also have the option of tuna in our breakfast rolls and anytime I go to buy an empanadilla there is always a tuna option. The slightly more unusual seafood dish that is very famous here is Pulpo or Octopus. This is a dish that is also very famous in Galicia. The way it is served here is cut up octopus tentacles on potatoes seasoned with paprika. I was quite apprehensive to try this for the first time but octopus doesn’t really have a taste, it is just the texture that is a bit strange.

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I have found two new favourite foods since arriving in Spain, Emapanadillas and Cachopo. Empanadillas are pretty similar to empanadas that we know from Argentina; however here they are they are made with two different kinds of pastry. My personal favourites are those made with fluffy, flaky pastry, rather than those made with a short crust kind of pastry as these can often be too dry. As I mentioned earlier will there are many varying options for filling you will always find a tuna option and I have found that this is often one of the better options. Cachopo is similar to cordon bleu. It consists of two large veal filets that are fried with breadcrumbs and served with potatoes and preserved capsicum.  What makes it special is that it is filled with ham and cheese between the two filets and that one portion of Cachopo is big enough to serve 2-3 people. It has become my new go to meal when I can afford to go out to dinner and I have had it a few times but the best one was at a restaurant called ‘El Gato Negro’. This is a wonderful restaurant with many typical dishes and very popular with the locals, but I would highly recommend if you are going with a group of people, we almost didn’t get a table!

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I will try and keep the next bit short so this post doesn’t get too much longer but I cannot talk about the gastronomy of Asturias without mentioning Sidra. It’s not too difficult to make the link from the name that Sidra is Cider, the traditional drink of Asturias. It is made from locally grown apples and has been produced since ancient times. The Sidra is always bottled in the same dark green glass bottles (so it is really easy to recognise) and there is a very special method to pouring and drinking it. The waiters serve the Sidra by holding a large glass in one hand and the bottle in the other; he raised the bottle over his head and lets the Sidra fall into the glass which creates some carbonation. This method of pouring is called escanciar and is really hard to do well. Tradition also dictates that no more than a few centimetres of Sidra is poured at once and it must be drunk immediately. The best place to go to drink Sidra is a Sidreria and some of the best are found in Calle Gascona, it is here that you can also find one of the best restaurants in Oviedo: Tierra Astur.

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Side note: Los Premios de la Princesa de Asturias

I imagine it was covered in the news in New Zealand, but for anyone who may not know; the All Blacks received a Princess of Asturias Award just last week. The awards ceremony was held in the theatre here in Asturias and I found myself outside the theatre in the crowd while the All Blacks were receiving their award for sport. Among the other winners for this year were noble prize winners and a musical group from South America. The All Blacks also hosted a training session for rugby players here in Asturias as part of the lead up to the awards. These are some of the most prestigious awards in Spain, so congratulations to the All Blacks!

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Accommodation Awards: Bianca

When looking for accommodation I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I’ve never moved out of home before so I knew this experience was going to be one of many firsts. When choosing accommodation for my exchange here the University of Oviedo offered 3 options: finding my own flat with other students or professionals, living in a university residence or living with a home stay family. I ended applying for a spot in one of the University of Oviedo’s three student residences; El Colegio Mayor san Gregorio, El Colegio Mayor America and the Residencia Universitaria de Mieres. The odds were in my favour and I was lucky enough to get a room in El Colegio Mayor san Gregorio (my first pick!), and it is now the place I call home. While I had been hoping to get an individual room, I have ended up in a double which is slightly cheaper and I now prefer. I got really lucky with both my room and my roommate!

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Accommodation Award for best size and location:
The university residences here are a lot smaller than the ones in Auckland, having between 94 and 112 beds, this means that all the staff get to know you and learn your breakfast orders! While the location is not quite perfect for me, because of how long it takes me to walk to my campus; the location of the Colegios Mayores is excellent! They are located on one of the University’s 6 Campuses in Oviedo and I feel as though I live in a huge sports complex. If you are studying computer sciences or sports medicine these residence would be ideal for you because you would be living 100m away from the faculties! While my walk to uni every morning is a bit long the walk to and from the centre of town is around 10 minutes which is perfect for going out, which everyone here does! If you decided to live here you should be prepared to hear people coming home from a night out between 5 and 8am particularly on weekends.

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Accommodation Award for making life as easy as possible for students:
The residences have a cleaning service that cleans all the rooms’ everyday of the week except Sunday. They come in while we are at uni, make the beds, clean the floor and the bathroom. Towels and bed sheets are also provided by the residence and those get changed every Wednesday by the same lovely ladies that clean our rooms. They also feed us! Unfortunately the food is not included in the price of our rent, however I just pay for everything at the beginning of the month. When it comes to food they have a few options for how you can pay. There are a few people here who have bought their own fridges with them and use the communal microwaves to cook their own meals every day. You can also pay for individual meals, the complete menu everyday or as they call it here the media pension, which is what I do. The media pension means that I pay for breakfast everyday and get either lunch or dinner included in the price, which is perfect for me because I am always still at uni for lunch.

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Accommodation Award for most intense beginning to life in a residence:
One thing they don’t tell you about living here is that for the first three weeks of semester they have novatadas (initiations) for all the new residents who want to take part. It was pretty strange for me at first because I had no idea what everyone was talking about, what are these novatadas? But as my Spanish has improved over the few weeks I’ve been here I’ve begun to understand what is going on. I was told that this year’s initiations started off a lot easier than last years to prevent everyone quitting in the first week like in the previous year. Unfortunately the novatadas a pretty exclusive thing, so if you aren’t part of it you can’t watch any of the activities they plan. For example this week they had a talent show for the initiations, while eating dinner we saw they all head into the common room and thought we would join them, however before the show started they said that anyone who was not taking part wasn’t allowed to even watch. So while it is a great way to get to know some of the other students living here it is a pretty exclusive ‘club’. Some of the activities that were part of this year’s novatadas were waking everyone up to run laps around the track at 4am, staying out till at least 3am every night despite having classes the next morning and blindfolding people and tricking them into believing they were jumping out of a second story window.
Compared to the other accommodation options I had, I really do think that this was the best option for me. I am really enjoying always having people around and always having someone to go out with on the weekends. However, if you prefer your own space there are plenty of well located reasonably priced apartments around to rent. The University of Oviedo also has a housing office with regularly updated lists of available rooms and flats close to the different campuses. All of the Erasmus students I have met since coming here found their own flats and they are finding it really good to. Many flats are a combination of Erasmus students from different countries but there are also flats that are made up of predominantly Spanish students.

Until my next update!
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First Impressions: Bianca

Welcome to the cleanest city in Spain and the only region never to be conquered by the moors. After a few weeks  in Europe, exploring Spain I arrived in Oviedo late in the day to a completely overcast sky and much colder temperatures than I was used to. Less than ideal weather never makes for the best first impression of a place, but my opinion has gone up in the last two weeks. Although the process of getting to this point has been less than smooth, it is definitely worth it! Oveido does not have it’s own airport, however the region Asturias does, with bus transfers from the airport to Oviedo. due to my travels I took the train from Madrid to Oviedo which only took four hours and gave me the opportunity to make a new friend. Oveido is well connected to other cities through the bus station, train lines and the airport, although this is the most expensive option.

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The first thing I had do upon my arrival here was to go to the International office so they could register me in the system. So on my first morning here I reached out to my buddy (assigned to me through the voluntary a-duo program here at the university) to see if he could help me out with finding everything. It wasn’t until we had been waiting in the international office for half an hour that we were told that I needed an appointment to be seen. Luckily they had a computer where we could quickly make an appointment for me that same morning.

The University of Oviedo has 7 campuses spread throughout Oviedo and the neighbouring city Gijon. Each campus is home to different faculties, I have become very familiar with the Cristo Campus as that is where my faculties are located. The university also has many successful alumni including past and present ministers in the Spanish Government.

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A day trip to Gijon is super easy with the bus

Unfortunately I missed the international student orientation session last week as I had compulsory classes on a different campus 40 minutes away. This followed my experience with Spain and Spanish systems up to this point, I have often found myself asking for information that would otherwise be automatically supplied and the organisation of events is not always as smooth of logical as I am used to. However this university has a huge community of Erasmus students from all over Europe so I have been able to meet many people through taking part in some of those events.

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The best experience from this first week would have to be the festivities that accompanied Dia de San Mateo, basically a week long, city wide party with free concerts every night! While I didn’t know any of the groups playing it was an awesome opportunity to see the night life and to get to know some more Spanish music. The highlight of this festival was the 30 minute firework show at midnight on the 20th of September to officially welcome the day of San Mateo.

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Hopefully over the next four months I will be able to break down the language barrier but I’m sure it will be heaps of fun either way!

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