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Through the Eyes of Insecurity

A group of students from the School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi recently traveled to Spain for an immersive learning experience that provided rich exposure to Spanish culture and cuisine, while affording myriad opportunities to capture their experiences in written and visual formats.

The majority of the trip was centered in Barcelona, with excursions to other locales during the four-week trip. Leading the program were professors Jason Cain, Chris Sparks, Mark Dolan, and R.J. Morgan – all of whom taught courses in integrated marketing communications and journalism while the group was overseas. 

The students enjoyed many cultural experiences, but they also put in a lot of academic work, too, writing in-depth features, gathering documentary photos, exploring international brands and exploring relevant topics in media studies. 

In a place as beautiful and complex as Spain, each day brought new experiences and amazing photo opportunities. Shared here are some of the images and travel essays the students captured on their journey. We hope you enjoy it.

By Lara Wright

IMC student

It took forever for me to fall asleep in the car. Most of the roads from my hometown to Atlanta, Georgia haven’t been updated in a while. The craters filled with rocks make for a rough ride. When I finally did fall asleep, I was almost immediately awakened by the familiar smells of pretzels and hotdogs coming from the Buc-ees my mother had stopped at. Buc-ees, for those unfamiliar, is a giant “country” store/gas station experience that started in Texas in 1982, but now has locations across the south. They boast the world’s largest number of active gas pumps and cleanest restrooms. We took advantage of both.

The anxiety of going to a foreign country on a study abroad trip where I know no one was beginning to arise. I opened the Safari app on my phone. 

I always do this. It starts with looking up one quick question and turns into me reading about the history of the real Soggy Bottom Boys, the Foggy Mountain Boys from West Virginia. After that comes the realization that this topic is not what I was actually intending to look at, and I have more important things to be worrying about. 

You’re not focusing. Get back on track. Why do you always do this? Stop spiraling. Just put the phone down. Wait, what did that one person say that one time in the singular interaction I’ve ever had with them?

We’re getting so close to Atlanta. It dawned on me that the last time I flew, I was eight years old. I have no idea how to check a bag. Surely it’s not that hard. Stupid people fly all the time. I pull out my phone again. I fall back into my internet spiral. I wonder if I should be tested for ADD or ADHD or something. I know this is not normal. My mom is yelling at me to figure out a place to eat near our hotel, but I’m terrified of picking things for a group. What if they don’t like it? It would be all my fault.

She doesn’t like it. I know it’s my fault. Anyone who has ever met me knows I’m a people pleaser. If someone doesn’t like something I suggest or that I like, then that means they don’t like me. Therefore, she hates me almost as much as the restaurant. I know deep down that this is not true whatsoever, but I can’t help but think it. I think this is why I feel the need to control everything, because I can’t control my own thoughts. 

We made it back to the hotel. I can’t sleep without noise. My mother can’t sleep with any. I just laid there waiting for her to fall asleep so that I could turn the TV on, just to set the volume at 2. 

How am I going to survive in Spain? I hope my roommates like me. I wish I had a friend going. My boyfriend is my only real friend. Maybe this trip will force me to socialize. Or maybe I will end up in my room all alone every night feeling depressed because I distanced myself from everyone else because I was too scared that they wouldn’t like me so that I now seem unfriendly. 

They wonder why the air quality is so low here in Barcelona, but I believe I’ve found the answer. 

It’s called soccer. Futbol.  

I’m sitting in my apartment window, adjacent to FC Barcelona’s famous Camp Nou stadium, just minutes before their match with Real Sociedad. Firecracker bombs are blowing off in every direction, simply being thrown into the sea of people, with red and blue flares going off, clouding everyone’s vision while many people disappear for at least a few minutes. A group of young guys, probably around 20 years old, decided it would be an amusing sight to place roman candles in the trash can directly below the window I peer out of. I do not notice them at first with my eyes fixated on the riot going on to my right. Suddenly, fire blazed right in front of my face, forcing me to pay attention to the band of boys in their matching outfits and mullets that seemed to be styled by the Southern United States. I peer down at them between blasts. They laugh as they record the explosions on their phones. 

It seems as though the best way to show your support for FC Barcelona is to simply cause hearing loss for everyone near the stadium. 

It makes sense for the fans to be so proud of their team. Founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, Catalan, German, and English footballers led by Joan Gamper, the club has become a symbol of Catalan culture and Catalanism, hence the motto “Més que un club” (“More than a club”). Unlike many other football clubs, the supporters own and operate Barcelona. It is the fourth-most valuable sports team in the world, worth $4.76 billion, and the world’s fourth richest football club in terms of revenue, with an annual turnover of over $637 million. 

Soccer is such a cultural thing that there are four established types of supporters; one is the soci or club-member, who is eligible to vote in the presidential election of the club and other matters. The penyes, who are closely affiliated with the socis, are fan-clubs, which in the past have been responsible for large donations to the club. Also, there are Barça Fans, and this term refers to the official online fan community of the club where these registered fans participate in games and other activities. Lastly there are the ordinary fans of the club, the culers, who do not possess any formal membership.

Damn. I wish I felt a part of something bigger than me like these people do. I’ve never truly felt a part of anything. 

The red sea suddenly parts as if Moses is standing at its edge with his staff. A rope appears across the ground. What seem to be former friends tug on each end as if there’s an unstated challenge. This is where the show begins. They light the fuse. It’s a landmine. The grizzly man stands over it, legs spread wide, and surveys the crowd, arms in the air. The bomb goes off underneath him, and he looks to the rooftops around him where families are coming together for pre-game meals, almost asking “Are you not entertained?” 

Surely he could’ve bought a shirt that fits. With lifted arms, it becomes a crop top.

Once the mine has run out, the last of the fans begin to head into the stadium. I retire to my bed, cracking my window so that I may be aware of any further rioting. 

Finding the train to Montserrat was one of the singular most complicated things I’ve ever experienced. But we knew we had to get there. Montserrat is known for its beauty. 

The Romans called it Mons Serratus, or “Saw-Toothed Mountain.” The Catalans use Montsagrat, or “Sacred Mountain.” It’s famous for its unusual appearance and the Benedictine monastery of Santa María de Montserrat, which houses an ancient wooden statue of the Virgin and Child that was supposedly carved by St. Luke, taken to Spain by St. Peter, and hidden in a cave during the Moorish occupation. The statue was found in 880 A.D., and now many pilgrimages are made each year to receive their miracles from the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

We wanted our miracle. If we could ever get there. 

We attempted to get on the L1 metro, the red line. We followed all the signs. Yet somehow, we ended up on the L4, the yellow line, so that we were then 21 stops away from the train station we needed to be instead the original of one stop. After walking through a 20-minute hall of doom, we eventually made it. 

We then needed to take a train in Plaça Espanya train station, line R5 (light blue). There are trains every hour starting at 5:16 a.m., and the journey takes around 1h 10 minutes. The train has stops at the Yellow Cable Car station (Aeri de Montserrat) and at the Rack Railway station in Monistrol de Montserrat. You have to pick one or the other to then ride you up the mountain. We chose the cable car. After our excruciatingly long metro and train journeys, we needed to stand and get the blood back flowing, so here we are.

As we began our journey upwards, it dawned on me that I’m terrified of cable cars. 

We are trusting this string to just lift this cart thing, that probably weighs tons, all the way up there? Why in the world are the emergency exits bolted shut? If we do take a tumble, what good are those going to do? Wait a second…is this where it stops?

We did little to prepare for our trip. Honestly, all we did was Google which train station we needed to enter and then mapped how to get there. There was no further research on anything. Not the weather. Not the correct spelling of the name. Not what to bring. Not what to wear. Not even a confirmation that this was the correct jagged mountain with the ancient monastery on it and the miraculous Virgin Mary. We just left; we just wanted an adventure. 

And I, almost immediately after arriving, wanted a change of clothes.

Between my sweat from the hike and the wetness of the rain, my clothes were almost suction cupped to my body, similar to the feeling of changing out of a wet bathing suit and into fresh clothes without drying off first. 

Still, I made it. And it was worth it. The views are sublime. We can see everything. The jagged mountains, the small group of locals out and about, the rivers and roads, a wooden cross standing on the cliff in the distance. There is so much beauty all around. Looking down over the clouds, I can see why they felt close to God here. To think that something this beautiful could exist is awe-inspiring. 

This mountain does nothing and is loved. Surely I have beauty like that too. We share a Creator.

IV.

Looking down into the water from here, it looks too shallow. I’m questioning whether people actually do jump off this cliff, or if our guide, Luis, just picked a random spot to watch us die. Costa Brava is full of cliffs after all. It’s where the Pyrenees Mountains meet the Mediterranean Sea. You can see them around every bend, every place we try to navigate our kayaks into. 

The coast was named Costa Brava by Ferran Agulló i Vidal in an article published in the Catalan newspaper La Veu de Catalunya in September 1908. Agulló, a journalist born in Girona, referred to the rugged landscape of the Mediterranean coast which runs from the River Tordera, near Blanes, to Banyuls with the name Costa Brava. Costa is the Catalan and Spanish word for ‘coast’, while Brava in both languages means ‘rugged’ or ‘wild’. This term was officially recognized and promoted in the 1960s as it was deemed suitable to promote tourism in the region.

But I didn’t care about any of that, or even know it at the time. I was seeking adventure. 

The climb up here was difficult. It didn’t look very high, but once you begin to scale the side of the small cliff, you realize that it definitely is. Luis told me that it was not for everyone. I thought he meant because of the fear of the smaller rock by the others in our group. The 20-something from Liverpool was the only other taker on that jump. She said that it was “proper scary” then, so I’m wondering how she will fare on this jump now that it is actually a little high. 

However, gripping the rocks with the very tips of your fingers while curving around the rock and carrying your snorkel gear was what he really meant.

This is proper scary. If someone falls, they won’t just be hitting the rocks below, but also the black sea urchins that we needed our snorkel gear to avoid stepping on. This is also the first time I’ve taken my shirt off with my swimsuit in a while, which only makes it more terrifying. 

Once we made it to the top, the British lady decided that height really wasn’t for her and moved to a lower spot to jump from. It was even lower than the first jump, but at least she tried. Without her, it would’ve been just me, and that was reassuring to me. 

If it is too shallow, and I do get paralyzed, at least I might not be alone. Luis now has his GoPro out and begins to count down.

3…2…1… I jump.

The shock of the cold water makes my body sting. It’s a refreshing, exhilarating sting. I begin swimming to the surface, but I can’t find it. It’s good to know that Luis knew what he was talking about, and I’m not going to be left paralyzed though. 

I finally surface, and Luis throws my snorkel gear down to me, saying that after his jump we need to go. 

I put on my snorkel gear and find where to climb up for a second round. I want to go higher, and I know that I can be up there by the time that he is jumping off. He sees me halfway up and laughs. I think he knows that even though I may be nervous at first, I am an adrenaline junkie. 

What he doesn’t know, or anyone else for that matter, is that my real anxiety is coming from my insecurity of my body. I know I’m not the skinniest person ever. I know I may enjoy treats a little too often. I know that I could work out more often. I know that while I want to begin having a healthier lifestyle, I also don’t want to give up the way I have been living. I want to be a skinny person with all the habits of a bigger person. But maybe this is healthier than I was when I was skinnier.

3…2…1… I jump again. 

This time, there is no sting. I’m used to the coldness now. It’s peaceful. I surface much quicker this time, swim back towards my kayak, and jump back in. Luis asks if I have kayaked before. I figure it’s probably because I am much better at paddling and jumping in and out than the others in our group. They must have other things to do in their hometowns, unlike the middle-of-nowhere place that I am from. 

I forget to answer his question, I am too busy getting lost in my thoughts again. I’m much more compact sitting down. 

I wonder if this chair covers my rolls in the back. I need to put my knees up more to cover my stomach. Maybe I should put my lifejacket on to help cover. I shouldn’t have taken my wetsuit off; it was slimming.

We begin to paddle back to the beach. When we finally make it, we have the option to change before lunch or in about an hour before we get on the bus. I decide not to change immediately. 

Even though I want to die having everyone see me in this swimsuit, I want to stay in it for a bit longer. I am proud of myself. I conquered other people’s fears along with my own today. I jumped from a cliff and I wore a swimsuit in front of people. Those might seem like pretty strange fears to most, but those small leaps were big for me. 

Besides, small leaps can lead to much larger ones. Just like how huge steps can lead to small leaps. I know that today will be forever impacting me, not only because of the beauty that I saw out on the water, or the thrill of jumping from the cliff, but also because of the decision to be vulnerable and to attempt to be comfortable in my own body. 

I know that I am, slowly but surely, learning to love myself, especially in this amazing country. 


Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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