Gap Year Community Service Program Abroad: in Spain...!





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    Cultural immersion and community service in Barcelona


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Gap Year Community Service Programs and Cultural Exchanges: El Casal

Volunteer Opportunities and Cultural Exchanges

El Casal promotes your involvement in the local community because we think it’s important that you give something back to the people and the city that will be “playing host” to you for over 3 months. Our seminars and the El Casal group activities will help you get the most out of your time here, but your community involvement—away from your El Casal companions—will also go a long way towards your integration into modern Spanish life.

To assist you in seeing Spain from the inside, El Casal works to place you in community service and volunteer agencies, language and culture exchanges. There are several community service/volunteer activities available. Typically, they involve working with children, the elderly and assisting those with special needs. There are tutoring opportunites and, if you like sports, there are coaching opportunites available in after-school programs.

Making friends in the local community not only helps your Spanish; it makes you a part of their world. We have one-day exchanges with local schools and we also help organize language exchanges in informal settings, in which you help a Spanish friend with his or her English while he or she helps you with Spanish.


Each session of El Casal includes three months of learning and living in Barcelona through a program which combines travel, service in the community, cultural activities, language study and other seminars.

The Fall session usually begins in the second week of September and ends around December 18th. The Winter-Spring session begins around mid-January and ends around mid-April.

For specific dates, contact us.


Living in Spain


Since living with a host family is a great way to improve your Spanish, all students reside with local families chosen by the Director. A family provides you with lots of practical advice and guidance and gives you an inside look at the culture. Great care is taken to ensure a good fit between you and your family and you can count on the Director's support as you learn to adapt to your new home.

Breakfasts and dinners with the host family are included in the cost of the program; lunches are not. All students will live in Barcelona proper and will have convenient access to reliable public transportation, day and night. El Casal provides bus and subway passes.

Want to know what a typical day at el casal in Barcelona might be like? Read on!

First of all, it is an experience in itself to wake up in Barcelona. If you are a suburban kid like me, the morning sounds of a city, especially a vibrant, cosmopolitan, Mediterranean city like this one, are something new. The last BCNeta garbage trucks finishing up a long night of scrubbing away signs of the tireless nightlife, someone blasting Shakira a few floors upstairs, a Catalán morning radio show, the general hustle and bustle of millions of people getting ready for another day….all the sounds remind the El Casal students what they are waking up to – a day in one of the most amazing cities you’re likely to find.

And it just gets clearer on the walk to morning classes. It’s a casual stroll along streets planned by a utopian socialist who had communal space and healthy light exposure in mind, streets planted with a surprising number of old trees and walked by an unbelievable number of fashionably shod feet. They are streets and corners you’ll come to know and love. You’ll stroll past modernist buildings with wrought iron balconies and huge iron, wood, and glass doors leading to painted foyers, past that café where, later today, you’ll have a relaxed three course menú del día and past another where, unbelievably, a paint crew is having a cerveza at 8:45 in the morning, getting an early start to the daily cycle of caffeine and alcohol. Because this is the city where coffee can be cheaper than water and wine is included in every meal.

Balmes 163 will come to feel like a second home. And how could it not? This is where your surrogate parents, John and Inés, live and work. No matter how independent you are ready to be, it is invaluable to have people looking out for your best interest, ready to give advice about everything from guitar lessons to perspective on life, and it doesn’t hurt if those people happen to be warm, knowledgeable, and interested in what you are doing together. Because not only are you learning about Spanish culture in its linguistic, political, and artistic dimensions, but you are learning what it means to fit into that culture and navigate through a city which is marked by those themes right down to its Roman foundations.

But one of the best parts about El Casal is that it is much more than a cultural study program. Through both the internships and the homestays, each Casaler is given the opportunity to actively participate in the modern Barcelonan culture. So along with greater knowledge of Catalán Romanesque architecture, Almodóvar films, and the present subjunctive, each student brings away memories of unforgettable relationships. I spent many of my afternoons volunteering at a cerebral palsy center. All the afternoons I walked with Mabel, the 20-something afflicted with this condition, all the dinners--including the one I cut up and spooned to Carlos as the only guest on his 33rd birthday--and all the smiles I learned to interpret from María Angeles mean that those are people I will never, ever, forget.

And the homestay, oh the homestay! Who would have thought that an 18-year old Ohio girl would end up living with two slightly crazy older women in their quirky apartment full of good cooking smells every night (along with sounds of Spanish “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”), the occasional four-hour poker game, and the knitting lessons (because, yes, I did learn how to knit) to the soundtrack of Tom Jones, Leonard Cohen, and Frank Sinatra? Or that that same gap-year-girl would have such a blast and would end up learning more about being an independent woman/ experimental eater/ adaptable house mate from those two Catalanas who took me under their substantial wings than I ever expected to learn from any two people, especially in only four months?

There is no way to understand a day in the life of and El Casal student until you experience one yourself. Every day, from the busy morning to long lazy afternoon, from voluntariado to dinner with the host family, from that drum party in the street to the latest Barça soccer news, will be different from every other.

B. L. El Casal Fall 2006 

Yale University


Trekking and Outdoor Activities

Barcelona is a great town, but a little change from city life isn't a bad idea.

Overnight hiking and hosteling trips offer the chance to leave urban life behind for a few days in order to enjoy the natural beauty of the country.

You’ll enjoy day hikes to Montserrat and overnight hikes in the Pyrenees  Mountains.  In the spring session, you’ll have a 4-day hike along the Camino de Santiago.  Click here for info on the Camino.

Why Take a Gap Year?

Back when a "gap year was almost unheard of, this article appeared in YM Magazine. 

“Time Out!” By Rebecca Onion 

One of my best friends in high school, who’s 24 now, got into Williams College, but told them she wanted to wait a year. When the rest of us were freshmen, worrying about papers and frat parties, she was in the Rocky Mountains. She spent a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), learning wilderness survival skills. She’d write letters home describing the miles she’d hiked and how she was learning to rock climb and push her limits.

“In high school, there wasn’t a lot of time to step back and think about myself,” says her younger sister, 21, a Brown University sophomore who did a semester at a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and a semester in a small town in India. “During my year away, I learned a lot about the kind of person I want to be.” “I felt so cool, so independent,” agrees Maggie, 19, a freshman at Connecticut College who spent a semester in London studying fashion. “I felt amazing.”

Convinced? Your two main obstacles to take a year off are 1) your parents and 2) the potential cost. Robert Gilpin, an educational consultant, says to let your mom and dad know that colleges often like it when you take time off, because you come back more focused and mature. Tell your parents that you’ve thought this out and you’re not going to waste a year watching Simpsons reruns.

Start by researching on the Web or talking to a guidance counselor. Log on to Robert’s consulting firm Web site, www.whereyouheaded.com. Or use a search engine like Google, type in some key terms (e.g., “program + Costa Rica + language”), and go from there.

The financial issue is harder. A lot of the options that look tempting are not cheap. (A semester with NOLS costs from $7,200 to $9,700. Eek.) But there are programs, like the Student Conservation Association (www.sca-inc.org) or Americorps (www.americorps.org), that are low- or no-cost, or that will pay you a stipend. The year after high school is the first opportunity you have to make your own plans. Why not get in touch with your crazy, globe-trotting, independent alter ego?

YM Magazine 

February 2002


For the latest U.S. dollar to euro exchange rates, go to www.xe.com/ucc/

Tuition and fees: 9,200 €.

This sum includes

  • room
  • breakfasts and dinners in the host family
  • laundry (one load per week)
  • tuition
  • program activities
  • local excursions
  • day trips
  • Group overnight travel to other parts of Spain
  • Barcelona public transportation passes
  • Student discount card
  • insurance

Not included

  • round-trip transportation USA-Barcelona-USA
  • lunches while in Barcelona
  • books and miscellaneous school supplies
  • other personal expenses and leisure


  • El Casal Barcelona | Davis

    Davis H.;

    Episcopal HS (Va.) – Yale University.

    "El Casal is a tremendous program. Not only does it give you the unique opportunity to live and learn in one of the greatest cities in the world, you learn responsibility and how to regulate your own life. I think this is an invaluable lesson, especially for a kid fresh out of high school about to go to college" 

  • El Casal Barcelona | Sara

    Sarah M.,

    Johns Hopkins University

    "El casal has been so much fun...being able to take classes but still have opportunity and time to get out and see the city and meet Spanish people."



  • El Casal Barcelona | Torin

    Sam R.;

    Milton Academy - Brown University

    "Some of my favorite memories from Barcelona are hanging out with my host parents after dinner or playing around with the boys. I always felt that I was welcome to join in family activities, but I was never made to feel guilty if I wanted to do something with my friends." 


  • El Casal Barcelona | Camille


    Concord Academy. - Princeton University

    "This was a healthy break for me to take before re-entering an academic setting, and I have a better understanding of what I want to do" 


  • El Casal Barcelona | Sara


    Edgemont HS(NY)- Univ. of Southern California

    "I thought El Casal was the perfect way to spend my semester before college….the perfect blend of freedom and commitment, learning and community service.""



Ready to do something different and exciting after high school?