So Much More than a Cooking Class

We had booked a cooking class through the website— an online service that allows you to take part in many different activities with people from around the area you are visiting. We knew we were taking somewhat of a risk– who knew what kind of person would be teaching us to cook, what food we would make, or how comfortable we would feel in a stranger’s house? Our apprehensions were forgotten the moment we entered Roberto‘s house– a Roman native with a big smile, a beautiful, bright kitchen, and a passion for cooking. His two children– a daughter and son– joined us during our magical night filled with fresh pasta dough and conversation that flowed easily as Roberto made us feel completely comfortable and welcome.

We started immediately (after putting on the aprons Roberto supplied for all three of us) and began mixing together the dough. I didn’t know exactly what ingredients pasta dough contained, and I was surprised to find out that all it needed was eggs, flour, and a little bit of salt. Roberto arranged a mixture of three different kinds of flour, which he said were essential in creating the perfect pasta flavor, in a circle on the large wooden kitchen table. Then, he instructed us to crack four eggs into the center of the circle– a task we completed carefully as Roberto, the master chef, watched over our shoulders. He poured a little bit of salt into the egg/flour combination and then started mixing. We all took turns. Slowly but surely, the eggs and flour and salt formed together into a beautiful sticky dough that Roberto then told us needed to be kneaded with love and care. He showed us how to knead the pasta dough– just as his grandmother had shown him– and we took turns doing this too, until it was of the perfect consistency. Then, we rolled it out with a giant rolling pin until it was very thin. Next, we cut the dough into long strips to make Fettuccine and set them out to dry. We were awestruck– the strips of pasta were perfect and delicate and we had made them… in less than 25 minutes. I immediately added “Make own pasta” to my summer bucket list for when I get home (we’ll see how that goes).

As the pasta dried, we enjoyed a plate of cheeses, ham, and olives prepared by Roberto. We talked and talked… it was as if we had known him for longer than an hour. We asked him questions about his time in Rome and travels around Europe and he asked us questions about our lives. We laughed and talked until it was time to start preparing the sauce for our beautiful, beautiful pasta. The sauce was incredibly simple… another recipe I will try at home. Roberto combined cherry tomatoes, olives, olive oil and garlic into a saucepan and let it sit for a bit. We plopped the Fettuccine into a boiling pot of water, and since it was so fresh, it would only take about four minutes until ready.

The simple sauce

Roberto plated the pasta and sauce, gracefully grated fresh Parmesan cheese into the tops of our pasta heaps, and dinner was served. “Bon appetite,” his son said, and with that, I dug in to the best bowl of pasta I had ever eaten.

Our homemade Fettuccine with olives and tomatoes

When I look back on this night, I think about the many new things I experienced—bowls made of flour, kneading fresh pasta dough, etc. But the most important one does not have to do with the food we cooked and ate. It has to do with the person we cooked and ate with, who had a different age, culture, and life experience compared to all of us. And yet, it was one of the most comfortable, fun nights I have had during my time abroad. That cooking class was so much more than a cooking class– it was a special reminder to look outside my comfort zone that I will enter when I return home because, as I learned, it can actually still be quite comfortable.


Another Guest Speaker: Ana López, Head of Digital Marketing at Estrella Damm

We had another guest speaker this week who provided yet another perspective on the brand-marketing industry these days. Ana López manages the digital marketing team at Estrella Damm — the popular Mediterranean beer produced in Barcelona. This specific beer is known to be all about “…music and culture, good food, and fun times with friends,” as López pointed out to us in class. The brand has not always communicated these ideas as well as it does today. It was with creativity, determination and somewhat risky level of marketing experimentation that López was able to achieve such a successful relationship between the brand and the public.

In the summer of 2009, Estrella Damm released a 3-minute-long music video on YouTube. The video featured a Swedish band that no one had really heard of and a simple storyline that captured a close group of friends on a vacation in Formentera. The impact was huge. The 3-minute clip accumulated 2,500,000 views, brand awareness increased by a whopping 225%, and Formentera became the most popular travel destination of the year. Before this, Estrella Damm did not have a significant social media presence. Now, the company has captivated millions of people online and successfully created an association between Estrella Damm and sun, fun, and other aspects of a relaxing Mediterranean lifestyle. The video can be viewed below:

This Estrella Damm marketing strategy involving YouTube is a testament to the power that social media has when it comes to establishing a brand in the public eye. An impactful YouTube presence proved to be a key factor in increasing the brand’s popularity not just during the summer of 2009, but also in summers after that as well. It has become a tradition for the beer company to release a fresh video every summer, as it is an integral contribution to the growth of the Damm fanbase. In 2015, Estrella Damm released a YouTube video with Hollywood sensation, Dakota Johnson this time amassing 6,500,000 views and a brand awareness increase by 5% in Spain and 30% in the UK. The 10-minute video can be viewed below:

And just like that, Estrella Damm had developed a significant social media presence not only in Spain, but also across the world. Just as López stated during her presentation, the marketing team now had to think about the message it was sending through the YouTube videos even more carefully since they were able to reach a much wider audience. The communication of the beer’s ideals and brand characteristics became even more successful now that people from all around the world were able to get a glimpse of the laid-back and enjoyable “Mediterranean lifestyle.”

Ana López’s story is similar to Valentí Sanjuan’s in that they both show that YouTube is an important part of a brand’s marketing success. Other social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter then supplement the image and story that a brand portrays over YouTube videos—even 3-minute long ones with unknown bands. Marketing campaigns that utilize social media websites tap into communities of people that can view, appreciate and share the image of a brand. It has been so interesting to learn about the craftsmanship that lies behind the creation of a name—whether it is a Mediterranean beer company or an adventurous marathon runner such as Sanjuan. These stories shed light on the important skills and knowledge that marketing strategists must have in order to contribute to making a positive impact on a brand’s reputation.

First Stop– Copenhagen

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt was our first trip out of Spain—our first weekend adventure abroad. We chose to go to Copenhagen because of all the wonderful things we had heard about it. It would be cold—really cold compared to Barcelona. So, we packed our bags with sweaters, hats and scarves and set out on Friday morning.

As we went through security, it hit me. I was about to go to Denmark… a place I had only heard about once or twice in school, mostly in my psychology courses since it has been called the happiest country on earth. We were so excited to see, to taste, to experience everything that we could in the city over the two and a half days we would spend there. As we went through security, our passports or IDs were never checked and that came as a shock. Later we learned that when you fly within the EU, they don’t check for ID until it is time to board the plane. Different. Really different.

The hotel we chose was a short train ride from the airport. We checked in, dropped our bags, and made our way into the magical city. We decided to go to Café Norden for dinner as it was a strongly recommended restaurant from my friend at home. It was AMAZING. And so cozy.

First, we ordered blueberry mojitos. Then, I got the open-faced sandwiches—a Danish specialty. There were three of them (yes I was stuffed after). One was tuna, one chicken salad, and the other shrimp. All piled on thick, toasted bread. Yum. Sophie got the tuna tartar and Emmie got mini chicken burgers. We were quite satisfied. Little did we know we were about to fall in love with the city even more. Big time.

The next day we woke up early to get the most of the day. First we had breakfast at Union Kitchen, which I highly recommend! Then we headed to Nyhavn—the area of town with the line of colorful buildings that sit right on the water. As we approached Nyhavn, we could hear music from the little band that sat on the square in front of the dock. The sun sparkled off the canal and the houses sat in their colorful glory. This is where the love came. I was absolutely amazed at the beauty and simplicity of the place. We signed up for a canal tour where we were taken on a large boat and shown many of the landmarks, including Hans Christian Andersen’s little mermaid, the architecture museum, and the Copenhagen Street Food market where we would go for dinner later. The tour guide told us that the city burns garbage to produce electricity, but they don’t have enough garbage to produce enough for everyone so they have to import more garbage. How perfect could this city get?

After the tour, we warmed up with some Irish coffee at a little café on the canal. We then tried to find the trampolines that are set in the sidewalk somewhere along the water but just couldn’t. Instead, we decided to take a ride on one of the bike-buggies and the driver showed us some cool views along the way. We were cold, but it didn’t matter. The beauty kind of distracted from it.

Then, we experienced what would be our favorite part of the trip. We took a cab to the Copenhagen Street Food market also called “Paper Island.” I had never been in awe so many times in the span of two days. The market is inside a giant warehouse, right on the water. It is bustling and beautiful and warm at night. Music plays throughout the entire place and everyone is just so happy (no surprise). There are stands and stands of different foods from Moroccan flatbreads (which we got) to Italian to Chinese, to every dessert you could imagine. After the market, we met our friends at a small, local bar where everyone danced and sang and requested songs.

In the morning, we packed our bags and headed for brunch before going to the airport. We went to the restaurant Mad & Kaffe where you are given the freedom to pick either three, five, or seven small dishes to make up your meal. The choices range from oatmeal to fruit to avocado to eggs to a freshly baked cinnamon roll. I chose to get three: fried eggs with chives, yogurt with granola, and blood orange slices.

Needless to say, the weekend went by way too fast. Copenhagen was an absolute dream city, a winter wonderland. It was like nowhere I had ever seen before. Even though we were sad to say farewell to our weekend love, we were ready to return to our first love—the beautiful and spirited city of Barcelona.

Just Google It

How many times do we think the phrase “Just Google It” is said daily during various conversations? Well, this phrase is applicable to all different kinds of situations thanks to the advanced search that Google is capable of. Instead of brainstorming other ways to figure out how to find information, people rely on the brainy search engine to hand them the answer to just about any question or topic they are wondering about. We have seen Google become more and more prominent in our lives as time has gone on. I remember in elementary and middle school, Google was not a search engine that was considered “respectable” for finding out information we needed to know for academic assignments. Now, it is just the opposite. Google can lead to the most trusted, reliable essays, scholarly articles, and books to answer any research question. I depend on Google Scholar to open the doors to all kinds of useful information when I am completing a project or essay for school. Essays and research projects aside, I depend on Google for any random question that pops into my head.

Google has especially been helpful during my time studying abroad. I can research reviews of restaurants, where to go if I want to experience an incredible hike, and what activities I should do when I travel to various places on the weekends. These searches represent my now: constant questioning of what to do, where to go, and how to find the most enjoyment and fulfillment in my experiences abroad. Google searches represent our now as a society. In an article written by two employees at Google in California, Hyunyoung Choi and Hal Varian explain how Google Trends data helps in “…predicting the present” (1). How amazing is that? Now, we can see exactly how much the news and media affect our society and not just assume. Sure, news channels can broadcast pieces and know they are reaching millions and millions of people. But how can they know for sure that these pieces are sticking with the minds and hearts of the viewers? That is where Google Trends comes in—the searches that people make are a reflection of the topics and events that they have come across and cannot seem to move past.

Right now people are taken aback by the fact that Donald Trump claimed there was a terrorist attack in Sweden, when  in fact, there wasn’t. That information is visible here. This clearly reflects a surge of confusion and shock regarding the president of the United States.


On the other hand, “Zoe Saldana” is trending today because she just gave birth to her third child. This search represents a whole different side the values and interests in society today.

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Google searches reflect the values, beliefs, stability and focus of society every day. And every day those things are changing. Google Trends shows the dramatic rise and gradual downfall of topics of interest in society. This poses another question– what does this general pattern of sharp rises and falls in trending topics indicate about society today?


  1. CHOI, Hyunyoung; VARIAN, Hal. Predicting the present with Google Trends. Economic Record, 2012, vol. 88, no s1, p. 2-9.