Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The Girl from 'Barthelona'

I pressed Mar for an intellectualized perspective of life in Barcelona. 

“Family, music, food, congestion, partying, chaos, the sea and hot weather,” she summed up. 

I asked for more and spontaneously she blurted, “Life.”

I traveled there in the ’80s. Barcelona is indeed a metaphor for life. It’s one of the European cities that I would live in.     

Mar Forné Luna, the girl from Barcelona, is an exchange student. She’s been with our family for most of the summer.  She came via a program called Education First, whose mission it is to make the students citizens of the world.

Mar is from the autonomous province of Catalunya (Catalonia); and speaks Catalan as well as Spanish.  Catalunya has a distinct nationality and culture; its origin is derived from the land of castles.

I love teasing her. “Mar, where are you from,” I ask? “Barthelona,” she says. Her accent has what sounds like a lisp, which is quite different from the rest of Spain. We would say, “Barcelona.”  Since she’s from Castile, it’s “Barthelona.”

Why the Castillians began speaking with this lisp sound to their words isn't really known.  There’s a story about a king, Philip II who spoke with a lisp. Since the Castillians are very polite, rather than embarrass the king, they adopted his lisp. Actually, I think it’s kind of sexy.

Mar has stolen our hearts. And, because of her infusion into our family, we too have become citizens of the world. We have become as much a part of her culture as she of ours.  She’s like any other teenager we know, but with a European flair. Children from Europe seem to possess an easygoing demeanor and consume life with passion. 

Spain is a country of immense depth. Centuries of migrations, architecture, purges, royalty, art, wars and political strife have defined the European character and have given the children much to be a part of. The totality of Spain has exposed children to stories, myths, parables and fables, giving them a rich literary legacy. She speaks of her parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and the rest of her extended family. I assume she has had many mentors.  For Mar, the community takes precedence over the individual. She grew up in an environment where life comes first.   

Europe was created by history but America was created by philosophy. However, it was the European philosophers Rousseau, Locke, and Montesquieu who caught the attention of Thomas Jefferson, resulting in our declaration of independence.

I have to believe that America has been a consuming experience for Mar. Perhaps at first at little overwhelming but nevertheless she has maintained an excitement that has made her endearing.  Education First has taken the students all over the Southland, exposing them to American culture.  As a host family, we have given her a secure base from which to explore.

“The image of what I saw in American movies is not the impression that I now have of America,” Mar said.  “I thought everyone in America was rich, and that there were celebrities everywhere; but people are real here and ordinary just like we are.

“I love the American people,” she continued.  “Everywhere I’ve gone, Americans have gone out of their way to be friendly and helpful. I am always being asked if I am OK and if I’m having fun; people here care about you.”

Mar is a happy young lady with a great attitude and a zest for adventure and experience. She is a confident girl who is not afraid to experiment with language. She is loving and genuine and approaches life with both eyes open.

“Many small things make me happy,” she says.

But she’s still an ordinary girl because she absolutely loves shoes.

Mar has become our third daughter.  In a few days she will return to Spain. The girl from “Barthelona” will leave a void in our home and a hole in our hearts. 

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World