From MSU to BCN: Retired Professor Calls Barcelona Home

Cheryl Pell walked the halls of ComArtSci for almost 30 years before retiring in August 2015. Now she walks the cobblestone streets of Barcelona.

“It was a big decision to sell my house and my car, stash all my belongings in two storage units, bid friends and family farewell and take a one-way flight to live in a foreign country,” said Pell. “Now that I’m here, I know it was the right decision for me.”

An International Educator
Pell was hired in 1987 as the executive director of Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA), an organization headquartered in the School of Journalism. Twenty-five years later, she stepped down from MIPA and continued to be a senior specialist, teaching journalism classes and leading study abroad trips.

“I always felt fortunate that ComArtSci was and still is a big supporter of study abroad programs, and I think that’s awesome,” said Pell. “They supported students with scholarships and encouraged faculty to plan quality programs for our students.”

Pell single-handedly led The Creative Journey study abroad program in the summer of 2016, taking 15 students from Barcelona to Berlin to embrace the art of visual storytelling.

“Barcelona loves the arts and celebrates its area’s artists and architects, including Salvador Dalí, Antoni Gaudí, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso,” said Pell. “It’s a very inspirational city, and I was thrilled to be able to share its beauty with students.”

With ten previous visits to Barcelona under her belt, Pell introduced her students to the Dalí museum, Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia and the Mingarro brothers’ Brosmind Studio. She encouraged her students to collect flyers, brochures and other artifacts they found along the way. The images and clippings would aid in the construction of various student assignments and projects. Pell was also eager to share her passion for typography and design, frequently pointing out -- with either admiration or disdain -- the logos of various businesses and restaurants.

“My passion is design, in any form, but mostly graphic design,” said Pell. “I’ve been known to walk out of a restaurant if the typeface on the menu is lousy.”

From MSU to BCN
Now that Pell calls Barcelona her home, she spends most of her time exploring the city with her constant companion, an 11-year-old Maltese named Mario.

“Nearly every day I try to go to an area I haven’t been to before just to continue to get a feel for the city,” said Pell. “I seek out markets, art installations, street musicians, festivals, parades and protests. Every week I try to see something I haven’t seen before.”

It’s likely that Pell would never have ended up in the Catalonian city if it wasn’t for the travel grant she received from the Society for News Design (SND) while working for ComArtSci in 1995. The grant allowed her to work with 12 college students from all over the country at SND's annual convention, which was held in Barcelona that year.

“This was the first time I had ever gone to Europe, and that is precisely when I fell in love with Barcelona,” said Pell. “It is a bit of an unusual twist that in 2017, I flew back to the U.S. from Barcelona to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from SND. None of this would have happened if I had not been on the faculty of the J-School in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.”

Finding New Hobbies
Pell documents all of these experiences on her Instagram account, to which she posts daily. The retired professor’s account is filled with images and videos of city landmarks, store displays and, of course, the local cuisine. Each post is accompanied by the hashtags #myyearaway2017 and #photoadayfrombcn, as well as a short description.

“I’ve had fun with Instagram,” said Pell. “It’s a quick, easy way to document my time here. I’m honestly doing it more for my own record keeping than for the purpose of social media.”

Pell’s background in journalism can certainly be seen filtering into her account. There are very few photos of her, a testament of her dislike of the selfie stick. She wants to capture the moments of the places and people around her and share them with her followers.

“It’s not about me. Journalists inherently live this way, and they know the story is not about them,” said Pell. “My goal is to share the city’s greatness as well as its wonderful, small moments. Sometimes I am just compelled to add explanatory information to the Instagram posts, and that, of course, is rooted in wanting to inform, which journalists do every day.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets