My STEP experience was a study abroad in Barcelona, Spain during the summer of 2016. I was a student at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo through ISA’s Spanish Language and Culture Program. Enrolled in two courses, Spanish Cinema and Spanish Art and Architecture, I learned a ton, both inside and outside of the classroom.
In no particular order, here are some of the things I learned and the ways I transformed abroad:
• I’ve learned how to be flexible. When it’s hot and you’re sweaty 24/7 and there’s never any air conditioning, when living spaces are much smaller than you’re used to, when your family eats dinner at 10 pm instead of 5 pm, when your bus breaks down on the highway, when the currency is different, etc. You have to be flexible, take everything in stride, and have a positive attitude.
• How to navigate a completely new city, in a new country, in a new language. If you had dropped me in the middle of Barcelona when I first arrived and asked me to point which way to the beach, I couldn’t. I learned to take the metro (which I had never taken in my life before this trip, public transportation for the win), take a cab, take a bus or train, with confidence.
• We really take for granted being able to easily communicate ourselves in our daily lives. You don’t realize until you’re in another country that something as simple as ordering a coffee with hot milk to go, please, can become a daunting challenge, and when successful, a mini triumph to celebrate (and if not, a learning experience (once a clerk asked me who helped me pick out my bathing suit and I accidentally told him “I don’t recommend” instead of “I don’t remember”)). This phenomenon is a reminder to never be unkind or demanding of people in your home country trying to speak your language, because it’s really hard! I’ve studied Spanish since I was 14 and I still made mistakes. But at least now my heart doesn’t beat super fast when I have to ask for the wifi password in Spanish. Making an effort to speak someone else’s language is super humbling and really appreciated.
• You live a different life for every language that you speak. Learn as much as you can!
• I realized how young of a country the United States actually is. Barcelona is a city so rich in art and architecture that each marvel I learned about made me appreciate the city more and more, whether it was one of the many beautiful works of Gaudi or the elegant and well-preserved Gothic and Romantic churches and cathedrals. Everywhere you turn in Europe, there seems to be a different legend, story, art or architectural feat, or a piece of history to marvel at. Try to get to know more about your surroundings and where it comes from.
• Life really begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be smart, but do things that at first intimidate you. Do things on your own. Push yourself to grow.
So, of course my Spanish improved, which is amazing because I dream of being fluent one day. But I learned so much about myself and my place in this world during my time in Europe. The world now is a much less scary and unattainable place than I thought previously. I met so many young people traveling and growing with no reservations. It was truly inspiring. There were so many moments during my time abroad where I would have to remind myself that it was really happening, that I was 5,000 miles away from home, that I was the luckiest girl in the world. I now live for the moments that I look back on and can’t even believe were real. I want to live every day of my life like the adventure that it was each morning waking up in Europe. Through this experience I have fostered a deeper understanding of myself, an appreciation for people from all over the world, and a lifetime love of travel and novel experiences. And that is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.