This past semester I was able to expand my cultural knowledge and improve my Spanish Language abilities through STEP funding. I participated on a three month long, study abroad language immersion program in Barcelona, Spain. I took a full load of classes in Spanish, and was immersed in the Barcelona culture for an entire semester.
I think that the most interesting things I learned from this experience were about myself and my own abilities. This was the first time that I had been in a different country, away from family, for longer than a month. I had travelled before through different service learning trips (such as BuckIServ and Rotary Exchanges), but this was the first time I moved somewhere to live. Although short term, this was my very first experience living further than an hour from my family. On top of that, I was functioning in a whole different language! I was able to explore my ability to adapt to a new city, new culture, and new language. I was amazed by my own ability to adapt to the culture and embrace living in a new country. It forced me to go outside of my comfort zone, and because of this experience I feel much more able to move away from home in the future. It has opened my possibilities to include different countries!
The primary aspect of my STEP project for me was the language immersion. I took all of my classes in Spanish, lived in a Spanish speaking household, and tried my hardest to use it in everyday life. While it is easy to go to a big city like Barcelona and continue to speak English, I wanted to challenge myself to speak the language as much as possible. I remember one class in particular, International Protection of Human Rights, was especially challenging. This class was taught completely in Spanish by a native speaker, and challenged me to continue growing in my Spanish abilities. The simple fact that the vocabulary used was so technical and unfamiliar to me, the class demanded all of my focus. I was extremely proud of myself to be able to fully understand, and do well in the class.
Another transformative change was the culture. Simply changing from one way of living to another was an amazing experience. The culture in Spain is much more social than in the U.S. In my household, it was normal for friends and family to just pop in unannounced to visit. They were always met with a happy host and good times. That is something that really left an impression on me, since I feel that it is so different from the culture in the states. There is such a sense of community and kinship that really struck me. It taught me the value of spending time with the people close to you.
Lastly, I was able to make wonderful connections with people who were experiencing all of this for the first time in the program. I remember one of the first weekends when I realized that these people were all going to share this very special experience with me, and throughout our time there a bond was created unlike any other. This part of my transformation was very unexpected, but I was able to make friends from all over the US that had similar interests and experiences as me. We supported each other in navigating a new country, and bonding over all of the wonderful times that we had. I couldn’t be more thankful to have met a wonderful group of supportive women to share such an amazing opportunity with me. They greatly enhanced my time in Spain.
This experience was so transformative and important to me for a few reasons. On the academic end, I was able to immerse myself in the Spanish language and improve greatly on my speaking skills. I learned about my ability to adapt to new cultures and places. I also was able to experience the positive impact that surrounding yourself with good friends can have. I believe that the most important thing I am taking away from my study abroad, is the new possibilities for my future. Whether in a professional or personal manner, I am now much more comfortable with the option to move abroad. I had considered applying to graduate schools and jobs abroad, and this experience cemented that as an option in my mind. I am excited about the possibility to continue learning about the world and myself through travels. This study abroad opened so many doors for me, I cannot wait to see what the future holds.