STEP allowed me the amazing opportunity of traveling to Barcelona, Spain for six weeks this past summer to complete my Spanish minor at Ohio State. Combining the classroom learning I received at Universitat Pompeu Fabra with experiential learning in the city’s many museums, tours, and cultural hubs truly proved to be a transformative experience.
My journey through the streets and wonders of Barcelona was key to transforming the understanding I have of myself both as an individual and as a person living within contemporary society. As I ventured alone to Spain and explored many of its beauties such as Parc Guell, La Boqueria, and El Raval alone, I discovered the meaning of inner strength and resilience. In discovering a city without cell service and my immediate support net of people, I took to reflecting and writing everyday, where I learned strength through inner centering and focus. I begged a lot of difficult questions of myself; who am I? Who do I want to be? Am I being true to myself in everything I am doing?
Spain presented me with the opportunity to answer a lot of these questions. Between all the days I spent in my favorite cheap eatery around the corner from my house, hanging out with my friends at every sidewalk cafe, and exploring the meaning of art in my classes and in the city’s multitude of museums, self-discovery was unavoidable. I made the active choice everyday to explore the city on my own, which gave me time to write down my thoughts and think in depth about questions of identity, place, and next steps. Though these thoughts flourish at home as well, experiencing a new lifestyle and place gave me the chance to analyze things differently. I will never forget climbing to the top of a hill, looking out to the city around me, and taking in the view as new realizations and ideas washed over me.
Visiting a foreign country also opened my eyes to a renewed understanding of the world around me. Often, it seems as though the political moment we live in and the state of affairs of our country is universal, since that is the reality we occupy. As I immersed myself in Catalonia, a region of cultural pride, community strength, and progressive politics, I came to realize that my reality is not everyone’s reality. That different cities, regions, and countries have different politics and, more specifically, hold different cultural attitudes towards people of different nationalities, ethnicities, sexualities, races, and genders. Though we are held together by forces such as globalization and global capitalism, the unfortunate norms that hold true in our society are thankfully much apart from those in Barcelona.
This much became evident to me as I walked the streets of Barcelona and observed societal patterns. In analyzing the beautifully detailed street art that lined the multicultural neighborhood known as El Raval, I understood the norms of acceptance and community resilience abundant there. I noticed that I was walking through a community that had a long history of transformation and oppression, and that the people there were dedicated to maintaining their culture, history, and safety. Barcelona afforded me the opportunity to attend a myriad of gay pride events that were packed with allies and queer people, alike. Their events were organized with visibility, community, and safety in mind where people from all over were welcome to indulge in celebrating one another. Finally, in sharing conversations with my host mom, I came to learn what it is to live in a society that survived a fascist dictator that reigned during our contemporary global history. I felt the overwhelming effort to transform their society into one of acceptance and cultural bloom, and how history brings people together to fight for a future of independence.
Discovering myself and the world around me was vital to my personal development and to setting new personal, professional, and academic goals. Whereas the Spanish language was previously something I enjoyed sharing with my family, it has now become something I am comfortable using in settings that would work to serve those around me. In answering a lot of questions I had about myself and my life, I realized that my future will entail traveling, influencing social change, and taking more classes related to writing, international studies, and even film. I quickly learned that my days in college are fleeting, and that it is up to me to spend them as fruitfully as possible with the people I treasure, doing all the things that we love. In short, I was inspired to live my best life, aim to change the world, and continue traveling.