For my STEP signature project, I traveled to Spain to live in the beautiful city of Barcelona for the month of July. While I was in Spain, I took two Spanish classes, Cinema and Literature, in order to receive academic credit and finish my Spanish minor. Additionally, on the weekends I traveled to other parts of Spain with other ISA students as a part of ISA excursions.
I believe that anytime you travel outside of the United States, you gain a more wholistic understanding of the world, and your mind opens up to the possibility of things being done and life being lived in a way that is different than the United States. I believe the greatest impact this trip had on me personally was exposing me to different experiences that challenged my beliefs about the way things “should” be done. I think it can be easy to live in the U.S. and think that its way of life is the end all, be all because, truth be told, Americans have made it easy to cut themselves off from things they do not want to be exposed to. Many Americans believe that the U.S. is the greatest country on Earth, and while there is nothing wrong with being proud of where you come from, it can lead to a lack of awareness about the rest of the world. For me, traveling outside of the U.S. always poses challenges that American Exceptionalism mentality.
It was partially due to this mentality that I tended to feel like everyone outside of my small bubble was very different from me. Not that I was better than them, but just different in a way that would prohibit me from getting along with people who weren’t just like me. I think a lot of people feel that way: we’re all in our own little bubbles full of things that we like, and we block out things that we don’t. Traveling to a new country for such an extended period of time worried me that I simply wouldn’t feel like I could fit in, or that I wouldn’t get along with the people there because our cultures and background were just so different. I was afraid to engage with them because I didn’t think they would want to engage with me. However, while talking to my host mom about differences in American and European culture, her point of view quickly became the foundation for my mentality for the rest of my trip. I kept pointing out our differences, and she listened to me compare and contrast, but then simply said “somos los mismos”, or “we are the same”. She said it didn’t matter where we came from or how different our language or cultures were. We’re all just people. No matter where we come from or what we’ve experienced, fundamentally we are just human beings searching for fulfillment and happiness in life.
This conversation, which I had near the end of my trip, lesson allowed me to reflect on my experiences in a different way. I realized that the world is big (7.4 billion people to be exact), but also, it’s actually quite small. While watching a World Cup game, I met a Mexican couple vacationing in Spain who were doctors and had actually been to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio for a medical conference a few years ago. Despite the fact that we came from very different backgrounds, our life experiences had somehow managed to cross paths in a very unique way. I got to sit with my friends at top of old military bunkers with an incredible view of Barcelona, while a bunch of other groups of kids my age did the same with their friends: enjoying the view, enjoying each other’s company, enjoying life in general. We were all from different places and spoke different languages, but somehow, we all ended up in the same place, at the same time, looking at the same beautiful city. Views like the one at the top of Bunkers de Carmel transform a person because they remind you of how big and vast life is, even if it seems like, for now, you are stuck in school or in a job you hate or city you don’t like.
This trip affected my life and future because it showed me the kind of experiences I want to continue to have. Going abroad reminded me that there is still so much of the world I haven’t seen or experienced, and I want to keep traveling so that I can enjoy as much of the world as I can in the small amount of time we get on Earth. Traveling to Barcelona also showed me the kind of things I’d like to have in whichever city I decide to live in in the future. It also made me a more independent person; there were a lot of things that I had to do, figure out, or keep track of, and learning to do that by yourself and to rely on your own instincts and knowledge makes you into a very competent and responsible adult. I truly feel that this trip helped me to grow as a person, figure out who I am and what I want, and it gave me the adventure of a lifetime. I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity, and I hope I will be privileged enough in life to have many more similar adventures.