My STEP Signature Project was a five-week education abroad program to Barcelona, Spain during the 2018 summer semester. While in Barcelona, I took two advanced Spanish classes at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (UIMP) for credit towards my Spanish minor. I stayed with a host family and a roommate, who also participated in the same ISA study abroad program. The ISA program offered a variety of excursions and guided tours around Barcelona and surrounding cities in order to better educate and integrate the students into Spanish culture. Some of the excursions included a weekend stay in Valencia, Spain and Costa Brava, Spain. We also took guided tours of some major historical landmarks in Barcelona such as the Sagrada Familia and the Gothic quarter.
Before my education abroad, I had never lived, nor stayed, an extended amount of time in a large city, much less, a European city. In fact, I had never been to Europe before! So naturally I experienced culture shock; a range of feelings starting with excitement and awe, followed by frustration and homesickness, and hopefully ending in assimilation and adjustment to the new culture. Like I said, having never lived in a large city before, I initially struggled with the constant hustle and bustle of Barcelona life. However, throughout my stay I adjusted and learned how to relax among the strenuous complexity of city life. This entailed gaining a better sense of direction. I finally learned how to read a proper map, not relying on GPS apps but rather on my own sense of direction and knowledge. It’s amazing how much more you get to experience of the local culture when you can independently get yourself around the city without being glued to your phone! This transformation program also helped me become more flexible. Plans change a lot while traveling! For example, friends change plans quickly, transportation mistakes are made, such as hopping on the wrong bus to class, or flight cancelations, all of which could be terrifying while traveling alone. However, these experiences and/or mistakes have forced me to become more flexible and have taught me to solve similar problems in a calm and proactive way. Before, any last-minute changes in plans would have given me anxiety and now I am more capable of adapting to any change in plan.
In addition to being more flexible towards changes in plans, studying abroad also helped me learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. For example, living in a stranger’s apartment and speaking a foreign language are uncomfortable and sometimes awkward situations, at least at first, that you have to adapt to and get comfortable with really quickly when you are studying abroad. Rather than dwelling on the luxuries that I missed from home, I embraced the new style of living. I wasn’t able to take long showers or cook for myself so I had to change my routines up and find local foods that didn’t require any cooking. Eating out is a great way to interact with locals and practice speaking Spanish. Unfortunately, at first, it was fairly apparent to the locals that I was not from Spain so they would speak English to me from the get go but as my language skills and confidence improved it became easier to fit in. I truly learned to embrace the “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality. I used to struggle with self-confidence and focused too much on what I couldn’t do. Now I realize that even if I am not totally capable of something, if I proceed with confidence, things will turn out a whole lot better than if I quit early without even giving it a shot because I thought I couldn’t do it.
I tend to identify myself as an introvert so making new friends and being social can be a struggle for me sometimes. This opportunity has pushed me out of my “social” comfort zone and allowed me to make new friends. When I realized that my classmates are all going through the same culture shock that I was experiencing it made it easier to relate to them because we were all in the same boat, struggling with the same feelings. This allowed us to connect on a deeper, more personal level that I am not used to sharing with other people. Learning how to express my feelings and be more open towards friends and family will allow me to make deeper, more meaningful, and longer lasting relationships. I used to worry that I didn’t have a large group of friends at home. In today’s society people place a lot of importance on popularity and having lots of friends and followers, especially on social media. However, I am now more comfortable with the fact that I prefer cultivating deeper, more meaningful friendships than cultivating a large following on social media. As an introvert I sometimes prefer to be alone and do my own thing to recharge rather than going out with lots of people. While abroad I had to listen to my mind and body more to know when I needed to stay in to recharge so that I could enjoy myself later without getting too bogged down.
Lastly, this experience has helped me to put small daily problems into perspective. I used to get anxious over small life issues that I may not even have any control over. This causes a lot of unnecessary stress. When you are introduced to different problems and lifestyles it puts the world into perspective. Although I still believe that punctuality is important, I do now realize that being a few minutes late to class or to an appointment is not the end of the world. My roommate was very laize faire when it came to leaving in time for class or to excursions and I would stress out that we were going to miss the bus or be late. Even if we left a few minutes late, we always ended up making it in time and there was no point in stressing out as much as I did. I’ve learned that everything works out alright in the end and there’s no sense freaking over small things. Put things into perspective!
I believe that my STEP education abroad has better prepared me to handle future, possibly stressful situations, such as pursuing a career in engineering. Although my project focused on the Spanish language and not necessarily on my major, I do believe that it has taught me communication skills and problem-solving skills that I will be able to apply to my future career. Flexibility will allow me to deal with a range of changing problems. Speaking a different language really enhances your ability to think on your feet, quickly, and to improvise when necessary. Lastly, coming out of my introvert shell and working on my communication skills will aid me in the interviewing process when I start pursuing a career. Despite the few moments of doubt and homesickness that everyone experiences while abroad, my study abroad experience was extremely positive and rewarding. I have new skills that will aid me in my future endeavors and I have a new desire to travel and experience more cultures and lifestyles. I couldn’t be more pleased or grateful for this opportunity!
My blog that I wrote while abroad: