STEP Reflection: Studying abroad in Barcelona

STEP Reflection Prompts

Name: Erica Nymberg

Type of Project: Study abroad

1). Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP Signature Project, I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo for the month of July. During my four weeks in Barcelona, I earned six credit hours by taking two courses: Spanish Art & Architecture and Spanish Cinema. In addition to completing my Spanish minor while abroad, I also took full advantage of my time in Spain by traveling each weekend and fully immersing myself in the Spanish culture.

2). What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I grew a lot during my month studying abroad in Barcelona. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, and this trip showed me how far I’ve come in my journey. For starters, I had to adjust to a completely different lifestyle in a very short amount of time. From the moment I landed I had to embrace new foods, adapt to a new routine, and practice being more flexible. These are all things that have always been very difficult for me to do, let alone do them all at once in a foreign country with neither friends nor family nearby.

I felt very apprehensive in the weeks leading up to the trip. In fact, I even wanted to cancel my trip and stay within the limits of my comfort zone. I remember thinking, “I’ll just stay here- there’s nothing wrong with the way I live now, right?” While technically true, my past has led me to develop rigid schedules that, at times, leave little room for spontaneity. This amount of inflexibility is not conducive to a balanced lifestyle, which has always been a goal of mine. I’m proud to say that over the course of the month I showed myself that I am capable of trying new things. From trying new foods to engaging in new activities, nothing has to be off limits. Studying abroad was, as I like to think of it, one big exposure experiment that showed me how liberating life can be when you step outside of your comfort zone. Now when I’m faced with something that challenges my recovery, I think “If I could handle xyz in Spain, I can handle this.”

3). What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Thinking back, there were three main things that helped me grow as a person and strengthen my recovery. First, and most importantly, I met some amazing people in my program who turned out to become great friends. I was worried about not finding a group where I could be myself, but what happened was the complete opposite. Even though we had all just met, it felt like I knew them for years. I even felt comfortable telling them about my past and my recovery journey, which is something many of my friends at Ohio State aren’t aware of. I know I wouldn’t have been able to make as much progress as I did if it weren’t for the friend group I made while abroad. They couldn’t have been more supportive or understanding, and I’m so glad that they all go to Ohio State. It’s ironic how sometimes you have to travel across the world just to meet people who go to the same school as you!

The second thing that helped me break out of my comfort zone and become more self-confident were the excursion activities. The excursion activities were a key part of my experience due to their inherent need for flexibility. During the excursions, there was little to no planning that I could do beforehand. For instance, I had no idea what restaurants would be nearby when we were given free time. Also, since we often had to return by a certain time, there wasn’t any room for being picky. The second big excursion was the most difficult. However, it was also the excursion that I think I grew the most. When I think back on that excursion, I remember all the things I did that I would’ve never been able to do in the past. While that experience challenged me on so many levels, I am so grateful that I was still able to truly have a good time. That excursion will always serve to remind me how strong and capable I am, regardless of what my inner critic says.

The third major part of my STEP project that aided in my transformation was my decision to stay with a host family. Although every fiber in my body would have felt more comfortable staying in an apartment, I knew that staying with a host family was a crucial part of my “exposure experiment”. After all, if I stayed in an apartment I would’ve quickly integrated as much of my regular U.S. lifestyle as I could. By staying with a host family, I completely immersed myself in the Spanish culture. For example, most nights my host mom served dinner around 9:30pm (which she considered early!). Not only could I not control the time we ate, but I also had to relinquish my control over what we had for dinner and how it was prepared. Due to my eating disorder history, those are some of the most difficult things for me to do. However, like the excursions, those dinners with my host mom were some of the most memorable experiences during my time abroad. Unlike meals in America, meals in Spain focus much more on the social aspect, rather than on the food. I could tell this difference almost instantaneously, both with my host mom and in restaurants, and it led to a very refreshing change in perspective in how I view meals.

4). Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

The personal growth I made while studying abroad made a huge impact on my life. Before my trip, I would cancel plans in favor of staying within the comfort of my rigid routine and I would get very thrown off when things unexpectedly altered my schedule. Even though I’ve only been back a week, I can already feel a difference in myself. I now have so much more self-confidence and can embrace change. A balanced lifestyle has always been a goal of mine, but I could never relinquish my old patterns. Studying abroad pushed me in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the U.S. and opened so many possibilities in my life. Things that used to throw off my entire day now barely even phase me. This change is so important not only for my daily life, but also for my long-term goals. I feel confident that I can transition to graduate school and handle the hectic schedule of a physician assistant program. I am forever grateful for this experience that was made possible by STEP.