During my STEP Signature Project I traveled to Barcelona, Spain with International Studies Abroad. In Barcelona I took two classes at a satellite campus of the Universidad Internacional Menendez Pelayo, a school known for working with international students.
In many ways UIMP felt like a little cocoon inside of Barcelona, as I was surrounded by Americans even in Spain. That tiny bubble of familiarity made it easier to form relationships within the group, and I found myself approaching more and different kinds of people than I would have at home. There was no choice but to be confident abroad, especially in a city known for its pickpockets and pushy street promoters, and at UIMP that additional confidence led me to friendships I want to preserve here at home.
After being away for so long I did miss the United States, but there are a few lessons I will keep from my time in Spain. Although it seemed jarring at first, the Spanish way of living involves a lot of social time and relaxation that we can lose sight of in the states. My days were fuller than they had ever been, as the five hours of class I had in the mornings were dwarfed by time spent getting tapas, exploring parks, and hanging out at the beach. It was a beautiful balance between work and play that made me feel more fulfilled than I had in years.
An event in which I felt the fulfillment that I had been lacking was in the simple task of going to the movie theatre in Spain. When I am among my friends I tend to succumb to the pressures of the group: to do whatever the others are doing and just follow the crowd. Sometimes when you spend enough time listening to others your own voice can get lost. In Spain I was suddenly surrounded my more groups than I knew what to do with, and in learning to move between them I found some independence. So one day I went to the movie theatre.
I didn’t initially intend to go alone, in fact I messaged into two WhatsApp groups about my plans, but for the first time in a while I had my own plan. I went to see Solo: A Star Wars Story, albeit dubbed in Spanish, and every step felt like a victory. It seems silly, but just finding something that I wanted to for me, and doing it alone, made me so happy. What was a very mediocre story brought me to heights of laughter and lows of tears as I totally committed to the interstellar tale among a bunch of Spanish strangers.
During the rest of my time in Spain I went to the movies a total of three more times, and two of those actually with my friends. The act was symbolic more than anything else, as the movies themselves weren’t anything special. It was establishing a habit of doing something that I liked, whether the crowd followed me or not. I think that really summarizes my time in Spain: it was a place in which I learned to pursue habits that were important to me, whether the crowd followed me or not. While I was there I wrote, drew, and explored to an extent that I’d ever hoped that I could before. Spain forced me to reevaluate my opinions of myself.
From a mental health standpoint I feel like I have come back from Spain in a place so much better than the one I started in. I am confident that people will like me if I approach them, and also that I can survive and be happy on my own. I am coming back to the states with habits a far shade from the daily procrastination that I lived in before, and something closer to the kind of active life that I’ve always visualized. Professionally I feel inspired to get out into the world and pursue my wants. Aside from the practical development of my Spanish, I now have the confidence to tell employers what I am good at and why they should let me do it. I have come home a fuller person than before.