At the end of August I packed way too many pairs of shoes, said goodbye to Phoenix and my loved ones (who I hadn’t spent more than two weeks apart from) and flew across the Atlantic Ocean to my new home for four months, Barcelona. I was terrified.
I was scared I had made a mistake to leave behind my friends, my family, and my boyfriend. Scared I would be homesick and struggle making friends. I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep. I barely knew any Spanish, and could not imagine what my life would be like 5,787 miles away. But that fearful, exhausting day brought me more adventures and friends than I ever imagined it would.
“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” – Gael Atta
About a year ago I made the decision to pursue spending half of my senior year of college studying abroad. Studying abroad was something I always said I wanted to do since high school, but I never acted on it. Frankly, life happened and the American University experience is one-of-a-kind. I love going to football games at my big university and have extreme FOMO so I didn’t want to miss a single school event.
It wasn’t till a friend of mine told me she was going to Florence, Italy for spring of our junior year that I woke up to the reality that three years had passed and I only had ONE more semester that I could study abroad. So I did.
Best choice ever.
At most large schools, there are study abroad offices with people just waiting to talk to YOU as well as lists upon lists online of programs to choose from. Multiple factors played into my choice for Spain and ultimately Barcelona. Originally, I looked at Cape Town, South Africa…and then saw the university students were on strike and not attending classes. So I ruled that out (Do your research).
Then I had my heart set on Amsterdam, Netherlands, but the price was way too steep. Starting to take costs more into consideration (the not so fun part) I chose Spain. Eventually, I picked Barcelona for the specific program and course load; it’s convenient location for travel, and the most obvious, the beach.
One of the great advantages of studying abroad with a program is that they can set up your housing and meet you at the airport. I arrived to the Barcelona airport meeting program representatives and my five other American “flat mates.” We were dropped off with my five other American “flat mates” on a tree-lined street, where all the apartments sat above the storefronts. Much larger than the typical European flat, we had 5 bedrooms, with two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, and a washing machine (no clothes dryer), but drying lines out all the windows.
Now let’s talk about this place… Barcelona.
Spain is split into 17 different autonomies; Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and lies along the Mediterranean Sea in the northeastern corner of Spain. Barcelona and the Catalan people stole my heart in a matter of days. From the beautiful water to the sidewalks filled with mopeds, the 1.40 euro espresso and sunsets behind the hills…Barcelona literally has everything. It is a city bustling with different languages including Catalan, the primary language spoken in Catalonia, a city where dinner isn’t served till 8pm, you can dance till 6am, and see your new friends on the metro going to work at 9am.
You can be lost and run into Roman ruins or the famous architecture of Antoni Gaudi. In Barcelona people work hard not to just have money, but to enjoy themselves. Where people will treat their souls first, and then do the practical thing, where mid-day breaks (siestas) are really a thing, and music constantly echoes through the small alley like streets of the gothic quarter.
Tapas on Tapas
Around every corner you can find a tapas restaurant, where they service a typical Spanish dinner of shared small plates. The favorites are pan con tomate (toasted bread with grated tomato, garlic, and olive oil), Spanish tortilla, and all types of jamon (thinly sliced specialty ham) and cheeses. Being on the water, fish is incredibly popular and is always fresh. Anchovies are served all different styles, however my favorite seafood was mejillones a la marinera (mussels in marinara sauce).
Along with the typical Spanish and Catalonian cuisine, I was surprised to find how much variety there was for food in Barcelona. The increasing internationality of the city is apparent by the restaurant scene. No matter what kind of food you are looking for, Barcelona is a great place to be hungry.
I had no idea what to expect from this city, but it certainly did not disappoint.
I quickly felt at home walking the streets and using the metro. I found people appreciated when I tried to communicate with them in Spanish, and occasionally a local would try to help me speak. But no matter how big the language barrier, I could always find a smile or a way to laugh with someone.
For 4 months I lived and attended classes in Barcelona, Spain, traveled to 8 different countries and 19 different cities with all new friends. Choosing to study abroad was truly my best decision in college. A semester abroad was worth more than all the football games and free concerts put together. It was worth all the hours I spent working serving tables and all the anxiety upon arrival.
Studying abroad taught me about who I want to be, the world we live in, and my place within it; it is an experience like no other and can truly change your world if you let it.