My time in Barcelona was unforgettable and invaluable. I learned and experienced a lot throughout my three months living and taking classes in the city. One of the most important experiences that I had during my entire time abroad was cultural immersion. Living in a city in a different country with a significantly different culture than the one that I grew up in exposed me to many new behaviors, customs, beliefs, and norms. Although all of my classes were with American students, I was frequently interacting with the locals, whether it was on the street, in cabs, or in the store. I highly recommend for students that are studying abroad to take advantage of opportunities to interact with locals whenever they get the chance. Those constant interactions allowed me to develop a strong appreciation for the cultural differences between my own culture and the one that I was immersed in. Over the span of three months, I believe that I gained cross-cultural understanding and perspective, which allowed me to develop a strong sense of cultural competence. This experience has made me feel more comfortable around people from different cultures than myself, and has helped me to grow to love learning about new cultures.
Similarly, living directly in the city and interacting with the locals frequently, I also found myself using and learning the language quite a bit. Spanish is one of my majors and was a big factor in deciding where I wanted to study abroad. I have taken Spanish classes for 13 years, since elementary school. However, I reached a stagnant point in college where I felt like I wasn’t becoming any more fluent. After studying abroad in Barcelona, I became more comfortable than I ever have been using the language, trying to communicate with people even if I’m not sure that I’m correct, and practicing on a daily basis. This really helped to increase and speed up my fluency. For students who are studying abroad and know or are learning a different language, I recommend trying to practice using that language any time they can. It will really help them become more confident and knowledgeable.
Lastly, this was actually my first experience living in an off-campus apartment, having to grocery shop and cook for myself on a daily basis, and having to navigate public transportation in a new city. Early on, I had to learn how to use the metro system, which ended up being the easiest public transportation system I had ever experienced. It was very new to me to live in an apartment, and only with other people my own age. It was also a new challenge, not only to grocery shop and cook, but sometimes to find specific food in the stores. It didn’t take long to adjust to either of these, but they definitely put me outside of my comfort zone initially. That being said, at the end of three months, I can confidently say that I am so much more independent now than I was when I got there. Stepping out of your comfort zone and living in new ways can be daunting, but study abroad students will really benefit from those kinds of experiences, and grow as individuals. Overall, my study abroad experience left me with some really great takeaways that continue to be helpful skills today.