When I first decided to study abroad in Barcelona, I received great advice from many peers and mentors who knew about the new experiences that awaited me halfway across the world. However, no one told me about two adventures that remain prominent in my mind: muddy trails and flying-in-my-face fireworks. I had no idea that signing up for a quarter in Spain also meant trekking through knee-deep mud in the Pyrenees or feeling the heat of fireworks rush past me during a correfoc event.
Memories like these, though, are some of the most compelling reasons why study abroad was an incredible opportunity that I am so thankful for. Before study abroad, I had never left my home continent. Living in a foreign country and culture with limited language skills was initially daunting, and there were many times that I stepped out of my comfort zone. However, from navigating the metro system to ordering paella at local restaurants after classes, each new challenge brought new growth. I learned how to take initiative, explore the new, and jump into whatever laid ahead.
Beyond expanding my comfort zone, these day-to-day activities allowed me to participate in incredible experiences. From touring some of the most majestic cathedrals in the world to experiencing incredible views across Spain, I was given access to items that I could have not dreamed of seeing. It seemed that adventure and beauty laid around every corner in Barcelona and the local region. Traveling to other countries and towns, including Nice and Seville, also provided more opportunities to visit new places and experience incredible attractions. These Pyrenees hikes, correfoc parties, and numerous events will all stay with me for a long time.
Learning about a new culture was eye-opening. Seeing how locals approached their daily activities reminded me of the numerous cultures that are found across the world. From afternoon siestas to the prioritization of family and relationships, I gained first-hand experience into a new and wonderful way of living. In addition, seeing the strong Catalonian pride in their heritage, language, and culture reminded me of the power of unity among people.
The people also made study abroad incredible. I am so appreciative of the locals who patiently listened to my Google-translated questions, taught me to salsa dance, and showed me all the wonderful sights of Barcelona. I am also thankful that I got to study and travel with other UW students who were just as passionate about experiencing Barcelona and making the most out of this experience.
As I transition back to life at UW and my routine at home, I know that I will remember the lessons I learned in Barcelona, and they will continue to shape me for the rest of my life. And I’ll make sure to warn other students to watch out for muddy trails and duck when fireworks fly in their face. Or maybe not – after all, as I learned, sometimes facing the unknown is worth it.