As I am back in Chattanooga after studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, the question I get asked by people everyday is “How was Spain?”. Even now, as it has been almost a month since leaving Spain, I have not been able to find the words to explain such an extraordinary and unforgettable experience. Of course, there is the basic tourist activities you may do while abroad, but there is so much more within those two months that one can only experience and understand by going abroad.
I read countless amounts of essays and talked to countless amount of people about their own experiences in order to prepare myself for the past two months of my life, but little did I know that there were not words or explanations that would fully prepare me for this. I vividly remember stepping off the plane upon arriving to Barcelona and being completely and utterly shocked. It was kind of an “Oh my God what did I get myself into?” moment. The next thing I knew was that I was taken into a taxi to where I would be living with my host family, and there was no one speaking my language anymore. With that said, I can honestly say that it was an overwhelming sense of happiness mixed with some fear and nervousness, but it was the best feeling in the entire world.
My two-month experience started somewhat immediately. I was eating new meals, speaking (what I could) of a new language, and meeting countless new people. With that said, I want to highlight that leading up to your experience, you hear many people warn you of “culture shock”, and although this is very, very real, it is normal and does not ruin your experience at all. This was one of my biggest lessons while abroad too. I learned to embrace this feeling of shock and remind myself that I was in a new country with so much to learn. It did not last the entire time I was abroad, and by the end of the two months, I felt as if I were a local. I became a daily custo
mer at a corner store where I would buy a water and a snack and say hello to “Rihaj”, I had my daily walk to the metro station to get on the train and arrive at my internship, I had my host family to come home to and eat dinner and discuss our days, which mostly consisted of everyone complaining about how hot it was and stuffing our faces with the most amazing food ever, and I had all kinds of new friends that I did almost everything with.
Looking back at my experience, there is so much I regret not doing, and it feels that there was such little time to do all that there is to do. Two months went by in the blink of an eye, and jumping back into my college life, almost immediately, makes it feel like it was all a dream. You will miss all of the little details about this way of life, even the things you may carelessly complain about in the moment. I miss the crowded metro station because this is where I had my daily morning commute to my internship and could listen to music and look out the window and see how beautiful it was. I miss helping my host mom with dinner, and having the challenge of understanding each other. I miss “Cana” who was the host family’s dog. I miss all the new smells, tastes of foods, languages, simple daily interactions, and simply how it felt to have this opportunity and being able to experience it.
There are not enough words or explanations that I can give anyone to convince them to study abroad. It is simply something you have to decide to do, and do it. It has made me feel capable of more than I could of imagined for myself, and taught me so much about culture, myself, people, and life. I can only say to make the decision to study abroad, and you will understand.
Olivia Watson (Integrated Studies) spent Summer 2021 interning in Barcelona, Spain through API. Olivia had the following to say about study abroad, “Study abroad is a life changing experience that will challenge you and teach you more than you could ever imagine. The memories and experiences you are faced with are like no other, and the only way to truly understand is by studying abroad.”
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