Bethany Cothran is a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior majoring in communication and psychology. She is a 2021 graduate of Community High School in Unionville, Tennessee.
Live in the moment, sleep when you’re dead and take advantage of every opportunity because life is unpredictable and finite. I knew these concepts before studying abroad. I understood and lived by them, but after staying in Spain for three weeks, “living in the moment” takes on a greater meaning.
Living in the moment is pausing to breathe in the salty Mediterranean air for the first time. It’s continuing to laugh your head off even as annoyed locals stare at you. It’s singing Taylor Swift at the top of your lungs, walking down the street in the middle of the night. It’s finding yourself in a group of people you never knew you needed.
This summer, I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, alongside nine other University of Tennessee at Chattanooga communication-focused students for a three-week-long study abroad trip. From the start of our adventure in a hot airport cafe, our group was close. From shy and mysterious to outgoing and bold, we made up a strange blend of characters that worked exceptionally well together. We bonded over shared interests in school and bad airport food while wondering when we would finally get to leave and explore the city. Three weeks later, we cried as we said goodbye to Barcelona.
I jumped at the opportunity when I learned about Professor Tony Cepak’s faculty-led study-abroad trip. I’ve always wanted to study abroad, so hearing about this trip geared toward students with my major made it an easy decision. Before I knew much about what I was getting myself into or how I would do it, I signed up and agreed to the no-refund policy. No thoughts, I just jumped.
I came to Barcelona unsure of what I was getting myself into. I knew the sites and what I wanted to do, but I had no idea what to expect when I arrived. I was excited and terrified at the same time, but looking back, I would do it all again. I packed up my old suitcase and set out to do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do and I could not be more grateful for it. I learned a lot about design, the world as a whole and myself, but I mostly learned how to live.
Every day between the beginning and end was a new, exciting adventure. Although we were there for a class, the city of Barcelona was our classroom. We learned about culture, history and art from museums, street fairs and workshops where we letter-pressed posters and spray-painted tote bags. We cooked tapas and empanadas, took photos on film cameras and crafted mosaic art. As a class, we learned more about various design processes through exploration and activity than we would have reading a textbook.
Outside the workshops, our assignments ensured we never stayed in our housing—the Beyoo Marina—for long. We explored museums on our own, videoing and photographing anything that might make our film project more interesting. In the process of our creative journey, our group of 10 did everything together. We ate, sang, danced, completed projects, got lost, watched movies and pulled many all-nighters.
Want to learn about other UTC travel abroad experiences to Spain? Click here to read about the UTC Cadiz International Research Program
We kept saying, “We’ll sleep when we’re dead.” We figured if we were only going to be in Barcelona for three weeks, we wouldn’t spend much time sleeping. And still, after all the hours of sleep I missed ensuring that I did as much as possible, I know there’s still so much I didn’t see.
For one of our projects, we had to create a visual journal. Throughout the trip, we collected mementos, drew pictures and wrote about our experiences to put in our scrapbooks. I filled my journal with ticket stubs, cutouts of photos and several entries about what I saw and liked the most. I wrote about excruciatingly long but beautiful bus rides during a weekend side trip to and from Paris, drawing on the corners of the book’s pages with colored pencils.
The memories I made during our three weeks in Barcelona were unforgettable. As I listen again to the playlist I made on the way to Spain, I think about how I would travel there a million times again. If not for the beautiful city of Barcelona, then for the friendships I formed along the way.
I learned that truly living in the moment first means feeling comfortable enough with where you are and who you’re with to do so. It’s letting yourself feel and revel in every emotion openly and honestly. Confidence, freedom, passion and excitement leave you ready to take on the world. Studying abroad gave me this feeling. Barcelona gave me this feeling. I will tell anyone a thousand times that every bit of time and money spent on this trip was worth it. I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I will return to Barcelona one day. In the meantime, I will never forget how much I gained from this experience.
I may not be in Barcelona anymore, but I have hundreds of pictures, a dozen journal entries, several souvenirs and mementos filling up the box that once held my macarons in Paris and the sketchbook I used to create my visual journal.
No matter the adventure, try the food. Speak the language, whatever small pieces you know. Climb the mountain, even if you’re hot and tired; it’s worth it. Take the picture; you’ll want it later.
Take home every memento and take in every little moment.