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A Year Of Self Discovery In Barcelona

Clark Gilford, a junior from the University of Oklahoma, shares some of his experience as an academic all-year student in Barcelona, Spain (Fall 2013 - Spring 2014).  
I am a junior at the University of Oklahoma with a major in Psychology and a minor in Spanish. I have done many hands-on activities with my major, but I was lacking real-world experience for my minor. For that reason, I started thinking about ways to improve my Spanish. I went to talk with a study abroad advisor, and she recommended CEA. I saw the cities available, and Barcelona seemed the most appealing because I thought it would be great to get what I needed while being on the other side of the world. I had thought about studying in a place like Mexico or Colombia, but since my study abroad scholarship would cover all the costs, I thought I would take advantage of it and adventure further away from home. One of the conditions to my scholarship was studying abroad for an entire year. I had not traveled to another country before and was intimated by the thought of going for a whole year but I stayed committed to the process.

 CEA Weekend Trip to the Pyrenees

Looking back, my expectations were relatively low compared to what I actually have learned. I was just focused on studying and learning more Spanish from the books. It has always been a priority for me to study, but being in Barcelona has taught me that there truly is more to learn outside the classroom with practice. I became more fluent every day simply by engaging in conversation with locals and friends. I was also taken by surprise with the laid-back culture of Spain. I was expecting a similar culture to the US, just with a different language. Although the “siesta” produces misleading stereotypes, the general culture is simply much more caring than any other place I’ve ever been. They highly value time with family and friends and I became a warmer person by being forced to communicate with the rhythm of the people, who are much more willing to talk than the general culture I know back home.
 One of my classes at the Universidad de Barcelona
 Local students from the UAB university - Fall '13

I am very happy I made the choice to live with a homestay family because it provided me exactly what I wanted: a better hands-on experience while studying abroad. I used my Spanish in real and practical ways everyday with my host-family. Living with a host-family exposed me to different aspects of the language and culture that otherwise I would not have learned. For example, I practiced my second language more than other students, and I was more enthusiastic to learn everyday Spanish words and phrases. I also was more involved in cultural activities with the homestay family, while other students engaged in more touristic activities. Each person in the family was nice and I felt they sincerely cared about me. I learned things from them like how to eat healthier and searching for activities in the city. For instance, the host-mom was vegetarian and my host-brother had to go on special diets sometimes with gluten intolerance. For that, I ate a lot more fruits and vegetables than I did in the US, along with soy products and decreased sugar (but they did cook meat for me, and bought other “normal” staples). I also realized that they spend less time watching television. They do more reading, going for walks in the city, and going to local events such as festivals, runs, special offers in museums and cinema, etc.
 My host family - Mercè, Eli, and Miquel

I enjoyed finding a more stable lifestyle in Barcelona, figuring out different parts of me I didn’t know I had such as learning to get over uncomfortable situations and how much I seek being alone sometimes. It took time, but I became more comfortable in my environment by adjusting. For example, I found an international church, and brought my saxophone back from home the second semester to play there the remaining months. I also volunteered during the whole academic year at a home for children with special needs. I participated in homeless ministry, I went to watch my host-brother’s soccer games, and I had several intercambio partners to practice different topics of Spanish. These activities really helped me stay connected to who I am back home, a person active in ministry activities and being involved with volunteering while watching local sports and talking with new people just for talking. Nonetheless, I have changed a lot mostly by feeling like I have less of an agenda of what I thought I had to be, and I’m more comfortable showing people who I actually am.
 Homeless Ministry

Barcelona changed me immensely, and I appreciate the experience. I thank the whole staff at CEA, Merçe, Miquel, Elisabet and many other friends for helping me to have a great time in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
 Some of the best people I know 
 Some folks from CEA

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