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There is No Right Way to Study Abroad

 Leading a group of CEA Barcelona Summer '16 students on our Madrid excursion!

I won’t shy away to say that when I studied abroad in Barcelona in Spring 2014, I was your typical American student (for the most part), spending a semester in Europe. I lived in an apartment with five other Americans, took classes taught in English, flocked to restaurants with English-translated menus, visited more Barcelona tourist destinations than local hotspots, fell prey to the lure of the Barcenoleta beach time and time again, and traveled almost every weekend to a different European city, where I continued these habits while “absorbing” myself in a new culture.

I won’t lie, I had fun. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. Before you think that I’m completely basic, I will tell you, I participated in every intercambio and every CEA activity. I had local friends, took Spanish classes, lived in a neighborhood where no one spoke English and I loved every minute of it, and I took advantage of every opportunity to be culturally involved in Barcelona.

But it’s hard. As a student, you only have so much time, so much energy, and so much money. Students often spend so much time seeing the major sites in their cities or travelling on the weekends to make sure they ‘see’ everything. And they wind up not fully ‘living’ in their host city. I decided that when I return to Europe, I would really ‘live’ there instead of living the semester student fast life.

 Here is a Castell (or human tower), at a street festival near Plaça d´ Espanya.

After my semester in Barcelona, I interned in Dublin during Summer of 2015 through CEA’s International Internship Program. My last experience of the semester student fast life was no more. Instead, I was working 30 hours a week with a team of which I was the only American. This time abroad, I also only had 5 other Americans from CEA with me in TOTAL, compared to the student group of 500 in Barcelona. I loved working with my team in Dublin, but the internship program only lasted 6 weeks, and so I again fell in the trap of tourist hotspots and ‘summer’ student fast life. I learned the ways of the Irish culture, working with a team of Irish and other Europeans, but 6 weeks sure went by fast.

Now here I am, back in Spain as CEA’s first Barcelona On-Site Ambassador. I knew that this was my opportunity to fully engulf myself and take advantage of my surroundings. I vowed not to travel outside of Spain (which I broke only once) and really push myself. I’m taking two hours of Spanish class a day, living with a host family that only speaks Spanish, and working with the CEA Barcelona team who encourages me and pushes me to only speak Spanish, which has significantly helped me become a ‘local’ and learn more about international business.

It’s been a challenging summer, but completely worth it. I feel as though every day I am getting better and really ‘living’ in Barcelona. I don’t feel the need to rush and make sure I see everything, I’m more focused on building relationships and creating roots that I can return to in the future.

But there is no ‘right’ way to study or travel abroad. All of my experiences were so different. If you want to go abroad and only hit the main tourist destinations, that’s great. If you want to live with a host family and really envelop yourself in a local culture or language, awesome. If you want to work abroad and polish your skills internationally, go for it.

In the end, it’s your own unique experience and nobody can change that. Your abroad experience is incomparable to anyone else’s and that’s how it should be. It’s up to you to make the most of your time abroad.

Ana G. is the CEA Barcelona On-Site Ambassador. She is a CEA alumna from the Spring 2014 semester in Barcelona, and Summer 2015 semester in Dublin, and a recent graduate of The University of St. Thomas.

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