I have to admit, Brittany from your research class is right; studying abroad is quite possibly the best experience you will have in your lifetime. It’s quite possible you’ll never be able to experience the things you do while studying abroad. Even though I heard things from other students and the campus study abroad office prior to leaving, nothing could truly prepare me for what was to come. Here are just a few out of the many things I wish I knew before leaving to study abroad in Barcelona.
First, don’t go looking for pictures and experiences; let them find you. There’ll be places you’re bound to visit in Barcelona like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and many others, but don’t actively seek places to take pictures -- just take them as you go along. I know I definitely spent a little too much time looking for "Cheetah Girls 2" filming locations. Once I started venturing out with people, though, I found neat backstreets and beautiful locations that I hadn’t seen on Instagram or anywhere online, and those were the best memories I had and definitely the best photos I took.
Don’t travel every weekend. It’s tempting to travel, with countries being so close by and airfare being relatively cheap, but you’ll miss out on a lot. You obviously chose where you’re studying for a reason, and a lot of weekends are when the fun happens, and by traveling, you miss out on a lot of those soccer (futbol) games, celebrations, and many other things. It’s not enough to just be there during the week when you have to worry about schoolwork.
Step outside your comfort zone. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, and being on an entirely different continent might be a big step outside your comfort zone to begin with, but trying new things helped me truly experience Barcelona. For example, I traveled away from the city center, and experienced the outskirts of Barcelona, where people spoke little to no English and the restaurants were aimed at the community, not at tourists. Seeing the parts of Barcelona that weren’t flooded with tourists really helped me find and appreciate Spain’s culture and the locals who welcomed me, and my attempt at learning their culture and my attempt at speaking Spanish in a way they could understand.
Lastly, it’s perfectly okay to go alone; in fact, I recommend doing so. My university didn’t have the program I wanted, so I went through a different SUNY school, and I didn’t know anyone from there. In the end, everyone is in the same boat and there are plenty of people that also go alone, giving you the opportunity to meet some amazing new people and make friends. There’s nothing wrong with going with a friend, but going with a big group could deprive you of the enriching experience that you can experience by going by yourself. Now, I’m planning a trip back to Barcelona with the friends I made while studying abroad.
The most important thing (besides schoolwork, of course) is to have fun. Studying abroad is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I know it may be intimidating at first, or even straight-up scary, but believe me when I say you’ll have the best time and you’ll want to do it all over again.
Read more about our CEA MOJO Bloggers & Photographers.