Before I arrived in Barcelona, I had been told by countless individuals that studying abroad would be a life-changing experience. I was both nervous and excited as the semester approached, fearing that the adjustment would be difficult but eager to discover the Spanish culture while studying at the University of Barcelona. As I reflect on my experience with BCA, I am pleased to say those who had talked to me were correct – studying abroad has been a life-changing experience, and in more ways than one.
Taking Classes with Spanish Students
My academic experience in Spain has been extremely positive, primarily because I have been able to take classes within the University of Barcelona. Rather than merely enrolling in courses with other American students in a study abroad program, I have taken classes taught by university professors, along side Spanish students. Immersing myself in the university allowed me to become familiar with the European education system and learn in an environment that demanded a profound understanding of the Spanish language. The opportunity to study in a setting that challenged me to perfect my mastery of Spanish while simultaneously introducing me to interesting topics in history, language, and literature has been extremely rewarding.
As a student of both humanities and sciences, it is not only the subject matter in the classroom that will serve me in the future, but also the interactions with professors and other students along with the extra-curricular activities that will aid me in my future education.
Living with a Spanish Family
Although I expected my semester abroad to be primarily an academic experience, I have been pleasantly surprised by the cultural understanding and personal awareness I gained through non-academic aspects of my time abroad. Living with a Spanish family forced me to quickly adapt to a unique lifestyle that differs from my own; I had expected and anticipated the challenge. More importantly, however, living with a host family gave me a unique opportunity to experience life in Barcelona. As I formed bonds with my host mom and her friends, we had countless discussions – about politics and societal issues, pop-culture and food, family history and plans for the future. Since my host mom is a dance critic, I was given incredible opportunities to see dance shows in some of Barcelona’s most important theaters. For me, these shows were not simply chances to watch ballet, flamenco, or modern dance; rather, they were one-of-a-kind opportunities to see authentic representations of the customs of the Spanish people. In addition to learning the adaptability implicit in living in with a host family, these spectacles and daily conversations alike have enriched my understanding of the Spanish culture.
Language Exchange Program with Community Members
Other important aspects of my study abroad experience have been those adventures both outside the home and the classroom. The “intercambio” I participated in with two women beginning to learn English was another opportunity to meet people of different ages and origins and diverse life experiences. Exposure to vastly different ways of thinking in experiences such as these has opened my eyes to the value of exchanging thoughts and considering an idea from multiple perspectives. Each day, most notably at the beginning but every day since, I have encountered situations, including the intercambio and others that require me to adapt, to adjust my own thought processes or behaviors. Whether it is an unexpected incident or an endeavor that I have sought out intentionally, these novel experiences have molded me – bit by bit – into a more flexible individual with more confidence in my own abilities. I have slowly become more willing to risk my sense of comfort in order to benefit from the rewards of novel experiences.
Life Changing Experience
Studying at the University of Barcelona, while living in a Spanish home and immersing myself in Spanish language as well as the the daily life of Barcelona encouraged a rapid and steady improvement in my facility with the language while simultaneously allowing me to become intimately familiar with the culture of the Spanish people. Reaching beyond my education in Spanish language, literature, and history, my experience in the BCA program has allowed me to discover the Spanish way of life, to appreciate its intricacies, and to feel as though I have become part of the community. After removing myself from the “bubble” that often traps young adults in college, I started to question certain values and think more critically about what is important to me – relationships, personal growth, and awareness of the world around me, to name a few. In this way, though the semester abroad is relatively short, I have begun to adopt a new mindset about important issues that stems from a more well-rounded perspective of the world. The transformations that occur are so gradual, so natural, that they are almost imperceptible as they take place. It is only after I have had an opportunity to reflect on the experience/after the effects have taken hold – or since others have pointed them out to me – that I have become aware of the ways in which I have evolved as an individual.
About the Author – Anna Schoonover, Spring 2016 BCA Barcelona, Spain alumna
Anna is a senior at Bryn Mawr College, majoring in both Biology and Spanish.