When applying to college I was always asked what I was looking for in an institutions of higher education. My top three requirements were always good financial aid, strong academics, and a solid study abroad program. I moved to the United States from Ukraine my sophomore year of High School and that was when I took a Spanish course for the first time. It was difficult, adjusting to using English in everyday life as well as starting a new language. And from my experience learning English some five or six years before that, the best way to get to fluency level was through cultural immersion. That was when I decided to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain and study abroad became one of my priorities during my academic career.
Going into this experience of a lifetime I did not have many expectations. Truly, I did not know what to expect as I did not have many friends who had studied abroad previously, so my ideas of how the next four months of my life were going to go were vague. As someone who was born and raised in Eastern Europe and who did not have many opportunities to travel much, I was ecstatic to be able to experience Western Europe. This semester has been everything I was scared to hope for. While it was not my first time living in a foreign country, this time I was doing it alone, without my parents and brother. I am very happy with the choice of the program I made for studying abroad. BCA provided me with the necessary knowledge and resources to adjust and do well in a new place, but allowed me my independence, and that was a big factor for me.
The biggest success of my time in Barcelona has been my experience with my host family. I was a little apprehensive about living with other people, let alone ones who only speak Spanish. As mentioned before, I am a very independent person and have always been like that, and I like being on my own, so I was not sure how well the host family situation would go for me. Now at the end of this journey I can safely say that I had some of the best months of my life here. I was matched with a single woman whose kids are now adults and live on their own. They would visit occasionally so sometimes it would feel like a full house, a fun and loud family. Generally, it was my host mom and me. It was an interesting experience having to connect with someone who is close to the age of my grandmother. I’m happy we found common ground quickly and could spend time and live together without conflicts.
While in Barcelona, I had great opportunities to experience the life of a Spaniard. I took classes at the University of Barcelona with their professors. I believe the interaction with them was very valuable to not only my language skills improvement but also my immersion into the Spanish and Barcelona cultures. Class structure, grading, and even interaction with professors differ greatly from how they are in American universities.
I also had the opportunity to meet with a native Spaniard in an “intercambio” program, where we would exchange our knowledge of Spanish and English. Through process I learned a lot about the him and connected with him by talking about the politics in Spain and the US, and the differences of the European and American systems.
Additionally, I was able to volunteer in a center specifically designed to help immigrant girls with their school work and English language skills. This was a much more difficult task for me, having to connect with a room of pre-teen and teenage girls, but it was another valuable experience where I learned to express myself in a way accessible to them and feel comfortable presenting myself in a much different situation than what I am used to.
About the Author – Solomiya Petlyak, Spring 2018 Barcelona, Spain & Bryn Mawr College Student
I am Ukrainian born and raised, but have been living in the US for over 6 years now. I am a rising senior at Bryn Mawr College majoring in International Studies and minoring in Anthropology. After Bryn Mawr I intend on going to graduate school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Eastern European and Ukrainian studies. Beyond academics I plan to work with organizations that work on U.S.-Ukraine relations and Ukrainian international politics.