As I’m sure many students feel prior to studying abroad, I was incredibly anxious and excited to be living and studying in Barcelona for almost four months. My first week in Barcelona assuaged most of my fears of what to expect. I became comfortably settled with my homestay, learned the metro system, began exploring my new neighborhood, and started my BCA pre-semester classes.
I encountered challenges almost every day of the initial month I spent in Barcelona. Adapting to cultural norms, grappling with classes and free time, and, most notably, speaking Spanish, were some of the hurdles that I experienced. Although I had taken a total of five years of Spanish in high school and college, learning in a classroom does not prepare you for immersing yourself in the language for the totality of the day. In the beginning, I was quite nervous to speak to my host family, cashiers, or waiters in Spanish.
I also struggled to understand many Spanish speakers as they were talking to me. Most of the time, I had to ask the speaker to slow down so I could understand. Despite this, I persevered and although I made many mistakes in speaking, my Spanish improved quite radically. Now, I can maintain an easy flow of conversation with strangers, and my host family, understanding the vast majority of what is being said to me.
Another way that I practiced Spanish was by having an “intercambio,” a person that you can practice both of your respective native languages with. My intercambio practiced her English with me, and I would practice my Spanish with her for about two hours once a week. I recognize that my Spanish still needs improvement, but I think it’s incredible that I have come this far.
During my time in Barcelona, I volunteered at a primary school with kids from fourth to sixth grade. I felt that this was a good volunteer opportunity since I’ve always loved working with children and I would be able to practice my Spanish. I had so much fun when I visited the children. They would ask me about things in the United States, and I would help them practice their English. It was interesting to see the difference between the Spanish and the American educational system.
Another extremely valuable part of my study abroad experience was joining a gym in which is about 20 minutes from where I live in Barcelona. Through joining a local gym, I was able to interact with many Spanish speakers, participate in group classes that were led only in Spanish, and alleviate the stress of study abroad through exercise. My advice to students studying abroad is to find an outlet for exercise. Working out provides me with a sense of peace and stability, and I think joining a gym enhanced my experienced in Barcelona entirely.
Studying at the University of Barcelona was an amazing experience that I am so proud to have accomplished. I took five classes this semester, including Spanish literature, European Union, Spanish history, and Morfosintaxis (grammar). In my literature class I had to read four books entirely in Spanish, all prominent literary works written by Catalonian and Spanish authors. I’ve had to write in-class essays in most of my classes which was previously something I had struggled with, but was a great learning opportunity during this program. My comprehension of Spanish grammar has become better since taking these classes, and now I can craft more complicated and intricate phrases in Spanish.
Overall, I really enjoyed the BCA program and have observed a marked improvement in my ability to speak, listen and write in Spanish. I thoroughly loved every moment living in Barcelona and believe that I have changed as a person because of this experience.
About the Author – Emma Steer, Spring 2018 Barcelona, Spain & Soka University Student
Hi! My name is Emma and I am a junior at Soka University of American in Southern California. I am majoring in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Humanities, and hope to attend law school so I can become an advocate for human rights!