I could have gone to my beautiful school in Pennsylvania for four years and I would have been perfectly happy. I wouldn’t have to take 18 credits every semester to fulfill all my requirements, I would have been able to run for the track team, I would have been able to be a residence assistant, but then I wouldn’t have become the person I am now after exploring the world and expanding my horizons. Studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain has increased my proficiency in Spanish, taught me to be more independent, and opened my eyes to how the world outside the United States lives, like no book or teacher ever could have.
I had taken Spanish class after Spanish class for 8 years before I realized there wasn’t much of a point at all unless I put it to use in real life. Throughout my time in Barcelona I have put in a huge effort to increase my Spanish proficiency. Nearly all my classes are taught in Spanish and these include classes with native speakers, where I was the only international student. In addition, I have lived with a host family in Barcelona that speaks no English, except for the singular word “dinner.” Once a week I spend two hours tutoring immigrant girls by helping them with their English homework, their math, and their religion homework. Lastly, once a week I meet with a local who is learning English and we speak for an hour in English and an hour in Spanish.
It is very easy to stick with other international students and only speak in English. In fact, many people study abroad, take classes in their native language and don’t make an effort to meet the local people. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that doing that would’ve made my time in Barcelona much easier, but it would not have benefited me in any way. By speaking with locals, I was able to increase my Spanish proficiency more in four months than I had in eight years of Spanish classes!
Ever since I moved across the country to go to school I have been more independent than the majority of people my age. When coming abroad I hadn’t expected my independence to increase even half as much as it has. Everyone becomes more independent when they go to college, but we’re still kept in a little bubble. For most college students, meals are prepared for them, the school organizes activities to help them find friends, and their campus guards them from much of the outside world. Studying in a country where you don’t speak the language fluently forces you to figure things out for yourself as well as forces you to speak to locals when you have a question.
I’m embarrassed to admit that before I went abroad, I didn’t know much about the outside world. To me there was the U.S., and then everyone else. Going abroad has given me a perspective on how the rest of the world operates and how it operates in relation to the United States. I would start conversations with other students about politics in the States, and I would think to myself, “they know so much about my country, yet I don’t even know who their president is!” I have realized that it is important to put in just as much effort to learn about other countries, as people from other places do to learn about the United States. In my time abroad, I have grown to realize there is a beautiful world outside of the United States and to only stay informed on things that directly affect one country is ignorant and like living with one eye closed.
If you asked me how my time abroad was going a month ago, I would’ve told you I had never been so lonely, that it was stressful, my brain was exhausted at the end of every day, that I just wanted one toilet that would flush the same as another. I would say that I missed the familiarity of everything I had grown to know in the United States, and that coming abroad wasn’t worth everything I had given up… Now, with only a few weeks left in Europe, I have never felt so comfortable being alone but so happy surrounded by the people I have met here. I have grown accustomed to the little differences (…like how every toilet flushes differently). Now, more than ever I feel comfortable with myself and my Spanish, I don’t feel like I am wandering the world with my blinders on, and I wouldn’t trade my study abroad experience for anything.
About the Author – Sarah Melgar, Spring 2018 Barcelona, Spain & Juniata College Student
Sarah is a Junior at Juniata College studying Art and Business. Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, she is thrilled to be studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Sarah is interested in capturing her experiences through photographs and videos, and hopes to inspire others to begin their own travels.