Has it been four weeks already?! A lifetime of memories have already been made and this is only the beginning of it all. It will be incredibly difficult to recollect all thoughts I’ve had thus far, but here’s goes:
Pre-departure: Before leaving, friends were visiting and sending well-wishes for my travels abroad. Honestly, the last couple of days were so swamped with running errands and making sure all travel documents were in place, it really hadn’t hit me that I would be leaving home for 5 months. Everyone would always ask, “Where are you going to visit while in Spain” or “You’re going to have the most amazing time”, but imagining myself here was so difficult because I knew NOTHING about Barcelona or the culture. It was the first day of January and last-minute tasks were being completed and as I began to compile a list of phone numbers and addresses in case anything happened, my dad checked my flight information and checked me in. That’s when he realized that my flight was approximately 5 hours before I had thought it would be…oh and the best part was that I HADN’T STARTED PACKING. How does one pack for 5 months? After a couple laughs and some yelling about how “irresponsible” I was, I began rummaging through my closet and took over the entire living room just figuring out what would be practical to take. My best friend, Sonali, came over to help and 4 hours later, my bag was ready!
THE DAY OF DEPARTURE: TODAYYYYYY! I know it’s hard to believe but it STILL hadn’t hit me. I felt like I was just going on a vacation for some time, but as I said goodbye to Sonali (Yes, she came over at 8 am to wish me safe travels, the sweetest I know) I just kept thinking, “wait, I’m leaving??!”. It became unreal when I had to leave my dog and unimaginable when I was about to enter security after leaving my dear family. I don’t like being publicly emotional but this was easily the most difficult thing I had to hide while saying goodbye to them. I DIDN’T CRY THOUGH (people know I have that tendency, but that’s a completely different story)! Finally after getting through security, I got to my gate that would fly to JFK, that would later connect to the last leg taking me to Barcelona! A couple hours later, I was at JFK and almost 5 hours and a VERY expensive last American burger, we were finally 7 hours from landing. The travel time took twice as long, but the wait was SO worth it when I finally arrived in the beautiful land of the Spaniards! Okay, now the blog gets more interesting…
Arrival: Just to summarize, I made my way into the city and to our NEW APARTMENT! It was so exciting to finally meet Karlee, Leah, and Sarah to begin our new chapter. Our apartment is located right next to the Parc Ciutadella, which is also just a 10-minute walk to Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF- our university)! It’s also very close to several metro stops and the beach. After moving in and for the next few days, we visited different restaurants on La Rambla and Port Olimpic, two extremely touristy parts of the city. Exploring the city and getting accustomed to the social culture was definitely one of the most eye-opening parts of the first couple of weeks. The lifestyle here is, as many people already know, much more relaxed. We rarely see people glued to technology while going from one place to another, which is one of my favorite parts. All the history and culture in the small streets really allows us to soak in the atmosphere and local habits of the country. They’ve even have ‘Siesta’, a period during the day where small shops and pharmacies close. Pretty cool until you stab yourself with a knife while cooking and won’t stop bleeding…yeah, NEXT TOPIC.
The Girls: Alright, so I know my pictures may as well answer this question but just a sort explanation. I’ve traveled here with three other AMAZING women: Sarah Wallace, Leah Mendes, and Karlee Scheel. We’re all business school students and met through our study abroad decision since we’d all be attending the same university. We had only met a couple times before actually arriving in Barcelona just to plan out living situations and of course out of excitement. Words can’t explain how close we’ve become in four weeks. Our personalities are like pieces to a puzzle and we all get along so well. Reciting inside jokes are daily rituals and certain habits have already rubbed off on one another. We’ve also invented games that have sparked an interest in our friends here; people think we’re crazy but it has made our experience here so much more hilarious! I really couldn’t have lucked out on better girls to study with; I love them.
Sagrada Familia/Tours: It had to be done! The last day before classes were about to be spent as tourists (we sort of pride ourselves on how we’ve become locals since we’ve brought out our Sacagawea). We spent the whole day touring the Catholic Church and taking a bus tour around the city, ending at Montjuic, a hill overlooking the city! Barcelona isn’t as historically significant as cities like Rome or Berlin would be, but the rich Spanish culture truly gives the city an identity of it’s own. This is when I fell in love with the city!
Welcome Week/Classes: The first week of the trimester had begun, so school was more relaxed at this time. Classes had begun but exchange students were given a week to “test out” their schedule, then later add/drop what they wanted to change. Us girls utilized that week to meet other locals and exchange students. It was probably my hardest week because I was incredibly homesick and socializing was not a priority on my list; honestly, I just wanted to go home! I know, it sounds awful, but once we settled in it was time to face the anxiety of a new semester and new friendships. Luckily, the Erasmus Student Network, an organization present at universities all around the European Union to help integrate locals with other exchange students, planned out a whole week around the city to introduce us to each other through various social and service activities. Every night there would be an event either at a restaurant or a pub. All of the amazing people we got to meet are mainly from other European countries and will be living here until the end of June…and EVERYONE knows more than two languages. So much respect and envy. We realized it’s very common and since then, we’ve all made some degree of effort to learn Spanish and different phrases from different countries. It’s amazing how a group of people from different parts of the world can encourage you to learn a little more about unfamiliar cultures. Once welcome week ended, ESN continued to host weekly activities like karaoke and night’s out at different venues. THESE nights have been the most memorable ones by far. In fact, this past weekend was spent with all of ESN members and coordinators in Lleida, where we all spent time in a deserted farmhouse playing fun games. One of the most fun nights ever, no exaggeration. Part II will happen next in Madrid! All of us are ecstatic to visit the capital and spend some more time getting to know one another, especially if it’s like the previous trip. *Additional details can be provided upon request regarding this weekend and other nights; there are just too many thoughts to write out!*
The Food/Daily Thoughts: Before coming here, people would tell me Spanish food is NOTHING like Mexican food from Texas; slightly ignorant of me to even try to make any connection I know, but there must’ve been a similarity right? NO. Tapas, Patatas Bravas, Sangria, Paella, to name a few, are common foods and drinks found here. The food is delicious but definitely something that took a while to get used to. Since Barcelona is a coastal city, Seafood is everywhere and EVERYTHING tastes like it. Even the Chicken. I mean, I do like seafood and Salmon here and there, but not when my pasta or salad tastes like a fish lives in it. Not complaining, but definitely a hurdle especially being the foodie that I am. Secondly, menus don’t explain the ingredients very well. A salad will say there is lettuce, dressing, olives, etc. in it, but when your order comes out, “SURPRISE: TOMATOES!”. That was just an example but it’s definitely something we now expect. Last thought: the language barrier was highly underestimated. Everyone would ask if I knew Spanish and all I could respond with was, “Oh yeah, I know a few phrases from Spanish 3 in high school like, ‘Tengo Hambre’ “, but I was in for a surprise. Cab drivers, employees, and workers only know Spanish and a daily conversation with any of these people is the most awkward and confounding encounter. Imagine a simple job, like getting a haircut or withdrawing cash, becoming a 3-hour excursion that involves getting directionally lost and additional costs at the metro station. I should’ve been more prepared as a foreigner but it’s definitely a humbling learning experience. Lesson learned: English is not a Universal language.
The People: As mentioned earlier, other exchange students that are also in ESN have such interesting lives! Some are completing multiple degrees and it’s great seeing that other young adults are just as, if not more, ambitious than people from back home. Everyone here is always eager to go on an adventure and explore the city. I always thought I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, but it’s nothing when you hear stories of people backpacking across borders with absolutely no connection to the outside world. One thing I’ve learned from meeting all these people is that even though everyone comes from different places, we can all agree that a conversation about a stranger’s life becomes the most interesting story you’ll get to hear. Karlee, Sarah, Leah, and I have become so incredibly close in the past month and we’ve gotten to meet the greatest group of people already. We know people in our classes and have a handful of friends that we’ve gotten to know so well that we’ve even considered trying to extend our trip (sorry parents).
**DISCLAIMER**: THIS IS ABOUT TO GET REALLY CHEESY AND DEEP.
You always hear that people participate in a study abroad to visit a new city and meet new people. Although, that IS partially why I have come here, it goes way beyond that. Living in the same city for more than 13 years and following a set academic plan (middle school, high school, college, etc.), I felt like my life had become very similar to everyone’s around me. I love to visit new places and experience a different lifestyle, I mean I don’t even get tired of visiting my close friends in Austin, but living in a completely different country AWAY from my reality was something I decided I should experience as a young adult. I don’t like change or being away from people close to me, but I knew that by doing this I could start a different life elsewhere, as well as force myself to struggle through all the drastic changes. To conclude: it was hard at first but it’s easily been one of the best life decision’s I have made yet (first being attending A&M of course, WHOOP)!
The END: An incredible past four weeks! Not much studying done (or really required) but learning so much about other people and their cultures. We’ve already made so many international friends and hundreds of memories that others won’t find even half as funny. The next two months are basically planned out with different trips and visits around the city! I can’t wait to talk about my experience more but until then, Salud!
P.S. Just a few pictures!