I went on my first trip since I arrived in Barcelona last weekend to Granada (I know, I’m a late bloomer). Being amongst buildings built centuries ago and seeing Moroccan style art for the first time amazed me. To top off the trip, I was even pranked by big group of little kids which super fun and cute. I was really just glad to able to see some of the variety that Spain had to offer. Visiting a city outside of Catalonia also made me reflective about how I planned out my own study abroad experience before coming here and imagine some alternatives that I could have lived out. How might have my experience been different if I planned to go to a different city in Spain or even to South or Central America? What if I took different classes or a lighter course load? What if I changed my focus, goals, and amount of responsibilities?
When looking for a study abroad program and location last year, all I knew was that I wanted to transfer relevant credits to my home institution, ideally in a Spanish-speaking country. Regardless of wherever I went or how I carried out my experience, I knew and currently still believe that studying abroad is an extremely valuable personal and cultural experience. Removed from a place, a set of norms, and people that you are completely comfortable with, you have to adapt, truly get to know yourself, get to know a new culture, and meet amazing people, a couple of which you will probably grow to love.
Being in Granada made me second guess if the experience I decided on was really the best choice for me, personally. I think a lot of what weighed in on my decision to study in this particular program in Barcelona was comfort. I doubted my Spanish skills, and though I met the language requirements for other programs, the thought of taking all of my classes in Spanish, including upper level courses in my major with local students, left me shaking in my boots. This stubborn and unwavering decision really limited me in multiple ways: in the programs I could apply for, in the classes I could take, in the amount of Spanish language practice and improvement that I could expect, and in the amount of local and international students that I could interact with on a daily basis.
Would the adjustment at the beginning have been harder if I decided to completely jump into Spanish? Probably. Would my GPA have been lower as a result of taking upper level courses that are in a language I haven’t mastered yet? Most likely. But now, I think about how much the risk would have been worth the reward. I stayed safe. All my area classes are instructed in English with fellow American students and I live in a large, busy, modern, tourist city that is debatably trilingual (Catalan, Spanish, and English). This city and this program does have its benefits: my peers and professors totally understand me, I can delve deeply into class topics because I fully understand what is being said, the big city offers so many opportunities to participate in any activity under the sun, I’ve been able to meet students from all over the U.S., and I’ve been able to see the coexistence of the many cultures that make up Barcelona. However these aren’t exactly the best circumstances to improve my Spanish or to immerse myself in a foreign commonly-held culture.
Has my experience thus far been formative, challenging, and at times completely amazing? Yes, of course, and I don’t regret a minute of it! So why waste time pondering the “what-if”s you may ask? Well, hopefully my testimony can inspire you, the readers, to make the first brave and adventurous decision of your study abroad journey that I was too afraid to make when picking a program: when it comes to culture, go all in. After studying abroad, most won’t likely have an opportunity to do something like this again, and it’s now something I wish I could have taken advantage of.
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<p>Hi all! My name is Emma Ropski and I'm a senior sociology and psychology major at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am a middle distance runner on the track and field team there and love it to bits. My interests include the sociological imagination, thrifting, lifting, daytime judge shows, and gorditas. I am so excited to share my study abroad experience in Barcelona with you!</p>