Reflections From Studying Abroad

Michael Chung
January 7, 2020

Studying abroad in Barcelona has been a truly interesting experience for me. Some of what I expected went as I thought, and some of what I expected did NOT go as I thought. As strange as this may sound, I am relieved to be done studying abroad. However, this is not to say that I wouldn’t do it over again.

From fun outings, delicious food, amazing weather, and beautiful scenery, to tedious classes, entitled classmates, pocket-eating expenses, and the pressure of grad-school applications, this study abroad experience has been a rollercoaster. I have had my ups and downs as expected, but I am glad to have had this journey. Since I didn’t know many people in the program initially, I was able to be more introspective and think and learn about myself. I reflected often and discovered what I truly enjoyed, what I’m comfortable doing and exploring, and what makes me take a step back in certain situations. The following points will discuss things that I’ve noticed in my journey and/or how I’ve dealt with certain situations. 

Differences in Cultures

One thing I’ve seen that was interesting was the differences in personalities between people in Spain, and the United States. People in the United States are capitalistic and consumerists and people in Spain are less so and more relaxed. At least from what I’ve seen, the citizens of Barcelona seemed more willing to take bigger social risks and protests as seen by the demonstrations throughout Catalunya (a region of Spain). From my observation, people in Spain took their time living their day to day, while people in America always seem more rushed and pressed to get from point A to point B. Even in my short stint interning in Barcelona, my employer was much more lax and took his time at work, whereas an employer in the United States would have pushed for accomplishing tasks quickly and “efficiently”. In Spain, it is also suggested that employees take their time during lunch and breaks with their employers, unlike in the United States. I’m not saying that one mindset/way of living is better than the other, but it is interesting to note and see the different cultures. 

It would be understandable to have culture shock when immersed in an environment that you are completely not used to. However, it is important to note that you should also appreciate that you’re able to experience that. Some people never get to experience a different culture/environment. It will give you a bigger perspective on life, people, and the world. In addition, instead of judging or shooting down cultural norms, you should try to understand it and look at it as it is.

Dealing with people who you may not get along with

One thing I was taken aback by in my time abroad was some of the people I interacted with. In one instance, a person whom I was talking with was mad about his pizza and a worker at the pizza shop. When I asked him why he was mad, he told me that his pizza was cold. After I asked him why didn’t he just ask the worker to heat it up, he bluntly and angrily told me that the worker didn’t speak English. I found it strange that the student was mad that the worker didn’t know English since we were in Spain (whose official language is Spanish). In another instance, a person in the IES Abroad program stated when he was alone with his friends, he enjoyed mocking other ethnicities and races. He proceeded to continue saying racial slurs throughout the semester even though we all told him to stop. Other classmates of mine simply didn’t care about the Spanish culture; they were stuck in their own worldview and only cared about visiting other European countries every weekend. Visiting other countries isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but one should also learn about other cultures and not focus on visiting touristy spots every weekend for an Instagram picture.

At the end of the day, it is important to know that people are heavily shaped through their environment and upbringing. People’s peers, parents, and the media play a crucial role in how people became to be. Thus, it is important to not judge someone on the spot and quickly when interacting with them. If there is an issue that you and someone else disagree upon, you can try to shape the issue in a way where the person can see it differently and you shouldn't focus on attacking the person. If someone thinks that 2 + 2 = 5 and you berate them and call them stupid and tell them that it’s 4, they’ll still think it equals to 5 at the end of the day since you didn’t explain why it equals 4. This is easier said than done and requires patience. 

Life is Quick

Studying at college made me realize how quickly time flies. However, studying abroad made me REALLY realize how quickly time flies. After orientation week ended, the beginning of October was around the corner. When October hit, Halloween passed by in a blink of an eye. A moment after, it was Thanksgiving break and I was preparing for finals. Once you get into a groove while studying abroad, time just passes by and each trip you take makes it fly by quicker. Thus, it is very important to reflect often. Life can move fast and hit you fast with obstacles, but it is vital to wind down no matter when and reflect on your journey. Think about what you’ve just experienced, and how many people get the actual privilege of traveling and learning about different cultures. Be grateful for your current position, because other people definitely have it worse. Forget about petty arguments and live your life to its fullest. After all, you won’t get a period in your life where you can study and travel at the same time often. Once we begin working as adults, we will continue working as adults until we are financially independent.


Michael Chung

<p>I am a first generation college student who hopes to create my own company soon. My parents are Vietnamese immigrants and I’m hoping to help them retire one day. On my free time, I love playing basketball and taking photos. My fun fact is that I speak three languages.</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
University of Rochester
Astoria, NY
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