I came to love Barcelona on my third day in the city. It just so happened that a childhood friend from my small hometown of Vermillion, South Dakota was in Barcelona on vacation. We trekked up to los Bunkers del Carmel – an incredible 360-degree view of the city – watched the sunset and talked for hours on end. I was inspired as she told stories about her semester abroad in Verona, Italy. I shared my expectations for the semester ahead and my goals of learning as much as possible and fully immersing myself in a new culture.
From skiing through the Swiss Alps, enjoying Les Miserables on Broadway in London, attending weekly mass in the beautiful Sagrada Familia Cathedral, to navigating the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, and quickly discovering the difficulty of my class schedule … my first trip to Europe brought unforeseen challenges, wonderful lessons, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I was fortunate to accomplish my goal of a fully cultural experience with the help of taking part in SAI’s Global Leadership Program. Through this program, I had the opportunity of learning about the Catalonia Independence Referendum, teaching English to Catalan-speaking elementary students, and building relationships with the SAI program directors. I came to understand that the best way to experience a culture is not simply through research, essay-writing, and class field trips. It is also through cuisine, art, spontaneous trips with friends, conversations with locals, and venturing beyond typical tourist sites.
Sadly, due to COVID-19, I had watched as my friends studying in Florence got sent home early, but I did not expect it to hit Spain as quickly as it did. Just hours after we were told we would not be sent home, the situation worsened and we were mandated to fly home as soon as possible. I was devastated as I had much to look forward to and many things on my bucket list that had not been crossed off. After sad goodbyes to my roommates and friends, the very last thing I did in Barcelona was go to my favorite place – los Bunkers del Carmel. I watched the sunrise, reflected on what I learned during my short two and a half months, and said farewell to the city I came to love.
My time in Barcelona taught me to adapt quickly, embrace new situations, and look for inspiration in every aspect of life. I was compelled by my professors to understand global history and become a more critical thinker. I was inspired by the directors at SAI to learn other languages and fully immerse myself in Catalan culture. I gained cultural exposure through the arts by being surrounded by the works of Picasso, Guadí, and Miró throughout the city.
While my scenery looks much different at home in South Dakota – cornfields, rivers, and rolling hills – my time abroad taught me to find beauty and inspiration in day-to-day life. I have been fortunate to spend quality time at home with my family and the friends I have known since kindergarten. I have been given the chance to reflect on my semester abroad and spend time reading and learning about subjects that interest me.
COVID-19 put a halt to my plans to see the Eiffel Tower at night, visit Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, ride the ferris wheel of Tibidabo at sunset, cheer on FC Barcelona with 100,000 other fans, and explore the galleries of Tuscany, but it definitely did not ruin my whole semester. I look back on my time abroad with a smile and an even greater desire to continue to see the world.
Thank you to Sarah, Erica, and Meg, for being the best friends that I could imagine. Thank you to the University of Alabama, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and SAI, for providing me with this opportunity and helping me foster a love for Catalan culture. And thank you to Sandrine, Maurizio, Colleen, and Ricard for mentoring me and inspiring me.
Fins aviat, Catalunya.
Anneliese was a Spring 2020 Barcelona student from The University of Alabama.