I have met some incredible individuals this semester. Europeans, short and tall, have welcomed me with open arms throughout my four months abroad and the kindness is truly contagious. The range of people has gone from playful children next to me on a canal cruise in Amsterdam, to a wise old woman helping me with the London tube. Europe offers some of the most genuine and friendly humans on this Earth and meeting so many new friends has been the highlight of my study abroad.
My first day in Barcelona was highlighted by moving into my apartment and meeting the SAI students and staff. I got very lucky to have six roommates that I immediately clicked with. We all had relatively similar interests and got along well. We planned almost every trip in the first half of the semester together and had a blast. SAI did a great job bringing us together for a welcome dinner and providing us with a network of 40+ students right off the bat. Although my very first friends consisted of Americans, they were from all over the United States and already broadened my horizon. I knew that I would be supported and always have someone to spend time with after the first day.
As I traveled around my host country, the Spanish hospitality was very apparent. During my first weekend trip, my friends and I all rented bicycles for the day in Valencia. Guillermo was working his first shift at the bike rental store and although he hardly spoke English, worked hard to communicate with us. Without us asking, he charged us for a half day rental for nine bikes that we picked up early and told us that he would let us return them the next day. Two weeks later at the SAI trip to Sevilla, a local named Carlos was the star of a Saturday night. He worked right next door to our hotel and showed our very large SAI student squad around town and generously paid for most of the adventure! We were all glad to see him working the next day and we could thank him for hospitality. Spain is home to some of the nicest people and I am so happy with my decision to study in Barcelona.
I am not sure if I always looked lost or if all locals are just so willing to help others- or a mix of both. In Munich, we had four separate locals walk up to us and offer their assistance for no reason and it was heartwarming to know that so many locals wanted to help us instead of shooing the oblivious tourists away. On one occasion, we were deciding between two restaurants when a man came up to us and told us to not go to either and he took us to his favorite place about five blocks away. He told us that on Fridays he walks around town and meets people! In Rome, we wandered into a restaurant in the Italian countryside and were the only customers in there. The family that owned the restaurant talked with us the whole time and told us about the history of the restaurant, their experiences in the United States, and we exchanged travel stories. The highlight of that experience was singing “That’s Amore” with the family and dancing with the 90-year-old grandma.
Now that I am finished with my study abroad experience, I am so glad that I could meet so many amazing people. You never know when you might meet someone willing to help you and treat you like a friend. I learned that you need to be outgoing and to speak with others, even if that means stepping outside of your comfort zone. My Spanish was very rusty going into this semester but a local in Madrid went out of his way to spend 45 minutes chatting and helping me with my Spanish. As I reflect on my semester, the people I met were really what gave my four months abroad its magic and I now have lifelong friends from this once in a lifetime adventure.
Andrew is a spring 2018 SAI Barcelona student from the University of South Carolina.