When students talk about their study abroad experience it is common to hear “I had the time of my life!”, “It was awesome!”, or “It was the most fun I’ve ever had!”. While all of those statements are very true and I am guilty of using them myself, I believe it is just as important to mention the challenges you experienced because overcoming adversity or setbacks shape who are just as much (and maybe more) as the good times do.
The first challenge I faced was having my phone stolen. This is a very common problem among study abroad students and something that occurs every semester. Because we are entering a new culture, we stick out like a sore thumb and locals know, even if you are doing your best to hide it, that you are not from around here. This is essentially what happened to me when I went out to a nightclub. I was targeted because the pickpocketers knew I was American and my phone was stolen right out of my bag. I left the club crying because I was so frustrated and angry. I had convinced myself that this wouldn’t happen to me, but it did, and I felt violated and taken advantage of. I got extremely lucky, however, because I received an email from the police that my phone was recovered and the wonderful SAI staff went to the station with me to recover it. Moral of the story, be aware of your surroundings and who you are around. Don’t make the arrogant mistake I did of thinking you are the exception because believe me, you are fair game. Also, we all know the nightclubs in Barcelona are a lot of fun but remain especially vigilant when there because pickpocketers know tourists and international students frequent these establishments and they use them as their hunting ground. If your phone does get stolen, don’t too hard on yourself and allow yourself time to be upset, but know that going without your phone is not the end of the world. You might even enjoy not having it because it will force you to be more present and in the moment!
The second challenge I faced, which is actually more a regret that I realized upon reflection after I returned home. Regret is a strong word because overall, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience. I’m just not sure what to call it so I’m going to stick with regret. SAI is an amazing program and I fell in love with the students and staff who will forever hold a very special place in my heart. However, because you are with a large group of American students and live with them as well, it is difficult to get out of your “comfort zone” and truly immerse yourself in the Catalan culture. I mostly spent time with my fellow SAI students which was great because it did provide me with security but I wish that I had pushed myself to meet and make friends with some Barcelona locals. One of my goals for studying abroad was to try and learn some Spanish, which I did, but not as much as if I had spent more time with the locals and their culture. So my advice to current and future Barcelona students is while your SAI friends will be your support system, really challenge yourself to break away and make some Catalan friends and I promise your experience will be more fulfilling, diverse, and cultured.
My final piece of advice as I wrap up this post is to not shy away from the challenges but to embrace them. Your study abroad experience will push you in ways you probably haven’t realized yet, and may not realize until months after you return home. I can tell you with confidence that the skills you gain will carry over to everything you do in life and you’ll find yourself saying “I can do this because studying abroad taught me how.” I am more independent, resilient, and confident than I ever would have been if I hadn’t chosen to study abroad. So take this experience in strides, roll with the punches, be yourself and don’t forget to cherish every moment because it will be over in a flash.
Bri was a spring 2019 Barcelona student from Appalachian State University.