The value in studying abroad is not limited to lessons learned in the classroom; it includes lessons learned through experience. The process of throwing yourself into a new country, with new people and new customs, then proceeding to “figure it all out” is one of the most valuable and enjoyable things I’ve learned this year. “Figuring it out” is very general, and will vary in every study abroad experience. Whether it was navigating a vast network of public transportation in a new city or diving into the intricacies of a language I’ve spoken for many years, or one I knew only a few sentences of- I became addicted to figuring it out in every country I visited. The resourcefulness, adaptability and independence I developed allowed me to take full advantage of my year abroad. I thrived for the adventure of being in lands foreign to me, observing people foreign to me and learning about customs and social norms that are foreign to me. As a candidate for a bachelor’s degree in social psychology, every day was a new opportunity to learn about people and how their social context influences or dictates what they do.
I was afforded the opportunity to plunge into the heart of Catalan culture and society: Barcelona. It was a turbulent year in Catalonia, as this region is heavily divided on the desire to become independent from Spain. I often had classes canceled because of the massive demonstrations that would take place throughout the city, occasionally right in front of my university. I was frequently left in awe as I’d listen to a deafening cacerolada protest in which hundreds of people throughout the entire city would step onto their balconies and bang pots together to signal their displeasure. Although I felt it was not my place as a study abroad student to take a stance on such a divisive issue, I felt it was my responsibility to keep up with the happenings and try my best to understand both sides of the issue. This entailed watching the news, online research and talking to pro-union, pro-independence and pro-democracy individuals in order to get a better understanding for such a polarizing movement. This practice, I feel, is invaluable for Americans. Living in such a large country can unfortunately facilitate the dismissal of world affairs. I feel that in a day and age in which the world has been made smaller by transportation and information is more accessible than ever- we have a responsibility as de-facto representatives of United States to break the stereotype of the ignorant American, especially in a time when the face of our nation has done nothing to dispel this American caricature.
When I consider how I’ve grown in the past year, the word that comes to mind is “expanded”. I
feel as if I have a better consciousness for just how many people are out there- all simultaneously the protagonists of their own life story. I’ve explored a lot in the past year, I’ve traveled to 8 countries and met people from around the world- but this exploration has only lead me to realize just how much I have yet to discover- and rather than being intimidated by the vastness of our planet and the infinite number of experiences to be had, I’m excited. I’m excited for the endless opportunities for discovering people’s stories. I’m excited for the breathtaking scenery to be seen and the multi-accented laughter to be had. After taking this year-long leap, I now understand that pursuing a graduate degree/career and travelling the world don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I’ve seen how tangible it is to continue my education or search for a career overseas, both things I had relegated to distant possibilities to “someday” pursue. “Someday” has arrived and I’ve never felt more inspired to pursue yesterday’s daydreams.