Four months, five countries, eighteen cities, and countless flights later, my semester studying abroad in Barcelona has finally come to an end. Traveling around Europe and volunteering abroad have given me the opportunity to experience an abundance of culture and history and in the process have taught me so much about myself. As one chapter of my life closes and the next one opens, I'd like to end by sharing the three most important things I learned while volunteering and living abroad:
1. Nothing is as difficult as it seems
During my first day volunteering at the Pare Poveda Elementary School I was overwhelmed at the thought of teaching an entire class of 6th grade students by myself. While it was challenging at first, it got easier and easier each week and by the end of the semester I was more than comfortable handling an entire classroom on my own.
The same can be said about my study abroad experience as well. At the beginning of the semester the thought of being away from my family and friends, living in a foreign country, and speaking a different language seemed extremely daunting. Four months later and I can't even believe that these things once worried me. Over the course of the past few months I've fallen in love with Barcelona, the Spanish language, and all of the new friends that I've made while abroad.
2. Different doesn't equal wrong
Spanish students have longer school days, two-hour lunch breaks, and classes in three different languages. While a typical school day in America looks very different from this that doesn't necessarily mean that one education system is right and the other is wrong. Focusing on the positive aspects of each of these systems will allow us to create an even better education system that provides the best, most comprehensive education possible for students across the world.
Additionally, it's important to remember that while Spaniards may lead very different lives than their American counterparts, that doesn't mean that one country is right and the other is wrong. Us Americans can learn a thing or two from the Spanish by spending more time with family and loved ones and eating a healthier diet filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. On the contrary, Americans can teach Spaniards to give their bodies a break by not eating so late at night and going to bed earlier than usual.
3. The only way to truly understand and appreciate another culture is to fully immerse yourself in it
Speaking Spanish with my friends and host family, keeping up on national and regional politics, and volunteering in an elementary school were just some of the ways that I tried to immerse myself in the local Barcelona culture. Each of these things taught me so much about Spain, Cataluyna, and Barcelona and really helped me to appreciate all of the unique facets of Spanish culture.
Studying abroad is an amazing experience that not everybody is lucky enough to have. If you are one of the lucky ones it's important that you fully immerse yourself in the experience and learn as much as you can about the country and city that you'll be calling home for the next few months. Follow that advice, and you'll be sure to have the best semester of your life!