Normally in the Honors Abroad column I show off the travels of other honors students, but today the tables turn, and I am so very excited to share my recent adventures from the heart of Catalonia. “Catalunya”, as I knew it, is a large and rather autonomous region of Spain in the very northeast corner, bordering France and the Pyrenees Mountains to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. Aside from beautiful beaches and gorgeous cities like Barcelona, Catalunya is known for its vibrant culture, making it a hub for language, art, and architecture. From the moment I landed at El Prat I knew I was in for an adventure, but I had no idea that I would learn and grow more than I ever thought possible in two, short months.
This journey started just over a year ago, when I began looking into alternative or simply more cost-effective ways to get out and see the world. I have always known that I have wanted to travel and experience more than just my little corner of the world, and as an eighteen-year-old who had just moved into Bergstrom Hall, I now had the confidence (and support) to get out and start taking advantage of any and all opportunities. Before I knew it, I was registered on Au Pair World, a website for cultural exchanges with a child care emphasis, and I spent most Saturday afternoons on video calls with potential families. This process forced me to improve my language and conversation skills, even though I was not then enrolled in a university Spanish course, and I was also immediately introduced to cultures and people much different than myself. I was hooked. Months of searching led me to what I now know as my second family, and after getting my contract signed, airline ticket purchased, and Spanish letter of invitation finalized, and what felt like a million other little hoops to jump through, I was ready to embark on this crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Upon my arrival to the Barcelona Airport, my world was flipped completely upside-down. A life that was lived almost entirely in English was now completely in Spanish, and then even a bit more overwhelming with the addition of Catalan, the regional latin language which is completely separate from Spanish, added to the mix. I lived in a new city with a completely different culture, and had a new family with completely different lives and expectations than the one I grew up in. Over the weeks, however, I began feeling more and more at home in this crazy different place. Despite a dinner at 11pm and most conversations involving a language I was only beginning to understand, I had gained a new family, new little siblings, and a new culture to learn about while living it. Literally, the dream come true.
Instead of attempting to recall and summarize the travels (I was lucky enough to visit friends in Madrid, Berlin, and Prague, as well as to take several day trips with new friends and family there), good moments and the more challenging ones (as life as an English tutor/nanny/big sister definitely was an adjustment at first), and everything I have learned about the Catalan way of life (which I’d HIGHLY recommend you look into - this region has so much interesting history!), I would instead like to point you toward the blog I kept this summer. At the website - https://elishaexplores.wordpress.com/ - you’ll find a week-by-week basis of my insights throughout the two months I spent in Catalunya. Two months I’ll certainly never forget.
Although I’ve been home now for nearly three weeks, it’s still a bit hard to think about my time there. At first jet lag pushed off any sort of real reflections, and the shortage of time I had with my family before I packed up and headed back to school got in the way of truly attempting to relive anything. I now feel as though I live in two separate worlds, as I’ve certainly left a piece of my heart in Barcelona. Life here is one hundred percent different from the life I lived there, and instead of reading for fun as I used to in the plaza I am cooped up in Mulva Library attempting to fill my brain with as much material as possible. Even so, I know that I am entering this new semester with a new mindset, and a heightened ability to trust myself and trust the world.
So get out there, people!! It’s so cliche, but your dream summer, semester, or whatever the case may be is not as out of reach as it may seem. Before I left, I often second-guessed the somewhat impulsive decision to send myself halfway across the world. It seemed more logical to work, save money, and do all of the other things that a student who seemingly had it all figured out would do. But I was always that student, and frankly, I was a bit sick of it. I’ve saved my entire life for college, but when I thought more deeply about it, experiences seemed like a natural part of that savings. Like college, my summer in Spain taught me a lot. But more than anything, it gave me the desire to keep exploring, learning, and doing all in my power to experience the world and all it has to offer. AKA the best learning outcomes I could possibly think of.
There is so much to experience in this world, and with all my heart, I hope that you do it. Find a way and get out there. The world will thank you.