When you study abroad, there are some things you can prepare ahead for and tips you pick up along the way through experience. Fresh from finishing her semester in Barcelona, Maya looks back on her time abroad and lists 6 things she's realized over the last few months. She shares this and more practical study abroad advice in her last post—from balancing time in your host city to becoming more independent while doing things alone.
I wrote this blog post at 4am because jet lag is NO JOKE, and a six-hour time difference makes a big impact on your sleep schedule. Back in Barcelona, it is 10am. I would be up on my way to my favorite cafe, next to my flat, for a freshly squeezed orange juice and croissant before class. Can you tell I miss Spain already?
Studying abroad was one of the scariest and most exciting things I’ve ever done, and even though four months feels like forever, it went by SO fast. My housemates and I have been talking in our group chat since we left, crying about how much we want to go back! Being in Spain was a rollercoaster of opportunities, emotions, and never-ending new experiences. With that, here are my top takeaways from spending a semester in Barcelona.
1. Visiting a Place vs. Living There for Months are Completely Different Experiences
My British best friend and I at the Birmingham German Holiday Markets!
Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to visit her after we hadn't seen each other in over a year!
Visiting a place vs. living there for months is completely different. You begin to fall into place with the locals and really get to know this city like a second home. It is truly insane how much you won’t learn about a city by being just a tourist. How much MONEY you lost by being a tourist. The best thing my housemates and I did was become friends with locals who showed us the places that their family and friends eat, shop, hang out, and party. The atmosphere was different, and the risk factor of being targeted by pickpockets was so much lower when we went to local places.
2. You Will Be Challenged and You Will Grow as a Person
I was able to grow tremendously during my time away. It really gave me a chance to become more independent as I entered my final year of college. While abroad, I learned more about how to budget my money monthly, maintaining enough to eat, go out, travel, and, of course, shop without going completely broke. Remember, there are no opportunities to make money and internships are unpaid, so you either have to save before you leave—I recommend this regardless—apply for scholarships/grants/loans, or (if you are lucky enough have great family members like I did) have financial support while you're there (thanks mom and dad!).
3. Keeping in Touch with Friends and Family Back Home Can Be Hard, But the Experience is Worth It
Our last night out in Barcelona!
With the time difference, contacting home was a little hard. Sometimes, I had to go longer than usual without talking to my family, whether it was because I was too busy or because at the times I thought to call home it was 3am their time. At first, being away from everyone was hard, but as time goes by you don’t notice because you’re constantly doing something new and fun. At times you may feel a little guilty not being able to speak to family and friends as often as usual, but trust me when I say they understand that you’re currently on an amazing journey and are happy to speak to you when they can and hear about your fun experiences.
4. Exploring a City Alone is an Empowering Experience
One of the best things I did that I encourage everyone who studies abroad to do is travel the city alone. I had a huge feeling of anxiety about going anywhere alone at first, since, of course, this was a city I was not familiar with, and I was worried about the language barrier. However, once I did venture out by myself I was so relieved, proud, and had a great time! I went out alone many times, whether it was just for a walk, shopping, out for ice cream, or just for my weekly groceries.
5. Making New Friends is an Awesome Part of the Experience, But It’s Okay to Need Alone Time
Our last photo together before flying home the next morning.
Not pictured is the pile of all of our suitcases taking over the living room, haha.
Exploring your city alone not only helps you get to know your study abroad city, but gives you a break from your housemates. Since the Barcelona program may be small (for my group, it was only 6 people, and I lived with four of them) you are going to do everything together, from classes and studying, to going out, with a good chunk of your traveling. While this is great for bonding and getting to know your new lifelong friends, time apart is crucial so you don't get sick of each other. It is not common that you will be as lucky as me and two of my housemates to be blessed with your own single room, so definitely make time for yourself so you can take in this experience alone every once in a while before meeting up with your housemates for more group fun!
6. It’s Important to Find a Balance Between Traveling to New Places and Spending Time in Your Host City
Overall, this was an amazing experience. I did so much traveling both within Spain and outside the country (to Rome, Italy and Birmingham, UK) but the one thing I am happy I did was not traveling every weekend, and really enjoying Barcelona. While traveling was super cheap, I wanted to be sure to really explore and get to know this city, because one mistake most people say they regret about studying abroad is traveling so much they missed out on a lot of what their base location had to offer!
A sea of clouds from one of my many cheap Ryanair flights around Europe.
I will definitely miss those budget tickets! *tears*
Thank you for riding along with me on this journey through my semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain! I wish you so much luck wherever you decide to travel, and totally encourage you to put yourself out there and do it! You will not regret this decision AT ALL, and if you have any questions do not hesitate to email me!
Maya Crawford is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Business Administration major at University of Massachusetts Lowell, she is studying abroad in Barcelona this semester.
See more of Maya's journey in Barcelona, Spain.