Why did you choose this program?
I chose IES Abroad Barcelona - Liberal Arts & Business for a multitude of reasons. First, I knew I wanted to be in Spain. I had studied Spanish all my life and wanted to put my knowledge to the test. Second, the program opportunities and various language levels and immersion opportunities afforded me the academic rigor my home institution required. Third, I wanted to be by an international airport that gave me endless travel options.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
IES helped me every step of the way. The process is guided and when a mistake happened, a staff member emailed me and helped me complete my class registration.
I had an unfortunate family emergency while abroad and the staff at IES Barcelona were amazingly helpful! They understood why I had to miss class, rearrange my finals for the possibility of early departure and one staff member even dropped off Oreos at my apartment to make me feel better!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Ask the staff for the "local low-down." AKA where do locals listen to music, hang out, eat tapas? The wealth of knowledge the IES staff has is incomprehensible. They plan the free cultural events and really understand how to make them enjoyable for us young adults. Additionally, they know the cheapest gym, the best mercado and best local flea and farmers markets!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Typically you are in class Monday through Thursday from 9am until 7pm, depending on your class schedule. Fridays are reserved for traveling, with or without the program. IES Barcelona gives students the options to take classes with the program or at a local university.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was fitting in. Was I going to make new friends? Would those friends be American or Spanish? Could I communicate well enough? Could I really do my laundry without a dryer? Could I still find Nutella or my favorite snacks?
I didn't realize I had overcome my fear of fitting in, on many levels, until my 21st birthday. My birthday is in February, so plenty of time to eat, meet people, attempt laundry, etc. It was at a bar when I had all my new friends, of whom I had only met a month before, came out to celebrate with me that I realized it wasn't about fitting in. For me, it was more about being adaptive and understanding. I wanted people to like me and I wanted to be proficient enough in Spanish to order my own meal. On my birthday, no one cared that I needed help ordering my meal or getting directions, it was my attempt to communicate that was enough.
My fear disappeared as I developed. In my first weeks in Barcelona I was outgoing, meeting as many new friends as I could, striving to only speak in Spanish, skipping the local box store (Corte Ingles) for my local mercado to learn the local cuisine and asking for help with the new way to do my laundry. I not only got by, I thrived. By jumping right into abroad head first, I didn't allow my fear to keep me from adventure.
Did you keep a journal?
Yes! I wanted to keep a journal for a few reasons. 1) My dad kept a journal of his travels post-college and shared them with me prior to my departure. Understanding my dad's personal journey and his adventures was beyond describable. One day, way in the future, I want to be able to share my self-discovery with my child. 2) I wanted to be able to do more than just share photos with the world via Facebook. 3) I wanted to track my progress in achieving personal goals I had set for myself.
I started off writing everyday! Who could blame me? So much was happening the first two weeks I was afraid of forgetting every little nuance - be that my first night out or my first flamenco show. As time progressed though, I found myself recounting two or three weeks of events in two pages in a bullet pointed list. Not my initial intention in keeping a memory alive, but it was better than nothing. It wasn't that I was any busier than my first weeks abroad, but that I was tired. Traveling is rough on you and sometimes, at least for me, you just need a nap. I took a lot of naps between classes so I didn't have FOMO (fear of missing out) in the evenings or on the weekends.
The pace of Barcelona, the smells and tastes of Barcelona, are all written and documented in my little journal. The people I've met, the places I've visited and the recipes I've learned to cook are all on those sacred pages. Whether recorded with immense detail or just a bullet point, I have a special possession to narrate all of my Facebook photos. This journal traveled with me everywhere I went: Spain, France, Morocco, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Portugal, Monaco and the UK. I have memories of flamenco dancing, hot mint tea and Arab baths, being scammed at an ATM, taking a 17 hour train ride alone and sharing my new world with my family all documented in those pages. The journal was the best gift (besides going abroad!) I have ever received.