Student Spotlight: Lilian’s Semester Abroad in Barcelona, Spain

Eager to step into the footsteps of a college student who is experiencing life in Spain? We recently caught up with AIFS Abroad student Lilian from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga who is spending her spring semester studying abroad in Barcelona on our Visual Arts and Design program at LCI Barcelona. She is a recipient of the Russel R. Taylor Foundation Scholarship.

Read on to learn more about her study abroad experience with AIFS Abroad and the impact of being an international student at LCI Barcelona.

Lilian was driven to study abroad by the desire to explore a new culture, challenge herself, and expand her academic horizons beyond the comfort zone of her life in the United States.

“College is a place where students go to study and further their education, through the help of learning resources, various experiences, and learning through a structured environment that allows them to reach their future career goals. However, during my first semester in college, I knew I wanted to have a change in my academic lifestyle so I decided that I would make the decision to study abroad. I wanted to pursue my education in a different country, that way I could gain a whole set of different experiences and challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone.

With AIFS, I chose Barcelona, because I have always been interested in the culture and Spanish lifestyle. However, I knew that it would take time for me to adapt into the new country because of the academic lifestyle, culture, and challenges.”

Pre-Departure Jitters

Like most students embarking on a study abroad experience, Lilian initially felt a little anxious. Before long, her worries subsided.

“Before arriving in Barcelona, I was super nervous about everything. I was even nervous about speaking in Spanish, even though I speak the language. However, I can say after living here for a little over a month now, that I do not regret my decision to study abroad. I have had the opportunity to overcome academic challenges, learn from different cultures, gain exposure to different work environments, and see from different cultural perspectives in order to grasp the importance of diversity and equity.”

The Adjustment Phase

Adjusting to life as a study abroad student can take time — and the process is different for everyone! It’s not uncommon for students to experience culture shock upon arrival or to need some time to get used to academics and social norms in their host city. Lilian shares her experience:

“When I first arrived in Barcelona, I knew that it would take a lot of adjusting and balancing when it came to academics. Every culture is different, therefore I knew that it would be quite challenging to adapt, considering that there would be many differences such as professors teaching differently, different expectations, and culture differences.

In the beginning of the semester, I found it quite difficult to keep track of my courses, and was starting to get overwhelmed with assignments. Many of the professors at my university however, are very understanding and know that transitioning into a new academic lifestyle can be quite difficult. There are also many resources as well such as reaching out to someone, or asking for tutor sessions to help students adapt. At some point, I had to ask my professor for help on a certain assignment, and she was willing to reinterpret and teach one-on-one to reach my needs.

Talking to other students also helped me overcome certain academic challenges, even when it was just conversing with peers. Many of us are on the same boat, so we all have similar emotions and sometimes it is better to know that you aren’t always alone.”

Cultural Diversity and Shifting Perspectives

Interacting with peers from various backgrounds can be both challenging and rewarding, teaching valuable lessons in openness and communication. These exchanges while studying abroad deepen your understanding of yourself and others around you. From overcoming language barriers to embracing different perspectives, each conversation can fuel personal growth. Lilian shares how her diverse academic studies and peer groups in Barcelona impacted her:

“During my time in Barcelona, I have been exposed to so many different cultures through so many individuals. Through my university, I have got the opportunity to meet new people and have been able to connect with many of my peers because of many similarities I share with them. However, since many of us are from different cultures, I can’t help but to always wonder what kind of person they truly are. Therefore, I challenged myself to be open and welcoming to many of the people I have met here in my university.

Being able to interact with students from numerous cultures has made my learning experience quite informative. I have been able to learn and gain insights from many different perspectives, as well as gaining a deeper understanding of one’s culture. I have also got the opportunity to work with my peers through collaboration. In my Intercultural Communications class for instance, we share different aspects of ourselves through various group activities, as well as sharing insight of who we are, and how culture is key to understanding people and their identity.

Being able to learn from others has made my learning experience amazing, since I learn more about myself and the importance of learning from others’ unique insights.”

This extends beyond the academic realm and into her social environment abroad, including at home with her host family.

“Being involved in Spanish and Catalan culture has also taught me to be open to things I am not familiar with. I have had the opportunity to learn from my peers, my instructors, from locals, and from my host mom. Having the ability to learn from people from different cultures has enhanced my understanding of diversity and equity.”

three aifs abroad students traveling
Lilian traveling with friends while studying abroad

Career Aspirations and Goals 

But studying abroad isn’t just about academic or personal growth — you also grow professionally! Lilian, whose chosen career path is in the field of Photography, was greatly impacted by her experiences in Barcelona.

“Since I have been exposed to various work cultures here in Barcelona, it has influenced my career aspirations in photography. Being in a new country, as well as traveling, has given me the chance to start a photography journey on social media. Having a platform is key, and being able to share my experiences and creativity through a photographic lens, greatly influences my career aspirations. By receiving exposure, it gives me the chance to meet other photographers which could then lead to expansion in my photography whether that be in fashion, street, portrait, or even commercial photography for my career aspirations.”

Influences Abroad

Being in Barcelona allows Lilian to immerse herself into a new photography scene. She got to regularly see and appreciate the beauty of Spain, capturing it on camera. Her photography course has exposed her to other creative individuals and created new networking opportunities with fellow photographers.

“I have been in Spain for about a month now, and one thing I have done to show my appreciation of the country and its beauty is through taking pictures with my photography camera. Being in a new country has also sparked my creativity and since I am also taking a photography course, I am surrounded by many creative individuals as well. For the majority of my time in my photography class, we go out in the city and take pictures of local areas, but there have been instances where we have visited exhibitions and connected with international students who have more experience in photography. I have got the chance to network with my classmates, as well as my professor and we have been able to collaborate on different ideas through projects.

There are also many photographers throughout the city taking pictures of locals, architecture, and overall the culture here, so bumping into a photographer is quite common. I have gotten the chance to meet a fellow photographer named Caban, who actually took my photo while I was exploring the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. He is based in Barcelona and enjoys taking portrait photography and meeting new people, which I found exciting. We chatted for a bit and then exchanged each other’s socials, and I found out that being able to connect and network with other photographers, especially in a new city, has allowed me to gain insights and various connections for my own personal and professional growth.”

Inclusivity and Diversity through AIFS

Did you know? At AIFS Abroad, we include social and cultural activities — as well as various excursions — on all of our programs! These allow our students to get to know one another through experiential learning and cultural immersion opportunities. They can be incredibly helpful for the many students, like Lilian, who choose to study abroad on a program without knowing anyone else in advance.

“My study abroad program has always provided many resources for inclusive diversity during my time here. [It] offers many cultural activities, day trips, excursions trips, and even hosts local events for students to get a chance to meet new people and gain new experiences.

The first weekend I was here, I went on a weekend excursion trip to Tarragona, and went along without knowing anyone. I was super nervous but it completely disappeared after I met two amazing friends there. We instantly connected because we shared similar cultural experiences, such as living in a homestay, and briefly shared our experiences of the country. I thought I would have been alone for the trip because I knew no one, but meeting new people allows students, like myself, to really learn more about themselves by stepping out of their comfort zone.”

Are you a student who’s ready to take the leap and study abroad in Barcelona like Lilian did with AIFS Abroad at LCI? We’d love to help you start your journey!

Here at AIFS Abroad, we know a thing or two about helping college students and pre-professionals study and intern abroad. Our programs are incredibly inclusive, which takes a lot of the stress out of planning. From coordinating your housing to providing things like cultural and social activities, excursions, comprehensive insurance, 24/7 emergency support, on-site staff, and more, you’ll take comfort in knowing you’ll have support throughout your entire experience abroad.

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