Studying Abroad in Barcelona, Spain and Breaking Barriers

As someone who lived six years in China, six years in France, and seven years in the U.S., going to study abroad wasn’t something new to me. Adapting to new environments, meeting people from different backgrounds, and exploring diverse cultures were all things I was already exposed to in my life. Nevertheless, the amount of personal growth I went through in just four months was unimaginable.  

Barcelona in the background.

Connecting with Barcelona 

Before going to study abroad in Barcelona, I set objectives for myself personally and professionally. I know I’m a spontaneous person who loves risk, yet this is a side of myself that I didn’t show back at my home university. My weekly routine normally consists of going to school, studying in my free time, and going out once or twice a week. My life at university often feels repetitive and simply boring. However, being in a lively city with so much to do, I connected more deeply with the city I was living in and the people around me. Strolling around the city built with beautiful architecture and buildings at any time of the day made me realize how free-spirited I could be.

A tall building with towers and a tree

Beautiful architecture around Barcelona.

I went to the beach in the mornings to watch the sunrises or in the evening to watch the sunsets. One of my favorite spots was in the Gothic Quarter; my Spanish class went to explore the Gothic Quarter and our professor showed us El Petó. This gorgeous mosaic mural was made of images snapped by locals representing “A moment of freedom.” The colors, the concept, and the message of this spot encompassed all what Barcelona gave me, which is why it became an important spot for me. The proximity of everything and the accessibility to walk whenever I felt like it made me realize how much I valued being in a city. 

A moon over a city

Views at the beach.

Connecting with New People 

The people I met through my program were from all over the U.S.: Wisconsin, California, Washington, you name it. Even within our country, people can be so distinct from each other and have different lifestyles, ideologies, ambitions. Since I just met these people, it gave me an opportunity to reinvent myself in ways that I wanted to. One of my biggest flaws is that I don’t open up to people. During my time abroad, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and for the first time, opened up to people I had just met. I shared important parts of my past that helped me know more about why I am the way I am and understand the way I shape my relationships with the people around me. I’m so grateful that I had the courage to challenge myself as I learned so much more about my new study abroad friends, but also learned so much more about myself.  

A couple of study abroad students sitting on a bench

Taking the metro.

A light-hearted example: I discovered that I have a bad sense of direction. My friends at my home university would never know this because we’re never in an environment where we have to walk far. Nevertheless, my friends in Barcelona specifically knew not to let me lead them somewhere. This all started on my first day of class. My roommates had already left as I was running a little late. I put in my Maps the telephone store “Orange” as my destination as the CEA CAPA Study Center is located next to an “Orange” store (one that later became a Meme between my friends and I). I left my apartment and started walking a little faster than usual as I didn’t want my first impression to look bad in front of my professors. After speed rushing, I was no longer going to be late anymore. Nevertheless, as I stood in front of the “Orange” store, I couldn’t find the Study Center. All of this might not make sense to somebody who hasn’t been to Barcelona yet, but this is terrible as the center was located Plaça Catalunya, the most crowded place in the city and here I stood, twenty minutes from Plaça Catalunya and hadn’t realized I was walking the wrong way all along. As soon as my roommates heard this story from me, learning that I ended up being thirty minutes late instead on my first day of class, they made fun of me the rest of the semester. This part of me was fun to discover as every day or every week, my friends and I would explore somewhere new, and their first instinct was to say, “Don’t let Adèle do the maps!” making me feel more appreciated and included. 

Connecting Professionally 

On a professional level, I wanted to develop connections with my professors. The classes at my home university are huge lecture halls where it’s hard to stand out; this was a limitation that impacted my confidence in terms of my academic achievements. At CEA CAPA, the classes we took were in smaller classes (10-15 people) and gave the chance for students to stand out and engage more with their professors. I always heard people say, “Build a relationship with your professors,” and never understood this saying’s importance until my time in Barcelona. After doing so, I was more engaged in classes, more motivated to participate, and enjoying what I was learning. Small things such as asking more questions make the environment much more interesting and you take way more information than just sitting in class. I will take these new skills into the workplace. I’m starting an internship this summer and building a relationship with my higher ups and not being scared to ask questions is something I’ll implement for success in my career; but I’m glad Barcelona allowed me to see the value in doing this.   

New Ways of Thinking 

I never thought I could achieve the level of happiness I achieved in Barcelona. Those four months abroad taught me how to be more grateful for what I have and who I am. I was surrounded by wonderful people, with wonderful food abroad, in a wonderful city. I learned I had to maximize my experience there as much as possible. 

A crowd of people watching fireworks

This was Correfoc, this was one of the best times in Barcelona during la Mercè. I went under the fire sparks with my friends and never felt so much adrenaline.

The mindset you enter study abroad with is what you’ll get out of it. The extent a person wants to push themselves out of their comfort zone in a new environment is up to them, yet it’s something I encourage everybody to do. Although I’m biased towards going to Barcelona, genuinely any place you go abroad will foster experiences that are transformative and leave you with memories that’ll last you a lifetime. 

Adele Bey-Smith is the Fall 2022 Alumni Ambassador in Barcelona, Spain, and is currently studying at Syracuse University.


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