The IES program ended on the 27th of April, but I have been in Europe traveling with one of my friends from UW-Madison for two weeks and spent my final week in Barcelona with my parents. During my travels with my Wisconsin friend, we went to Brussels // Belgium, Amsterdam // Netherlands, Munich // Germany, Vienna // Austria, Zagreb and Dubrovnik // Croatia.
Despite not having spoken Spanish for two weeks while traveling, I was seamlessly able to pick it back up again and was better than ever. I was able to pick up on conversations on the street, make a reservation in a restaurant and maintain a 2.5-hour conversation between my host mother and parents. While my host mother speaks Castellano and Catalan, my parents only speak English so I translated the whole time between them (and my brain was very tired afterwards!). Despite living in Spain for months, I never really developed (or at least demonstrated) my Spanish abilities until others relied on me to speak. For anyone that goes to a country that speak another language, I advise to you all to go out on your own and not be afraid to converse even if you are nervous. My host mother and friends noted how much my Spanish improved and my parents were impressed with my speed.
After 4.5 months in Europe, it all comes to a close. I am sitting in the Frankfurt airport during my layover to back to the States. I have visited 14 countries, been left on a Croatian island, eaten incredible food and made friends and family. The hardest part about leaving isn’t the sadness of leaving a specific person or place, but the knowledge that this experience will never happen again. The IES program was not what I was hoping for my study experiences and if I had to do it over again I would select a smaller program (Spring 2018 we had around 700 students). Nonetheless, I do not regret my experiences or the incredible people who made my time spectacular.
Here are some more tips about going abroad that I have learned along the way that other information pages may not tell you (I’ll leave the obvious tips out):
- Know the program that you are applying for and how they operate. I selected a very large program and learned about myself that I prefer smaller, more intimate groups where I can get to know everyone.
- Stay in a homestay or residence hall. Although an apartment with your own space sounds great, my homestay truly immersed me into the culture, I got to try the amazing cooking of my host mother and now have “family” to come back to in Spain.
- It’s okay to have down time. Even in the USA, I have troubles relaxing and feel the need to fill every moment with something. That being said, if you want to do something, don’t let others being busy stop you.
- Pick the fun option. I almost always have picked the smarter option where I go study or sleep, but you owe it to yourself to make the memories. As the saying goes, you can sleep when you are dead. (still study thought, your grades transfer back to Wisconsin).
Transferring back to life in the States was easy (so far) because I knew what I was expecting. I’m sure I’ll get board at some point, but that just means I’ll have to go exploring! Even in a city I think I already know, there is so much to discover.
One last thing to people who as me about my “trip” or “vacation”, please don’t use these words. Yes, part of my study abroad was traveling and could be classified as those two words, but for the most part, I was living and studying in Barcelona. I spoke the language (well not Catalan, but Spanish pretty darn well), went to a local university and hung out with local people. Ask me how my “studies” or “experiences” or “living abroad” was because this wasn’t a “vacation”.
Okay maybe another last thing. Thank you to UW-Madison for the opportunity to write for their study abroad blog and to anyone who read it. I am so grateful to my parents for supporting me and visiting me in Barcelona. I have conquered Europe without getting robbed, kidnapped or pick-pocketed and am ready to take on my new position in Madison, Wisconsin!