Barcelona. Barcelona. Even the name sounds magical, exotic, a dream that had been on my mind for years as I anticipated my semester abroad with emotions ranging from ecstasy to unmitigated fear. Would my Spanish studies provide me with enough vocabulary to get on the right train, to go to the bank, to find my university in the midst of this vibrant and exciting city?
As the time approached for my departure from the Virgin Islands, I packed and unpacked dozens of times, adding and subtracting, trying to be un-American, hoping that I could muster enough high fashion in my wardrobe to become instantly European. As I struggled to fit my two overstuffed duffle bags into the cab the size of a coffee table, I knew that I had violated the "pack light" rule. Struggling to get the correct address in my best Catalan accent, the cab driver met my eyes with a blank gaze and then a series of loud phrases that were indecipherable to me. Motorbikes passed us, honking loudly as we struggled to reach an agreement on the destination and the price. I thought to myself, "Is every day going to be this difficult?"
In many ways, each day was as much of a challenge as the first, but as I gained more confidence and met friends, my world grew with each new accomplishment. These included buying peaches by the pound from the neighborhood grocery, opening up a bank account, finding the research files in the library, meeting up with friends from Manhattanville in Italy, riding a camel in Morocco, and understanding my professor of my Spanish Art class with a thick Russian accent. Every weekend I found myself on a plane, bus or train to explore parts of Europe that I had studied about but never seen. I went to castles, monasteries, museums, clubs, canals, beaches, and mountains.
The semester in Gracia, a small charming suburb in the north of Barcelona, was more than just a semester of college. It was a chance for me to meet the challenges of life on my own. I challenged myself by meeting people from many different countries and was forced to communicate in a new language. I met lifelong friends from all over the world. And I learned that life is beautiful all around the world. As human beings, no matter what race, country, language, status, religion, or age, we have so much more in common than in difference. And we can all do much more than we think we can. Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I've ever made and one that I will remember when I am old and rocking on my porch. If life is made of memories, I lived a lifetime in Barcelona.