I thought the realization would have struck me sooner, considering I knew eight months prior to my departure date that I was leaving. But nothing could have prepared me for the month I was about to experience.
The concept of leaving the United States continued to feel unimaginable in the moments leading up to my departure. Everything from putting down the deposit for the trip, filling out the endless paperwork, attending weekly informational meetings, saying goodbye to all my friends and family, packing a month’s worth of clothing and even arriving at the airport seemed unimaginable.
Even after waiting for six hours in the John F. Kennedy International Airport and boarding a colossal aircraft, I still hadn’t recognized that I was about to have the adventure of a lifetime. On the plane, it didn’t take me long to realize everyone surrounding me was speaking Spanish.
Before I left, I had a lot of people ask me what exactly I was going to be doing in Spain. Candidly, I didn’t even know myself. I would tell them I was creating a documentary script on sustainable fashion in Spain and that I was going to be adapting one of Washington Irving’s short stories set at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, into a screenplay. But other than the academic side of the experience, I could have never expected what I was going to learn and experience.
For starters, the American way of life isn’t the only way of life. If someone had told me that I would discover so much about the world and myself as a person in just four short weeks, I wouldn’t have believed them.
I failed to give myself enough credit for the step toward independence, cultural appreciation, perception and open-mindedness I was about to take. It would be simple to say that “studying abroad” changed me, but it was overcoming all of the little adversities, experiencing small epiphanies and being able to see myself through the lens of new people that led me to understand myself on a deeper level and come back to the United States more appreciative, ambitious and enlightened.
As I stepped off my eight-hour flight from New York to Barcelona, I took a deep breath and told myself this was it.
The minute I emerged into the unfamiliar Barcelona airport, I grew nervous to go through customs by myself, considering I had never traveled alone — let alone to a foreign country. I was fortunate enough to have help from the passenger next to me, who happened to be from Barcelona and attended a small school in Pennsylvania, giving us common ground.
I got my first stamp on my passport, grabbed my luggage and thanked my new friend, who was home for the first time since the onset of COVID-19. I then gathered with the other eight students in the airport as we left to meet one of our coordinators for the trip.
Undeterred by the tiredness we all felt after traveling and the six-hour time difference, we were elated to finally be in Spain.
I remember gazing out the window of the taxi at everything that seemed so foreign to me then, seeing a Zara and McDonalds one minute, then in the next, seeing an ancient, glittering cathedral. The contrast between new and old was so thrilling.
After a much needed nap and our orientation session, the trip began with a welcome dinner where I experimented with menu items I could barely pronounce. As I pointed to the menu and attempted to pronounce what I was reading, which everyone handled with good humor, I thought about how difficult it must be to come to America, where people expect non-English speakers to speak English fluently as soon as they arrive. Contrastingly, those in Spain were patient with me.
Simply put, it was another instance when I realized how different other countries, like Spain, truly are from the world I have always known back in the U.S.
As I walked through the city streets, I remained in a constant state of awe. The feeling in those moments is something I only hope I get to feel again. It was the feeling I was on the edge of something incredible, fresh and new.
In the few short days we were in Barcelona, we saw it all: architect Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell, Casa Vicens and the Sagrada Família. The architecture of each was quirky, colorful, curvy and fairytale-like. I had studied these landmarks in my high school Spanish classes, but seeing them in person made it clear the photos couldn’t do the artwork justice.
With every passing minute, every narrow street and fleeting local provided new insight into the culture. Time passed, and we concluded the night by attending a flamenco show — one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip.
The shoes of the dancers clanked on the wooden floor as their frilly dresses flowed from side to side and their arms swung gracefully. Meanwhile, the band in the back continued to play, the singer continued to sing, unphased by the loudness and vibrant motions in front of them, as this was just another one of their many shows.
Though our time in the populous Barcelona was brief, it was optimized and lived to the fullest.
In just one month, I had the chance to visit three cities in Spain: Barcelona, Granada and Seville. Studying abroad requires an extensive amount of energy and the itch to learn and explore, considering after just two days in Barcelona, we were back on a plane headed to where we would stay for the majority of the trip: Seville.
As we dragged our luggage through the cobbled streets of Seville, we wondered what our “residencia,” the place where we would be staying, would look like. We also wondered about Rosa and Noberto, essentially our “mamacita” and “papacito,” who would be providing us with meals and giving us a place to stay.
Moving in was pure chaos. We were welcomed by Rosa and Noberto, and to our surprise, 15 other students from Bryant University who had been staying with them for all of fall semester. They were unfortunately preparing to head back home after an eventful four months abroad. Luckily for us, they helped us get more acclimated with Seville by providing us an extensive list of all of their favorite spots for food, nightlife, excursions and shopping.
After a few days of familiarizing ourselves with the streets of Seville, getting to know Rosa and Noberto and saying goodbye to our new friends from Bryant, we were on the road again for our weekend excursion to Granada. We visited the Alhambra, a beautiful palace and fortress complex fit for royalty with its marble floors, high ceilings and outdoor gardens.
A unique aspect of Granada that was different from Barcelona and Seville was that any time we ordered a drink, we also received a free tapa, a small plate of various appetizer-like dishes. In Spain, they are all the rage, and for good reason.
Not only did Granada have tapas that were to die for, but it also had chocolate con churros, my new favorite dessert. The rich, thick chocolate is used to dip the crunchy and sweet, yet oddly savory, fried churro in. America needs to adopt it immediately.
After another two-and-a-half-hour bus ride later, we were back in Seville for the remainder of the trip, including the holidays. I thought about how strange it would be to not spend Christmas with my family, and I questioned whether or not I would feel homesick. But as I grew closer to the eight other group members, the thought began to seem less offshore and more appealing. We had plans to exchange gifts, attend a holiday lunch with our professor and go to Seville on Ice, a holiday fair that was occurring just a block from where we were staying.
For the first time in my life, Christmas would be celebrated by doing something different, practicing different traditions and immersing myself in a different culture. A month ago, this would have been entirely out of my comfort zone.
On Christmas day, I discovered that some of the smallest yet most significant moments on the trip were some of the ones I would remember the most.
From ice skating on Christmas and falling several times, to riding a sketchy, yet exhilarating, carnival ride called the tarantula or tartantula — we’re still not really sure the name of it, going on a 10 stop-destination dessert crawl, hosting a gingerbread house contest that we still haven’t decided who truly won, to racing down the sidewalks of Seville, Chirstimas in Spain was too exciting to feel homesick.
Befriending locals, meeting some chefs from Belgium and grabbing drinks together, going on a bike tour where I may or may not have collided with a woman on a scooter, eating at Five Guys despite the considerable amount of fine dining foreign food options and Rosa’s pleasant cooking are the miniscule moments I hold close to my heart.
The sight of people conversing on the streets, walking and biking everywhere, is something that will forever be ingrained in my memory. I can still see the tranquil expressions of locals as they strolled from one place to another, threw their heads back laughing as they enjoyed and sipped their morning coffee outside, versus taking it to go and gulping it down. The way of life is unforgettable, and it is the way I now intend to live mine.
Part of our coursework included watching weekly screenings of Spanish films, where we had the chance to ask questions and hear from the filmmaker following the screening. Each film was different from the last, and gave us insight into the making behind the magic and further insight into Spanish culture.
As a journalism major, I didn’t come into the program with an intense passion for screenwriting, but following the screenings and the adaptation process, screenwriting is now something I plan on practicing in my free time.
Additionally, we toured The Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, one of the most significant arenas for bullfighting in Spain; took a Paella cooking class; and toured various Spanish radio and TV stations, where two students may or may not have had their chance to make their on-air debut.
We visited numerous cathedrals with the most intricate and breathtaking architecture, artwork and instruments; toured the Alcázar of Seville, where Game of Thrones and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones were filmed; took a boat tour on the river; and made our way up to the Setas de Sevilla — large wooden structures resembling mushrooms — where we enjoyed fantastic sunset views from 26 meters above.
Clearly, I could write a novel on everything we saw and toured in such a short amount of time, given the list is endless, and the stories to accompany each occasion are even longer.
But for me, one of the moments that stood out the most was the second holiday we all celebrated together in Spain.
New Year's Eve was undoubtedly one of the most eventful nights of my life. Everyone dressed in their best clothes and gathered in the city center with bottles of champagne and 12 grapes to eat for good luck once the clock struck midnight. Fireworks burst the minute everyone began to count down from “Diez” to “¡Feliz año nuevo!” Everyone in sight appeared delighted with life, and the party lasted until the sun rose the next morning.
As I ate my 12 grapes, I believed, in 2022, maybe I truly would have good luck as I took away, after being abroad, that maybe life didn’t always have to be so serious. People didn’t always have to be stressed.
We don’t always have to be so disconnected from one another.
I have never seen fewer people on their phones, more people hugging one another while simply passing on the streets and strolling as if time was only a concept. Whether it be grabbing a drink or waiting on someone at a restaurant, the people in Spain were less burdened. If there is anything I learned from them, it is to enjoy the day-to-day moments we often take for granted a little more.
Looking back, it’s incomprehensible to think that during the cab ride from the airport to our hotel in Barcelona, I had never seen what was waiting for me outside of America. It was crazy to think I didn’t even know the other students on the trip. Now, I feel as if I know them better than I know some people I’ve known for years, and I know what it is like to live life a little fuller.
It is often said that there is no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them. And it’s safe to say, I don’t only love Spain, the culture, its people and all it taught me, but I also love the people that made the long-lasting memories alongside me.
This piece is part of the Post Perspectives series, where Post writers share their lived experiences. Please note that the opinions of the writer do not reflect those of The Post.