My first memory of arriving in Barcelona was the cab ride to my apartment; as we drove through the outskirts of the city, the driver eagerly described and signaled out some of the best areas to visit and the must-see’s in Barcelona. This was my first time going to another country all on my own, and it was also my first time venturing to Europe. I had been desiring to study abroad since I was 16, so It was surreal that after months of preparation, I was finally there. Spain had always caught my attention, and the idea of living near the Mediterranean Sea was very fascinating to me, so I chose to study at La Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona for the 2017-2018 school year.
My first impression of the city was that it was very vibrant, no matter what day of the week it was, there was always something going on; from street festivals, to food markets, or even free concerts on the beach. The city is full of character, the streets are lively and there are all sorts of people around; tourists admiring the sights, accustomed locals making their way to work, musicians preforming on the streets, and vendors selling any kind of “knock-off” you could imagine. The streets were narrow, and intertwined, and with buildings making up the core of the city causing it to almost feel as though you were still inside. On every turn there was different restaurants, stores, tapa bars, 24/7 convenience stores, and lots of people, at all hours of the day.
Barcelona offered many unexpected surprises. One of the initial reasons I chose Spain was because I wanted to practice my Spanish, but upon arriving there I quickly realized that since Barcelona is the capital of the region of Catalunya, the main language was actually Catalan. Although everyone still spoke Spanish as well, I wasn’t aware of just how prevalent the language was prior to arriving, so it took me by surprise. But as time went on it was actually quite interesting to learn and discover some of the Catalan culture and dialect, and I realized that they are very passionate about their culture. During my first semester there, in October, they actually held a referendum and unsuccessfully tried to declare independence from Spain. This was a challenging time for the region, and it caused a lot of stress to most people living there at the time. Luckily things eventually settled down, but I got to live there and experience what was happening during this large political event in their history.
Another unexpected (for me) surprise was that it can get pretty cold in the winter, and it even snowed when I was living there. The winter was definitely nowhere near as harsh as a Canadian winter, but I was not completely prepared for it. With that being said, the summer lasted much longer, and I was spending days lounging on the beach until the start of November! The lifestyle there was also quite different; everything is typically a lot more laid back in Barcelona. There are lots of holidays, city wide festivals, and events. Meal times tend to be a lot later, and many small store owners like to take a “siesta” and close the shop for a couple of hours each day around 2-4pm.
The friendships I developed abroad were definitely one of the most impactful aspects of my exchange. Before leaving Canada, I was so anxious about making new friends, but once I arrived I realized that there were so many people with similar interests and aspirations as me, so it was so easy to develop close relationships. At my host school I was able to connect with all of the other international students, and from there I made many new friends, from many different nations. I developed so many close relationships, and I learned so much from each of them. From eating ice cream by the Duomo in Milano, watching the sunset on a beach in Valencia, walking through parks in Madrid, eating Belgian waffles on the steps of the Grand-Place in Brussels, renting bikes in the Netherlands, eating Tapas in Girona, to planning weekly beach days on la Barceloneta. It was incredible to be able to travel and experience so much with these people, who I now consider some of my closest friends.
Towards the end of my year I had really developed a sense of normalcy; I felt at home. It was hard to leave, knowing that my exchange was now over, but after looking back on the year I experienced, and all of the growth and challenges I faced, the deep relationships I developed, and the new places I stepped foot on, I felt so grateful to have been able to experience such an incredible opportunity. My goal now is to encourage others to go out and have their own amazing experience.