Many people ask me, “What did you learn traveling abroad?” and my answer is simple, as Mark Twain says, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
Having taken a semester to travel and study abroad in Barcelona, Spain, I learned many things about many people in many places. However, my most significant insights were what I learned about myself. I learned to navigate unfamiliar places, to follow maps, take metros, and communicate in a variety of settings and to be a cautious but curious traveller. I learned that most people are eager to be helpful and will try to guide you and answer questions—even when they do not know the answers. While I learned that the world is big and there is so much diversity, I also learned that as people we have so much more in common than we often realize. Indeed, in many ways my experience abroad helped me to more fully appreciate my own family and friends. It also helped to expand my understanding and perspective of the possibilities for the future.
I went to Spain on the CIEE program for business and culture. In the program, I took interesting business classes that provided more of an international focus and a broad focus of businesses contribution to the world. I stayed with the best host-family. I stayed with a host-family that included three daughters: 17, 16, and 4 years old and two cats: Thomas and Lupita. My host-family took me in and introduced me to their local customs. We learned from each other. I was immersed in their daily lives and learned so much about European and Spanish culture through their shared perspectives. They made me laugh, while often laughing at my attempts to say new things in Spanish. With their love and guidance, my experience abroad was rich with laughter, new foods, new customs and local traditions. I highly recommend anyone staying aboard to try to stay a host family. It made all the difference to me and now I have two amazing families.
Many have asked me where I went, and of course I visited many parts of Spain. I traveled to Costa Brava, which is a small city north of Barcelona. When the bus rounded the corner to Costa Brava you see only white houses that are right on the ocean. It was absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite trips. I also traveled to Sevilla, Granada, Montserrat, Figueres, Girona, and of course, explored Barcelona itself.
I took an art class in Barcelona and we were able to visit many of the original pieces of which we studied. I visited the Picasso museum in Barcelona and we gazed in awe at Gaudi’s masterpieces, especially the Sagrada Familia.
While my classes and studying were in Spain, I also took many opportunities to visit additional places. I traveled in France to Paris and the Provence area that includes Aix, Villeneuve-les-Avignon, Les Baux, and St. Remy. St. Remy is where Vincent van Gogh entered himself into an asylum and produced some of his best paintings including Starry Night. It was inspiring to see the rolling hills and little villages that he had admired and painted 125 years ago. I also visited much of Italy; I went to the Cinque Terre that are “5 lands” on the Italian Riviera. The Cinque Terre is comprised of small houses are on the sides of cliffs that overlook the water and roads aren’t large enough for cars. In Italy, I also visited Florence, Venice, and Rome. I was in Rome for Christmas and attended to mass by the Pope with thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. He spoke in Italian but it didn’t matter. I also had the best gelato of my life there.
One of my favorite trips was to Munich, Germany for the most famous Christmas markets in the world and the Neuschwanstein castle or as many know, the castle on which Disney based his castles. I also traveled to the Great Britain and visited London and Brighton. Before I returned to The United States, I entered the New Year with my family in London and we watched the fire works on a bridge over the river Thames.
I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to travel to all of those places and meet so many amazing people. One thing that stood out to me throughout my whole trip was how different the culture is everywhere you go. To go back to Mark Twains quote, I think it is important that everyone experience a new culture because it is eye opening, inspiring, and most of all, important to solving the problems that we all are going to face in the future.
Please don’t hesitate to ask me more questions about my experience. Please come to me with questions about my study abroad experience and questions about your own. I would love to help you and inspire you along the way.