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By Jessica Castleman, Illinois Wesleyan University

“My study abroad semester in Barcelona has been the craziest, most wonderful, and most profound experience of my life. I had always had a strong desire to study abroad and travel. I wanted to see the world from someone else’s eyes by actually stepping into a new culture. However, I really did not know what to expect when I stepped onto the plane at O’Hare International Airport on January 6, exactly 105 days ago. I remember taking a deep breath on the plane and praying that I would have an open and calm heart to whatever may come. Now, on the day before my departure back home, I am taking another deep breath. But this time, it is because I am overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed at this incredible blessing I have been given to be able to spend four months in a foreign country. I am overwhelmed at the love and hospitality that the people of Spain have filled my heart with, especially my amazing host family, whom I will cherish forever. I am overwhelmed at the things I have seen, heard, felt, tasted, and touched, not only in Barcelona, but throughout the beautiful country of Spain and in the other places I have been lucky enough to visit: London, Morocco, Germany, Rome, and the Canary Islands. I am overwhelmed with the vast knowledge that I have been taught abroad, from the origins of the Spanish Civil War to the proper way to eat couscous at a Moroccan family lunch. Finally, I am overwhelmed at the changes I have seen in myself during my time abroad. I am more confident, independent, grateful, humble, and strong. London taught me to live in the moment, Morocco proved that money cannot buy happiness, Germany showed me that the world is filled with beautiful people and places, Rome brought me closer to the roots of my faith, and the bright blue ocean waves of the Canary Islands will always soothe my soul. However, the greatest lesson of all was given to me by Spain. In Barcelona, I learned that it doesn’t matter where you are, but who you are with. Some of the best and most memorable times I have had here were spent laughing at the dinner table with my host family, or seeing my professor walk into my hospital room for the third day in a row when I had food poisoning. I have learned, above all, to believe in the kindness of others and to treasure the moments I spend with them. Thank you, Barcelona, for an experience that I will carry with me always, wherever in this world I may be.

Jessica Castleman

Jessica is from Illinois Wesleyan University, and studied abroad through a Customized Program in Spring 2015.