By Emma Alcock and Huyen Nguyen, Illinois Wesleyan University

Travel can really open one’s eye to the realities of the world. At least that’s what it did for me.

My semester in Barcelona proved to be the best cultural experience of my life. Culture fairs and Spanish classes did not do Spanish culture any justice. To fully immerse yourself in a different culture is really the best way to experience it.

Thanks to the Illinois Wesleyan University Spain Program, I landed in Barcelona with 11 other IWU students. We were jetlagged and slightly grumpy, but it didn’t take long for us to adjust to life here in Spain. Barcelona Study Abroad Experience, the partnering program to IWU, already had a packed three-day orientation.

So far, we’ve had the chance to master the metro system, hike up the neighboring mountain Tibidabo and try our hand in eating calçots, a traditional Catalan dish. After a crash course in Spanish and Catalan culture, we had to remind ourselves that it was still STUDY abroad and that we started school the upcoming Monday. Balancing school with exploring the city was incredibly difficult during the first month. We wanted to see and experience everything! The main tourist attractions in Barcelona are Parc Guell, the Sagrada Familia, La Rambla and the mountains: Tibidabo, Montjuic and Montserrat.

There are also great tapas bars and gelato shops to grab a quick snack. But once we looked past the beaten path of tourism, we realized there are so many more amazing things Barcelona has to offer. The hidden cupcake shops, horchata stands and the trace of the old Roman arch that leads into the ancient city are only a glimpse of what we encountered.

So far, I’ve seen that one of the best things about studying abroad in Europe is how easy it is to travel from country to country. Flights and hostels are incredibly cheap compared to that type of travel within the United States. For example, I bought roundtrip tickets to Germany for only 150 euros. We also had the chance to travel within Spain through Barcelona SAE. We took weekend trips and day trips to surrounding provinces and towns such as Girona, Guernica and Bilbao. These were a great way to get to know even better the country that we have called home for four months.

Even though the semester isn’t over yet, I already know it was an experience of a lifetime. Opportunities like these don’t come around often, but when they do, they can offer more knowledge outside of the classroom than inside. We’re a little over halfway through the journey here in Europe, and I wish we had more time.