When the time comes for you to study or intern abroad there is usually plenty of excitement, yet plenty of nerves. For me, it was both, but I knew I was going to do an internship in something I was really interested in – music therapy. My school in the U.S. requires us to go abroad, and therefore has an extensive program for pre- and post-trip support, centered around making sense of cultural differences, goals, and more. I felt really prepared and although I was nervous, I had heard the positive stories of my peers abroad, as well as the general positive feelings and lasting memories that so many people that come home from abroad share. This helped calm me down. Something that not many people talk about are the struggles that come about or the mini self-crisis’ that may occur. I thought it would be something different and important to talk about – not to scare people away, but to emphasize that it’s completely normal and part of the process.
Coming from the United States to Spain, I was not only coming from a different country with a different language and culture, but a whole different continent across the ocean. Not to mention, it was only my second time out of the country and my first time traveling internationally alone. Culture shock, as Barcelona SAE explained well the first day of the program, is normal and understandable. For some it doesn’t happen immediately, but for me, it happened my first day abroad. As a very below-average Spanish speaker, it was one of the first thoughts I had. How am I going to be able to communicate with anyone here? I knew no one from home and certainly no one in Barcelona. Pair that with being in a different culture, and it was very easy to lose my sense of self right away.
While it is important to step out of your comfort zone, it is also important to not lose yourself and get caught up in all the differences that come with being abroad. It is much easier to look at all the things that are different and that you are comfortable with rather than cherishing similarities (no matter how small) between your culture and a new one. My music therapy internship was almost strictly in Spanish, and although this was a challenge, it was one I began to embrace. In a world full of different cultures and languages, music is an almost universal language. I found it easier to communicate in sessions through music or gestures, rather than just speaking. This was part of maintaining my self-identity. Back in the U.S., gestures and music can still be used to communicate rather than just spoken language. It is something I felt comfortable with and brought it to my intern experience abroad.
Some other things that can help in times of homesickness or just when you feel overwhelmed during your experience:
- Keep a journal – this not only helps to track what you are doing in your internship, but it can also be a space to write down any doubts, excitement, or anything in between.
- Participate in program activities with other interns or roommates – Barcelona SAE does a really nice job of providing many group activities and opportunities to not only immerse you in the culture, but get to know one another as well.
- Keep in touch with friends and family back home! This goes without saying, but being able to maintain communication with friends and family back home can ease homesickness.
- Explore on your own – there are so many cool places to see in Barcelona and in nearby towns. It doesn’t always have to be with others, as it may be nice to enjoy some alone time while exploring a whole new city and culture.
- Find a routine to do each day. It can be as simple as one thing every day, but forming a routine can give you a better sense of self.
Being an intern abroad will end up being one of the biggest growing points in your young life, as it will challenge you to go beyond your comfort zone and reward you in narrowing down career paths. Barcelona SAE has tons of resources and mentors, so you are never alone throughout your experience. The most important part is to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to always remember that although the surroundings may be new and challenging, you are always capable of being yourself and growing through the experience!