By International Education Intern Chelsea Couture
Have you ever been somewhere that afterwards becomes so iconic, so picturesque and perfect in your head that you’re almost scared to revisit that now sacred place because returning may alter your vision of it? Do you ever fear that sometimes your memories are more elegant and graceful then the reality of a place?
Two years ago I experienced the best four months of my life. I illuminated hidden caverns within myself, faced knew challenges, and re-defined the way I think of the term open-minded. I faced the demons of a hindering injury, I learned that being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely, and that beauty lies within differences. Now, after a sense of trekking an internal mountain, I attribute this personal conquest to one place: Barcelona.
I’m quite sure that with my return to Barcelona I will be welcomed with a new set of experiences, challenges, and new mountains to climb. It is very possible that I will internally redefine my idea of Barcelona.
Two years ago I was a student. I wasn’t yet aware of my own naivety, or what it felt like to understand how small I was in the context of the world. If you asked me why I wanted to study abroad I probably couldn’t tell you. What I could tell you was that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what any other continent was like, what it was like to be a foreigner, or the ignorance of my limited cultural view. The vast amount of unknown was what drove me. I couldn’t tell you why Barcelona. Honestly, I hardly knew anything about it. After swimming through stacks and stacks of catalogs my eyes met the page that showcased beautiful mountains, vibrant colors, and the welcoming sea. At that moment I knew: This is it.
I showed up to Barcelona with the same mentality of not knowing. I was not yet aware of the liberation that comes with avoiding assumptions about the depths of the unknown. We all enter our study abroad experience as a bit of a child and after just a few months leave with (at least in some cases) a year’s worth of wisdom, knowledge, and the mental view that comes with being inspired on a daily basis. When I returned, I often said that I finally understood the true meaning of awesome. It was something that inspired awe, something which I only experienced once I was open to the world, myself, and the immense amount of fellow comrades that make up the human population.
I entered Barcelona with an injury that hindered my ability to walk. While I was initially full of resentment due to my own hindrance, it was Barcelona that challenged me, confronted me, and consoled me. At first, I did not understand how I could experience Barcelona and all it had to offer, when I could barely even walk its streets. I allowed myself to become hindered by the unknown. Yet, I soon realized that this injury served as a catalyst to my personal growth. I learned that you never know what life is going to throw at you, all you can do is learn to deal with it and make the best of any situation. You cannot dwell on things that are out of your control. Barcelona taught me that I had this injury so I could learn things about myself. It taught me to be content and find happiness in the simplest of things. Most importantly, it taught me that only you can hold yourself back. I was only crippled by the limitations I put on myself. Barcelona allowed me to experience all of its wonders in my own way. That day (about two months after arriving in Barcelona) when I could finally walk with little discomfort, I ventured to a nearby park that sat atop a hill in a quiet neighborhood. Here I truly experienced the magnitude of Barcelona for the first time. As I stood upon this hill, I looked across the colorful houses and the local families and was lifted by the height of my recent victory over myself. It is crazy how your relationship with a place can be shaped by something as simple as walking.
Two years later, I will now return to Barcelona as a mentor. I have transferred to the other side of International Education and although I have since had two years of continuous growth and learning, I can still say that some level of naivety still exists. I now understand the ignorance encompassed in assuming that “I know”. It is easy to delude myself into thinking that I understand an entire city, what it means to enter into a new country or my place in it. All I can hope to do is aid others in the transformative experience I was greeted with when I studied abroad in the magnificent city of Barcelona. I will now be serving as a mentor, a mentor who doesn’t pretend she knows everything and who understands the ironic concept that it is even possible to become ignorant in your own open-mindedness. The one thing I do know is that everyone’s experience is different, which is precisely the beauty of it.
So, I now prepare my reentry into a place that has become an integral part of me. A place that I often call my second home, yet I’m aware that I know very few of its secrets. There are streets, let alone neighborhoods that are still foreign to me. This is exactly the driving excitement that has led me here. No matter how much we think we know a place or how much a place means to us, there is always more to learn. For these reasons, I am positive that Barcelona will always be growing within me. Although Barcelona’s symbolization may be altered I will never loose what it gave me, I can only grow upon it. I have laid the building blocks to a life full of growth, because Barcelona helped me understand that the journey is never over. Every day we are slightly different than the day before, continuously learning new things and adapting. This is why I understand that I am going back on a new set of circumstances, and as a slightly altered person. My mission, although the same as two years ago, is now clear. We need to share the world and embrace our differences in as many ways as we can. It is integral to understand that different doesn’t mean better or worse. We must spread the importance of a cultural mindset at every corner of the journey and remember to never let yourself be hindered by the unknown.