When I first started my college career at the University of Wyoming, I really never thought I would actually go on to get a master’s degree. In fact, I never even imagined the day I would graduate with my bachelor’s degree. I started out at UW as a quiet, introverted 20-year-old, and like many others, I had no idea what I actually wanted to do or what the future would bring. I began as a Journalism Major, but quickly discovered this wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Spanish, however, was something that I enjoyed from the very first 1010 class I had taken at a community college after graduating high school. My sophomore year, I decided to minor in Spanish and soon after switched to a double major. This is where my journey began.

Like everyone (well mostly everyone), I have always dreamed of traveling and seeing the world. I used my Spanish as a way to make this happen and decided before I graduated, I had to study abroad. I knew studying abroad would be a bit expensive, but my mind was made up. The summer after my sophomore year, I started to research where and through what program I should study, but it was still very early to decide. The only thing I knew for sure was that the following summer I would be studying abroad. I started telling everyone, “Next summer I’ll be in Spain”, as an incentive to make sure I actually followed through.

After looking at a few different places in Spain, I decided on Barcelona. Once it got closer to spring semester and I could actually get things rolling, I went into the study abroad office and was given the catalog for Barcelona Study Abroad Experience (SAE). The study abroad advisor had warned me that if I wanted to better my Spanish, it could be a bit difficult in Barcelona due to the fact that Catalan was also spoken there.  This proved to be wrong; in fact, my Spanish improved more in the two months I spent in Barcelona than it had in the past three years I had spent studying at UW.  This juxtaposition of two different cultures and languages would turn out to be a huge milestone in my life.

Although I knew I loved Spanish and studying cultures, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. Being in Barcelona with Barcelona SAE, I was able to learn some of the great history of this amazing city and region. In order to practice my Spanish, I decided to do some intercambios (language exchange) with local people. Through these intercambios, I learned a great deal about the Catalan people and was also able to see what it’s like for people to learn English, which seemed to be a lot like it had been for me learning Spanish; difficult. I gained a huge appreciation for anyone who has ever learned a second language, and started to take more pride in the fact that I was one of the people who had struggled to do so.

Learning a language isn’t simply about learning the grammatical structure and vocabulary; it is about learning the cultures embedded in that language. After finishing my summer semester with BarcelonaSAE, I was absolutely positive I would continue on to get a master’s degree. I started to look into programs that offered translation and interpretation, two areas that not only require language knowledge, but also of cultural differences.

If not for my study abroad experience in Barcelona, I never would have been accepted into the master’s program in Interpreting and Translation Studies at Wake Forest University. I would probably be a college graduate with no clue what to do. Instead, I will be attending one of the top universities in the fall and plan to continue studying languages and cultures for the rest of my life.

Although studying abroad can be costly, I am a firm believer that travel and education are the only things you can buy that make you richer.

By Elisabeth Baker, University of Wyoming