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This is the story of how I turned the challenge of studying abroad alone in Barcelona into an opportunity to bloom, create connections, and thrive in the midst of the unfamiliar.

Stepping off the plane at El Prat Airport, I had an immediate mix of excitement and nervousness in me. It was the moment in which I embarked on a journey that promised cultural immersion, academic enrichment, and personal growth – studying abroad in the vibrant city of Barcelona. I was about to dive headfirst into an experience that was unlike anything I had ever known, and what made it even more intimidating was the fact that I was venturing into the unknown all on my own.

Up until this point, I had felt ready for the experience. My bags were all packed, I had said my goodbyes, and Barcelona SAE had prepared me for everything to expect. Yet the thought of knowing that I was officially over 4,000 miles from home was when the discomfort set in.

Going back to the fall of 2022, I had signed up for a study abroad program that I had found on my own, without the help of my home university. With a minor in Spanish, I knew that I had to spend a semester in Spain to be fully immersed in the culture. However, NC State University did not offer an opportunity to do so. When prioritizing my goals for my semester abroad, I came to the conclusion that the Barcelona SAE program would be best for me.

When I first got to my dorm room at my residence hall in Barcelona, the first thing I did was take a nap. This nap was very necessary, but ended up being a problem. I had set my alarm for 6:00am instead of 6:00pm, so I did in fact sleep much later than I wanted to. This is where the problem came into play. I woke up at 9:00pm that night, but I had intended to go to a meet and mingle event with the other students in my building at 7:00pm. I completely missed the event and was so mad at myself. I thought I had missed my only opportunity to meet people! Yes, I know this is a dramatic statement, but I had been in the city for almost a full day without making any friends so I was not in the best mindset. However, I had one person’s phone number on my phone and I had gotten it through a Groupme chat that Barcelona SAE created for us before the semester began. Even though I hadn’t met this girl before, I knew I needed to make an effort to form friendships, so I texted her and we ended up getting dinner that night. (You may think 9:00pm is late for dinner, but trust me. In Barcelona that is very normal.)

The next morning, I woke up very excited to see what was in store. It was orientation day so I was looking forward to meeting new people and learning more about what to expect. This day went great! I had walked to orientation with a group of people from my building so right off the bat I was able to meet more people. During the orientation, the whole program was asked “Where are you from?” and the answers were honestly unexpected. I had noticed that there were tons of people all from the same colleges. This made me very nervous, as it made me think that everyone had come into the experience with their other best friends. I thought that all of the friend groups had already formed and I would be on my own. However, throughout the next week I quickly realized that I was wrong.

Barcelona SAE organized several different activities during what they call “Integration Week” for the School for International Studies (SIS), that allowed me to break the ice with many others. Not only did I meet a bunch of people from all over the U.S., but I also got to learn so much more about Spanish culture and the city of Barcelona. Some examples of the activities that I took part in were the barrio (neighborhood) tours, the Market Scavenger Hunt, an outdoor historical escape room, and the picnic in the Ciutadella Parc. There was also a day trip to Cavas and Sitges that week. I formed new relationships with people during each activity, and it was the perfect week to get adjusted to my new temporary home.

When classes started the following week, I saw some familiar faces, which was a relief. Throughout the semester, I really was able to get closer with the people in my classes through study sessions at coffee shops and walking to class together. It felt similar to college back in North Carolina in which study dates were decently fun. These study dates eventually turned into dinner dates, nights out together, and even weekend trips! My first little trip was to Andorra for some skiing. There were eight of us that went together, and oh boy did we bond. It was kind of a crazy experience, but I won’t go too much into detail with it. Let’s just say we ended up getting stuck on the mountain for 4 hours… It’s okay though because we look back and laugh at it now.

It’s situations and experiences like these that bring you closer to your new friends, especially when you are all away from your usual home. It seems scary at first to everyone – they’d be lying if they said they weren’t even the littlest bit nervous. The truth is, all of us were in the same boat. You can never know what to expect when you travel somewhere, and that is what makes it so rewarding. Through making these relationships, it creates a feeling of belonging and a sense of community in a city that feels so incredibly large. These individuals, who had once been strangers, quickly became my companions, my support system, and my adventure partners.

The Barcelona SAE program also does a great job of making you feel comfortable. They provide activities throughout the entire semester and when looking back on it, that was definitely the best way for me to learn about the local culture. I encourage everyone to take advantage of those opportunities because they allow you to grow. Barcelona SAE also did a great job of providing resources to make you feel more comfortable in the city. Also, the onsite staff is such a great resource to use because they will answer whatever questions you may have, because they truly like to see every student thrive while abroad.

I think that coming into your abroad experience knowing that there are other people going through the same thing gives you a sense of ease. There will still be nerves (there is no doubt about that), but everything works out the way it’s supposed to. Last month, July of 2023 I met up with my friends from Barcelona in Florida and it was such a great time. We even started to talk about when our next reunion will be. (And yes, we did actually just plan it this week). It is amazing to know that have friends with which I have one important thing in common with – love of traveling. We traveled all over Europe together during our semester abroad and now I know that I can count on them to come along with me whenever I need an adventure.

It is crazy to think back and realize that this new adventurous and brave version of myself is all because I made the decision to study abroad with Barcelona SAE. I took the opportunity, even though it was out of my comfort zone, and I learned so much about myself through the process. It is so important to push and challenge yourself because that is the only way you will grow. So I encourage you to embark on this journey and live it up to its fullest!

Mallory McCormick

Mallory is a Human Biology major, with minors in Nutrition and Spanish, at North Carolina State University. She studied abroad at the Barcelona School for International Studies for the Spring 2023 semester.

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