Studying Abroad in Barcelona, Spain
“Que bonita la vida, que curiosa tu forma de andar”
I saw this phrase written on the inside of a stall in a cafe on my second day of my study abroad semester in Barcelona, Spain. It translates to something like, “What a beautiful life, how curious the way you wander.”
I still resonate with it after I’ve returned from my six months abroad. My experience has given me an education about culture, people, language, politics, history, and the world. I learned about myself, my own independence, potential, and leadership skills. I am incredibly grateful for the experiences and knowledge I gained from studying in Barcelona, and it will continue to positively affect me for the rest of my life.
The Global Leadership Initiative
and Studying in Barcelona
The Global Leadership Initiative
Through the University of Montana’s GLI program, I was able to pack up my life, and move half way around the world to study at La Universitat de Autómoma de Barcelona, or UAB. As an English literature major with a Pre-PA (physician Assistant) emphasis, I chose Public and Global Health as my global theme and eventually decided to focus on mental health as my global challenge. I had some rather specific requirements to go abroad. I like to think that UAB chose me. It was the only available university in a Spanish speaking environment, with a psychology course for my GLI challenge, and English literature courses.
One of the most valuable experiences I had was taking a class called Ámbitos de Aplicación en Psicología de la Salud, or Areas of Application of Health Psychology. I took the entire course in Spanish, and I can safely say it was one of the hardest things I have ever accomplished. It really showed me how difficult a language barrier can be and also helped improve my Spanish immensely. I learned about the diverse psychological and mental effects of other health conditions like diabetes, obesity, fibromyalgia, hospice, and cancer. Not only will it be useful information for GLI and my professional career as a PA, but I gained an understanding of how language barriers can affect the quality of health care. After my time in Barcelona, becoming fluent in Spanish has become a priority for my personal and professional goals.
My International Family
One of the highlights of going abroad was becoming part of a family of international students from all over the world. Studying in Barcelona introduced me to many new people; we were able to travel together, share problems and experiences together, and ultimately became life long friends.
Barcelona is located in a region of Spain called Catalunya. Many Catalan people distinguish themselves as Catalan, rather than Spanish. The people in the region often speak Catalan and especially cherish their own language, traditions, and history.
Barcelona is a different world than the sparsely populated, northwestern U.S. that I’ve always known. It’s a buzzing city of 1.6 million people. There’s a constant stream of people casually bustling down the street with deliberate destinations. Ordering a coffee, you will hear a blend of Spanish, Catalan, and English in the background babble. You might bump into a Spaniard, a Portuguese, or a Frenchman. It’s a compact city full of international diversity and a quiet buzz of constant excitement.
El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter, is full of small shops, tapas restaurants, bars, and apartments. The winding paths and Gothic style make it a popular destination for travelers and locals alike. I used to wander for hours in the Gothic Quarter, and loved finding new cafés to sip some café con leche (coffee with milk) and people watch.
El Gótic, or the Gothic Quarter feels like a city maze, with narrow cobblestone streets that bend and twist unpredictably.
I was fortunate enough to have my family visit me during my time in Barcelona. Behind my dad, sister, and myself, Pont Gótic is one of the most famous images of the Gothic Quarter.
The tan buildings are usually five or six stories high, with layers of balconies and intricate Gothic styles.
Looking up at the balconies you might see Catalan flags, plants, or drying laundry. The Catalan flag was often paired with yellow ribbon symbolizing the support of the release of a few Catalan politicians from prison. With recent political movements towards Catalan independence from Spain, the Catalan flag was more prominent than the Spanish flag.
Just outside of Barcelona, Montserrat is an incredible monastery nestled into a unique, towering mountain of curious rock formations. After a train ride and a gondola to the top, the place attracts a curious combination of hikers, climbers, tourists, and religious pilgrims coming from all over the world.
The monastery seems small compared to the towering rock formations of Montserrat.
With the monastery to the right, and the mountain to the left, the transition between the two creates a unique blend of natural and architectural beauty.
La Sagrada Família
La Sagrada Família is an identifying highlight of Barcelona. Planned by the famous architect, Antoni Goudí, it is still under construction today. Throughout Barcelona there are many architectural works by Goudí, the Sagada Familia being the most famous. The church’s intricate Gothic exterior contains a progressive symbolism for the birth and death of Christ. It is said that Gaudí planned the church to be just short of the tallest point in Barcelona, with the reasoning that man’s creation shouldn’t reach higher than God’s creation.
The inside is filled with changing colors from the large stain glass windows, and the branching pillars inside vaguely mimic trees and the image of sunlight filtering through a colorful canopy.
Bunkers del Carmel
The Bunkers de Carmel offers one of the best views of the city. As one of the highest points of the city, the ruins of an old anti-aircraft base sit at the top with a 360 degree view.
My directly above my sister and I, the Sagrada Família’s tall spires stick out in the middle of the city. Far in the background, the Mediterranean Sea blends into the sky.
Right next to the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona offers a port, a marina, and beautiful sandy beaches.
The W Hotel, (shark fin shaped building) is another identifying building in Barcelona’s skyline.
Barcelona is full of pedestrians, bikers, and skateboarders enjoying the sun, especially along the beach.
Plaça d’Espanya, or Plaza Espana, makes an impression even from a distance. The towering dome of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is the national museum of Catalan visual art, displayed impressively with massive colorful fountains and preceded with many, many stairs.
What I Learned
Studying in Spain was the experience of a life time. I had the best moments of my life, and some of the worst. I learned more about myself, what I am able to accomplish, and how I want to spend my time and effort. I was integrated into Spanish culture and gained new perspectives of Catalunya, Spain, the U.S., and the rest of the world. I returned with ambition to become fluent in Spanish and to continue pursuing my GLI goals, personal goals, and professional goals. I am incredibly thankful for my experience in Spain and cannot wait to apply what I have learned to the rest of my life.