Some of my best memories from my semester in Spain involved wandering around the city and stumbling upon new sights, little cafes, and locally-owned shops. Immersing yourself in your new city exposes you to all the possibilities it holds and makes it feel a bit more like home. Here are a few ways to start:
1) Get a little lost- I took a stroll through the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona one day and got hopelessly lost among the narrow alleyways with identical cobblestones. It wasn’t until I heard the dings of the church bells at Santa Maria del Mar cathedral that I finally realized where I was. On the way, I stumbled upon a restaurant I’d been trying to find and a little vintage shop with old-fashioned dresses and shoes. Trying to find my way, in turn, helped me find so much more. The area became one of my favorites in the city.
2) Taste test- Trying new foods is one of the best ways to explore a city and delve into its culture. For me, it was tapas, paella and chocolate con churros, all found in different parts of the city. As I nibbled my way through, I discovered new neighborhoods and further oriented myself with how to get around. I asked professors and my host family for recommendations, then looked for food blogs written about Barcelona. Whatever your city’s food staple is, go try some.
3) Go for a jog– A lot of people will tell you that they probably discovered more on their runs than in any other method of exploring. Running provides a quick, scenic way to see a lot in a short amount of time. Later you can go back and re-discover what you found. Not only does running help you find your way around, it’s also a nice way to spend some time outside and add a bit of exercise to your routine. Having a consistent habit, like running, helped me adjust to being in a new place.
4) Ask a local- Meeting locals is one of the most worthwhile, and sometimes difficult, parts of studying abroad. It’s easy to cling to fellow students when you’re in a new place. But, showing interest in your city’s culture and asking for recommendations on food, drinks and things to do is a great way to connect with those who know the city best. You can start at your university, or in your home stay, if you’re living with a local family. Most people are eager to share their culture with you.
5) Make a bucket list- throughout the semester, I scribbled down things I wanted to try and sights to see in Barcelona so I wouldn’t leave without experiencing the city as much as I could. The bucket list helped me maximize my time and was a great reference for days or weekends I had to explore.
While study abroad is a haven for travel, there is something wonderfully comforting about returning to your new city each time you leave. Take the chance to get to know it as best you can. You’ll be surprised how quickly it feels like home.