Longhorns! My name is Mel Stack, and I am an international student at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. Today marks the beginning of my 7th week in Europe! So far, the tapas are tasty, the Mediterranean views are epic, and the Catalans I’ve met along the way have made my study abroad experience truly unforgettable.
Although this is the case, it is important to note that my first month abroad came with some growing pains. I want you to learn about the initial hardships that I encountered during my transition to European life so you will be prepared to maximize your experience and thrive!
On the Language Barrier
Every day when I wake up in the morning, I experience emotions of excitement and curiosity, but I also initially experienced feelings of apprehension as well. A large component of the nervousness that I experienced stemmed from the language barrier that exists in my neighborhood. At first, this presented me with an intimidating obstacle, but the struggle of communicating with Spanish-speakers has been one of the most rewarding components of my time in Barcelona so far.
I suggest that incorporating a hybrid of structured and unstructured activities that involve speaking Spanish is the best way to overcome the language barrier.
Structured activity suggestions: Take a class in the spoken language, attend language practice meetups, and allocate time each week to reading newspapers or children’s books in the spoken language.
Unstructured activity suggestions: Frequently communicate with native speakers at restaurants, or other service-based businesses in the spoken language, watch Netflix shows in the spoken language, and incorporate the spoken language into your life in any creative ways that you can think of.
I structured my suggestions into two different categories, as the benefits of participating in structured and unstructured activities are different. If you participate in only structured activities, you will be somewhat out of touch with actually speaking the language in real-life scenarios. In addition, if you only participate in non-structured activities, it will be harder for you to carry a conversation past certain key phrases. You will be in great shape if you incorporate a hybrid of the two!
On Traveling Frequently, but also Succeeding in the Classroom
A second growth pain that I encountered pertains to managing the stresses of traveling on the weekends and also staying on top of my responsibilities at school. Overcoming this challenge is a balancing act, as I wanted to see as many places as possible during this unique time in my life, but also place an immensely high priority on my grades.
I recommend that the best way to overcome this challenge is to use a platform like “Google Calendar” to manage different aspects of your semester. “Google Calendar” allows you to view multiple calendars at once, so you’ll be able to effectively:
- Plan and book trips around exams
- Merge calendars with your friends to coordinate travel
- Insert flight confirmation #s and times so you don’t have to dig through your emails
- Use the “Google Calendar App” to access your information on your mobile device
In addition, one last tip that I wanted to leave you with pertains to effective studying and completing your schoolwork during the fast-paced semester. Upon my arrival, I realized that I had a multitude of small gaps of time that I did not take advantage of. For instance, I did not initially study during my metro commute to class, at the airport before my flights, or during my flights from location to location. I quickly realized that these are just a few examples of opportunities to study and get ahead.
My Final Thoughts
Now you have a few more tools that can go a long way in helping you get the most out of your study abroad experience! Consider my recommendations in relation to your experience, and view them as loose guidelines to follow, as I realize every experience is unique.
Have a great October, and see you next month!
This post was contributed by Mel Stack, a 2018 Global Ambassador.
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