What I wish I knew before my semester in Barcelona

By Farah Bassyouni Sep 23, 2022

                                                                                Caption: Tower flying the flag of Catalonia, one of Spain’s autonomous communities

                                                                                Credit: Liam Killian

In the spring of 2022, I spent my semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. It’s been five months since I returned to the United States, and there are some things I wish I had known before traveling to a different country for a semester. 


Food will taste different.

One of my favorite lunches has always been a ham and cheese sandwich. In Spain, this meal was very common in cafes and known as a “bocadillo de jamón y queso.” In my head, I knew the sandwiches in America would taste different, but I figured that once I’d returned home, I would still like them as much as before I left. 

I was sorely mistaken. Even the best quality sandwich here pales in comparison to the ones I enjoyed in Barcelona. Every aspect of the sandwich tastes bland, overly processed and just not as good as it did before I left. 


You may not have the same friends you did when you left.

Before studying abroad, I was under the impression that I would be hanging out with some established friends once I returned to the U.S. While in Spain, those friendships ended, but new ones formed. 

I grew as a person abroad and my new friends encouraged that growth and supported me along the way. I’m grateful that when I look back on my time abroad, it was filled with people who made my experience so enjoyable. 


You will feel disconnected from IWU

A friend had warned me that when she came back to Illinois Wesleyan, she felt disconnected from the rest of the community. I thought her experience was one-off and that I would not experience that when I returned. 

I was very wrong. The disconnection is real. The best way I can describe it is as if everyone has an inside joke that I keep hearing, but I do not know the punchline. It’s a weird feeling, and I hope it dissipates as I re-acquaint myself with my extracurriculars, on campus friends and academics.  


 Language barriers can be difficult to overcome

In Barcelona, a majority of people spoke Spanish, Catalan, English or a combination. Although I speak and understand some Spanish, I’m still a beginner. There were times that I had no idea what someone was saying and I would sheepishly pull out Google Translate and either type in my response or have the person I was speaking to type in what they were trying to communicate. 

Google Translate is great, but it’s not the same as knowing a language. I feel inspired to continue to learn Spanish, hopefully one day I’ll become fluent and learn other languages as well. 


To those who are studying abroad or hoping to in the future, do it. Despite not having some of the knowledge that I wish I had, my experience abroad was unforgettable and I will always cherish it. 

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