By: Amy Walker, Account Associate for Sweet Heat Gourmet
This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern abroad in Barcelona, Spain for two months. It was utterly life changing, and not just in the typical ways that one would expect. In the nine short weeks that I was overseas, I can honestly say that I had experiences, met people, and made memories that challenged every single aspect of who I am as a person.
Like most I had seen pictures and heard stories of those who went abroad before me, but nothing could have prepared me for the adventures that were to come. I was expecting to travel to different cities and get a great new Facebook cover photo, but I came back realizing that traveling is mostly about the personal interactions and difficult situations that people encounter while visiting foreign countries.
After living abroad, I realized there are four main qualities that each and every person needs to have while traveling: patience, adaptability, spontaneity, and kindness.
I can remember the first day I arrived in Barcelona and my internship group went out for a celebratory meal. None of us got the food we thought we ordered, the waiter asked questions that none of us could understand, and we slowly realized that living in a foreign country wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I learned that no matter which side of a miscommunication someone is one, he or she must remain calm and understanding in order to for anything positive or helpful to come from the interaction.
While in Rome, there was a certain miscommunication that led to seven out of the nine members of the group being homeless for the weekend. Those involved were literally living hour to hour wondering where to put their belongings, how they were going to shower (they didn’t, in case you were wondering), and IF they were going to have a bed to sleep in that night. Last minute incidents similar to this happen consistently while traveling. From two hour delays on flights to half of us losing our cell phones (myself included), it takes a special type of person to understand certain circumstances can’t be changed and stay calm in the situation that’s at hand.
Some of my fondest memories abroad are the ones that weren’t planned and just happened in the moment. Two days before a weekend in early July began, a group of us scheduled a last minute trip to Madrid, Spain. It seemed like a decent idea since many of my friends said it was a beautiful city and one member on our trip had a family friend who would show us around. This “decent” idea turned into the best weekend of my entire two month experience in Europe. We had absolutely no plans, didn’t know where to go, and researched everything after we had already arrived in Madrid. We toured a world-famous museum, ate the best seafood of our entire lives, cooked steaks at a fantastic restaurant, and learned what genuine Spanish culture truly was. I couldn’t have planned a better trip even if I spent an entire year preparing even the littlest of details. Never be afraid to sit back and watch where life takes you.
During our travels, my internship group frequented the same convenience store for many of our groceries. After seeing our faces and recognizing us he one day said to our entire group, “If you ever need anything but you’re out of money, don’t worry. You can take it and I trust you will pay me back later.” Such a small statement meant the world to us. In just the first week we had experienced rude waiters, taxi drivers trying to overcharge us for rides, and culture shock in general. It meant the world to us that someone was welcoming us into their city with such open arms. Kindness and compassion go a long way to those who are thousands of miles away from home and trying to navigate new territory.
It goes without saying that I saw incredible sights, ate amazing food, and had a wonderful time with the friends I made on my trip. The architecture in Rome was breathtaking, the fondue in Switzerland was unbelievable, and the culture of Barcelona was so laid back that I felt right at home. But my absolute favorite aspects of my trip were the moments that taught me more about myself. Traveling is much more than what anyone could ever show you in pictures. It is challenges, last minute changes, miscommunications, and a lot of adaptability just to get by. Everyone has a completely different experience while abroad, but I personally learned so much more about myself than any city I visited. These attributes, and the memories of the wonderful people I met, will stay with me forever.