We caught up with Akilah, an AIFS Study Abroad in Barcelona, Spain alum from the University of Houston! In the following interview, she outlines why she chose AIFS as her study abroad program provider, some highlights of her experience, advice to future students, and more!
Why did you choose AIFS Study Abroad and your specific program location of Barcelona, Spain?
As a pre-medical student, it’s a common misconception that we can’t study abroad. Because I knew finding coursework for my major would be a little tricky, I decided to focus on finding courses for my Spanish for Global Professions instead. Considering that my minor was concentrated in health and that I also had intentions of attending medical school, I wanted my program to be health focused so I could add it to my resume for medical school.
I chose to study abroad with AIFS because of their Global Health Program that they offered in Barcelona. I knew the only city I wanted to study abroad in was Barcelona but finding a health/pre – med program offered in the city was very difficult. I spent several days scouring every affiliated study abroad program offered with my university and finally found AIFS’s Global Health Program. Luckily, the program offered the exact class that I needed for my minor, making the program a match made in heaven.
What are you studying and was there a connection to your choice of program location?
I am majoring in Human Foods and Nutrition and minoring in Spanish for Global Professions with a concentration in Health Professions. My fascination with Barcelona started when I was a little girl after watching the Cheetah Girls 2 movie. The movie honestly inspired me to see the world and made Barcelona seem like a very fun place. Years passed and my memories of the movie moved to the back of my mind until I got to college. After having several friends study abroad in Barcelona for a semester and summer, my childhood memories started to return to me. I knew at that point that Barcelona was a place I had to visit.
What are the strengths and unique features of the program and about your program location?
Barcelona is honestly the perfect city because of its many unique features not only geologically but also culturally! Whether you prefer the beach, the city center or the mountains, Barcelona offers you all of those options and more. Not to mention, people from all over the world travel to Barcelona which provides the opportunity for unique interactions from people from all walks of life.
While all of this just adds to Barcelona’s charms, the locals are just as amazing because of how warm and welcoming they make the city. Not only does Barcelona have a traditional Spanish charm, but its own Catalonia customs, as well that make it the most interesting place in Spanish in my opinion.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your study abroad experience.
One of the biggest highlights of my time in Barcelona was improving my Spanish speaking abilities. I was always so nervous when speaking Spanish in my classes at my home university that it severely blocked my ability to progress in learning the language. After studying Spanish for three years at home, I could read and write excellently but had a hard time speaking for longer than a sentence or two. After one or two weeks in Spain, all of the Spanish that I knew in my head finally started to come out of my mouth as I began holding actual conversations with locals. I was completely amazed and proud of myself. By the end of three months, my ability to speak had almost doubled. Left me there for another three months and I’m sure I would have been completely fluent!
Was there anything you did not expect?
I wasn’t expecting how quickly a new place could feel like home and heartbroken I would be to leave. I also wasn’t expecting how much traveling and changing your every day routine could make you rethink the entire course of your life, because this is what happened to me.
How did you learn, grow or change by studying abroad?
I’ve always been a person who leans more towards the Type A side of the spectrum. I definitely value consistently and routine especially when working towards accomplishing my academic or professional goals. While I tend to relax when it comes to personal life, most of my college experience had been defined by studying and constantly working towards preparing for the future. I never felt like I was doing enough and always pushed myself to work as hard as possible.
Since I started college 4 years ago (3 years from the point at which I’d studied abroad), I didn’t realize how much that mentality had negatively affected me in multiple aspects of my life, such as my self-esteem and my mental health. When I studied abroad, it was the first time in a long time that I was able to focus on the present — not worry about tomorrow or beat myself up for not “doing enough” in the past, but just be happy and content with where I was now. While every situation I encountered abroad was not perfect, I learned to let my hardships go with greater ease because it wasn’t worth my happiness. I learned to appreciate the small things more and not to feel the need to plan every aspect of my life.
Also, by interacting with various cultures and ideologies, I’ve embraced that I don’t know everything and that it’s okay to listen to different ideas and perspectives on how to do or live better. Since returning, I’ve tried to keep everything I’ve learned with me in my heart and, while it’s hard with all the hustle and bustle of school and graduation, learning to appreciate life as it comes gives me peace. I truly believe that lesson would have come much later to me in life if I hadn’t studied abroad!
Do you have any advice for future students who choose to study abroad in Barcelona?
Best advice to future students would be to be open to everything traveling and living abroad throws at you. It’s okay to be out of your comfort zone because that’s how you grow. As a matter of fact, if you go abroad and do the exact same thing that you do at home in your everyday life, you’re doing it wrong.
Would you recommend AIFS to other students?
Absolutely! Every student should study abroad. There’s just something about traveling and living outside of the United States that will teach you about the world better than a textbook ever will.