I had a melting pot of emotions before going international — this was my first time going abroad and “flying solo” (literally). I had no idea what to expect. All I had brought with me was a suitcase of comforts to remind me of home and the adequate ability to speak Spanish.
I was a bit uneasy and anxious at the thought of beginning this journey alone. However, as I touched down in BCN, all that fear had vanished.
I’ve been living in Barcelona for about a week and already I’ve been humbled by the culture that embraces me with hospitality, kindness and simplicity. If I’m keeping count of the number of touristic activities that served to educate me on the beautiful, unique qualities of Spanish culture, it is of considerable worth. Yet, as I truly reflect on processing the value hidden behind these excursions and my personal interactions with the natives of Barcelona, it carries even more significance.
“As I reflect on something as simple as having a home cooked meal every night to something as intricate as La Sagrada Familia, the common denominator always points toward the sincere and thoughtful nature of this culture.”
If I had to sum up the greatest lesson I have taken from being in Barcelona, it is the value of simple, intentional living. This realization immediately struck a chord with how to personally cultivate happiness.
My host mother is a cleaning lady and my host father is blind. Both of them do not speak a lick of English (remember how I talked about my adequate ability to speak Spanish?). But, they are incredibly patient and my roommate is semi-fluent (thank goodness!). But every night we sit down and have dinner together, like a little host family. And dinner is always served with love so sweet because it is always made from scratch and followed up with dessert!
My host mother knows my Spanish is un poco, yet it has been a week and communication has come with much ease because we’re both learning. When we all eat together, we bond over the satisfaction of food, knowing that replenishing ourselves is something we share based off common need, despite our different experiences and the language barrier.
Also, there is a particular craft behind how my host mother prepares food. Each ingredient serves its own purpose, contributing to the overall taste and comfort of partaking in a meal together — it was thoughtful of her to consider this. What I’m truly trying to convey is that all those anxieties I had before coming to Spain were put to complete shame. My host parents are my family away from family, and their apartment truly feels like a piece of home.
This past week, our study abroad program went on a cultural excursion to explore the work of the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. On Thursday we paid a visit to Gaudí’s Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and Casa Batlló, both astonishing places to truly understand the architectural genius of Barcelona’s beloved Gaudí. “Absolutely unbelievable” are the exact words spoken by Dr. Wolkowicz that accurately describe the glamour of these houses designed by the artist.
However, on Friday I was completely blown away. We visited La Sagrada Familia and it was in those moments I truly came to appreciate Gaudí’s work. As we were going through the tour, our tour guide said something quite fascinating, conveying the mind behind the beauty of this architectural masterpiece.
“In nature, you will find architecture, art and spirituality.”
I thought about this as our tour guide went on to explain how this cathedral was built to resemble something very natural, as inspiration for the design had been drawn from his love of nature. Inside La Sagrada Familia, it felt as though you were being hugged by a towering forest of absolute beauty and awe. It humbled me by reminding me that we are very small in a world that can consume us.
The pillars resembled tree trunks and the sunlight that entered the building varied with the times of the day. Darker hues filtered in through the bottom of the stained-glass windows, while white, bright light shined forth as you moved your eyes toward the ceiling.
All of it was just … breathtaking.
But what I noticed was that by design, each part of La Sagrada Familia was produced intentionally by Gaudí to convey a larger message that can be seen in the grandeur of the construction, which produces feelings of wonder and astonishment. Every little detail stitched into the composition of this basilica made a presence that could not have been missed. What amazed me was just the intentional and meaningful choices that were thought out in the production of a building that captivates so many who visit from around the world.
As I reflect on something as simple as having a home-cooked meal every night to something as intricate as La Sagrada Familia, the common denominator is always the sincere and thoughtful nature of this culture. I am in love with these feelings of community, togetherness and conscious living.
In the United States, it is easy to take for granted resources such as available water, air conditioning and larger portions. But being in Barcelona challenges me daily to be more critical about how much I truly have, and also to view the world from a different perspective. Be it through sharing in the best paella over dinner or seeing a community of differing religious denominations gather to witness a work well done by Gaudí, this experience underscores the need for values of compassion and thoughtfulness that our culture neglects at times.
It is just as important as smiling at people on the street and remembering that we’re all human.
Being abroad is a probably the best kind of reminder.
Crystal Monsale is adouble major in biology and psychology. She is studying this summer in Spain at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) of the Barcelona Science Park of the University of Barcelona.