Caleb Grant - 2014 Program Participant

Landscape view from atop Montserrat

A friend sits, taking in the landscape from atop Montserrat. Photo by Caleb Grant

Why did you study abroad?

I chose to study abroad because it was outside my comfort zone and I realized I’ve spent too much of my life doing what’s most comfortable. I knew it would help me grow as a person and be a great experience, and wanted to push myself to do something that wasn’t necessarily an easy for me.

Briefly describe your housing in Spain.

In Barcelona, I lived in a dorm, which turned out to be a really fantastic place to live. I was rooming with a bunch of people from my program (who were awesome), but I also was living with people from different parts of Spain and Cataluña. I became good friends with some of them, which gave me the chance to practice my Spanish, learn about Catalan and Spanish culture, and more. We went to FC Barcelona games, festivals, and in general spent a bunch of time together – they were really great people and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know them. Spending time with people of the culture you’re living in is an invaluable experience.

Street in Tarragona

A beautiful street in Tarragona. Photo by Caleb Grant

What was the most memorable experience you had while studying abroad?

It’s hard to choose a most memorable experience from my time abroad, since it was flooded with so many experiences and events. However, if I had to choose one from Barcelona it would be participating in Correfoc during La Mercé festival. It’s somewhat hard to describe (you should look it up), but basically people dressed up as devils come walking down this long narrow street with pitchforks. There are fireworks attached to the pitchforks that spin and shoot sparks in giant circles above their heads. Processions of these people with drum lines continuously flow down the street, and when they light their firecrackers people from the crowd run underneath them, huddle together, and dance while the sparks fall overhead. It was incredible. I lost my friends in the mass and didn’t care, I was alone but did not feel alone – huddled beneath fire with Barcelonians.

If you could, why would you go back to Barcelona?

In all honestly, I wish I could live in Barcelona for ever. It’s an amazing city, and growing up in rural Maine I never considered myself a city person. There is so much culture in it, from the architecture, to the people, to the food. Simply so much to experience. And what’s more, the city has such a laid back feel to it. The people in Barcelona never seem to be in a rush, everything is slower than in America. Oh, and Brunch and Cake. While not an authentic Spanish restaurant, they have some of the best cake I’ve ever had.

How has your experience studying abroad in Spain changed your life?

The biggest way studying abroad affected my life was showing how much there is out there to see and experience. I’ve never been the biggest fan of change – I tend to like where I am and who I’m with, and want to stay there. But living in Barcelona showed me that the world is an enormous place and I want to get lost in it. There is a plethora of culture throughout the world, and I want to see and be a part of it. From meeting new people from across the world in a hostel in Athens while traveling alone, to standing under the dome of an incredible mosque in Turkey, to walking the streets of Barcelona at night, I have learned change is good. In fact, it can be amazing, and I want it in my life.

View from Harder Kulm in Interlaken, Switzerland

The view from Harder Kulm in Interlaken, Switzerland. Photo by Caleb Grant

What important tips can you give to future participants of IES Abroad’s program in Barcelona?

Tips. This is challenging, there are many. But here are the highlights: 

  • Recognize you’re there for a limited time. Later in the semester you’ll find yourself freaking out because you’re feeling like you haven’t done enough or seen enough where you live. 
  • Speak the language. Even if you barely know any of it. Refuse to speak in English even though many people will know English. It will improve your lingual skills like nothing else. 
  • Go to Brunch and Cake. Eat as many Patatas Bravas as you can fit in your stomach, and then go back for more. 
  • Don’t always go to the bars where all the American study abroad students go. Find local ones. 
  • Befriend local people somehow. Play fútbol, find a meetup, however. 
  • Don’t be afraid to travel somewhere that isn’t a typical European city where everyone goes. Sure they’re great, but one of the most valuable experiences of traveling abroad for me was going to Istanbul and Morocco. 
  • Don’t let your expectations get in the way of the experience. Study abroad is whatever you want it to be. It’s not what your mother or your teacher or your friend says it is. Make it the experience you want it to be. If you want to do something, do it. Simple as that.