Reflections on My Time Abroad

I’ll never forget the moment the taxi dropped me off in front of the grey, concrete apartment building in the L’Eixample district of Barcelona. Each apartment was separated by a divider and tiny balcony that overlooked the narrow, one-way street, where cars zipped down during all hours of the day, often ignoring traffic signals and pedestrian crossings. The base of the building was supported by large v-shaped beams and the windows had a distinct rectangle shape, a tell-tale sign of post-modern construction. Lines of drying laundry draped the individual balconies, and blocked the sight of the crooked shutters that struggled to hang onto their frames. The outside of the glass-window lobby was covered in graffiti and dust, making it hard to see in. The inside of the lobby was so poorly lit that even on the sunniest days, it seemed like you were standing inside a dark room in the middle of the night. I finally grabbed my bags from the trunk of the taxi and made my way across the concrete sidewalk, avoiding a puddle of a mysterious dark and smelly substance, and climbed up the stairs to the second floor to greet my six other roommates who I would be living with for the next four months.

The apartment was furnished with what looked like the last few remaining items in the clearance section of an Ikea. Our dining room table was so flimsy that if someone put too much weight on one edge of it, it would flip over entirely (a lesson I learned while eating breakfast one morning). The rigid and simplistic shape of the bright red coffee tables and chairs reminded me of Lego toys that had been blown up to human size. Within each bedroom were two beds supported by small, three-inch legs that supported a thin feather mattress and bright orange sheet. Looking back on this moment, I can’t help but laugh and think about how genuinely horrified we all were at the site of our living accomdations. Us and our American entitlement.

It’s funny how over these four months, the things I was initially most repulsed by slowly became the things that I would learn to love and miss the most. As cliché as that sounds, I miss the cheap Ikea furniture in the living room and the clunky sound of our AC unit that only blew out more hot air. The living room that smelled of drying laundry anytime we would open the kitchen window. I miss the pathetic, paper thin mattresses we were given to sleep on and that bright orange comforter we would never use because the apartment felt like the inside of an oven at all times. I miss the strange old men across the street, who would sit on their balcony and smoke all day like it was their job. I miss the voices on a Thursday night that would echo up and bounce off of the surrounding apartments and into our rooms, often waking us up at four in the morning. I miss the florescent 24-hour store sign that cast a bright green and blue glow onto the bathroom window. The same 24-hour store where we would frequently purchase our late-night frozen pizza, chips, and gummy bears. I especially miss the homeless man who sat outside of the supermarket attached to our building. The homeless man who would give us the biggest smile and wave as we made our way to class.  

It’s amazing how once we step out of our comfort zone, we begin to adapt our ways and learn to love the things we never believed we could. While I was initially uncomfortable with our unfamiliar and outdated apartment, I learned to love our tiny puerto and all its quirks. Thinking back on my time abroad, I am extremely grateful and lucky to have been given the opportunity to leave my comfortable environment and experience a new life. I understand that I am speaking from a place of privilege, but my apartment stands out in my mind to me the most, not because this is where I would spend most of my time, but because this is where I began to learn about the pleasures in the unfamiliar. Here I was, living in a new country, an entirely new continent, where I did not speak the local language, I did not know how to get around, and I did not even know how to use the tiolets. Yet, through all this change and all these amazing experiences, this tiny puerto with its paper thin walls, bug-infested floor boards, and freezing cold showers is where I found my greatest comfort.