Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Notes from Abroad: The sweet smell of orange trees

Tuesday, April 19, 2022
A skateboarder attempts tricks in front of a graffiti wall alongside the Barcelona beach.
Photo by Molly Phegley

It’s a struggle trying not to view my time in Barcelona as a long-term vacation, where I just sit on the beach, eat tapas and go shopping all day. Learning to balance work and play is key to a meaningful study abroad experience.

In the months leading up to my last day at home, I did hours of reflecting and setting intentions for my time abroad. I wrote lists of all the different goals I had and things I wanted to do during my time here. Many of my goals aimed towards self-betterment, such as meditating, cooking and picking up new, productive hobbies.

The day I touched down in Barcelona, I came face to face with a whole new world of possibilities and adventures. It did take me a few weeks to settle in, but once I became more comfortable with the city, I couldn’t help but want to leap at every opportunity.

I made my group of friends through language exchange parties, school, and even the local grocery stores. In Europe, they love their WhatsApp groups, and I was quickly added to many groups for meetup events, parties and ticket deals for exchange students.

Having all of this in the palm of my hand plus friends who are down to do everything under the sun made it very tempting to not want to abandon all responsibilities to spend my days exploring the city and spending all my money.

I learned very quickly that self discipline was essential to making my time here worthwhile. I’m not only in 20 hours of classes a week, but I also have personal goals, articles to write and money to save — since I don’t have any active income.

I think the hack to self discipline is gratitude. I learned that being grateful for what I already have softens the cravings to constantly be doing something new. I can be content with the food I cooked at home. Or the beautiful and free walk in the park. Or the opportunity to write about such a cool experience. Or the extra room in my apartment that I turned into a yoga room.

Learning to find a solid daily routine in the midst of such a fast paced environment helped to build a foundation in my life here. This makes the experiences that I am able to have so much more pleasant. I can appreciate the interesting, yet tasty foods more. I can enjoy the slow and simple life. I can expand on my skills and interests.

Finding gratitude for even the smallest things when you’re surrounded by big things creates a new perspective. This perspective can expose the most hidden and valuable places of a city that is buzzing with the excitement of social life.

For instance, the perfectly grassy spot in the park that catches the warmth of the sun just right. You begin to notice the detail and talent of the artists who left their graffiti tags down miles of beach walls. You can appreciate the sweet smell of the orange trees scattered throughout the far corners of the city. You notice years of history engrained in the architecture. You become familiar with the culture and personality of the city, like the feeling of getting closer to a new friend.

And slowly… It begins to feel like home.