Who: Lotte from the Netherlands
When: February – July 2008
Where: Universitat de Barcelona – Facultad de Economía y Empresa
What made you decide that you wanted to participate in a student exchange?
As long as I can remember, I have wanted to go abroad. I actually choose my Bachelor International Economics and Business because going abroad was a mandatory part of the curriculum! I just really wanted to experience another culture than my own. I wanted to build a life in a country that wasn’t mine. I wanted to meet people from all around the world. And I wanted to learn another language!
How did you choose where you wanted to spend your semester/time abroad?
That was actually pretty easy, I wanted to learn Spanish so that already greatly reduced the number of options. I thought about going to South America but both my boyfriend (now husband) as well as my parents were not too happy about that so I choose Spain instead. Having visited Barcelona in high school, and having fallen in love with the city during that brief trip, I choose la Barça for my student exchange. Despite the fact that they actually speak Catalan (Castellano too, but Catalan is the first language)…
Before leaving, what were your expectations for this experience?
I didn’t really know what to expect actually! I was hoping I would learn to speak Spanish properly and make some new friends. Most of all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could build up a live for myself in an unknown country, that I could be independent and manage on my own.
What were your first thoughts upon arrival at your new campus?
Haha, that is was just as ugly as the Economics and Business faculty as the one in Groningen, where I was doing my Bachelor. The pretty building ‘Universitat de Barcelona’, located in the city centre just around the corner from Plaza Catalunya was unfortunately not the building where I had my classes…
What were some hurdles that you had to overcome/how did you do it?
Following classes in Spanish was kind of hard at the beginning… I had studied Spanish before I left, but I was nowhere near fluent. In my first month, I really struggled to understand the teachers. It got a little bit easier each day and it was certainly one of the best and fastest way to learn a language.
The hardest was missing my boyfriend for such a long time… We had been together for 5 years when I went on my student exchange to Barcelona and had not been apart for more than a month up until then. We skyped a lot and he visited me in Barcelona, it was awesome to show him around my new ‘home’. We are happily married for more than 6 years now, and have been together for 13 years so we managed, even though missing each other so much was certainly hard at times.
Did you notice any major differences between studying at your home country and your host country?
Definitely! For starters, university in the Netherlands doesn’t have siesta. They should, it’s great! In Barcelona, I didn’t have any classes between 12 and 2pm, so I could take a walk, enjoy the sun or have lunch. Which reminds me, another awesome thing about university in Spain was that the canteen in Barcelona served proper meals during siesta. At my Dutch university I could only get sandwiches and soup. But then again, we Dutch people only eat one hot meal once a day… Silly us.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time abroad?
Making an exam in Spanish, I was so proud of myself! Having a home cooked Italian dinner at 11pm with all the Italian friends I made (and eating waaaay to much because everything was delicious) Mostly, walking around and exploring a city that I gradually made my own.
Has this experience at all changed the way in which you view yourself/other cultures?
It taught me that the ways I do or see things, it not necessarily the one true way things are. People from different cultures have different opinions and different ways of seeing things. And that’s okay! Respect different viewpoint and don’t force your opinion upon anyone, different cultures are what make the world such an interesting place!
Did you travel much whilst you were abroad?
I traveled around a bit while I was studying abroad, taking day trips to Sitges and Tarragona (villages south of Barcelona) and visiting Montserrat, a mountain where you can find a beautiful Benedictine abbey. I ended my semester abroad with an awesome 3 week road trip with friends, visiting Madrid, Toledo and other spots in Spain.
If so, did this travel enhance your experience? Why/why not?
It was nice to get out of the big bustling city every once in a while. Barcelona is awesome, but it is a busy city. And I love being in nature as well, so places like Montserrat were a nice change. Also, I enjoyed seeing more of the country and meeting people from other areas in Spain, turns out there is quite a difference between the different regions!
How did this experience change you?
It made me want to explore more and more of our phenomenal globe…
Would you recommend other people participate in a student exchange?
Absolutely, you’ll learn a lot about yourself, you’ll make lots of new (international) friends and learn about cultures different from your own. Yeah, it’s a great experience, go for it!
If so, what is your top reason for why people should study abroad?
It will make you grow as a person and force you out of your comfort zone.
To read more Study Abroad stories like Lotte’s, be sure to check out the Student Abroad Series.