When I woke up on June 20, it finally hit me that I wouldn’t live my life with my usual routines, meals and friends for an entire month.
I had never been out of the country. My Spanish definitely wasn’t the best, but somehow I found myself being dropped off at the Memphis airport with boarding passes that read Barcelona, Spain. It wasn’t until then that all of the preparation with saving money, getting a passport and brushing up on my Spanish hit me. For the next month of my life, I would live in Barcelona.
Quickly, I needed to learn how to get around a city despite being native to a place with no public transportation. I would be in situations that would require me to use Spanish effectively when I could barely share my name and age without stuttering.
One day, I randomly came across the CEA Study Abroad Program website and “Barcelona: Communication and Journalism” came across the screen in bold, white letters. I have always desired to travel. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew there was a bigger world outside of the Mississippi Delta, and I wondered when I would have the courage and chance to explore the things I would read about.
Going to Barcelona was a big decision for me, especially since I have never experienced anything like it. The most I knew about Spain was from a Disney movie I adored, “The Cheetah Girls.” When I would sing and dance to their music, I never thought I could actually experience the culture and beauty firsthand.
Around the beginning of 2023, I made the decision that my motto for the year would be “free of fear.” For me, this meant actively working on the areas of my life that I avoid because they may require me to truly face myself, my worries and my fears. Whether it is financially, mentally, emotionally or academically, I decided that this year would be the time I stop avoiding things and face them.
This is why I chose to go alone.
After all, I can’t tell people that I aspire to be a travel journalist while being scared of traveling alone as a Black woman. Going alone forced me to learn about myself and allowed me to see how I would integrate into foreign spaces. And I honestly was surprised by how easily I found myself forming friendships with store owners, having my morning croissant at my favorite spot or even using simple Spanish phrases to complete small tasks.
Whether it was sunrise paddle-boarding, seeing Sagrada Familia or hiking in Park Güell, I often took these adventures alone, soaking in the culture and people around me. I spent much of my time waking up and letting the day plan itself. The beaches were beautiful. I remember sitting on the sand and being envious that people could get off work and see something this beautiful everyday. During the day, the waters were cold, providing a shelter from the heat, while late nights brought warm water to balance the night breeze. The food was delicious. Paella and tapas lingered on the tongue while people danced and sang the music during late nights.
I soon noticed that a woman at a fruit stand near my apartment was always smiling and happy. After I began a short conversation one day, we became great friends. I would stop in to ask about her day and I eventually met her brother and sister. When I told her I was leaving, I could see the tears she held back and I realized how large of an impact my one-month presence had.
During my time in Spain, I had a language exchange partner named Ariadna. We would spend days shopping while she taught me about cultural norms, the upcoming political elections and fashion choices in Spain. My favorite memory is the day we spent laughing as we listened to music videos in her room and exchanged music.
I would often joke with people and tell them if Barcelona had larger food portions, sweet tea and air-conditioned apartments, I could live there forever. I wished I could stay and see more, yet I yearned to be back home. Being away taught me how to appreciate the little things, but it also made me realize how much there is to explore.
When I came back to America, I realized how a month of my life passed in the blink of an eye. Everybody’s life continued while I was away. As if I paused in time – the whole experience began to feel so surreal. I remember swimming at the beach in Sitges and thinking, “ In a few weeks, I will be back in Mississippi. Somehow I would look the same but my mind and spirit would be completely different. The little girl from Drew never thought she could get this far.”
And yet there I was and here I am. And I can’t wait to see what is next.
Bre’Anna Coleman is a junior political science major from Drew, Mississippi.