Find Your Niche While Studying Abroad: I Joined my College’s Catalan Choir
I am currently thinking back to that last week at home before your first time studying abroad, amidst the Target runs for toiletries, makeup, and over the counter medications. Just like any significant change, you daydream about the gorgeous European apartment your perfect homestay parents live in with your older “brother and sister” who will take you under their wing as you become lifelong pals with all of their chic European friends. You meet a gorgeous foreign significant other with a sexy accent who adores you and takes you on weekend trips throughout Europe. While absolutely none of these pipe dreams came to fruition for me, I still could not have had a more perfect study abroad experience in Barcelona, Spain. So…how do you make sure you have the best experience possible studying abroad?
The truth is that it really is not very difficult to have an amazing time abroad. You already must have some sort of vested interest in the location as typically you get to choose where you would like to go and therefore have an affinity toward the language, food, culture, etc. Personally, however, I believe the key to having a truly incredible abroad experience is finding your niche while you are living there. You can have the most stereotypical abroad experience and go out to the club Monday-Thursday with your American friends while you travel to Paris and London and Florence from Friday-Sunday. I did. And that is okay if you find one thing unique to you that distinctly ties you to this new place you are living. I am not here to lecture you on how you must join language exchanges and befriend a new native friend each week that you keep in touch with for the next 20 years because that is the only way to gain a “real” abroad experience. As nice as that would be, befriending lots of native speakers just isn’t a realistic goal for everyone. it is harder than one might think to build lasting friendships with people who are already settled in their current lives.
My niche was joining my college Universitat Pompeau Fabra’s choir. I saw a flyer for choir auditions plastered to a wall so I went to my abroad program and asked if it would be possible to audit this as an extra class. I distinctly remember my abroad program tell me that no one has ever asked them about that before and they would look into it for me. I was pretty shocked that not one person going through the program had ever thought to join an extracurricular activity through the school besides futbol. After about a week of back and forth emails with the professor, I ended up joining the school choir or “cor” as is said in Catalan, the language native to Barcelona. And that was the snag in my plan; since Barcelona is in Catalonia and they speak Catalan, I was in a class once a week for 3 hours where I had no idea what was being said. I sat in a chair and felt a bit like a toddler because I could only follow the professor’s hand movements. That was okay though! Apart from the fact that I had taken choir for six years prior, I could still make out the gist of what the professor was saying through the motions. Plus, everyone in the class was always more than happy to explain anything I may have missed. For once a week on Tuesdays where I would have been sitting in my room streaming Gossip Girl for three hours, I was participating in a hobby that I greatly enjoyed in a very unique way.
At the end of the semester, the university had a big graduation. I got to sing in front of thousands of people and shake the “rector” or university chancellor’s hand. For two months, I had no idea that the songs we were learning in for would culminate in this big of a celebration, but that is just one of the reasons finding my niche in the school choir was so special. I did end up making a close friend who gave me a copy of a book he wrote and who I still talk to occasionally. The point of all of this is to think outside of the box a bit when studying abroad. Whether you are an athlete, artist, performer, photographer, or lover of language, find one special thing to make your abroad experience more unique. Going out drinking every night and traveling on weekends is so fun, but adding that little extra something to your time abroad will make it a truly unforgettable time in your life.
What did you do to make your study abroad experience unique? What are you hoping to accomplish when you study abroad?
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