architecture

Why You Should Actually "Study" When You Study Abroad

In honor of just finishing up finals here in Barcelona (yes I know I'm leaving in a week, no you shouldn't bring it up), I wanted to do a little bit of a reflection post about why actually studying and learning while you're abroad are so important. 

The thing to understand if you decide to come abroad is to not expect to just be partying and living it up the entire time. Sure, it might be "the best semester of your life," but partying and going to the club every night are not the reason why.

The other thing to understand is that when I say "studying" and "learning," when you're abroad this doesn't just take place in the traditional classroom setting. Some of it does, but most of it actually happens on your own.

You control how much you learn and experience the world around you, which is something I want to convey in this post. So, without further ado, here's ten reasons why you should actually "study" when you study abroad.

 

1. You might actually learn a new language

If Ben Stiller can do it, so can you!

If Ben Stiller can do it, so can you!

Nothing can quite compare to studying a foreign language in a foreign country that actually speaks that language. You can take as many Spanish classes in college as you want, but unless you go out and actually practice the language every day, you'll never fully understand it or be fluent in it.

When you study abroad (in a foreign language-speaking country), you have the opportunity to go out and practice a new language every day for a semester or longer. You also have the opportunity to take classes in that language. Even if you're in the lowest level speaking course, chances are that most of the class will be taught in that language. You can't get that kind of immersion anywhere else, so take advantage of it. 

 

2. You'll learn about the country you're staying in

Photo courtesy of viajerosmadeinspain.com.

Photo courtesy of viajerosmadeinspain.com.

News flash, you're living in a foreign country for at least a few months. That country is different from your home country in about a trillion ways. A lot of the classes offered on study abroad programs are art, history, architecture or other subjects relating to that country. 

Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of learning about the country you're living in? Seems like a no brainer to me. Even if you don't like some of those subjects traditionally, give them a shot. You might find that you actually like them because of the way the class is taught (which is often the case in foreign countries) or because you get to see the subject up close every day when you walk around your city and can see what you're learning all around you.

Making those connections from what you learn in the classroom to the world around you is the best way to take more than a new drinking game away from your study abroad experience.

 

3. YOUR GRADES MIGHT ACTUALLY COUNT

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Might be a wake-up call to some people, but depending on the program you're on while you're abroad, those classes that you didn't ever go to might actually count toward your GPA back home. Pretty simple if you ask me. 

If you don't go to class, don't do any of your work and generally have an attitude of "I don't care, f– it," you might find that your GPA has taken a major hit when you get back. The bigger problem with that is that there's no one else you can blame beside yourself. So, suck it up, go to class regularly and you'll do just fine.


4. You'll meet new people

Yeah, two Will Ferrell gifs back to back. So what? He's a funny dude. Gif courtesy of edgaralanfrog.tumblr.com.

Yeah, two Will Ferrell gifs back to back. So what? He's a funny dude. Gif courtesy of edgaralanfrog.tumblr.com.

One of the best parts about going abroad is that you're constantly meeting new people, almost every single day. They could be other people on your program, from your own school or different people from all over the world and that's pretty cool. You aren't going to meet all of those new people if you're holed in your apartment all day or hanging out/going out with the same people all the time. 

In actuality, a great place to meet a bunch of new people is in your classes. Hard to believe, I know, but if you go to class and make an effort to talk to different people each time, you'll end up making a bunch of new friends. 

 

5. traveling is learning, too

Photo courtesy of uproxx.com

Photo courtesy of uproxx.com

It might not be the most traditional way to learn, but trust me that when you're taking one of your weekend trips somewhere, you're immersing yourself into a whole other culture. Even if you don't experience every museum or cultural activity a city or country has to offer, you still pick up on cultural cues and differences without even realizing it.

Then, your brain does this amazing thing where it actually compares and contrasts those cultural differences and cues with other ones you've experienced in your travels and with the ones from your home country. So, even if you decide to blow off a class to catch a flight you booked (sometimes while sitting in that same class), you're actually still studying another culture and constantly learning.

6. EMPLOYERS LIKE IT

Gif courtesy of pinterest.com.

Gif courtesy of pinterest.com.

Believe it or not, a ton of employers place great value on potential employees who have studied abroad and actually have something to show for it. It's one thing to put on your resume that you studied abroad in Spain for four months, but it's another thing entirely to be able to articulate and explain your experience.

It gives you more anecdotes for interviews. You can explain how living in a foreign country actually helped you learn independence, how to overcome various obstacles, how to break out of your shell and how all the things you learned make you the best candidate for the job. 

If you can relate your experiences abroad to prospective employers in an effective way, they'll think really highly of you and your application.

 

7. you'll be more organized

Ok, maybe not. Gif courtesy of Reddit.

Ok, maybe not. Gif courtesy of Reddit.

Even if you think classes aren't as difficult when you're studying abroad*, you're actually juggling a bunch of different things at once. You have to go to class and make sure you keep up with your work, but you also want to hang out with friends, explore your host city and country and travel as much as you can. It's a demanding schedule that really requires you to budget your time effectively.  

Also, all that traveling helps you to figure out important life skills along the way such as how to actually pack for a weekend away without your mom's help and how to budget your time when you're taking a trip somewhere and want to see all the sights but only have a certain amount of time.

Again, not learning that occurs in the classroom, but still important.

*Important side note: This is absolutely not the case. If you're studying abroad just to take easy classes, you're going to find yourself out of luck. Just like any other school, there are some classes that are easier than others, but there are still plenty of challenging classes that you might find yourself in.

 

8. you'll understand the value of time

No time for BS here. Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

No time for BS here. Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Going along with the organization and time management I just talked about (see number five right above if you already forgot), studying abroad helps you make the most of the time you have. A lot of classes abroad have hours that you may not be used to. For example, I had classes twice a week at the ungodly hour of 9am. I also had a four-hour Spanish class twice a week.

These might not be things that you're used to at your home college or university, but they do exist abroad. But, you learn to live with them. You actually might come to find that you like getting your day started earlier because it helps you be more productive the rest of the day. Or you might learn not to drink as much the night before you have a four-hour Spanish class. Things I couldn't seem to get a hang of, but you might!

As I touched on in the organization point also, you'll learn how to plan trips. So, you've only got 72 hours in Rome? No problem. Besides reading my weekend guide to Rome, you'll learn to plan the trip hour-by-hour just so you can see everything. That's an important skill to have that you can only learn if you travel a lot when you go abroad.

 

9. you'll understand the value of a dollar, euro or whatever

Gif courtesy of inc42.com.

Gif courtesy of inc42.com.

One thing that becomes extremely apparent very early when you're studying abroad is that you're spending a butt-ton of money. If you haven't learned to budget your money in college, you sure as hell better learn when you study abroad.

Studying abroad also gives you familiarity with the values of other currencies and their relations to each other. You'll find yourself looking at exchange rates and analyzing economies more than you usually do just because you want to know the best time to go to the ATM so that you have enough money to eat, travel, shop, buy alcohol and go out at night.

Of course it helps when your parents are helping to finance your study abroad experience, but you should still work out a system with them, beginning before you go. You should talk about and agree on a weekly/monthly budget and you should do your best to stick to that budget. If you do, minus a splurge here and there, you'll be fine.

Again though, this is an experience that occurs outside of the classroom and often without you even realizing it's happening. However, it ends up being another extremely important life skill that you can learn really easily by studying abroad and paying attention.

And, most importantly...

10. you'll learn about yourself

And he's 3/3 on the Will Ferrell gifs. Nailed it. Gif courtesy of confessions-of-a-barbie.tumblr.com. (Also, no, I did not actually visit that tumblr page.)

And he's 3/3 on the Will Ferrell gifs. Nailed it. Gif courtesy of confessions-of-a-barbie.tumblr.com. (Also, no, I did not actually visit that tumblr page.)

That's right, time to get #deep. When you study abroad, you're placing yourself into a situation that you've most likely never found yourself in before. You're living in a foreign country, you might not know anyone, there could be a language barrier and there will be a bunch of problems and obstacles along the way that you never thought you would have to face.

It forces you to do a lot of growing up and finding yourself in a very short period of time. By the end though, you'll emerge a completely different person than when you started. Not in a bad way, you're just more mature because you've faced all of these new challenges. Sure, they might have seemed scary or daunting at the time, but now little things like doing your own laundry don't even phase you. 

I guarantee you will end up meeting some incredible people along the way and some of those people are right by your side, experiencing all these new things with you. That means you'll almost never have to face things alone.

You'll look back on your study abroad experience as some of the best times of your life, and that's because you took the time to study, learn and to get to know yourself and the amazing world in which we get to live each and every day. 

 

 

My Wild Day at La Sagrada Familia (The Church of the Holy Family)

If you're not familiar with La Sagrada Familia, then you're wrong. Just kidding, but you're seriously missing out. La Sagrada Familia is widely regarded as one of the largest (when it's finished) and most beautiful churches in the world. That's right, the world.

Unfortunately, as I just pointed out, it's not finished yet. However, a 60-minute documentary informed me it will be in about 13 years or so, give or take a few more architectural issues in interpreting brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí's designs.

While I'm not trying to give you a complete history lesson here, even though I could because I love history but realize that a lot of my readers give zero shits, allow me to give you some background. You see, Antoni Gaudí was a/the most brilliant architect in Barcelona (also debatably in Spain and the entire world) and was a genius whose style was at least a century before his time.

He was obsessed with nature and had a deep Biblical connection to the world around him. La Sagrada Familia, the famous church you've probably seen in photos when googling Barcelona, is his masterpiece, even though he knew there was no chance it would be finished in his lifetime.

Still more tragic, his life was cut short when he was hit while crossing the street. He was dressed simply because he only cared about the church in the final years of his life. Thus, he was mistaken for a homeless man and the driver that hit him left him on the side of the road to die. He was later found and recognized as the brilliant architect, taken to a hospital for the poor and died there a few days later.

There's a shit-ton more I could tell you about the church and Gaudí but you guys aren't here for that. You're here to find out what inevitably went down when I was visiting said church. Of course something had to happen, it's just my luck that I happened to be in the right place at the right time in this instance. But, let's break things up with our first photo of the iconic outside of the church for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about:

This is called the "Birthing Facade" and depicts the birth of Jesus. The facade on the other side, which you might think looks similar because of the towers, actually depicts Jesus' crucifixion and death. Gaudí only lived to see part of this facade completed. The other facade is much newer. Photo by Max Siskind.

This is called the "Birthing Facade" and depicts the birth of Jesus. The facade on the other side, which you might think looks similar because of the towers, actually depicts Jesus' crucifixion and death. Gaudí only lived to see part of this facade completed. The other facade is much newer. Photo by Max Siskind.

I had my audio tour headset in and dangling around my neck along with my Nikon D3200 to snap every single angle I could see. I was basically strangling myself because all the straps and cords were completely tangled. But remember, I did this all for you guys, so it's basically your fault. By association, you almost strangled me. Thanks. 

Also, I looked like the biggest dork/tourist ever. None of my newly acquired abroad friends wanted to be seen with me. And that's ok guys, I forgive you. I'm just kidding, they all looked exactly like I did, minus the bulky camera.

As it turns out though, I still took some dope-ass photos that I would love to share with you. The problem is, I took over 300. Sorry, I'm not sorry. Lucky for you, I was able to narrow it down a little bit to give you guys an accurate impression of one of, if not the, most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life so far. Let's break this up with one more photo before I tell you the crazy story of my day:

One of the first photos I took of the inside of the church. Gaud í wanted the main columns to resemble trees to make worshipers feel like they were praying in a forest. That's where he believed man was closest to God. Photo by Max Siskind.

One of the first photos I took of the inside of the church. Gaudí wanted the main columns to resemble trees to make worshipers feel like they were praying in a forest. That's where he believed man was closest to God. Photo by Max Siskind.

Ok, so now that you've got a little taste of what I saw, let me tell you what really happened that awakened the journalist within me. You see, as I was walking around the interior of the church, completely awestruck and in a daze, something nuts went down.

A man, shirtless, jumped the velvet ropes surrounding the main seating area of the church, where people sit to pray and reflect. The man proceeded to sprint up the aisle and he jumped onto the main alter of the church.

That's right, the same place where Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and declared the church a basilica back in 2010. The man then got into his best "paint-me-like-one-of-your-french-models" pose on top of the alter.

The man was then immediately tackled by security and police, covered up and escorted out. I snapped a few photos of the aftermath that I'll share with you, but they're blurry because they were yelling at people with cameras and I didn't want to end up in a Spanish prison, so enjoy:

The man being tackled and apprehended. Photo by Max Siskind.

The man being tackled and apprehended. Photo by Max Siskind.

The man being carried out by police and security. Photo by Max Siskind.

The man being carried out by police and security. Photo by Max Siskind.

They took the man to this area by the "Death Facade" entrance to the church and roped off the area like so. Photo by Max Siskind.

They took the man to this area by the "Death Facade" entrance to the church and roped off the area like so. Photo by Max Siskind.

They told everyone to leave that area, so I went back inside the church, went around the side and there was a door with some windows. I looked through and snapped this shot. Shortly after, they placed a bunch of black tarps around that area and added more security around that area and the whole building. Photo by Max Siskind.

They told everyone to leave that area, so I went back inside the church, went around the side and there was a door with some windows. I looked through and snapped this shot. Shortly after, they placed a bunch of black tarps around that area and added more security around that area and the whole building. Photo by Max Siskind.

Shortly after that incident, life in the church returned to normal. I slipped back into my awestruck mode, snapped about 100 more photos and then we proceeded onto our tower tour. If you're coming to Barcelona and want to see La Sagrada Familia, I extremely recommend you go into one of the towers, it is one of the best parts.

Proof that going up the towers is the bomb.com. You can see all the way to the mountains...

Proof that going up the towers is the bomb.com. You can see all the way to the mountains...

...and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Photos by Max Siskind.

...and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Photos by Max Siskind.

While the spiral staircase down is a bitch and a half, the elevator up is nice, you get to see those awesome views I just showed you and it only adds about 2 euros or so to your visit. Which, by the way, is very reasonably priced.

If you say you're a student on the La Sagarada Familia website, it should run you about 20 euros for the audio tour, entrance to the main church and a visit up one of the towers. Not too shabby if you ask me.

I'm glad I could share this with all of you and I hope it inspires you to see this incredible work of art/architecture. While I'm not Christian, I still apprecited how the church tells the story of the Bible in each and every ornamental detail.

Even though a lot of Gaudí's original molds that he left as a guide to future generations were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War, I like to think that the current architects and designers are fulfilling his legacy in the way that he wanted most.

Let's finish things up with a slideshow of more of the good photos that I have from my visit a little over a week ago. If you want to see more, make sure you click the "Contact" tab, send me a shout on Twitter or Instagram, or email me at studyabeard@gmail.com. I'll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.