“What is holding you back from chasing your dreams?”

MaryKate is this year’s recipient for the Sister Mary Catharine Sullivan Award for Global Education.

By: MaryKate McNamara

In January of 2023 I set out on a journey to study abroad in Barcelona, Spain. I went into this adventure excited, nervous, and a bit over packed as I had two suitcases and a backpack stuffed to the brim. This was my first time going abroad and I was doing it all alone. I had no expectations of what anything would be like once I arrived in Spain, I just knew that I would have trouble communicating as I do not speak Spanish.  

As I hopped off the plane, located my luggage, and got into a taxi everything felt so surreal. I met the other students I would be taking the Spanish Art and Culture course with, and I instantly felt a sense of familiarity. Everyone was extremely nice and friendly. We started classes on Monday morning with Professor Samminguel. He was very intelligent and knew how to keep his students engaged and interested throughout the five hours of class time.

Monday night myself and two other girls went to move in with our homestay family. Our homestay family lived in a beautiful three-story house that had a good-sized backyard and large terrace off the second level. This amount of space was very rare for the city. Anna and Xavier were our homestay parents. They were extremely welcoming and caring for the three of us. Although it was difficult for me to communicate with them, we made it work, and they treated me as if I was their own daughter.

Over the course of the two weeks, we had four different professors each with different teaching styles. Professor Samminguel would lecture for two hours then take us on a field trip to various museums, Professor Marta and Professor Catalina would have us meet at a metro stop and we would explore different parts of the city all day, and Professor Georgina would mostly lecture with occasional field trips to different museums.

The main thing each professor had in common was their desire for us to see and experience everything we could in such a short amount of time. Some days after class and on the weekends we would go on excursions with the AIFS study abroad company. They took us to Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia, on a panoramic bus tour, the Montserrat Monastery, on a tapas tour, and to a flamenco show.

During this experience I was able to meet so many new people, try new foods, see beautiful views, and learn so much about a place I knew little to nothing about. It was truly amazing and definitely the best experience I have had in college thus far. In addition to the memories I will forever hold close to my heart, I have formed a new perspective on life in general.

This new perspective is based on the idea that life is precious

  • Everyday must be lived to the fullest.
  • Life should be spent with the people you love doing the things that make you the happiest.
  • Nothing should ever be taken too seriously.
  • Everyone makes mistakes- that is part of being human.
  • Forgive yourself and move on.
  • Always take chances and push yourself out of your comfort zone. That is when you will grow the most.
  • Be present. Put away your phone and go outside.
  • Try new things because you never know what you are missing out on until you try something!
  • Trust yourself.
  • Be open to everyone and everything. Put yourself out there.
  • Never take anything personal. It says more about the other person than it does about you.
  • Be grateful for everything and everyone in your life.
  • Prioritize yourself (mentally, physically, and emotionally) first.

So, if you are reading this and thinking about studying abroad, I challenge you to ask yourself this question: What is holding you back from chasing your dreams? As I sit here typing this, I can wholeheartedly say it was 110% worth every penny, every worry, every tear, every smile, every new friendship, and every memory I made, and I cannot wait for my next trip abroad!


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