How do you make a city your home? It’s a difficult question to answer as a college student; my uncertain future makes it hard for me to truly settle in a city and form feelings of attachment. As it is, I’m still in the early stages of my summer in Barcelona, but I’ve realized that living in a foreign country has prompted me to find the comforts of home in a way that Bloomington hasn’t. To maintain a peace of mind abroad, I’m determined to find a sense of home during my short stay.
I first noticed this need as I was walking to my friend’s apartment a few afternoons ago. I’d made the walk several times before, but during those initial strolls I didn’t feel 100% confident that I knew where I was going. At some point during my stroll, however, as the sun beat down on my neck and I peered into markets that offered the daily selections of fresh fruit, I became aware of the fact that my feet were guiding me. I followed them to my destination, letting my mind wander and filling with pride and comfort along the way. I was finally able to enjoy my walks without worrying about making a wrong turn or feeling overwhelmed. Even if I did get lost, I knew that I was capable of getting back on the right track.
Familiarizing myself with the city has been my first step at making Barcelona feel like home. It’s a difficult task, one that would take much more than a summer to achieve, but having this goal keeps me motivated to keep exploring the city. At the beginning, all of the streets looked the same to me. Walking down these passages has led me to internalize the particular monuments and define the architectural features of the individual areas, as well as figure out where the major neighborhoods are in relation to one another. Street names in Barcelona are much less important than they are in the States—whenever I’ve asked a local how to get somewhere, she’s offhandedly responded with something like, “go a few streets that way and then make a right next to the yellow building.” This advice, if you can call it that, only becomes helpful when you know the neighborhood that you’re trying to navigate. If I’m not walking, I’m using public transportation, so I made it a top priority to understand the metro lines.
In order to appreciate the different parts of the city and get to know my favorite areas, I’ve adapted a “yes” policy. That is, I’m making it a point to answer in the affirmative whenever anyone asks me to do something that will be either culturally enriching, intellectually stimulating, or otherwise something that I may never have the opportunity to do again. I don’t think I will truly find a niche until I sample as much as I can. Even though I’m not a big sports fan, I spontaneously decided to attend an FC Barcelona game. I conquered my laziness when I hiked the largest mountain in the area, and I unleashed my adventurous side when I got lost in a labyrinth. I’ve foregone my off-and-on-again vegetarianism and tasted some of the best pork I’ve ever had, and used meals as an opportunity to enjoy the presence of others. These little things have added up to shape my perspective of the city.
Every day, I learn something new that shakes my idea of Barcelona. I’m doing all I can to make the most of my time abroad, but the summer semester is short. If I don’t truly find a sense of home while here, it will be okay because I know that I will leave the city feeling like I’d tried to get to know it. My means to meet this goal are certainly memorable enough to justify whatever end concludes my summer abroad.