It’s a strange thing, when your program comes to an end. With term papers and finals looming like any other summer session, all 60-70 of us poured over our notes and our computer screens, trying to make up for the lost time that we all spent going out on the town or spending time around Cambridge when we probably should have been studying.
But hey, it’s not every day one gets to experience a city (and country) that is not their own, and we all knew that we were there for more than just the opportunity to study at Cambridge; we were there to experience something new, something exciting, and make it something we would never forget.
It wasn’t easy leaving the cobblestone streets and buildings older than the United States behind, but those moments of realization of end make us appreciate what we’ve experienced, even in such a limited time. The knowledge that there’s a chance I may never see some of the wonderful people I met overseas again is a sad one, but it’s also realistic. It’s all part of it.
And now I’m concluding my week-long stay in Barcelona, where the sun, humidity and narrow streets of this Catalonian city have started to feel like yet another familiar place to me. Before I knew it, I was cruising around town using the metro system and helping people find streets when they were lost. My Spanish is still pretty terrible, but being able to use it has been all part of the experience, even if the primary language spoken here is Catalan.
Between the sea (not the ocean, I had to remind myself), the packed and bustling La Rambla, the narrow and old streets of the barrio gótico and el Born, the sweeping cityscapes atop Montjuïc and Parc Güell, it was something that I’ll never forget. Being someone that could barely navigate my way around the Irvine Spectrum or South Coast Plaza a few months ago, I surprised myself with how confidently I was able to get around and plan out my days.
For anyone planning on traveling to the UK or Barcelona anytime soon, I’m going to list a few highlights that I think are most definitely worth seeing while abroad.
1) Edinburgh, Scotland. By far my favorite city that I experienced during the trip. The amazing architecture, friendly locals, beautiful features and the nightlife are all worth seeing. Not to mention, the Scottish Parliament, Scottish National Gallery and Arthur’s Seat hike are all must-see attractions.
2) Cambridge, England. Seems obvious, I know, since I spent my time studying there, but the sheer amount of history embedded into the city and the history of the university is worth looking into. Pembroke College (the college that hosted the program) is open to visitors, so you could pop in and take a look at the extremely well-kept lawns and old, brick buildings that have held some of the greatest scholars in all of the Western world. It’s the third-oldest college in Cambridge. Also, don’t forget to take a punting tour on the river!
3) Norwich, England. While most of my classmates took their free weekend out to Paris or London, I went into the east of England to explore their biggest city. Once the second-largest city only to London, the sheer amount of buzz around the city center is quite astounding; there are several marketplaces, large department stores, places like Primark and Topshop and the like for everyone to find something they love. Also, a walk along the river to look at the shops and grab something to eat is something that shouldn’t be missed out on while visiting.
4) While in Barcelona, I found the places that are more off the beaten path to be the most exciting. A look into the gothic quarter at the old walls of the city and cathedrals was surprising and also interestingly placed among the rest of the city, which is much newer and developed. Montjuïc (a broad hill overlooking the city) contains the Olympic park and stadium used during the 1992 Summer Olympics and also some of the best views of the entire city.
While I may be leaving Europe, it’s left me with a desire to explore more of what I consider familiar; that is, to see the cities in California and the rest of the States in much the same fashion as I experienced the ones here. It’s easy to overlook what we have right in front of us until we see other places, and it only hit me halfway through the trip that I haven’t thoroughly explored anywhere in the U.S. really (except perhaps Lancaster and Palmdale, where I grew up) as much as I have places over the Atlantic Ocean.
And with that, I’m excited to come back to where the sun will be shining, I can use my phone whenever I want and make cash withdrawals without getting charged a fee (because I’m dumb and didn’t get those travel cash cards or whatever they are). It’s always the little things that we notice the most. See you soon, California.