As I currently sit in Philadelphia on my 12 hour layover to Barcelona, a lot of things are going through my head. If you asked me what I would be doing a year ago, I wouldn’t have expected the answer to be going on a study abroad journalism trip to Spain to take photos. I would have of course wanted it to be the answer, but I wouldn’t have expected it to be. It sounded too good to be true. From what little information I knew about Spain going into this, there wasn’t much not to be excited about. It’s a beautiful European country with great food, a rich culture and you get to take naps in the afternoon! But beyond all of that, there wouldn’t have seemed much of a reason for me to come a year ago. I wasn’t a journalism major, I wouldn’t have really considered myself a photographer and I wasn’t studying Spanish. However, due to me switching majors, growing and obsession with photography and changing career goals, I now know there isn’t anything else I should be doing.
All I have been doing since the end of the semester is preparing for this trip. When I’m traveling to a new country, I’m less concerned about my packing list than about learning all I can about the place. While I can always run to the store and buy new fuzzy slippers if I’ve forgot mine at home, I cannot go and buy an appreciation for the history and culture of the city; or skills in Spanish or photography. I’ve been reading books, newspapers and past students articles and blogs. I’ve been desperately trying to rekindle my memory from high school Spanish classes through Duolingo. And I have also been, of course, shooting and editing a ton of photos. But there never seems to be enough time to feel fully prepared to value all there is to offer when traveling to a new country. As I look back I have a feeling that maybe I should have been taking Spanish classes for the past four semesters… And I should have also probably watched that 12 hour documentary on the Spanish Civil War… Reading a few more Hemingway novels probably wouldn’t have hurt either… But at some point I just have to take the trip regardless. As I reflect on my last summer’s dialogue in China, the experiences that were the most memorable weren’t necessarily because I read those books about Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek or the Cultural Revolution, or because I had been studying Mandarin. While being prepared is important, the best memories were the unique, amazing, strange and beautiful moments that occurred that I couldn’t have read in books. The best memories were meeting new people, making new friends and exploring a new country firsthand. So even though I would have wanted to learn more about the culture, history and language of Spain before leaving, I look forward at doing my best to go into this exciting trip with an open mind and ready to take in everything that happens.