A semester in Spain gave this student essential life skills and much more

Visiting a new country is so much more than just inspiring travel envy on Instagram. It’s about exploring different cultures, languages and ways of life. It’s about challenging yourself to step out of your comfort zone while experiencing life as a global citizen – things that will help prepare you for your future in a world that’s becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected.

Just ask Ainsley Girvan. Ainsley is a Criminology student who is finishing up a semester at UVic-UCC, in Barcelona/Vic, Spain, as part of a Douglas College exchange program. Here’s what she has to say about her experience:

Challenge accepted

The main reason I chose to go on exchange was to challenge myself to live abroad. I wanted to experience everything that came with being in a different country: language, culture, food, lifestyle, etc. I also figured that having this chance to live/study in Spain would never be offered again, so I had to take it while it was available!

Ainsley chills in Spain with a newfound pal.

Step out of your comfort zone

Having the time, space and energy to figure out who I am has been the most rewarding aspect thus far. I’ve met insanely amazing people from all over the world who are now lifetime friends. I haven’t personally experienced that at Douglas; I never stopped to really talk to the person next to me or bothered making new friends. But when you’re in a new place, you have no choice but to branch out. I’ve learned that I have to put myself in uncomfortable positions in order to make friends and even order food!

Read more: How the Italy field school changed this Creative Writing student’s life.

If this is what an exchange program looks like, sign us up!

Not lost in translation

The language barrier was the most challenging aspect of my exchange. I knew that Barcelona/Vic was in Catalonia and that they spoke Catalan. However, I didn’t even bother to consider that menus, street signs, emails and conversations would be in Catalan. Barcelona is very touristic, so almost everything is in English and most businesses have English speakers. But not in Vic! Things are primarily Catalan and most people don’t speak English.

An education in adaptation

At Douglas, I study Criminology; however, in Spain (Vic), that program doesn’t exist. I took it as an opportunity to explore a different program: Business and Communications. I’ve taken classes like Conflict Resolution, Internal Communications and Spanish and Catalan. Learning two new languages undoubtedly will be valuable, and Conflict Resolution will help in whatever career I choose. Every class and every day, I’ve been able to take something positive and apply it in some way, shape or form towards my education! 

One of the highlights for Ainsley was making new buds aka “insanely amazing people” from around the world.

The benefits are huge

My dream job would be to work for the Government of Canada. If I could become a diplomat or some sort of government official that would be amazing! But I would also consider working for the Red Cross, regardless of what path I end up choosing. Living in Spain has been extremely beneficial for either career. Catalonia is experiencing deep political issues. There have been countless strikes, protests and demonstrations. There was a week in October when Catalonian leaders were sentenced to 13 years in prison, and classes were cancelled. I’ve gained more knowledge of Spain’s political conflicts and struggles, the history of their languages and a clearer understanding of their lifestyles. Now, I can tell future employers that I studied abroad in a country where I didn’t speak the language. I’ve developed tools for how to learn more effectively, how to better work in groups and how to communicate with people who don’t speak my language.

Read more: Thinking of studying abroad? You could be eligible for up to $5,000 in scholarships

Now it’s your turn

I highly recommend everyone do a semester abroad! It will be the most rewarding experience you will ever have, from meeting new people, to seeing different places and tasting new foods, it will all be worth it. I know it sounds  basic, but it’s so true! I’ve tried amazing Catalan dishes that I might never find in Canada and I’ve seen breathtaking beaches in Ibiza, Mallorca and along the Barcelona coastline. But the biggest thing I could never have gotten by staying in Coquitlam would be meeting my newest and closest friends from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, France, Brazil, Austria and many other places around the world!

Ready to take on the world? Discover all your study abroad options at Douglas College, including exchanges, field schools and summer programs.

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