Barcelona, Spain – The Joys and Jolts of Immersion — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

A special series. Barcelona, Spain – The Joys and Jolts of Immersion — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

IMG_5638[An interior view of La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí was a meticulous architect – everything is a symbol. The pillars are supposed to resemble trees.]

They say bad things occur in groups of three. If such is really the case, I can certainly identify the grouping that made this last week a rough one; the start of the trimester, my laptop breaking (or so I thought), and the strange rash/bug bites that I found one morning and unfortunately still have to look at. It seemed like everything hit me all at once and I found myself beginning to feel incredibly discouraged – more so than I ever anticipated. I’ve never had a issue with confidence thanks to an incredibly supportive upbringing and amazing role models, and I’m a huge advocate of the idea of “faking it ’til you make it”- but this week I felt a pang of self doubt slowly grow with every new challenge I had to face abroad.

IMG_5584[Cafes here have nothing to hide and their food is better for it!]

I realize now that it’s due to the fact that I’ve taken for granted the ease with which I do things at home. If I have a problem, well, first I ask my mom to help me and if I have no luck there, I move on to the next logical step. The point is that with any issue that arises, typically, I know where to go, I know what I need to do, and I know exactly what I need to ask for in order to get the results I desire. The kicker with studying in another country, especially one where the native tongue is not that of your own, is that any process contains many more bumps than it would at home, think: highly inconvenient surprises.

IMG_5631[View from the terrace at the top of MNAC]

Starting classes meant maneuvering a new campus, learning a new system (schedule, expected behaviors, resources, cafeteria, etc.), and many misunderstandings on my part that led to some perhaps unnecessary difficulties. Issues with my laptop meant I had to find an Apple Store, make a ‘reservación’ with their Genius Bar on a website only offered in Catalan, and make the trek uptown trying to find the mall that housed my salvation. A strange set of red bumps on my elbows and chest resulted in a bed bug scare, an ER visit, and a prescription for antihistamines and a hydrocortisone cream. Most of these interactions were carried out in Spanish, I should add and each challenge left me with a growing urge to throw myself the world’s biggest pity party. Had it not been for the support of my loved ones back home and the friends I have here I probably would have gone through with it in grandeur.

IMG_5484[Looking out from the living area of my host mom’s apartment. Spaces here are smaller but used more efficiently.]

What I’ve learned now after having gone through it all is this:
Things are rarely ever as simple as you’d expect.


[Musea Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), is housed in the Palau Nacional and is a fabulous art museum with works ranging from Roman periods up to modern exhibits.]

Life is hard, have you heard? Life abroad is no different, perhaps only a bit more difficult because it’s unfamiliar. After everything was said and done, I came out the other end with a new laptop charger, a prescription, a regained love for language and confidence in my abilities to take care of myself – not to mention a better understanding of Barcelona and it’s metro system. It’s easy to forget how strong we really are when faced with intimidating trials in a new place, but what I’ve found is that it’s never more important to remember your past successes (a kind of mental pep talk?) and that our support systems are there for a reason; to give advice, encouragement, and well, support. The difficulties faced have reminded me of how easy I have it at home and have given me a much better understanding of those pesky tourists that flock to our beautiful city every summer. They’ve also served as a reminder that with every emotion I encounter during my trip, it’s worthwhile to take a minute and identify not only what I’m feeling but where it’s coming from. Am I really drawn to tears by the fact that I have to wait an extra 20 minutes to get help, or is it more so that I haven’t gotten much sleep, I’m going to miss dinner, and it’s interfering with my plans for the night? Overall, they’ve served as a much needed, albeit frustrating, dose of reality and although I would have preferred to have done without it all I do consider myself stronger now having gone through it all.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact chief editor Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under Katherine LaFleur, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

40 responses to “Barcelona, Spain – The Joys and Jolts of Immersion — The North Star Reports – by Katherine LaFleur. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. David Miller

    First i would like to say wow that is very unfortunate with what you have had to go through, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? One of my roommates and my really good friend is studying abroad as well in London, and though he has not had the misfortunes you have had he has the issue with adjusting to a new school and being far away from his support system that he has grown up with. Have a wonderful time studying abroad.

    • Mike Lehmann

      Seems like you are having a good time over there despite all of the many problems, and you are right the problems we deal with here are the same that people deal with over there and abroad. Keep having fun and remember that not knowing what is coming next is half the fun of traveling.

      • Thanks for the well-wishes, Mike and David! And both of you are definitely right, traveling can pack a whole lot of punches but they often become the stories worth telling once we come home!

  2. Carley Henning

    Kudos to you! You are having a once in a lifetime experience that anyone would like to experience for themselves. I myself, want to study abroad someday and reading the article made me want to do it even more. Everyone has struggles but in the long run, you know it will all be worth it!

  3. Kaitlyn Young

    It’s good to read another entry about your journey to Spain! It sounds like you had a rough time, but I agree with you in that you’ve come out stronger having experienced this. I like what you said about things being more difficult when you are in a new place versus being in a place where you are comfortable. Traveling to a foreign country is on the extreme side, but what comes to mind for me is heading to college for the first time as freshman. We entered a new, scary place and had to work to find our place and get comfortable. Good luck to you on the rest of your trip! I look forward to the next entry!

    • Evangelista Chicheko

      Firstly I would like to say sorry for all the rough patches you’ve encountered so far but sometimes it is these experiences that keep us going isn’t it? However, I am glad you are experiencing something new and you’re finding ways of adjusting to the new system, be it school or culture-wise. Sometimes we need those encounters in our lives so that we know how to deal with them because you never know where you might end up being in the world. Best of luck on your study abroad!!

      • Thanks, Evangelista! And Kaitlyn you’re certainly right, heading to college can certainly be compared to traveling as it involved a lot of the same milestones!

  4. nick power

    Congratulations on your success thus far. It is difficult to face the fear of doing things on your own. As a senior I am in a similar process, probably not as difficult as yours since you are in a completely different country. But nonetheless it is nice to hear that someone else is facing a similar process. I wish you continued success and a joyous stay for the rest of your semester.

  5. Karn Pederstuen

    I’m sorry about some of the troubles you have experienced while studying so far! I am planning to study abroad this summer and this article gave me a good idea about some of the challenges I can expect. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time abroad!

  6. Josephine Thao

    I couldn’t agree more with you that when challenges occur, they do come in threes! One of the things that I appreciate about your reflections this past week is how you have learned that the life you live in Spain holds no comparison to the life you had in Duluth. Instead of minimizing the use of space in your host mom’s apartment, you emphasize the efficiency space provides. On a different note, you pointed out that there is an “expected behavior.” It is so wise of you to learn how to adapt to a new environment rather than have others do that for you.

  7. Kyle Hellmann

    Even with all of your troubles, you were still able to move through it and learn from it! It’s a giant learning experience! Hopefully now you can more fully concentrate on your experience now, with all of those misfortune events behind you!

  8. Katy Goerke

    Life is hard, and its travel that makes us realize what luxuries we had before. I’m happy to see that you are surviving, and coping with the language barrier. Enjoy your adventure!

  9. Luke Scharrer

    What an awesome outlook on a not-so-awesome situation. I really like your idea of a mental pep-talk (I’ve done that before) and the photographs you included are beautiful! I’d really like to know more about the architecture and the way people live.

  10. Austin Kindt

    It certainly is true that genetics and environment play a part in our sense of security and self confidence. If you have never been traumatized in your life, then your perspective comes from the vantage point that the world is your oyster. On the other hand if you come from a disadvantaged background where you had to struggle to survive or a disadvantaged genetic makeup, i.e. mental illness or a sense of insecurity, the world doesn’t look so friendly. “Its a beautiful day said the shipwrecked man.” You are either the glass is half full, or the glass is half empty. Nevertheless its a dangerous world as well as a beautiful world and how you perceive it is how you’ll receive it.

    • Very philosophical, and definitely well-suited comment considering the reflection style of this post. Thanks for reading, Austin, and for sharing your view, I completely agree!

  11. Tyler Winkelman

    I’m sorry to hear about your troubles while studying in Spain! The pictures you took are beautiful and makes me really want to study abroad somewhere in Europe! Enjoy your time in Spain!

  12. Bao Vang

    I’m sorry to hear about the issues you came across but I’m so happy for you that you got the opportunity to study aboard! I did a study aboard in Morocco this past December and it was the best life experience ever! You will learn a lot and grow as an individual! I do envy you too. I wish I could be studying aboard at the moment too. Keep your head up and stay strong. Good Luck!

  13. Becca Smith

    Wow you’ve had a pretty rough week! Glad you’ve come out the other side of it doing well. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, but I don’t know any language besides English, so any country that primarily doesn’t speak English is too far out of my comfort zone for now. It’s crazy how much you have to adjust to while you’re in a different country! Many people don’t think about how even the mannerisms and social cues can be drastically different in different places. Good luck with the semester!

  14. I have heard from multiple people that when they go to live in a new country, no matter the time length, it is an experience that completely changes them, humbling them in ways they had never thought possible. It’s an exercise in re-teaching yourself ways in which to interact with others, and can, at times, feel like you’re thrust into a world without any direction, fending for yourself with a lack of language skills and vastly different mannerisms, culture, etc. It causes a lot of stress, but at the same time, it’s a way to learn who you are and find what is truly important to you. What an exciting adventure; keep us updated!

    • Jennifer I could not agree more! Never have I felt such helpless lows and such exhilarating highs of achievement, I am forever reminding myself to stay open to the experiences that come my way!

  15. Hannah Kunde

    What an amazing experience! I don’t think enough people know about the culture, people, and traditions that can be learned from going to a different country. In your quote, “Things are rarely ever as simple as you’d expect.” is a life lesson that takes a lifetime to fully learn. I’ve heard those words from a lot people people who have studied abroad or traveled. I hope you keep updating and I look forward to seeing more of your experiences in Spain.

  16. Donovan Chock

    That’s a wonderful story. I like how your insights could be applicable to anywhere one might travel. You especially make me want to travel to Barcelona some day. A life lesson my grandpa taught me was, “When life is hard, get use to it.” By this he didn’t meant to toughen up, I think he meant to have a change in perspective and overcome it. Kind of like what you did. Which reminds me of another quote, “There is no comfort in growth as there is no growth in comfort.”

  17. Chelsey L

    Wow..I’m glad you were able to make it through with everything that happened. It definitely makes me think how lucky I am for my support at home. I love how you tell your story. I feel you make it so people can understand that’s not greener on the other side and it actually harder which was a good eye opener.

    • Thanks, Chelsey, I’m glad you’re able to take something (anything!) from my stories. Venturing away from our support systems can be terrifying but it’s also a really great way to strengthen our faith in ourselves!

  18. Camila Garcia

    As an international student I understand how it feels to be a tourist in a different country. First you are amazed by the amazing, people, the culture and the unusual food. But after a month or so, it starts the reality and the challenges of being by ourselves and away from family. Although is hard, I think that is an amazing experience that everyone should do once in a lifetime. So far, I have opened my horizons and I have become more mature and self confident.

    • Camila I give you endless applause for being able to study away from your home and loved ones for so long! It’s hardly been 40 days and I’m feeling like a baby the way I miss my loved ones!

  19. Zach Friederichs

    The photo you took of the pillars in La Sagrada Familia is beautiful and makes me wonder of other possible interpretations after discussing architecture yesterday in World History II.

  20. Benjamin Carlson

    Barcelona is such a beautiful city!! In the many twists and turns of life, we have to follow your advise of “fake it ’til you make it!” Two other quotes that come to mind are, “do not ask for smaller burdens, ask for broader shoulders”, and “the challenges we face never get easier, we just get stronger.” I find that these correlate very well and play a role in our daily lives. Good luck with your adventures and do one thing every day that scares you. You’ll be surprise at what you find.

  21. Emily Schiro

    I’m sure it was really difficult to have a positive outlook at the start of your trip. It was very relieving to read on and hear that you are making the best of it. Hopefully things turn around even more and you have a wonderful experience!

  22. Andy Lawrence

    I thought it was hard for living across the country for school. I would have no idea what I would do to be in your case and have to go through all of those hardships and still want to study there. This article gives me the motivation to go through my problems that I have here at school and now I am less worried about school and life in a different state.

  23. Ashley Svihel

    What an inspirational message you gave. Even though you had to go through some tough times, you made it and managed to learn something from it. It seems that times of learning like this always occur when we are down and out. I am glad that everything turned out well for you!

  24. Jenna Algoo

    What a beautifully written article. You are very right, we all need a bit of a reality check with ourselves when times get difficult. Being able to tell ourselves that we are better than we think and we can make it through whatever is happening is a powerful tool. I am very sorry to hear you were having a tough time, though, I am grateful you have so much wisdom to share with the rest of us (sorry for how greedy that sounds!).

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