“I can’t wait to go abroad,” I told everyone and myself, up until the point I filled out my application and my parents just said no. That was a really hard no - with no ifs, ands or buts, unless I miraculously came up with the 10 grand to travel, all by myself. Completely out of the picture. No part time job, no selling my closet, and no 21st birthday funds would be enough to cover the expenses and earn a solid yes from my parents.
I’ve heard studying abroad is not for everyone, people like myself - an uncultured 20-year-old with come-and-go anxiety and no past traveling experience. I couldn’t argue that one, but that didn’t change my urging desire.
And so I was devastated, as you can imagine. I’d be missing out on traveling Europe with some of my best friends. Stuck in Durham, New Hampshire with my nose in books and covering campus news for the next four months. Travel writing sounded way too good.
Luckily, my best friend pulled back and decided she’d stay the semester too the day applications were due. With the whole, “everything happens for a reason” mentality, things were starting to look up from there, and we decided the best of both worlds would be to visit our six friends in Barcelona on spring break. The trend caught on, and about 15 others in our circle decided to buy their tickets too.
They say Barcelona is the like the party capital of the world - with a big emphasis on consuming bloody mary’s with every lunch and brunch, wine with every dinner and simply not sleeping. Needless to say, by the end of the week I was sure as hell ready to go home - the best eight days of my life, but eight was enough.
They forget to mention the blunt truth when it comes to studying abroad. We see the pictures of what looks like a glimpse of reality: champagne with a view, boat cruises and rooftops; and when asked how it was, there’s no better way to sum up a four month experience than blatantly saying, “It was amazing”. If you wanted to get into it, where would you even begin?
Don’t get me wrong, the pros are limitless: the best clubs you’ll ever step foot in, the cheapest drinks, shopping and views that’ll take your breath away. And yes, I’d still love to find myself in Europe eventually - binge eating the food you only see on Instagram, skiing colossal slopes, and travel blogging the whole ride, but in five years perhaps.
So here’s how it goes...
My best friend and I hopped on the plane, departing from Boston with expectations of simply sightseeing and getting lost in the alleys of the Gothic Quarter every day, sipping wine and sampling every tapa we could get our hands on. When we arrived after 16 hours of travel, it was a pleasant surprise to hear we’d be having a “chill night.” Our plans consisted of pasta and wine at, notoriously, Beyonce’s “favorite restaurant,” and a couple drinks at a bar across the street. Sounded ideal, although I knew I couldn’t keep my eyes open without a coffee or two at the dinner table.
After a couple drinks the group said, fuck it and made the collective decision to finish the night off at one of their favorite clubs. We couldn’t say no. It was the first night all the girls were together in three months - in freaking Barcelona. We had to have a night yet be well enough to explore the city in the morning. You can only imagine how that ended.
Our group split within minutes of entering the mosh pit, and all I could remember was my worried father’s reminders to all stay together, especially at the clubs. “Don’t take drinks from strangers. There’s a lot of creeps out there. You know the drill.” Thirty minutes in, two of my friends are tossing back shots with a close in age, brown-haired stranger, who claims he can’t be in the background of any snapchats because he’s on the Barcelona soccer team and tomorrow’s game day. “Ha ha ha. So we’re getting drugged.” Flash forward another 30, my friend gets a fist to the face by a male security guard for hopping the VIP fence. A freaking punch?! If you haven’t already heard, Barcelona is basically a free-for-all, no rules whatsoever. While weaving my way through the crowd to find the exit, I got a drink thrown to my chest for “pushing” a nasty girl, who then tried to square up and fight. I could not get arrested here. Don’t worry, I didn’t.
“You need a cigarette,” said my friend. And damn right, I smoked that cigarette even though I told myself I’d never get into that.
I knew this was about to be the best, but scariest week of my life.
We ended up surviving, but to my surprise, 4:00 am is considered an early night. The next morning we woke at noon. Brunch started at 2:00, then drinks, dinner at 9:00, pregame at 12:00, club at 1:00. This went on repeat, except the following nights ended at 6:00 am.
We later come to find out that Sketchy Club Guy isn’t on the roster when half the group decided they wanted to attend the big soccer game. The rest of us walked around the city like zombies from the night before. This is when the reality rolled in, and I now understood why everyone either wears sunglasses or looks away from the camera in all Instagram posts. I felt like a bag of asses, but really needed those good pictures. Already, this week wasn’t the classy, relaxing paradise I expected, but the memories were becoming horrifyingly priceless.
Day two, one of my friends comes back without a phone and debit card after the metro ride back from the game. Apparently pickpocketing is a huge thing. We were warned, but little did we know how sly they could be. We learned our lesson and started purchasing cross-body fanny packs after another two got their phones snatched by day four. While answering a call outside the club, another got the necklace ripped off by a boy, no older than 15. Things were progressively getting scarier.
Those without phones were screwed at the clubs when it came to scouting each other out of a sea of people. One of the girls had no way of getting home aside from flagging down strangers to order her a taxi, bribing them by saying she’s alone with no phone and card - everything you don’t do in a foreign country. She winded up sleeping on a random man’s couch because she couldn’t get in. If that was any other man, we’d probably never see her again.
The next night we lost another friend with no phone and no perception of time; we spent two hours searching nearby bars and attempting to get video surveillance which the front desk would not provide to us under any circumstances. Again, they couldn’t care less in Barcelona. Turns out he drunkenly thought everyone left for the club without him, so he hung out in the mosh pit alone for four hours. Amen.
To wrap things up...
Throughout the week there wound up being several obvious attempts at us girls being sex-trafficked, creeped on and eyed down as pickpocketing prey. One of us ended up in the emergency room for intoxication related reasons. From time to time we couldn’t piece together the night. We slept four to a bed on three occasions. There was some bickering and crying, water deprivation, bruises, cold showers, over tiredness and of course, cigarettes.
Somehow, I have to say, Barcelona has a piece of my heart. In the midst of it all I ended up making an appearance to every must-see site, some beautiful views that overlooked the city and a whole ton of shops. I spent $1,500. Worth every penny.
So, after eight days of what felt like 10 years were taken off my life, I was ready to go home.
Leaving the club at 5:00 a.m. to make to the airport by 6:00 sounded like fun and games until we missed our flight back to Boston - there went another $1,000. That can be saved for another story.
Like I mentioned about the reality: nothing besides the experiences like these will do the journey it justice. My posts might’ve been outside breathtaking monuments and rooftop pools, but I was really hanging on by a thread. Maybe if you zoom in you could tell. This, this right here is the real deal, but only a small fraction of it. If you get lucky enough to study abroad, great. If you don’t, that’s okay. And if you decide to visit friends like mine, good luck.
The pissing competition when we got back from spring break was comical - lots of weird brags about how Punta Cana was “way scarier” of a shit show than Miami, vice versa. We just laughed. This all made me question how the hell my friends did this for a semester. Absolute troopers. But now I must say, I no longer hate my parents for driving “no” into my ear when I wanted to go abroad, but I still won’t give them that satisfaction. I’ll give them the party line: “It was amazing.” That’s all they need to know.