Leaving My Comfort Zone

Natalie Santa-Pinter is studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain this semester. We’ve been following her journey through a series of blogs – here is her latest update!

March 1, 2016
Well I’ve officially been in Barcelona for 54 days and throughout this time I have learned how to breach the imaginary barrier surrounding my “comfort zone.”

My Spanish has been improving quite a bit since we go over many different tenses and colloquial phrases in the classroom. I practice with the subjunctive, imperative, and present perfect. (Se me da bien español, no?) However, if there is anything I have noticed about learning to SPEAK Spanish in another country, it is that you must SPEAK Spanish in another country. Although hard to do sometimes, I often have to force myself to, even if I know I can get by with English. This takes an intentional and applied commitment.

I meet with Natalia, my college intercambio language exchange partner who is majoring in Biotechnology, and we have had many conversations about science, religion, school, research, and various other things. She teaches me words like beca (scholarship) and investigaciónes (research). We even attended a hospital talk about cancer….even though it turned out to be in Catalan, the more popular language in Barcelona. I’ve also learned a lot about Spain’s healthcare system and attitude towards scientific research. For example, Natalia informed me that contrary to the US, Spain does not heavily promote undergraduate (and graduate) research in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemáticas). Since I am a biochemistry major who has conducted research and promoted STEM throughout my college career, this came as a very interesting surprise to me. It is great that even though I am currently taking classes mostly unrelated to my major, such as Investment Analysis and US History in Western Europe, I still can find opportunities to learn about my deeper interests.


Attending mass back home was such a normal occurrence that it didn’t take much thought to wake up, get dressed, and walk to the TU Catholic Newman Center each Sunday morning. Since coming to Spain, I have made it a point to visit as many different iglesias (churches) as possible. This has been quite difficult, though, as it seems to be near impossible to find accurate mass times online. (This really doesn’t help non-locals!) Nonetheless, I have figured it out by either going directly to the church itself, or by asking the locals. Because of this, I have awed in the beauty of the Basílica Santa Maria del Mar, enjoyed Ash Wednesday service at Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia (Barcelona Cathedral) and attended misa (mass) at the very conveniently located chapel directly across the street from my homestay, called Sant Eugeni I Papa. I brought along an English-Spanish missal from home, and it has helped me really understand and appreciate the Mass so much more. Visiting so many different Spanish churches has been one of the most culturally- and personally-enriching experiences I have taken part in while abroad.


cge-comfort-zoneMy roommate and I went on a limb one day and decided to take a train by ourselves to visit Montserrat, a popular hiking destination where a famous monastery resides. After the one-hour train ride, we arrived at the base of la montaña (the mountain) and took the cable car up to the monastery. We then hiked for nearly two hours to the top of Sant Jeroni, from which the views were absolutely stunning. Endless mountain ranges, blue skies, and rolling greens stretched out in front of us. We ate our packed lunch and conversed with other hikers as we looked out over the horizon. I am so glad we decided to hop on that train to experience the beauty of those landscapes.

Sorry Turkey Mountain. I love you, but you have nothing on Montserrat.