Barcelona is a easily one of my favorite places to relax and slow down after months of being pressured to meet impossibly strict deadlines. There’s plenty of stunning architecture to explore thanks to famed architect, Antoni Gaudi and many scenic viewpoints to just bask in the glory that is the wonderful weather and lively culture.


Sagrada Familia – Carrer de Mallorca, 401
Personally, I think the Sagrada Familia is the most magnificent construction site. Designed by Catalan Modernist architect, Gaudi, it’s been in construction since March 1882 and its projected finish date is 2026. When you visit, you’ll understand why. While the sheer size coupled with intricate designs sort of justify the immensely long construction period, the Spanish civil also played a minor role in delaying progress.

Thankfully, the basilica is kept open for viewing. Reserve tickets for around sunset and witness a kaleidoscope of sunlight that pour through the stained glass windows.

Hours: 9:00- 20:00
Tickets (Good only for a reserved entrance time)
€ 15.50 (unguided, might be cheaper if you ask for student discount)
€ 19.50  (with guide or audio guide)


Top floor of Casa Batllo is modeled after bones

Casa Batllo – Passeig de Gràcia, 43
Casa Batllo is another masterpiece by Gaudi who refurbished the building in 1906 and took inspiration from the ocean and beaches in Barcelona. He masterfully incorporates a number of optical illusions, uses evidence of biomimicry and tests the limits of construction. This space highlights his knowledge of light and his skill in manipulating it.

I highly recommend spending the time to take the cellphone tour and experience a well implemented use of augmented reality .

Hours: 9:00- 19:00
€ 21.50  (adult)
€ 18.50  (students with student ID)


Santa Maria del Mar, Santa Maria del Mar, 1
Modest but enchanting Santa Maria del Mar has a perfect rooftop view of the city with knowledgeable tour guides to give you a brief but dense history of the city’s landscape.

Hours: 13:00 – 17:00 (no guide)
11:00- 19:00 (with guide and rooftop view)
Tickets: €8


La Boqueria – La Rambla, 91
This outdoor market is packed full of fruits, fresh fish, chocolates, meats, juices, spices, and classic Barcelona food. Locals and chefs come to pick up ingredients from butchers and fruit stands. For a quick and cheap lunch, pay a visit and be pleasantly surprised by the vibrant colors and fresh flavors.

Hours: 8:00 – 20:30
Free to enter, but you’re likely to purchase some sort of food

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Castle Montjuic

Castle Montjuic – Ctra. de Montjuïc, 66
A former military fortress in 1640, Castle Montjuic now offers a stunning view of the endless ocean on one side and the city on the other.

Hours: 10:00 – 20:00
Tickets: €5 (Student discount eligible)

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Barceloneta Beach

Barceloneta Beach
After a long day of walking all over the city, the best way to rest your legs is to recline on the beach and feel the ocean breeze. If you’re feeling peckish, there are plenty of seafood restaurants nearby.


Looking up at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Magic Fountain of Montjuic – Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc
On the steps just outside the Museum of Art was yet another wonderful view of the city at night. Most night you can view the city lights while being serenaded by a charismatic street performer with nothing else but a electric keyboard and prerecorded beats. However, every Thursday through Saturday night there’s a water musical treat as provided by the Magic Fountain. It’s a bit flashy and Vegas-like if you’re into that sort of thing.

Hours: Thurs – Sat night shows, 9:30pm – 11 pm

Other Places
I only had three days to explore Barcelona and I know I barely scratched the surface. If you’re lucky to spend more time in this wonderful city, I would recommend checking out the following:

Palau de la Musica Catalana – Palau de la Música, 4-6
This theater is another piece of stunning Barcelona architecture. The architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, was a contemporary of Gaudi and another architect star of Catalan Modernism. Orchestra concerts are still being held in the venue and in the daytime it is open to the public for viewing. It is located in the oldest part of Barcelona so the nearby buildings and streets are steeped in history. 

Hours: 9:00- 20:00
Tickets: €18
55 minute tours every 30 minutes (ticket office hours: 8:30 – 18:00)

Estadi Olímpic de Montjuic Lluís Companys – Paseo Olímpico, 17-19
Just behind the National Museum of Art is Barcelona’s Summer Olympic stadium from 1992.

Hours: 8:00 – 20:00
Tickets: free




Italy | Northern Italy

One of the highlights of the curriculum of my study abroad class was the weekly field trips every Friday. Our class bus rides that last up to a couple hours allowed for group bonding time by playing various games (heads up, snaps is the name of the game the name of the game is snaps, contact, and an assortment of riddles). Fridays we took educational tours of areas around northern Italy to art museums and on weekends we went about our own excursions around and in Milan. trento

In my opinion, Trento had the best food of all the cities in Northern Italy I visited. Because of it’s close proximity to Austria, the food has a strong Germanic influence. I regret not taking photos or taking the time to learn the names of the food I ate because I liked those plates completely clean! All my photos of Trento are of the eerily quiet development area, these police man in the photo above, and a few video clips from the tunnel turned museum on the side of the mountain.

The Vittoriale is absolutely beautiful beyond belief. The moment we stepped off the bus, we felt like we were at a dreamy resort. Had we died and gone to heaven? I don’t know. We took a tour of Gabriele D’Annuzio’s mansion because we had just read his classic Italian novel, Pleasure. The house was overflowing and overwhelming full of trinkets and replicas of famous art. The air was dusty, the lighting was dim, and his decor was opulent. Unfortunately photographs were not permitted during the tour so I have no examples of my own to show, but in all honesty only the full effect of being in his unhumble abode will do it justice.

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After the Vittoriale, we visited Lake Garda, the bluest lake I’ve seen. The swans floated along the shore unfazed by the people wading in the shallow end or sunbathing on the dock. I opted out of swimming but I hear the rocks are not particularly kind to the bottoms of people’s feet. Instead of stuck my feet in the water and enjoyed the scenery that was capturing my heart.

My experience with Lake Como really can only be explained in three parts: the ferry ride, the swim and the journey home. Each were such separate experiences. The commute to Lake Como should theoretically only take two hours from Milan but due to our lack of research, we ended up on a four hour ferry ride to arrive at the destination of Bellagio (not without lots of negotiation with the captain of the ferry to let us off the hook for purchasing the wrong tickets of course).

After rounds of MASH, Aperol Spritz and looking for George Clooney’s lake house (which is largely covered in trees), we docked at Bellagio and bounded off, with no destination in mind. Our quest for a good beach continued for forty-five minutes to two hours (I lost track of time a while back into the trip) as we wandered aimlessly. We considered giving up and turning back several times before we stumbled upon a festival with a semi-secluded dock where people could swim. I cannot report back where exactly we ended up, what festival we decided to crash and much else about Lake Como other than to urge everyone to do their research before embarking on an adventure. Though the day did end well with a blissful two hours spent on a dock with watching friends jump into the water, great food and barely making it back to Milan (sprinting to the last ferry and train was an experience), it was also stressful, expensive and very dependent on good luck.

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Vicenza didn’t get the attention it deserved from me. My thoughts were shrouded in excitement for the train to Venice we had to catch later that day when I should have been admiring Teatro Olimpico (a theater that utilizes forced perspective on the stage to give the illusion of a greater space in a tight room) and La Rotonda (a truly marvelous villa also designed by Palladio).

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Bar for Aperitivo, watching the July Palio from Milan

When in Italy, make sure you go to Aperitivo one day or another. The idea of Aperitivo is some light snacks and an alcoholic drink (nonalcoholic drinks are delicious options also) to whet the appetite around 5 to 7pm prior to dinner. The photo above is from the day our TF Sarah invited us to have Aperitivo with her and watch the July Palio to give us a taste of what our life in Siena will be like. Needless to say we were energized by the experience.

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Milan Metro

The Milan metro was so central to my experience. It was the most convenient way to get around, something other people who live in New York or Chicago might overlook but being homegrown in California and now residing Los Angeles, I’ve grown to appreciate well designed and safe forms of public transportation.

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Main metro station in Milan

Residence Pola was the apartments we stayed at for our time being in Milan. Mama Pola, a warm lady with a deep smoker’s voice, is the manager of this little gem. The tiny room I shared with Kristina had warm pink walls and royal blue accent chairs. Our kitchen was largely dysfunction and cramped. Our bathroom had these faux hand painted tiles that make a dizzyingly intricate pattern. Our air conditioning barely worked but at least we had a little and I had trouble opening our door, which meant frequently getting stuck outside and asking Kristina, the great door opener, to let me in. Our place was not usually a place for gathering unless we were planning trips like Venice or Budapest. The small blue room was reserved for more social events.

pink walls
dysfunctional kitchen

The Milan Expo was simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Perhaps the underwhelming affect came from not willing to shell out money to try to delicious food and the crash I was feeling from touring the Duomo and surrounding areas from earlier in the day. The sheer size of the entire exposition was overwhelming. Each country that participates builds their own impressively designed building to house some sort of personal presentation ( a walk through different types of local plants from Bahrain versus flashy, high tech Korea). Not everything was impressive, though much of it was. What I found particularly interesting was analyzing how different governments wanted to portray their country to foreigners and the type of messages (or propaganda) they want to send out. Please be mindful when going through, since the expo is largely government and corporation funded, these are the voices that are showcased in the Expo.

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Sunset at Milan Expo

Milan | Porta Genova

Porta Genova was my first destination in Milan. Immediately coming out of the metro station, I was struck by the beauty that was the string lights zig zagging above the streets, warming up the bustling, authentic restaurants. A bit further down the street I admired the Navigli Canals that ran through the area.

Canal at Porta Genova

Porta Genova’s charm lies in the dichotomy of its old architecture and cobblestone streets juxtaposed to the forward thinking concept stores and thriving art scene. This is where the young locals come to hang out in the evening, with good reason too! The food around Porta Genova is consistently delicious, the fashion is cutting edge and the atmosphere is buzzing with life. Here is where I found my favorite gelateria in Milan and food market.

Dogs everywhereGelato Artigianale – 15 Via Vigevano
My favorite gelato shop is based solely on the fact that this gelateria has the most amazing, creamy rose gelato. The other flavors are creamy and well made too but the rose is to die for. It was the first and last gelato I had in Milan and I was so relieved to have found it again on my last day here. The name was generic and the shop was virtually unsearchable on the internet so my mission here is to finally give it an internet presence.

Best Rose Gelato

Gelato Shop

Mercato Metropolitano – Via Valenza, 2
What was once a train station warehouse now turned into a foodies’ dream, this place is the perfect place to grab a bite if you have a bit more to spend. The Mercato Metropolitano is a new development (it only opened May of 2015) meant to revive the train station area. It used to be a neglected area but it became an upscale, hipstery, youthful place to hang out ( a familiar concept nowadays). The food is absolutely delicious, fresh and of the highest quality.

Mercato Metropolitano

By the bread shop

Concept Stores 

Milan is littered with cool shops with very exclusive high end fashion and near Porta Genova is no exception. One of the most memorable stores we took on our fashion tour was to Nonostante Marras (Via Cola di Rienzo 8), a one part art gallery one part showroom hybrid tucked away in a courtyard. The store used to be located in a busier shopping street in Milan but was then located to a hidden spot so only those who were in the know could use it as a meeting up for other creatives. The showroom not only exhibits Antonio Marras’s conversation starting fashion pieces, but the store routinely has art exhibits woven into the magical space. When I visited in late June, the store had a bread themed exhibit showing off photographs, sculptures, poetry and more.

Nonostante Marras

The office space for Nonostante Marras

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Concept store in Milan

Milan | Duomo

Being the materialistic person I am, I loved the area surrounding the Duomo for the unlimited number of shops. Whenever I wanted to take a moment to breathe by myself, I escaped from my classmates and headed over to the Duomo stop on the red metro line. What better way to experience one of the fashion capitals of the world than to shop? Here are my favorite spots to visit around the Duomo metro station.

The Duomo (Italian for church) is an obvious must see in Milan. The Duomo has the most amazing facade and the inside is gorgeous. I highly recommend walking along the rooftops to get an overview of Milan.


Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Just left of the Duomo (assuming you’re in the plaza full of pigeons facing the front of the Duomo) is this stunning shopping area with the most luxurious brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Versace, etc. The architecture is ornate and the area is well lit with the sunlight peaking through the glass ceiling. The cafes in this gallery have their chairs all turned outwards because the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is one of the best spots in Milan to people watch.

Excelsior – Galleria del Corso, 4
A concept department store one of my classmates showed me. Excelsior houses some of the most fashion designs, product designs, and food. While the store is an absolute joy to explore, don’t except to walk out with anything other than Laduree macarons (try the Marie Antoinette!) or a new cell phone case if you want to spring the cash for it.



Luini – Via Santa Radegonda, 16
Hands down, Luini is my favorite food place in Milan; I went back there every week by myself to have my panzerotti (a savory pie that looks like a turnover) fix. Luini’s panzerotti is cheap, fresh and delicious. The dough is remarkably soft!

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Couldn’t resist a bite before taking a photo!

My friends and I asked a few locals where to eat and they all said we had to try Luini, and boy were they right! They were so good we went back and got seconds right after we had our first. While the line looks long, it moves quickly so you never have to wait too long for panzerotti. I highly recommend the spinach and cheese, salami or the mozzarella and tomato.


La Rinascente – Piazza Duomo
I spent at least two hours wandering around La Rinascente, which is literally right next to Luini,; the one in Milan is the flagship department store. My favorite floor is the home goods section, where you can find kitchen goods necessary to make authentic Italian cuisine. La Rinascente is where I bought my stovetop moka maker.

& other stories – Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 1
In the heat that was beating down all summer in Milan, I was on the hunt for affordable silk clothes. I came across the wonder that is the store & other stories. They also sell stylish leather shoes for a reasonable price! I ended up leaving with a pair or straight gray jeans and a full, textured navy midi skirt.

Cos – Corso Venezia, 5
As recommended by my stylish Italian friend, Camilla, Cos is a fun store to explore. The designers play with proportions of the body and work with more minimal shapes. Though I didn’t end up purchasing anything that day, I loved seeing how much I saw Camilla’s style in the store.

Rosy Retrospection?

Moments seem so much better when talking about them in retrospect.

Yesterday morning, my class had to meet up at Cadorna Station in Milan at 3:30pm to visit La Triennale di Milano (a design museum). At 1pm, my roommate, a classmate and I left at one and decided to explore the area around the station before meeting with the rest of our class. During the actual exploration, there were awkward silences and unspoken disagreements about whether we should move on or stay ( a popular one between non-photographers and photographers). Since there was only three of us there was no chance of splitting off. Our time spent together felt a bit forced until we had lunch where we spoke of where we came from and then realized we lost track of time and were late for meeting the rest of our class.

Touristy Street in Milan
Touristy Street in Milan

When telling the tale of why we were late (we explored the Museo de Castel, dipped our feet in a fountain, stumbled on the Duomo, photographed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and settled for lunch), it sounded for more exciting than the reality of the experience.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

While walking through the museum, the guide explained cubism, how important concepts are in art, Andy Worhol’s inspirations, etc. As we walked through I found those topics a bit less interesting (as I have had a little bit of art history background from my art classes) so I focused on the use of the museum space, lighting and the flow of the artwork. By juxtaposing certain photographs of humans eating next to photographs of animals hunting brought new meaning. I let myself explore the spaces while most of the students stayed close to the guide.

La Triennale di Milano's 70's room
La Triennale di Milano’s 70’s room
Volkswagen decor from the 70's room in La Triennale di Milano
Volkswagen decor from the 70’s room in La Triennale di Milano

I think I am definitely getting a different experience out of this trip than my classmates. For some odd reason, I decided to take a class that includes a lot of type of writing that I am not familiar with, with a group of students who seem to hold very different philosophies and values than I do, and learn a language where most other students already have some basic background from taking Spanish while I do not. Basically, I feel alienated. Like I mentioned in a post before, when placed in a foreign situation, people are forced to compare their current situations to their past. In this case, I sincerely miss my class at USC. My friends from USC are always working on their own projects or have incredibly contemporary experimental news article to discuss about and that excites me far more than well, I’m not sure what the students I am with talk about. At USC, they are all about doing, trying, and being unapologetically themselves.

The displays of the Food and Art exhibition at La Triennale di Milano where incredibly well lit and placed.
The displays of the Food and Art exhibition at La Triennale di Milano where incredibly well lit and placed.

It’s always been super frustrating for me to try to be put into new environments and try to make strangers my friends. I’ve never been great at first impressions and I am incredibly awkward when speaking to strangers. I am often quiet in larger groups. I start off reserved, which is almost laughable once you really get to know me. I guess I just miss familiarity.

True, it’s completely unfair to compare strangers to people I have spent a whole year building relationships with and I do acknowledge I was largely intimidated by most of my classmates when I first met them. I guess it’s still exceptionally early and two months is still a long time to let things fall into place.

The stove room in La Triennale di Milano
The stove room in La Triennale di Milano

Take a Photo (it’ll last longer)

When I first arrived at our residence, I was greeted immediately by Mama Pola.

“I know who you are! You must be Sara Ma.”

I think she secretly gets enjoyment from saying my name because she repeats it (in her deep voice probably aged from numerous cigarettes) every time I pass the lobby. Mama Pola hands me a spare to my room and asks me if I would like to join my class at the restaurant or stay in my room for the night. I choose to attend the dinner and she pulls out a map and instructs me to go to metro station and wait for my professor at P. Genova station.

Oh boy. That’s where it began. I had enough trouble getting from Malpensa airport to Centrale Station to our residence by myself with my nonexistent Italian. I finally found people who at least recognized my name and now I’m being sent out into the streets of Milan alone armed only with a prepaid metro ticket, a map to the P. Genova station and the address of the pizzeria my professor was supposed to walk me to.

So I began making my way to the nearest metro stop, getting a tad lost on the way but finding my path again when I spot a city map. Then figuring out which side of the station was a struggle too. It took me a while to figure out that il treno is not a metro stop but literally meant the train. I eventually made my way to P. Genova metro station and waited just outside the ticket barriers. I thought it would make sense to meet in the station since the likelihood of spotting my professor outside the station was significantly lower since there are so many exits to the street. I waited for a good twenty minutes before looking at the city map and finding that the pizzeria was on a relatively short street nearby the station.

“I can totally walk there by myself,” I thought to myself.

I tried drawing a map of the nearby streets on my palm. When that failed, I attempted to draw it on the back of the metro map. Note to self, I will never be able to make it as a cartographer.

Then I remembered the phrase: take a photo, it’ll last longer. Of course it would, it would be far more accurate than any hand-drawn map and last much longer than ink on my sweaty palms.

Map of Milan
Map of Milan

I made my way to the Pizzeria alone, taking my time to admire the svelte, fashionable couple in front of me, the locals enjoying dinner al fresco, and the canal that I had to cross. My plan was to walk into the pizzeria and asking if there is or was a large group of Americans. As I was about to walk in, a number of young adults poured out and I followed my gut instinct and asked if they were from Harvard summer school. Ding ding ding! I was right. My timing could not have been more perfect.

I quickly introduced myself to all the of the students that already arrived and I reverted back to my quiet-in-large-groups-of-people self. It’s a constant struggle for me to find something worthy of saying when speaking to strangers; it’s even harder when I am in a group of Harvard students and I am not a Harvard student. I’m learning so much about Harvard culture, but I’m about ready to move on from talking about the events they attended to in the past year. Harvard students like to talk about Harvard, go figure. I was probably most at peace when I was walking to the pizzeria alone and admiring the scenery than feeling anxious that I’m not talking enough but also thinking I have nothing of importance to contribute to the conversation.

We headed to a nearby gelato place where I order the most delicious rose flavored gelato and divine stracciatella (milk with chocolate chips) gelato.

Gelato Shop
Gelato Shop

This morning, a few of my classmates and I got SIM cards, weekday metro card passes and groceries. It feels so embarrassing having no ability to speak Italian and being so blatantly foreign. It was a struggle ordering food, asking for directions, doing paperwork at the metro station, etc. I cannot wait to start taking Italian language class so my Italian won’t be limited to ciao, grazie, si, and no. 

A plaza near our residence
A plaza near our residence

The Cost of Cheap

My mother told to splurge a little on long flights. “You’re going to be there for a long time. You should be comfortable.”

Of course, being the person I am, I ignored my mother’s advice and booked the cheapest economy flight to Milan with reasonable times. I felt like I was spending so much of my parents money already, I wanted to keep my expenses for this trip at a minimum. I booked a United flight to Frankfurt and a transfer three hours later from Frankfurt to Milan. Three hours seems like ample time, right?

Yes it does…until my two hour flight delay going out of SFO. A little less than an hour for transferring flights seems to be cutting it a bit close, so I expressed my concerns to the service at the check-in counter.

“It’s a gate to gate transfer. You won’t need to recheck your bag or go through passport control; you have plenty of time.”

I skeptically agreed. If she firmly believes it, she won’t help me out anyway.

The view outside my seat

Boarding started about ten minutes too late and then our airplane had an issue with shutting the door properly so we had to wait for a mechanic to fix it. Ten and a half hours later, we arrived at the Frankfurt airport and none of the gates with jet bridges were available, so we took stairs down from the plane to the airport bus to shuttle us to the gates. By then, we arrived at 12:25, precisely the time my plane for Milan departed. Perfect.

Instantly, I made my way towards the United customer service desk where a woman behind the desk directed everybody off to the Luftstansa customer service. Once I got to the desk, the man working for Luftstansa customer service sent me back to the United counter armed with the phone number for the desk.

This time, when I approached the customer service desk the same woman who shooed everybody to Luftstansa clutched her bag to her torso, almost as if to create a barrier between herself and the desk. I could feel the contempt oozing at of her as I approached her again. She directed me to the United desks past passport control. I expressed my concern for the unnecessary need for going through airport security if the flight I book is within the same area. She cuts me off and said, “Well, there’s a counter right there, isn’t there? How about you go there?”

So I line up at additional services where plenty of passengers are anxious to rebook their flights. The employees behind the star alliances desk for additional services are super workers. They rapidly type and make phone calls, saving everyone’s day. They have a purpose and they know it (a stark contrast to the bag-clutching woman behind the customer service counter).

Beta the Angel
Beta saving the day

One person who worked at the star alliance additional services in particular was stellar. Beta L., the raven haired woman with silver streaks framing her face and symmetrical tattoos that peaked through her stocking on her feet, waved around a stack of tickets to airports around the world. She took care of half of the line the first five minutes I stood in line. When she called out airports, people would raise their hand to announce they those tickets. She immediately whipped out her cellphone and called the airport to book the flight. I saw over and over again, distressed people smile in relief and thank her. I discreetly took a photograph of Beta because I had to give her recognition of being a exceptional employee. Her dedication made me feel like I was taken care of, despite the fact she personally was not able to help me. I was able to book a later flight to Milan (in which I am waiting to board now) with another employee.

I wish I could say that this particular experience with United is unique to me,  but unfortunately United is known to be quite unreliable. They frequently delay flights (my brother recently had a two hour delay for a one hour flight) and their service is not consistently good. Their flights are cheap, yes. But at what price?

As I write this post, I am munching on this mediterranean pasta salad that I bought earlier. I bought it because it was the cheapest meal-like food available with the most carbs to keep me full. However, I forgot how much I dislike the taste of olives. Oops.

Why I Travel

Today marks day one of part three of my Europe travels this summer. Part one was a class trip to London and the second part was a short holiday in Barcelona spent with my friends. Today, I board my flight to Milan. That is, if United doesn’t further delay my plane ride.

I decided that I would dedicate this summer to traveling seeing that I will likely be working at internships the following summers and the exchange rate for euros is exceptionally stellar this year. Plus, I don’t have the option to do a semester abroad so this summer is my pseudo study abroad.

So why do I travel?

The short answer is because I can. AirportI have been incredibly blessed with the option to travel somewhere when I decide I want to. I want to first recognize that not everybody has the ability to do such a thing and I only really have my parents to thank for being so willing to spend the money to send me across the world not once but twice this summer.

Traveling to another country, one with a different culture, language, and way of thinking, is essentially an educational experience. Not only do I learn about other people but I am inherently forced to compare it to what my previous experiences from home or elsewhere. If I didn’t go to London before Barcelona, I would not have appreciated the warm weather and colorful clothing the same way. Had I never attempted to read street signs in Barcelona, I would not know how wonderfully readable and apparent streets signs are in California. Basically, I don’t travel to escape my home; I travel to better understand it.

That was my long winded way for saying thank you to my parents and assuring my friends that though I complain a lot, I am not trying to leave you at all.