Stories that Shaped Us: How cooking made Spain feel like home
Vyana Dang is an ISA Barcelona alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at the University of Utah whose experience abroad during Spring 2022 let her to find life long friendships.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Spain and how she expanded on her love of cooking. Check out this unique story below.
What was your living situation abroad? What was that experience like?
I was intrigued by all the housing options for my program: homestay, apartment, or student residence. I liked the idea of living in a homestay to fully engage with the lifestyle and behavior of a local family living in Barcelona, Spain. In addition to that, I would be able to constantly exercise my Spanish with the host family, however, I did not want to burden the host family with my dietary constraints. While the apartment housing was very tempting for its attraction of independence, I felt it would be nice to live near other study abroad students to connect with them. I decided on a student residence where I could be independent but also have study abroad students from all over the world and in different programs living in the same building as I was. I am so grateful I chose that option because I made many new connections with students who lived in that building. I also was randomly paired with a roommate that is now a great life friend. Till this day, we still remain close and continue to plan traveling adventures. I also loved that I had my own kitchen to cook anything I wanted whenever I wanted. That also made me feel more comfortable and at home.
How did your living circumstances impact your overall wellbeing/mental health while on your trip?
Even though I shared the room, bathroom, and kitchen with my roommate, I felt like I had my own respected space. I loved having my own kitchen stove top and mini fridge. Cooking at home was one of my favorite activities with either friends or family, and being able to continue that abroad made me feel more like home. I was really blessed to have the roommate I had too. She and I lived and worked really well together, making the adjustment a breeze.
What types of food did you eat at your apartment? What did you do to pass your free time?
Spain had lots of bread, seafood, potatoes, and tomatoes as staples in their diet. I loved exploring all the fun restaurants with tapas style dishes either solo or with a group of friends. The tapas style dishes were very common throughout the country and made it a fun way to share and try a little bit of everything. I found there was a lack of greens in their dishes which I craved most often. However, because I was able to cook most nights in my housing, I was able to fix my vegetable cravings. I shopped at a local chained market that had everything I wanted. I bought local seasonal items such as valencia oranges or farm raised eggs.
I especially loved their precut marinated chicken. It was the right amount for one or two servings. It tasted fresh and was never dry when I pan fried it. At these markets and restaurants, I noticed they commonly sold rabbit meat, but I was never brave enough to try it.
What was it like adapting to a new culture? Was there anything that surprised or challenged you? How did you overcome those challenges?
I was hungry for a new pace of life. I was curious about what was outside of my bubble and going abroad gave me new opportunities to become vulnerable, yet resilient. I saw changes in my self confidence and communication skills. I battled struggles of loneliness as I took a leap from the comfort of constantly being surrounded by familiar faces. However, I defeated that feeling by really opening myself up. I saw how important it was for me to be open to new opportunities, always leading me to new doors of possibilities and memorable connections.
Any advice you’d give students interested in a global experience?
Take a chance to go abroad. Take a chance of getting comfortable of being uncomfortable. It is a lesson no school, university, or professor can teach you. Have confidence in everything you do and commit to it. I promise you can grow so much from it. Physically and mentally.
Curious to hear more from ISA/TEAN alumni? Read more blogs from Spain Alumni or explore how other alumni learned from living in an apartment with fellow study abroad students while learning to cook in a new country.
Inspired by Vyana’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!