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In Washington, my responsibilities were piling up like an avalanche in my mind. I completed all my assignments on time, made plans with everyone (god forbid I got FOMO), and showed up to work on time every weekend. I hit repeat on these responsibilities every week, never slowing down to process exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was working day and night, engulfed by the responsibilities many people my age face. Is this all there is to life? I wondered. Just deadlines and a repetitive daily schedule?
I decided I needed to make a change in my life and do something that ignites happiness and creativity. On a whim, I started researching different study abroad programs to leave the country and, with it, all my problems. My curiosity found its answer in the bold promise made by International Studies Abroad: ‘We provide an international experience your future self will thank you for.” Finally! Something to look forward. This was my big break from life’s patterns.
After what seemed like an eternity, my plane touched down in the vibrant land of Barcelona, Spain, where the air resonated with the harmony of chirping birds. I was dead tired, but I didn’t care. I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I’m in Barcelona.” I jumped at the first opportunity to eat at a restaurant with an outdoor patio with the intern group I met 20 minutes prior to landing. It was all moving so fast, I could barely process my emotions.
This intern group was so entertaining. I explored many new places with them, such as the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and a vibrant Mexican restaurant called La Taqueria where we found ourselves bi-weekly. I was on the high that I have anticipated for so long. Is this happiness? Freedom? Bliss?
Those emotions were raw, and they were eventually overshadowed by—you guessed it—responsibilities. The start of my internship at an environmental consultancy firm called Oceanogami followed a week packed with adventure and delicious grub. The first week went well as I navigated my new role. So exciting! I had never done an internship before.
But as my internship picked up pace and I had new tasks assigned daily to me, I started to fall into a slump again. I found myself slamming my alarm at 7 a.m. every morning and passing the same commuters on the way to work. I even know the name of the barista at the cozy coffee shop I go to daily (Camelia’s Art Café, located a couple blocks away from the Sagrada Familia). Routine. Repetitiveness. The rut was all happening again. But why, in such a beautiful and interesting country?
It took me several more commutes and coffee shop visits to realize that the problem lay in my mindset. I approached all deadlines and responsibilities in a negative way. I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to accomplish. However, there’s nothing inherently negative about having responsibilities in your professional or personal life, as long as you learn to break down everything to process it. As I approached my tasks step-by-step and set a reasonable deadline for myself, I found that the time management allowed me to feel productive—and excited to take on more!
Soon after followed the long journey of discovering the simple joys in life. I trained myself to pick up a good book, making it a routine to go to Camelia’s coffee shop every day after work and melt into my reading. This was not just a pit stop for me on my morning commute; instead, I turned this place into my safe haven to prepare for a busy day and decompress after. I used this same technique of slowing down and enjoying the little things on days spent alone, and even days filled with action and friends.
Amid my journey, I discovered that the temptation of escaping to a foreign country to evade life’s challenges was a misconception. Barcelona offered wonderful perspectives, but the real change occurred within me. Believing borders would erase my problems was a fallacy; life’s complexities exceed location. True happiness doesn’t rely on a destination, so moving abroad doesn’t solve all problems. It’s an internal, ongoing process rooted in mindset. Barcelona taught me that contentment comes from within, and the pursuit of happiness starts within.