And just like that, six weeks in Barcelona comes to a close.  Six weeks of navigating a new city, six weeks of befriending perfect strangers and six weeks of pushing ourselves past our known limits.  Time came and went faster than we could have imagined but of course, “Time flies when you’re having fun” and fun was certainly had.  As a group, we’ve had the privilege of working closely with CEA, our partner school and support while in Barcelona.  The facilities and staff have been endlessly supportive and have provided us with the tools to thrive in and out of the classroom. We truly could not have done it without them.  They’re a part of our team, our UIC family.

CEA is driven by a set of 6 core values.  As we have developed a close partnership, I’ve noticed the ways in which our team’s values align with theirs.  I’ve noticed how our group of UIC students strive each day to put these values into practice and I’ve noticed how rooted these values are in every one of them.  The values include; inspire academic excellence, be one team, think forward, put people first, make a positive impact and embrace differences.  In the last six weeks, our students have embodied these values whether it’s on excursions, in the classroom or simply while exploring the city together.  I’m in awe as to the kindness and strengths that our students instill in their peers.

In the classroom and during excursions, I’ve seen each student take a stand to inspire academic excellence.  As a teacher, it can be daunting to ask the class a question and hear crickets.  This fear was quickly dissolved by this group.  They are active and engaged listeners, ask questions and openly contribute.  They inspire and challenge each other to vulnerably reflect and go deeper in their thought process.  In addition, our students truly are, one team.  They’ve climb mountains (literally), pushed themselves in our yoga sessions and have mapped a new city as one team.  No one is left behind because we value group effort and success over individual gains.  Similar to inspiring academic excellence, our students think forward and put people first in that they respect and encourage each other to grow.  This is obvious in how they help each other.  They divulge their individual point of view but also respect various opinions and learn from each other’s experiences and strengths.  Their sense of community in this regard is overwhelming.  In spite of difficult days, some more physically or emotionally taxing than others, the students always foster a positive environment.  They enter the classroom with motivated energy and it is felt by all.  This value is one of the most important because in a sense, it embodies all six of the values.  It is difficult to contribute to team if the energy is compromised.  By understanding how their attitude impacts others, the students make it a priority to create a positive environment for the good of the group.  The final value, embrace differences, recognizes individual uniqueness and celebrates the things that make us different. Each student was chosen for this program because of their uniqueness, because of what they offer that differs from their peers.  They were chosen because they can contribute their experiences, values, motivations and simply, what makes them, them.  As the student’s spend time in and out of the classroom, they’ve gotten to know one another on a deeper level because of our circumstances abroad.  They encourage and support each other to be different and to be OK with it. This unifies a team and has fostered a truly unbreakable bond.

Make a Positive Impact

Embrace Differences

Be One Team

Put People First

Inspire Academic Excellence

Think Forward

As we wrap up the week and present our final digital storytelling projects (watch ours here), it’s beginning to feel real that tomorrow we’ll wake up in a different city.  We’ll return home to Chicago.  We’ll wake up in the comfort of our own bed but maybe it won’t feel as comfortable as it once did.  Maybe we’ll miss the place that we called home for 42 days.  Maybe we’ll long for the comfort of our quaint Barcelona apartments surrounded by friends who became family.  Maybe we’ll crave a warm croissant and espresso on a Sunday morning.  Maybe we’ll reflect endlessly on our time here.  But wherever our lives take us next, whatever future we see for ourselves and are hoping to accomplish, we’ll always have this time.  We will always remember our experience in Barcelona and how it changed us.  With that, this isn’t a “goodbye”, it’s a “see you later.”

Safe travels and until next time!