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  • Writer's pictureSarah Caroline Crall

From Student to Staff: Sarah Caroline's Journey Leading Study Abroad Programs in Spain

By Sarah Caroline Crall: 2022 GO Barcelona Student, 2023 GO Barcelona Staff, 2024 Digital Intern

What if I told you it’s possible to spend a summer somewhere that you’ll tangibly evolve into a new version of yourself?

... Somewhere you’ll grow exponentially in confidence, leadership, and creativity…. Somewhere you’ll be surrounded with people who encourage you to be ambitious with your goals, and inspire you to be in constant pursuit of adventure…

It’s upon reflecting back to my summers on LeadAbroad's GO Barcelona program two years in a row, that I found what seems impossible, to be possible. Throughout my time as both a student and an intern with LeadAbroad, each trip across the ocean embodied these exact ideas. While Spain’s ‘La Sagrada Familia,’ ‘Park Guell,’ local Paella restaurants, and ‘Barceloneta Beach’ certainly left a lasting impression, what truly awed me the most and changed me as a person, actually wasn't any of that.

It wasn’t the ability to go, do, see, eat, and explore, but rather the lifelong friends I made, and the opportunity to pour into others (and be equally poured into) that changed me most and made each month I spent across the ocean, so memorable.

What a privilege it’s been, as both a student and staff member, to do life alongside like minded people: people who have an appetite for learning new things, who have a deep desire to explore, and who constantly teach you through the way they live their life. LeadAbroad has led me to so many of my best friends and best influences, whether they’re 5 years older or 3 years younger, and I’ve taken so much insight from every moment spent with them.

One thing I learned while spending time with a student in my group this summer, was actually the power in keeping margin in your days- to make room so that unexpected, unplanned blessings can have space to surprise you! I was soaking up the sun solo at my accommodation’s rooftop, and a student who hadn’t left yet for weekend travel came up to join me… we ended up laughing and talking for hours until the sun went down, and then walked together to grab dinner after… We discovered so much in common and really bonded during that whole afternoon and evening just 1:1! It’s awesome to map out adventures, but it’s often the last minute plans that end up being the best ones.

Throughout the next several weeks connecting with more students and getting to know them through everything from silly question games to life stories, we all got closer and closer and made endless memories together that quickly became some of my favorite. What we did (sunrise paddle-boarding, rooftop pizza picnics, flamenco dancing, finding the best brunch in Barca, and spending countless afternoons shopping in El Born) was amazing in and of itself; however, the real magic was the stories told as we walked around… the perspectives we shared over a meal… or the ways students would open up and find a new confidence in being vulnerable.

When I’ve had reunions with some of my students after the program’s end, these are some of the moments we always go back to talking about! One specific moment I personally often go back to, is our group final dinner on the beach of Barcelona, wrapping up my summer as an intern. I remember just taking in the whole scene around me- the entire 250 of us students and staff sitting at outdoor tables and chairs, some in the sand, some perched on the restaurant’s ledge, watching the final video capturing 5 weeks of magical memories. Getting to see students’ faces light up and several of them even cheering as they spotted themselves in clips flashing across the projector screen, was so full circle!

It was so surreal to think of how 365 days before, I was a student excitedly watching for my face up on that screen… but this evening I was the intern that got to make that highlight reel and feel proud of all the amazing students I got to mentor and befriend. It was so sweet to remember so many fun moments and think about how far we’d all come - from our first city tour and nervous welcome party introductions to now having a celebratory and tearful last goodbye.

I felt so proud of all the students, especially ones I got so close with in my group, who said yes to adventures, who took a leap of faith and dove in, and let themselves go far outside their comfort zone for the first time. We actually got to watch footage of many of those moments captured on camera (from some of my girls skydiving together, to finding fun local restaurants in the city, to taking the train to discover hidden beach towns after class)!

It was so special to see so much of myself in my students - to notice so many parallels in the way they first grew and challenged themselves, with how I was encouraged by LeadAbroad to do the exact same thing the summer before.

It made me think about how that’s something that never goes away… I am still inspired daily to live in that same way. I also felt immeasurably proud of us as a staff that night- we who navigated hard decision making and had to often figure out a plan A, B, C and even D…all the while helping uplift, encourage, and be present for each other throughout so many ups and downs.

All of us hugging our new friends who we experienced so much life with, was a memory I’ll forever cherish. As we ended our night with more speeches and toasts, we all laughed (and cried) at the memories and endless inside jokes that once would have meant nothing to us, but now we knew we could never forget. I’ve never been invested in, quite like how my LeadAbroad family has… I’m so thankful for all I’ve been able to give back to this family that expanded my potential and helped reveal my life purpose. I’m so thankful for friendships that have gone beyond Barcelona and impact my every-day. & I’m thankful for the home I found and always will have, in a once foreign city an ocean away.

2 years ago, before any ounce of my LeadAbroad journey began, I never could have imagined myself able to do what I now have done. LeadAbroad took a student hungry to see the world and make an impact, and turned her into a staff member fueled by a desire to lead hundreds of others in every element of an authentic and enriching time abroad.

My heart is filled with gratitude for LeadAbroad’s influence that not only elevated my life experiences and the stories I now tell but also played such a huge role in maturing my mindset and radically shifting the way I see our world: one full of opportunities waiting for me to take, and one where I belong wherever my feet are! So, cheers to always learning, always growing, being ever curious, and to embracing the wonder of the unknown in every path we take, person we meet, and place we go.


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