GUEST POST | I Completed a Master's Degree in Barcelona with Zero Debt. Here's How I Did It!

People often speak about the midlife crisis, but little is told about the mid-20’s struggle. I was experiencing it at 25, when life isn’t how you thought it would be and childhood expectations vanish in front of you.

I had finished my bachelor’s degree at 20 and had a stable 8-to-5 job. I had been saving money to do a master’s degree someday. Nonetheless, something was missing. I was not happy. I felt stuck, with little to no growth opportunities and a routine that was killing me.

I had searched for jobs in and out of Puerto Rico, and when I got called and interviewed for a worldwide Public Relations agency in Miami, I was super excited. The interview went well but then I was told that the only thing I was lacking was “agency experience”. But how could I get it if no one was willing to give me the opportunity to “train” me? I had decided that if I didn’t get that job, I would do a master’s degree that allowed me to do an internship. After getting rejected, that would be it.

At first I had considered a university in the United States but discarded the idea. I was not willing to take a loan worth a house to pay for a degree. That was when I began considering Europe, where education  is more affordable. Also, I had fallen in love with the continent and its lifestyle since my first vacations. There I felt home, I fitted in. I had spent my whole life putting everyone before me and it had taken a toll on my emotional health. I needed to get away in order to find myself, grow and be happy.

I needed to get away in order to find myself, grow and be happy.
— Krystel Sierra

After a lot of research, I found a great program from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. It was what I wanted: in Public Relations, affordable, with internship opportunities, and abroad. I applied, was accepted and began all the paperwork. I never thought about it so much. If I did, I would eventually be overwhelmed with all that could go wrong. I was leaving everything I knew, a home, and a stable job to move to a city I had never been to, thousands of miles away. I told my plans to my parents, who didn’t hesitate a second in supporting me. I cried when I sent the first tuition payment  because I knew there was no turning back. That day, my life changed forever.

krystel sierra traveling

A lot of people wonder how I was able to pay for it. I come from a very humble family and I had to fully support myself. When you grow up struggling, you learn that money is no joke. Due to that, I was a compulsive saver. One of the things I am prouder of, is that I didn’t take a single loan. I worked hard since I was 17 and saved for as long as I remember. I was a very dedicated student and that paid off too. I had won a scholarship that I saved strictly for educational purposes. I would rather drive my very old car, bring lunch everyday to work, buy clothes one time a year, and go to the movies once every few months than spend a scholarship on material things. I had plenty of spreadsheets to calculate my monthly expenses in Barcelona. I knew how much money I needed, I had calculated the risks and it was now or never.

barcelona

A week before moving, I cried every night. I had the occasional second-guessing but a friend -whom I had previously encouraged to study abroad- told me, “you are scared now but once you land here, you will not know why you were so afraid.” And she was right. I packed two big suitcases, set up my blog Chase the Feeling where I would document my journey,  and moved to Barcelona. I lived in a shared room at the university. The first time I walked around the city, I knew I was where I meant to be.

Of course, despite the beauty of Barcelona, the first two weeks were incredibly hard. It was exhausting to figure out every bureaucratic paperwork that came with moving to a foreign country. So it was adjusting to share a room with a stranger, figuring out the transportation system, doing grocery shopping and learning how the ingredients were called there. It was hectic but it all fell into place. In October, I went to the program’s welcome meeting. We were divided into work groups that would last until the end of the master’s. It was the beginning of the most amazing year of my life.

krystel sierra

A month into it I had mastered the transportation system, the grocery shopping, adapted to the teaching style, and made a best friend whom I call now my sister.

My next goal was to land an internship. To my surprise, the university didn’t have placement, so it was basically like a job search. I applied and sent e-mails to plenty of local PR agencies every day. By the end of November, I had landed my internship. Now it was a matter of balancing an almost full-time job with classes, group meetings, presentations, and adulthood responsibilities. But there’s nothing in life that you can’t do if you work hard for it. My internship experience was enriching. I learned a bit of catalán, my coworkers were very supportive and I earned the “agency experience” I was looking for.

krystel sierra inglaterra

I wanted to travel too. Before leaving Puerto Rico, I had budgeted a trip to Munich to meet with my sister in January. Also, I had set myself a monthly allowance for traveling wherever I could afford. I eventually became an expert at budget travel and visited more countries than I thought I would. My first trip was to Iceland in December to see the Northern Lights -which I didn’t get to see- but I will forever dream of the Blue Lagoon and the country’s breathtaking nature. Then the Christmas break arrived. I spent my first holidays away from my family, but joined my friend and her relatives in northern Germany and later in Girona, Spain. In January, I was beyond happy with my sister in Munich, a city I fell in love with.

My next trips were highly spontaneous and based on opportunities that came along.  I ended up visiting Munich two times to attend football matches (THE dream), Italy, and England. Google Flights is a blessing with its calendar of ridiculously low fares. Traveling within Europe is very affordable. With what you spend on a weekend in Puerto Rico, you can visit three cities in Italy and cover ALL expenses. I would also go out every weekend to lose myself in the city I now call home. La meva Barcelona. I visited museums, landmarks, beaches, markets, and nearby cities like Sitges and Montserrat. But it was not all fun and games.

With 2017 kicking in, it was time for my next goal: to move from the university dorms to an apartment in Barcelona city. Looking for pisos in Barcelona is a nightmare. The demand is extremely high and so are the prices. I had to stay on budget so when I was about to give up, I found a great apartment shared with two people – a guy from Ecuador and a girl from Poland. They became my family and I will always cherish our time as housemates.

Motivated by my love for languages, I searched for opportunities to learn German. Gladly, I discovered a summer program at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. It was perfect and affordable and as my spending projections were accurate -plus I was earning a bit as an intern- I enrolled. After finishing my degree, I would move to Germany.   

krystel sierra
krystel sierra iceland

Back to college life, I will not say that everything was perfect. The teaching style is based a lot on you figuring things out on your own. It’s designed with a professional approach rather than academic. Also, the grading is subjective, rather than based on a mathematical sum of points. Naturally it was a challenge to create our final project: a Public Relations plan for one of the biggest toy makers in the world. However, with countless of hours of hard work, Whatsapp conversations and Sunday meetings, we did it.  We presented our plan to the client in June, had a graduation a few days later, and it was over.

graduation krystel sierra

I had proven to myself how strong I was. I cried, I laughed, I fell, and I got up. I thought that the most valuable thing that I would obtain was a master’s degree, but it wasn’t. My experiences as an immigrant, an international student, an intern, a solo traveler, and an adult away from home made me better, stronger, more tolerant, smarter, independent, more respectful, and optimistic. It helped me believe in myself more, be spontaneous and see the good in people. The people. It was those whom I met and the relationships I developed what I cherish the most. If there is a reason why I would do it all over again, it is so I would have them in my life.

krystel sierra friends
krystel sierra friends

In August I moved to Munich to learn German. It was an intensive three-week course. I took lessons every day, made new friends, experienced the city in the summer and, of course, attended a Bayern Munich football match. I even got my jersey signed by my favorite player. Life doesn’t get a lot better than that. I finished the course and did a 3-day trip to Poland, Czech Republic and Austria. Then I went back to Barcelona. After a year, it was time to get my bags and fly to Puerto Rico. I was devastated for what I was leaving behind, but hopeful for the future. Now I have a different mindset, friends in almost every continent and a clear goal in mind: to eventually relocate to Europe.

The biggest lessons I learned from this experience? The most important thing in life is happiness.

Experiences are better than possessions and material things. You can live with a lot less than you think. Meaningful relationships are what stay when all else vanishes. When you are determined and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. Set your goals, work on a plan but let life surprise you. And last but not least, when you follow your passions, you are on the right track.

If you have ever considered studying abroad, do it. I encourage anyone to take on the challenge of moving and immersing themselves in a completely different culture. You are not only growing academically or professionally, but also as a person. And at the end of the day, that is the experience you will treasure the most.

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   Meet our Guest Blogger

Hello there, I’m Krystel and I'm the blogger behind Chase the Feeling and the creator of the Chase the Feeling Travel Planners. Born in the 90’s, I love music, football ⚽, and The Office. Cat person, old soul, and languages enthusiast -I’m bilingual (English and Spanish), currently learning German. I've also studied Italian and French but I want to improve a lot more. I enjoy writing and learning about different topics. I will always google anything I don’t know and open too many tabs at once. 

 

 

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