Since finishing my time in Barcelona last week, I have been traveling to different countries in Central Europe to try to take my mind off the fact that the semester is officially over. I had a great time being abroad, something that I was somewhat skeptical about before going. The idea of making new friends and having to take full advantage of the time in a different country made me go in with the mindset that my time in Barcelona could be exhausting and hard. But while it was exhausting, it was certainly not as hard an experience as I thought it would be. I’d love to quickly share some things I’ve been reflecting on that I feel have made my semester a great one in hopes that it may be helpful to anyone going abroad soon.
The first thing that made this semester different from my college in America was that I had the opportunity to say yes to more social groups and activities. Because my workload wasn’t as high, I was able to say yes to getting food with friends after class or going to a friend’s place during a random weeknight. And because everyone was open to making new friends at the start of the program, it was easy to try new social groups. At my college in America, groups are very closed off from each other for the most part and it is difficult with the amount of work we usually get to socialize except for the weekends. The people at IES Abroad I felt were more up for taking full advantage of our time and planning things no matter the day, and the social groups felt much more fluid. My major advisor (who spent a long time living in Barcelona) suggested I “Eat, drink, and be merry” while abroad and be as present as possible. By seeing friends every day and constantly meeting new people, I feel like I achieved this.
The same advisor also suggested that I walk everywhere in the city, which I took very literally. Back at home, I have a bike and genuinely rarely walk between places if it takes more than 15 minutes. I figured that when I got to Barcelona I’d buy a bike and do the same. But following the recommendation of my advisor, I chose to only walk and use the trains. If it was only 3 subway stops, I would walk between places, or sometimes I would walk home from the IES Abroad center (I lived not far from the Sagrada Familia). I ended up averaging something like 6 miles a day for the 4 months I was in the city and got a very good sense of direction because of it. This sense of direction and a feeling of knowing the city made me feel much more confident exploring areas that I otherwise would not have gone through. Walking allowed me to indulge my curiosity about the city; taking random streets because they looked cool or finding the fastest way between places. Only at the end of my time in the city did I get a skateboard, and after getting it, I still felt the need to walk around even though it was slower. Walking was such a nice, relaxing way to experience the city, and I highly recommend it.
Doing a homestay also massively shaped my experience. I stayed with an older couple who were extremely nice but spoke no English. My 1 semester of Spanish immediately came in handy, and talking with them gave me so much more fluidity and confidence. Before, I had all of the vocabulary words but not the confidence to speak, but now I am far more willing to engage with people in Spanish. (I got very good at nodding and smiling and pretending to understand too). My neighborhood, Camp de L’Arpa, had a beautiful Main Street and was lovely to return home to. Talking with my host parents was also so interesting: we talked a lot about the history of the city as they’ve lived in the same neighborhood almost their whole lives.
Along with my host family, I got to interact with local people through doing classes at local universities in English. While there were not the most Spanish students in the classes, I got to meet some people in the cafeterias at UPF. UPF Ciutadella was definitely a highlight of my experience because of how much it felt like a normal college campus. They had a beautiful library and great social life. I do wish that I had better Spanish before going there or had learned any Catalan, as it would have come incredibly handy with talking to local students.
My last big suggestion to anyone going abroad to have the best experience is to actually listen to the advice of others. I knew so many people who had come to Barcelona in the past semester that gave me giant lists of restaurants or bars to check out. And mostly I ignored these lists unfortunately. But the one recommendation I took, to go to Pizzeria di Nanni in El Raval, turned out to be one of the best. I went back to that restaurant over 10 times while in the city, and I wish I had looked at the rest of the other lists of recommendations people sent me.
Overall, I had an amazing time abroad. While it was stressful at times, looking back I would change very little and feel like I learned a lot about organizing myself and making plans. Thank you so much to IES Abroad for making it all possible!
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Hi All! My name is Curtis Kline, I'm from New York City, and I am abroad in Barcelona this spring. I am interested in food, culture, and urban studies. In my free time I will be exploring Barcelona and Europe and am excited to share my experiences with you!