I’ve been back in the good ol’ USA for about two weeks now, and I’ve been reflecting on my time in Barcelona. Though most of my blog has been travel-related, I spent the majority of my four months exploring my host city. Visiting and living in a city are two completely different experiences. Now that I know Barcelona personally, I have more of an insider’s perspective than a fleeting tourist does. Europe is very different from America, and Spain is a very different country from the rest of Europe. If any prospective student is looking for advice and is willing to read my excessively long descriptions, this is what I have to offer.
Things to Do:
1. There are a bunch of sales during the months of January and February. Take advantage of them. It’s hard to miss the blaring red “REBAIXES” sales signs everywhere you go, so pop in once in a while and you’ll probably find a bargain. Mango, Bershka, Zara, Blanco and H&M are the most popular stores for this.
2. Learn your NitBus number early on. Wherever you live, just look at the nearest bus stop, and it will be listed. This is a safe way to get home at night, and with a metro pass, you’ll save tons of money by not using taxis.
3. If you are going to require a metro pass, like most students, I recommend purchasing a T-Jove. For anyone under 25 years old, it is a special 3-month unlimited pass for all metro lines, all buses/NitBuses and some trams and trains. The 50 rides in 30 days pass is good too, but you’ll save more money with this one. Plus, if you’re worried it’ll get lost or stolen, it is replaceable because you have to provide your passport number to obtain one.
4. If you’re an art buff, you’ll probably want to invest in an Art Card, which gives you access to six museums including Picasso, Miró and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. I won mine from an IES scavenger hunt at the beginning of the semester, but you can get one for 30 euro.
5. Many students don’t know this, but you can request where you want to live. If you know a past student from the program with a recommendation, you can request a specific host. I did, and I loved the outcome. If you don’t, you can still request certain things, such as proximity to the IES center. The program is usually pretty good about accommodating homestay arrangements.
6. In relation to number five, do a homestay. My Spanish improved immensely, but only because I was able to practice with my host. They are required to provide breakfast and dinner to you, do your laundry and most will do your dishes. If you don’t want to buy lunch each day, ask your host if you can use the refrigerator to store sandwich supplies and snacks. They will usually comply. Not only is this the cheapest living option, but a it is a great way to sample typical cuisine and really get immersed in a Spanish lifestyle.
7. If you’re on the fence about splurging for something, just do it. I would tell you to regret it later, but I promise you won’t. You may never get the opportunity again, so seize it while you can. I’m not saying to give in to every impulse and go crazy, but there were times when I missed out on something because I was trying to be frugal.
8. Do an intercambio (language exchange). IES arranges this, but I would recommend going to an outside university and ask if they have a program within the school. I did mine through the Universitat de Barcelona, and although I was never able to meet my partner in person, we conversed a lot through email and Facebook.
9. Keep a blog or a journal. You’re going to want to remember this. I can’t think of a more unique experience than study abroad, so document it.
10. There is a cheap airport bus at Plaça Catalunya and Plaça Espanya as well as a free airport train on Passeig de Gracia. Taxis are expensive unless you split them with friends, depending on where you live. And avoid flights in the middle of the night because they are a hassle and the bus and train don’t run at that time.
11. Bring a money belt for travel and locks for your backpack on the walk to school. I can finally declare that I survived four months in one of Europe’s most-pickpocketed cities, but it was because I took precautions. Whenever I needed to bring my laptop or SLR camera around with me in a backpack, I made sure to lock the zippers and put the key in a crossbody purse. I also used crossbody bags out at night and a large satchel with a long cross-chest strap for books at school. Girls, this is a necessity. I don’t know what guys do, but friends have told me they keep their hands in their pockets when they walk to protect belongings.
Things Not to Do:
1. Don’t go to Starbucks. Coffee is its own culture in Spain, and some people will tell you European coffee is the best in the world. Though some Starbucks give discounts on second purchase, they are generally more expensive. Pick any coffee shop and get a café con leche. Spaniards sit and enjoy, and you should too. If you get coffee “para llevar” (to go), you might as well stamp the word “foreigner” on your forehead. And if your goal is to be a foreigner, you’ll never be anything more.
2. If you study in Spain, make sure to see Spain. Some students made room to travel every weekend and visit Budapest or Edinburgh, but they forgot to discover their own host country. Other than around Catalunya, I managed to go to Seville, Granada and Madrid. Just like the States, Spain’s culture, politics and traditions are different from one side to the other. I didn’t make it to the Basque Country, Canary Islands or Valencia like I wanted to, but I don’t think my study abroad experience would have been complete without making it to the three crucial cities in Spain I visited.
3. Don’t pack your life away with you. Really. Don’t. You’re going to buy clothes and want to bring souvenirs and gifts home at the end of the semester, but that will be hard if your suitcase was bursting from the start. Unless your family visits and brings some of your haul home, leave a little space. My mom bought me a suitcase scale that can weigh up to 50 pounds of cargo, and it was surprisingly quite useful.
4. Don’t spend all of you time on Facebook or searching for WiFi in public. I didn’t turn my smartphone on for the entire semester, and I never took my iPod Touch around with me. I only ever occasionally used my Spanish Vodafone to meet up with friends, and I never had to put more money onto it, which is quite a feat. I felt so liberated to not be dependent on a device.
5. Don’t wait until the last minute to book a flight. Everyone tells you those are the cheap deals, but I didn’t find any. If you research two or three months in advance, you can snag a super low price. Even one month is not too bad. But last minute will almost always be more. The same goes for trains. You can show up to a station and just buy a ticket to wherever, but without the Eurail pass, trains throughout Spain aren’t as cheap as you’d imagine.
More Blogs From This Author
<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Marisa is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in journalism and minoring in Spanish. She is an active writer and photographer for her school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, and a varsity rower on the UF crew team. In her free time, she enjoys playing guitar, volleyball, cooking, shopping and hanging out with friends. Traveling is Marisa’s biggest passion, and she has wanted to study abroad in Barcelona for some time now. She is most excited to master fluency in the language, immerse herself in the culture, sample exotic cuisines, and explore cities throughout Europe with new and old friends.</span></div>