Tips for Future Study Abroad Students: Part Two

Marisa Ross
May 17, 2013

Things to Know:

1. Research the weather before you come. People hear ‘Spain’ and think, “Oh, it’s always hot there.” But it’s actually relatively cold the majority of the spring semester. It even flurried at one point. We didn’t get beach weather until about two weeks before the program ended, and even then there was sporadic rain and cold fronts. As a native Floridian, I didn’t mind the slight chill for a change of pace. But just know what to expect.

2. The “party season” in Ibiza doesn’t start until May, so if you plan on going there during a spring semester, you’ll find empty beaches and mediocre nightlife. Also, if you go too early, the water will be cold.

3. When you travel within the European Union, they don’t stamp your passport. I suppose you can go to Customs and ask for them to do it, but when you’re traveling, do you really want to waste time in an airport getting a little emblem on a piece of paper? Just a heads up so you won’t be disappointed like I was.

4. IES has scholarships. Apply for them and don’t put it off. Apply even if you’re still waiting for your school to approve the program, because you might miss the deadline.

5. If you’re navigationally challenged like me, Google Maps will be your new best friend. The public transportation button will give you accurate timetables and routes on all the metro lines.

6. There is this thing here called the exchange rate. The euro is not in favor of us Americans. One euro equals about $1.33. This doesn’t mean prices are lower. Prices are the same, but if you convert it, it’s much more in USD. It adds up quickly and can be overwhelming at first, but knowing ahead of time prepares you for the shock and allows you to budget.

7. IES is a more rigorous program than others. Classes are an hour and a half long, more than three absences results in grade deduction and some of my peers said they worked more abroad than at home. Although this might change in the future, we had Friday classes and pesky 9 a.m. classes too. I have also heard the grading scale will be to a higher standard in the future too. If you don’t like this, this may not be the program for you.

8. IES Barcelona is a shorter program. Other IES locations have different timespans, but for whatever reason, the spring semester of specifically Barcelona starts early and ends early. Many of my friends that studied abroad elsewhere and with other Barcelona programs arrived in February or March and will be there until June. It is also a shame that the program ended right when the weather became perfect. Do your research before deciding which program you want to participate in. I do not regret my decision and IES has many positive aspects, but I do think there were other programs out there better suited for me.

9. Rejoice, college kids. Alcohol is cheaper than water. Yes, it’s true. Sad, but true.

10. Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, a region of Spain with its own culture, language and traditions. And Catalans won’t let you forget it. The slogan is “Catalunya is not Spain,” and you will see red and yellow flags plastered everywhere. Most locals will not mind speaking to you in Spanish, or English if they know it, but don’t be surprised if street signs and menus are in Catalan. Some radical natives will be insulted and berate you if you speak to them in any other language, but this is rare.

11. Bullfighting is illegal in Barcelona. The arena was remodeled into a splendid shopping mall worth visiting in Plaça Espanya. If you want to catch one, bullfighting season starts in May and tickets are very cheap in Madrid.


My Favorite Places to Eat:

1. Can Paixano (La Champaneria): If you want a true taste of local culture and a satisfying lunch, this is the place to go. You’ll be packed like a sardine in this small joint, so forget about trying to get one of the few seats. And yet, this crammed spot is perhaps one of my favorite food destinations in all of Barcelona. A completely Catalan menu offers the best bocadillos (sandwiches), tapas and, of course, cava to the mix of residents and travelers that frequent it. They make their own cava (champagne), and it is so delicious and cheap that it is basically a sin to order food without it. My personal favorite is the rosat, and you can’t go wrong with a jamón y queso bocadillo to accompany it. Once you’re full up and feeling lighter on your feet, you can hit the beach just a few blocks away.

2. Ovella Negra: This hot nightspot is more touristy than La Champaneria, but it’s still a local gem I’ve made multiple visits to. It is a bar famous for its sangria towers (literally 5 liter vats) that can be shared between friends. If you’re like many Spaniards and don’t like the overly sweet beverage, there is also beer and a milk-rum-cinnamon specialty called Panther Milk. There are two locations, a big one near the beach and a small one, which I prefer, off La Rambla. It’s a great pregame place, and if you go early enough, a perfect spot to watch a Barça game.

3. Happy Pills: If you’re a gummy addict like me, this could be the best and worst recommendation I give you. Best because you’ll love it, and worst because your health and wallet will deteriorate. When you walk down Portal de L’Angeles to the base of the Gothic Quarter, a pink cross housing a tiny candy shop should stick out to you. Inside is a haven for fruity flavored candy-lovers. With the concept of dispensing gummies in pill boxes and medicinal-themed “prescriptions,” this shop is irresistible with its one-euro fill-up-the-cup deal.

4. Amigos: Middle Eastern food is very prominent in Barcelona, and sometimes it can be hard to find lunch as cheap, delicious and filling as Amigos near the MACBA in El Raval. For one euro, you can get a samosa, 2,50 gets you a falafel pita, and for 3 euro you can get a wrapped ternera dürum. Yogurt and spicy sauces complement the already piquant components, and baklava-type desserts complete the menu. The quality, quantity and prices here are unmatched.

5. La Boqueria: Pictures of this famous market’s colorful fruit juice stands and whole fish heads on display crowd the Internet, but I assure you it’s not just for tourists. Sometimes I stop by here to try exotic fruits or any of the goodies at my favorite Latin stand. A little exploration goes along way in here when looking for some lunch, and there is enough food to try for the semester. Hint: stay away from the perimeters to save money, and if you go close to closing time, many vendors will provide 2-for-1 offers.

6. Montadito’s Cervezeria: Though you probably won’t find your favorite meal in Spain here, this is a hip hangout spot for young locals to eat and socialize without turning their wallets inside out. There is an extensive menu with varieties of petite sandwiches, appetizers and types of bread. I usually went here for a cheap, nice-sized salad. There are special deals on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday where already low-priced menu items are cut in half, and beer is one euro with any food purchase. The best part was its location being less than one block away from the IES center.

7. Bubbolita’s: If your college town is anything like mine, you’ll be craving boba tea by the third week here. When I stumbled upon this trendy bubble tea cafe off La Rambla, I was in heaven. Not only are there dozens of flavors and varieties to choose from, but the owner is extremely friendly and helpful, and there are pillows to lounge on. Hot, cold, frappuchino, smoothie, milk tea, jeillies – Bubbolita’s has it all.


What I missed about America:

1. Dryers: You really “don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” My clothes felt crunchy and stiff after they were washed. Has Spain ever heard of fabric softener?!

2. Street Signs: I had a hard enough time walking and using Google Maps directions, but Europe’s street system must be the biggest nuisance ever to drivers. The signs are displayed on the sides of buildings rather than in plain sight.

3. Water: I come from a place where asking for water at restaurants is standard. I learned on my first day here when I received a 3 euro charge on my bill that water is not free. Sure, you can ask for “agua del grifo” (water of faucet), but free water is a concept that doesn’t really exist in Barcelona. Although the tap water is safe, the residents prefer to buy all bottled water.

4. Bathroom Rights: After seeing the musical comedy, “Urinetown,” I always thought I’d have the right to use public restrooms. But then I went to Europe, and the mockery of a fee to pee is a real thing there. I swore I’d never give in, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Twice I’ve had to fork over small change to relieve myself. It’s absurd.

5. Friends and Family: Studying abroad really puts into perspective the life you have back home. While you learn about a new culture and even yourself sometimes, you realize the things that matter at home and who is important to you.


Well, there you have it, folks. If you read through everything, I hope you’ll find my tips and tricks useful.

But the best advice I can give is simple: Go to Barcelona!

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Marisa Ross

<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&rsquo;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>

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