It has almost been two weeks since I arrived back in the States, and I thought it would be the perfect time to share some important travelling, safety, and general advice with you guys that the video below does not include.
1) Get your school work done in advance.
I feel like this is something that my mom always tells me, but I always ignore. However, setting aside time to do homework abroad is so crucial. The night life in Barcelona is tempting and overwhelming all at once and you will most likely be travelling out of the country on the weekends. Most teachers will give you plenty of warning of when an assignment is due while some will expect you to refer to the syllabus. I wrote out most of my assignment due dates on a calendar before I left so that I would have a better idea of my work load for the semester. Also, for the first few weeks of your program, you're going to want to explore the city during your breaks in-between classes or after class. Do it. But once you're situated and have more work, I suggest you spend time in the IES Abroad lounge and do work there. It's a great place to socialize while getting things done.
2) Abroad grades still count (for most of us).
A lot of people are taking classes "Pass or Fail". If you're like me and this was not an option, I can't stress enough how important to rememeber that your grades do count. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that you are still going to school, but it's no different from being at your home university. I'm not saying don't go out to the clubs, but I'm saying make sure you find a happy, healthy balance between work and play. And even if your classes are "Pass or Fail", doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Also, the Spanish grading system is very different from the U.S. Teachers definitely hold you and your work to a higher standard.
3) There are afforable places to eat out other than fast food.
Having class in Plaza Catalunya was so nice because there are so many food options within walking distance. I suggest you use Tripadvisor to check out inexpensive places to eat because Yelp is not as common in Spain. An unmatched deal is still Tucco (located in the Gothic Quarter) where you can get an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage, customizable pasta, AND dessert all for 9 euros!!! And the food is incredible! Wow, I'm still dreaming of it. :(
4) Use iPhone apps to travel efficiently.
For the next four months, apps like Citymapper, mytaxi, Google maps, and goeuro will be your best friend. Citymapper and Google maps will be able to tell you metro and times and help you to calculate how to get places the fastest. mytaxi is the Spanish Uber, but you use a taxi instead of a personal car. If you're willing to brave the metros late on a Saturday night/in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, make sure you're in a group. However, the safest option is to call yourself a taxi using the app. Also, if you feel unsafe at any point, get out of the car as soon as possible. Lastly, goeuro is an app that will help you find flights and other means of travel for cheap. If you have a computer nearby, I suggest also checking out Skyscanner and Google flights in incognito tabs and comparing prices.
5) Buy a SIM card.
My phone plan in the U.S. offers a $10 per day international plan, and that's not feasible for four months abroad. I suggest you check out Vodaphone or Orange and buy a SIM card from them. You just have to call in or visit one of their locations each month to fill up your data, and you're all good to go all over Europe. I was on a 15 GB for 20 euro per month plan, and I not once ran out of data. You could even go lower in GB if you wanted! You will have a Spanish number and you will be on WhatsApp a lot, but it's as easy as reaching out to your friends and letting them know. Oh, and put your U.S. SIM card in the SIM card holder you get from Vodaphone or Orange and store it away somewhere that you won't lose it.
6) Put your metro card at the back of your phone case.
If you live farther away from campus, you most likely need to buy a t-jove pass which is unlimited rides for three months. It is very pricy but worth it. That being said: DO NOT LOSE IT. I suggest putting it behind your phone case so 1) you don't lose it 2) it doesn't get wrinkled 3) you have access to it faster than you having to dig into your wallet each time. You will learn to live, love, laugh the metro. <3
7) Be aware of your surroundings.
This is soooooo important. Being American unfortunately makes you a target for petty crimes such as pickpocketing. You will watch a video on it during orientation, but it is very real and very serious. Pickpocketers, or carteristas, mainly are on the hunt for iPhones on the metro and at the clubs. I lived with my iPhone stuffed into the front of my pants (yes—not even in the pockets) and we both made it back home. Ladies, you do not need to bring a bag to the club or need to use a cute small backpack purse to walk around the city. You will thank me later. On top of that, always watch your drinks and do not accept them from strangers (club promoters are still strangers).
8) Practice the buddy system.
FRIENDS DON'T LEAVE FRIENDS BEHIND. I don't care if you're mad at them or if you meet someone cute at the club. You will not leave your friends or let them go off by themselves, especially on nights off.
9) Don't be afraid to ask for help.
This applies all across the board. If you need help, ask for it whether it be from your roommates, your BCC, IES Abroad, etc. I needed to go to the doctor abroad and someone from IES Abroad sat with me, called them for me, and went over all the options with me because I was upset and stressed and I am so, so grateful for her.
10) Your abroad friends will be lifetime long friends.
The first few days or even weeks, you will feel like a freshman again, but just remember that everyone is in the same boat as you. They feel the awkwardness you do too. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and get to know those around you. People will come with their entire frats or sororities, but do not be intimidated to reach out. Abroad should be the time to step out of your comfort zone and meet new people. You'll be surprised how quickly you get close to them and how much they'll change your life.
I know that all this information sounds daunting at first, but you are about to embark on one of the greatest journeys of your life. Cherish every moment because you will be surprised how fast everything goes by. Have fun and safe travels!