Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pamela S. - Barcelona, Spain - Spring 2012

Greetings from Barcelona! I have been here for two months and I have to say, I'm in love with this city. I've  seen a lot of the most interesting and touristy things already, although I have yet to go into the Sagrada Familia. I spend my days wandering about the city, getting lost or un-lost, depending on the situation.  And not a day goes by without hearing someone in my program grumbling about the workload and claiming that this is vacation. I blame the absurdly wonderful weather. 
Barcelona is different from home in many ways. The most obvious, and the one that took to the most getting-used-to, is the language. As a native Spanish speaker, I wasn't expecting too much trouble in this area. But Spanish isn't the main language here, Catalan is. I can apparently pass for a local, since I'm always addressed in Catalan first. Fortunately, it's pretty easy for me to understand but the locals sometimes seem a little offended that I don't speak Catalan since they are very, very proud and defensive about their culture and language. It takes a little guesswork to read signs and stuff since the non-touristy areas are mostly only in Catalan though.
Home is in the northern part of the city, by the mountains. I find that area to be very nice to live in, because it's away from the busy part of the city center, but right off a major road that means lots of shops and cafes are still close by. I have two other American roommates and we live with a wonderful Spanish woman who is a magnificent cook and loves to feed us delicious Spanish food. We have two other Americans who live on the floor beneath us with our host mom's son as well, so we're all just one big happy family! I love my homestay! When we first got here, my roommates and I would joke that if we ever got lost, we'd just look for the castle at the top of the mountain and use that as our north star. It's actually the Tibidabo, a building with religious ties. I haven't gone there yet though because the amusement park doesn't open until the weather is a bit nicer.
I'm about twenty minutes from the city center, Plaza Cataluyna, where IES has their building. I would be ten minutes away but my metro line is broken and the transfer adds around ten minutes to the metro ride while the bus takes the entire twenty minutes. From there, the Cuitadella Campus of my university Universitat Pompeu Fabra and their partner business school, ESCI, are another fifteen minutes away.
I'm very happy that I took classes at the university though, that's how I've made some Spanish friends! In one of my classes, the students are just preparing to study away themselves, so I'm really excited for them! I'm really grateful for them. They can give me advice on what to spend my weekends on, how to get places, and explain to me what's going on in Barcelona, Spain, and the European Union as a whole. For example, a week ago there was a student protest due to changes in the educational system and a few strikes have happened as well. These are  very complicated issues so it has been great having someone around that would be able to tell me more.
I'm very happy to be here. I love that I get to spend a semester in this wonderful city. I almost don't want to travel because that involves leaving this city! Spring break, however, is going to be spent in Venice and Paris though, so there's some amount of travel involved in my life.
And because I always want to think I'm helping someone, here's some tips! Getting lost and accidentally forgetting your map is one of the best ways to get to know the city. But please be smart about it. Don't make it obvious you're not from the area. Don't sweat the small stuff, enjoy your time abroad because believe me, it goes by way too quickly. And don't forget, the study part of study abroad comes first for a reason. Barcelona does have great places to visit, a good nightlife scene, etc. but the last thing you want to do is return home with regrets which my program has been kind enough to remind us happens too often for anyone's tastes.
That being said, I have to go do school stuff now but feel free to contact me with any questions! I'm always happy to help!


Blogger Caity Nagel said...

Hello! I have heard Barcelona is a beautiful city and I hope you are having a great time! I plan on being close by (in France). I'm sure there are many things about their culture that is different from ours. How did you get used to the culture? The language? Did you experience any culture shock? If so how did you deal with it? Thanks and have a great time!

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Karina B said...

Hi Pamela,
reading your blog made me even more anxious for summer to get here so I can start my experience. I'm sooooo excited! :) My sister and cousin recently visited Spain and they told me some similar things that you mentioned in your blog (the language and home stay aspect). Has it been hard getting involved with others from Barcelona? I know you mentioned you met some people. Did you initiate the conversation or did they do it? How did you pick the classes that you are enrolled in? Do you have any advice as to what I should do/look for when picking classes? Any advice would be extremely helpful. Keep enjoying your time!

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Pamela said...

Hello Caity and Karina!

It's Pamela, here to answer your questions!

Caity: You've heard correctly! Barcelona is a beautiful city! I hope to come back as soon as possible. I was actually just in France (Paris) for spring break (hence the late response), and I did pick up on a few differences. In order to get used to a new culture and language, the best advice I can give is to be sure you have an open mind. Coming here I knew that I wouldn't necessarily like everything that was different, but I knew I had to be open to learning about the differences and accepting that it's just another way of doing things. I can't tell you how relieved I was after a week in two other countries to be back in Barcelona because I could understand the language and how things work here, it is difficult trying to adjust at first, but working through any setbacks is such a great thing to experience. Having to navigate almost solo through Paris and Venice has really helped me because now I'm more confident that I can get through the obstacles that an unfamiliar place throws my way. That's also important, ask questions when you have them! I did have some culture shock. I had a particularly bad week here, about half way through my stay, and it was definitely a struggle. I made myself take a step back and really analyze where those thoughts and feelings were coming from. It was really easy to blame the fact that I was in a different country, no matter what the issue was, but analyzing the problem really helped. I was also lucky that I had good people to rely on for advice! Hopefully I've been able to help a little bit. Good luck in France! I'm absolutely certain you'll have a great time!

Karina: I'm excited for you! I'm so sad that my time in Barcelona is almost up, it's been absolutely amazing! I met people here mostly through my classes and the people I met in those classes. My classes were full of wonderful people who were more than willing to include me in their group, let me meet their friends, and helped me navigate my way around two different campuses (a small business campus and a larger general campus) of a new school. In both cases, there was a sort of mutual interest in getting to know each other, especially with students that had either studied abroad before, or were about to. At my business school, everyone goes abroad, so they were all preparing for their experiences next semester while a few students at the other campus had already been abroad. I'm very grateful to have had them this semester! As for classes, it's tedious but there's a reason that the “study” part comes first in study abroad! First, pay special attention to those classes that are offered only once a year or prerequisites. Organization is key here. I almost decided not to come because of one class offered only in the spring at EC. I'm graduating after next fall, so I had to get the class and I had only decided to graduate early last fall. So that was the class I focused on when trying to find equivalents. That was the essential first step, figuring out which class you have to take and when. After that, it's a little easier. I decided to take some General Education courses and a business elective. I looked at the courses that were offered in hopes of finding equivalents. Finally, I had to make the schedule so I payed close attention to the times the courses were offered and happily they all worked out really well. Another thing to keep in mind is any requirements your program may have. Mine requires us to have a Spanish class, so I had to make sure I could fit one in as well. I hope that you find this useful as you prepare to study abroad! Good luck! Trust me, you'll have the time of your life!

6:09 AM  
Blogger asmith said...


I know you answered Katrina's question on classes and all, but did you have to finalize your class schedule once you arrived? I'm traveling through ISEP, so I'm sure it will be a little different, but did you find what you'd LIKE to take online before hand and then register for classes when you go there? Were any classes full? Or did you pretty much get the classes you were hoping for? It sounds like you're having a WONDERFUL time!! Hope to hear from you soon...


5:44 PM  
Anonymous Pamela said...

HI Aliki!

It might be a little different for ISEP, but this is how IES did it with me. I did have all the information on the courses available for months before my departure so I had plenty of time to look for what I could take. Then registration time rolled around in December, so I registered for classes.

When I got to Barcelona it wasn't necessarily a finalizing step, but there was the option to switch courses into others that were open or something like that. I registered as soon as I could with IES, because I knew I had to get a certain class so I had no problems with closed courses or anything. I did switch one course later and switched to another section of a different course, but I switched them before arriving to Barcelona and still had no problem doing so.

Just make sure that you keep on top of things and you should be fine! If you are really worried about something with your schedule, ask your program. It's very important to make sure that you have the classes you need, better to get it taken care of sooner rather than later!

Safe travels and good luck with everything! And yes, this has been the best experience of my life ever! I'm sure you'll enjoy your time abroad as well!

11:07 AM  
Blogger Kelsey Rowley said...

Hi Pamela! It sounds like you love Spain which makes me more excited to study abroad! I just wanted to ask you about the culture shock? Was it difficult at all when you first arrived or do you feel like you were able to adapt quickly to the new culture?

10:49 PM  

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