By Danielle Morrison, North Carolina State University
The thought of living day-to-day in a new country can be very intimidating. I know that before I studied abroad, I googled “things to know about Spain” or “tips for studying abroad” hundreds of times. But much like everything the program and university always tell you, the Google searches say the basics – prepare for the language barrier, the transportation system, making new friends, etc. Personally, I already expected those things. What I wanted to know were the little things. So now that I’ve been here for eight weeks, I’m going to share some things that I’ve learned during my time so far in Barcelona that, though minor, I find are pretty important.
Spaniards LOVE their coffee. I thought I went to coffee shops way too much back home, but now I find myself in two different ones each day. And that’s normal here! Whether it’s to meet with friends, grab a coffee to go, or just sit, people are always getting coffee. Grabbing a coffee is always the go-to for escaping work for a bit. What’s better is that they are cheaper too. Yes, the sizes are smaller, but I find the quality to be much better anywhere I go. I can spend the same amount on coffee per day as I did at home, and experience the best.
Personally, I have a habit of grabbing a chocolate croissant with my coffee too. The chocolate croissants are everywhere; in every supermarket, bakery, and restaurant. At this point, my friends and I have included chocolate croissants into our weekly budgets just because getting coffee feels wrong without it. Expect to be grabbing a cafe con leche with new friends and definitely try a croissant!
Grocery bags are not free in Spain. I found this out the hard way. My roommate and I were doing our first grocery trip as we were settling into the apartment, and we felt the need to stock our pantry on the first trip. We filled our grocery cart with food and drinks and got to the checkout line. Only once the cashier began ringing us up, did we realize that everyone else brought their own reusable bags to fill with their groceries. We had no idea that we had to ASK for a plastic bag to purchase with our groceries, so we frantically ran back into the store to find a reusable one. We ended up buying a large freezer bag and vowed to never buy so much stuff at once ever again. Just remember, you CAN buy plastic bags, but you have to ask for them. I hope I saved you the embarrassment that we caused ourselves!
EXTRA METRO TIME
Don’t forget that the subway trains only come every 3-5 minutes. Coming from a city that doesn’t have a metro system, I wasn’t used to waiting for the train and its inconsistent schedules. My classes here are, on average, 15 minutes away from my apartment by metro, but that means it could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. I have run into the metro station right as the train was closing its doors and pulling away, leaving me to wait an extra 5 minutes before I could get on the next one. When it comes to your first day at an internship or meeting professors, I would say to give yourself a little extra time. The metro is always running, but a few seconds late to the platform could set you back an extra 5 minutes or more.
Sim cards are always highly recommended when living in a new country, or at least getting a data plan that allows you to have service wherever you are. I would especially recommend them for the first month, as you learn your way around the city and figure out where you have Wifi access, etc. In my case, however, I opted out of buying a sim card or getting an international data plan. My parents told me that I would have to pay if that was something that I wanted, so I decided that I would just try out not having one. I will say, I had a little help from my roommate who had a data plan, but overall, it wasn’t hard to get by.
If you decide to opt out of buying a sim card, one tip: Download google maps offline. Google maps offers this feature where you can download a custom map of however much of the city you want. So, even without Wifi or service, you can see your location on the map and find your way around. Another tip is to favorite any important locations on google maps. Your saved locations will always show up on the map no matter if you have service or not. Finally, Barcelona city has free wifi! Sometimes it only works for 10 minutes and then kicks you off, and sometimes it only works in certain areas, but it DOES work! So, if you find yourself completely lost or needing to contact someone and you do not have Wifi, just connect to the city one.
Ultimately, make the decision that best fits you. If you decide to get a sim card, perfect! If you want to save a bit of money or you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you’ll be able to get around fine.
So, I hope this helps a bit. These things aren’t very significant but they can still affect your day-to-day life and I wish I knew them before I came. Now you do!