Hola! I’m Elena Villaescusa, the Onsite Director at Barcelona SAE.
One year ago, we were just starting to worry about Coronavirus spreading here in Europe. It was February 1st 2020 when the first case was detected in Spain in the Canary Islands. Looking back at my email from that day, we were worried due to “10,000+ cases worldwide.” Five weeks later we were heartbroken to have to cancel the semester and send our students home. We had no idea that we would still be facing this pandemic a year later.
That is why I am so excited to announce the arrival of our Spring 2021 students! We have one student taking classes at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and 11 nursing students who arrived on Thursday with a Customized Program from Illinois Wesleyan University. While we’ve been doing lots of virtual internships and virtual customized programs over the past few months, it feels so wonderful to be working with students in person again!
Planning for this semester has been a challenge.
First we had to make sure the students could get here. While there are restrictions on US Citizens entering Spain, the government has made an exception for those participating in academic programs. The students also needed proof of a negative PCR and insurance.
Next, we had to be sure our housing options are up to standard. Our students are either in residence halls or homestays this semester. The residence halls have strict cleaning schedules, mask wearing policies in common areas, and individual rooms. For homestays, all members of host families were PCR tested arrival and are following protocols of increased cleaning, hand gel use, etc. Being Spain, we had to have a very clear “no two kisses!” policy – families have had to find other ways of extending their warm welcome. From now on, these students form part of family bubbles – and we have rules and plans in place should anyone test positive in the coming months.
Our academic program has also been adapted, all classes require mask wearing, our classroom space has windows that open, desks separated 1.5 meters apart and an abundance of hand sanitiser and cleaning spray. Courses will be available online for those that cannot be in the classroom. Students will use the same desk each day and need to clean the desk with alcohol before each use.
Who knew that our talks with students about alcohol would be so different in 2021?
Activities are still happening but are adapted as well. Current restrictions do not allow leaving city limits, so we are taking advantage by getting outdoors and seeing the city. It is an incredible experience since there are no tourists in Barcelona at the moment! This afternoon we had a walking tour of the Barrio Gótico (with whisper headsets so the group could social distance). Our Academic Coordinator said it was incredible to experience the Gothic Quarter without tourists! Next Friday we’ll go hiking on the mountain overlooking the city along with some local students. Whenever possible we’re breaking into small groups.
I’ll save all our Health & Safety protocol updates for another blog post, but you can catch up on our weekly coronavirus updates here.
Suffice it to say, we are excited to have this opportunity to have students back! Follow our instagram and blog to hear more from us and our students about this unique experience and the challenges we face along the way!