There is ALWAYS something going on – find it!
Although I go to college in a big city, I have never lived in a city that is so vibrant and full of life. There is always something going on, day and night. I have found that staying up to date with everything that is happening is key to gaining the full Barcelona experience. When I first arrived in this active city, I realized this very quickly, and in order to broaden my study abroad experience here, I made a list of things that I enjoy doing – namely sports, thrifting, and going to concerts. So, I made a point to prioritize live music and flea markets around the city. I was able to use social media to find events related to these things around the city for each upcoming weekend. I’d take note of these events so that when the weekend came around, I didn’t feel so overwhelmed with all the different ways I could be occupying my time because I already knew what I was going to do. I also found this to be very helpful when trying to explore all the different areas and neighborhoods in Barcelona!
Take a Spanish class!
Initially, I had no intention of taking a Spanish class during my time studying abroad in Barcelona. I had already fulfilled my college language requirement for my school by taking ASL and was never a huge fan of learning new languages anyways. When I got to Barcelona, however, I felt overwhelmed with how little I was able to communicate with people. I should have known that the few beginner Spanish classes I had taken in high school wouldn’t help me to live in a Spanish-speaking country for four months. Instead of feeling upset about this, I started to get excited about learning Spanish and I emailed the academics department at SIS (the School for International Studies, where I took classes this semester) about picking up a fifth class. To my surprise, I was able to join the Spanish class late and everyone at Barcelona SAE made sure that everything was set up for me to join. The idea of taking a Spanish class in Barcelona was spontaneous and something that has made a very positive impact on my experience. Although my Spanish speaking skills are still sparse, I feel a lot more confident being able to communicate. I think studying the language while in Barcelona is also a way to show effort and respect to the locals, and it also immersed myself in the city as more than just a tourist.
Try not to spend all your weekends traveling outside of Spain.
I decided to travel around Europe the summer before coming to Barcelona. Although the homesickness set in a little earlier for me in relation to other students in my program, personally I thought it was a very good decision. If you are planning on traveling to other countries within Europe during your time studying abroad, I would recommend looking into traveling before or after your program instead. The main reason I recommend this is because there are an INFINITE number of locations to travel to within Spain itself. I can say by the end of my program that I was truly able to get a sense of many of the different autonomous communities within Spain, from the Basque Country to Andalucía to Catalonia to Madrid to Valencia. I was able to experience all the ways in which these regions differ or have similarities. One of my classes at SIS, Peoples of Spain: Cultural Diversity, Past and Present, went into depth on the historical and current significance of the different regions and I found it especially insightful to visit them firsthand while learning the material.
Manage your expectations before you arrive.
Study abroad gets its rep for being a life-changing experience not only because it is such a blast but also because it is difficult and challenging. Personally, I went into studying abroad feeling a little too confident in my travel skills and malleability as a person. After arriving in Spain, I was hit hard with homesickness and discomfort which I hadn’t felt even the slightest of during my travels the two months prior. When moving to my new dorm building in Poble Sec, I realized just how many expectations I had before coming to Barcelona and now that I was here, it was overwhelming to turn those expectations into a reality. The reality of studying abroad is that with all the fun comes a lot of difficulties. I fell sick many times in Barcelona which was most likely a product of many late nights, foreign germs entering my immune system, and my constant use of public transportation. My weakened immune system impacted the number of activities that I was able to attend and the trips I was able to take. In addition, a little over halfway through the program I had my phone stolen. This is very common for students studying abroad, especially in Barcelona, however, I had not considered that it may actually happen to me. While many of my friends had prepared for something like this prior to their departure by bringing an extra phone, this reality did not play a role in the study abroad experience that I had imagined for myself. Although I was able to manage alright without a phone for a week or so until I was able to get a new one, I did feel as though I was missing out. I found that the key to making the most of my experience was actually limiting my expectations and understanding that these difficult experiences were just part of it. Overall, it isn’t just the good things, but also the not-so-good things, that help you grow as a person during your time studying abroad.