Not Bringing a Computer…and other strange things I have doneBarcelona, Spring 2011
Classes are winding down, my roommate is packing his bags, and at the moment, I am writing on my bed trying to thing of a few things that may help a future IES Barcelona student. Barcelona is a city to fall in love with. Instead of vague suggestions that you might find in a self-help book for love, however, I thought I would describe four particular decisions I made before coming to Spain that have enhanced my study abroad experience. Pick and choose the ones that work for you. The purpose here is not to claim what every student should do, but maybe give you some things to think about before arriving to the best city in the world.
1. I came to Barcelona early. Classes started in the middle of January, and I arrived a couple days before New Years. I knew little about the city, I did not know a single person, and my Spanish was paltry after one semester of the language in college. Looking back, I could not have made a better decision than to come a couple weeks before classes started. I met tons of travellers staying in a social hostel (Be Mar Hostel, http://barcelonamar.com/), and I took advantage of the free city tours. Before classes even started, I visited the city´s main sightseeing attractions and the seven art museums on the Barcelona Art Ticket (http://www.articketbcn.org/), which is economically worth it only if you decide to go to all seven. By coming early, I also had a chance to experience a Barcelona New Year´s. A semester might sound like a lot of time to see all of what Barcelona has to offer, but especially if you are planning trips to other cities, your time here in Barcelona will fly.
2. Along with my intensive Spanish class at the IES center, I enrolled in two courses each at Pompeu Fabra University and the University of Barcelona. For me, the benefits of taking five classes at three different institutions outweighed the drawbacks. Pompeu Fabra had a fairly active campus life with a variety of extracurriculars that foreign students could easily join (http://www.upf.edu/cultura/es/). With a group of Catalan students, I went on a school sponsored ski trip to Andorra. I also took a weekly salsa class. Attending Pompeu Fabra University was the best way to connect with Catalan students. Additionally, my most interesting class on Catalan nationalism was at this university. If you have a chance to enroll in a class with the engaging Antoni Raja-i-Vich, take advantage of the opportunity.
The other university I attended was the University of Barcelona. The benefit of UB was that it offered subjects in Spanish for non-fluent speakers. My two classes here were on the history of art classes, and they were both in Spansih. I found that even with an elementary level of Spanish it was possible to do fine in the Spanish classes that were designed for people with minimal Spanish background. The main drawback of enrolling at outside institutions was that my classes were never next to each other. The University of Barcelona is only a few blocks from the IES center, but Pompeu Fabra is a 15 minute metro ride.
3. I selected the homestay living option as opposed to living in a dorm. From talking with other friends living with Catalan families, it sounds like my homestay experience has been very different from most. My homestay ¨dad¨ hosts many other students in his large apartment, and he lives their with his son. Along with my roommate, I live with a couple students from Mexico and a girl from Texas. Other students, not related to IES, have moved in and out of the apartment during the semester. The arrangement is great for meeting other students, and the son is particularly interesting as he is training for the Olympics as a snowboarder. This means my homestay dad and son are gone most weekends. This works for me, but with the sometimes hotel atmosphere, I do not feel like I have become particularly close with the family. The biggest benefit of choosing the homestay option has been the food. Dinners are large and tasty arrangements with the best meals including paella and calamari. Most meals include at least one of the following: fish, ham, or pasta. There is always a salad and bread appetizer, and there are usually options of a yogurt or mandarine for dessert. When the family is away, extra food is always prepared and stored in the refrigerator. Breakfasts are simple do-it-yourself affairs with cereal or toast.
4. My homestay host still makes fun of me for it: I did not bring a computer with me to Barcelona. It is not that I don´t have a good laptop back in the states, and it is not that I lost it in the airport. I just decided not bring one. I am not anti-technology (for I am writing a blog), but I thought the time I usually waste on a computer would be better spent exploring Barcelona. Additionally, I knew I would be doing a lot of traveling, and I did not want to have the extra baggage, though all my fellow students brought a laptop without any problems. I am happy to report that I survived the experiment. I found myself reading and reviewing notes in coffee shops more than if I knew I had a laptop waiting back at the apartment. When I needed a computer for school or the blog, I made use of the the computers at the IES center, which are relatively new and run smoothly. The IES computers do not have microphones, however, so I usually called home with Skype or Google Phone at computer in Pompeu Fabra University library or one of the Internet cafes scattered around Barcelona (usually 1 euro/hour). I would hesitate recommending this to most students, but if you think you can handle the inconveniences, you just might fight yourself having a more rewarding study abroad experience without a laptop.
Here you have four tidbits about arriving, learning, and living in Spain. My time in Barcelona went fast. I feel like by making these few decisions before I left, it helped make the most out of my short time here.
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