Recap: My Erasmus+ semester abroad in Barcelona 2017/18 (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Well and there it goes. A semester being abroad is over already. Crazy, right? Time went by so fast I cannot even tell. So, since I have received a lot of questions regarding my time in Spain, I thought I would answer them all and tell you about my time in Barcelona in one whole post. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me any time!

What I’ve been doing in Barcelona

I did my exchange semester in Barcelona, at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona exactly. It was part of the Erasmus+ programme which is offered by the EU. My home university (University of the Arts Berlin) and the UAB are partner universities so I could study there for free and received a little scholarship within the programme.

How long I stayed in Spain

In the whole I stayed five months and a few days in Barcelona. I arrived on the 29th August 2017 and returned on the 31st January 2018. Actually I planned to stay until the end of February but even though the semester ends beginning February officially, all courses and exams terminate in January.
The winter semester in Spain starts in the beginning/mid of September and ends beginning/mid February.

Why I chose and moved to Barcelona

Actually Barcelona wasn’t my first choice. Not even my second. Honestly I wanted to go to Toronto (Canada) or Sydney (Australia) but yeah, I didn’t get in (university regulations, blabla). Barcelona was my just-in-case-option, because the other cities didn’t neither interest me nor I didn’t fulfill the requirements (UdK Berlin has a lot of partner universities in France and Spain, but unfortunately I forgot all my French skills and the smaller cities in Spain didn’t get my attention then).

Since there was still a free place for Catalonia’s capital I was offered to go to Barcelona. Fortunately I already had begun to learn Spanish back then, so I took it as an opportunity to learn and deepen my Castellano skills. And yes, I always wanted to study abroad and I loved Barcelona from my first visit in 2016. So Barcelona it was.

Studying at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Firstly you have to know that the UAB ist not in Barcelona. It is located in Bellaterra, near Sabadell in Zona 2 in Catalonia (the city of Barcelona itself if in Zone 1). So if you live in the city (if you do an exchange semester I highly recommend to live in the city, not near the university) it takes roughly an hour to get there. Yes, as you can imagine it is a pain in the a**. So choose your courses wisely that you only have to go to Bellaterra a few times a week.

Back in Berlin I don't have a campus so it was quite nice to have everything at one place. There is a huge cafeteria where I didn't eat at all because everything they offered was fatty, fried and overpriced food or sweets. Oh, I bought one salad there in the beginning of the semester but from then on I brought my own lunch and only had coffee there (which is quite nice for 1€). And you can have cervesa/beer in the morning, FYI. Besides that there is a pharmacy, a Santander bank, a sweets shop, an optician, a post office, an ESN Erasmus office (the only one in BCN besides the one at UB) and some things more located at Plaça Cívica. And in times of Independencia de Cataluña a lot of demonstrations.

I took two courses at my faculty (Facultad de la Comunicación) from two study programmes (Periodismo/Journalism and Publicidad y Relationes Públicas/Advertising and Public Relations) and one course at the Faculty of Psychology and one at the Faculty of Politics, since I had to deliver a minimum of 20 ETCS for the Erasmus+ programme (each course included 6 ECTS).
Course-wise I can say that the level of most courses are lower than in Northern Europe. Sometimes I really asked myself „WTF is he/she talking about?!“ because the content was so obvious and old-fashioned. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do a lot for your credits. In fact the workload is quite high in comparison to the ECTS you will get for them. Teaching style is mainly front-lessons, that means the professor will explain something and you will write it down and recite it word for word in the final exam. Fun, I know.

Living in Barcelona

Other than that Barcelona has a lot to offer. Nice bars, restaurants, great coffee and cake, libraries, museums, galleries, operas, theatres, cinemas, parcs, art in public spaces. Clubs in my opinion not too much. I had very fun nights in Barcelona but clubbing wasn't really the thing to go for me.

Actually I am planning to prepare some posts about my favourite spots, so stay tuned for that!

What I actually did in Spain

Learning Spanish in Barcelona

Honestly I took my semester abroad as a chance to learn Spanish and to travel. As you might know I finished my Bachelor's graduation project last May and with that I already fulfilled all my credits I need for graduation. I only have to write my thesis but since I cannot use any of the ECTS I get there, studying was one of my last concerns.

My Spanish level before Barcelona was roughly A2 (I took classes until B1.1 in Germany but I didn't finish that class). For three months I took a Spanish course at the Oxford House at the B1 level. I had classes two times a week (extentive course on Mondays and Wednesdays) in the evening (20:00-21:30) and paid 140€. In comparison to other schools it was very cheap and with its location at Passeig de Gràcia easily reachable. But actually I should have gone for a B2 class, since the teacher used a A2 book and it was only revising for me.

During my time I met with several tandems (=language exchange partners) which I met at this Facebook Tandem group. We talked in Spanish, English and German and talking with them really improved my listening and speaking skills, which were really bad before. Now I can have conversations without thinking too much about it and that's where I wanted to be at the end of my stay. So: Goal achieved!

One last tip language-wise: Get a flatmate or/and a romantic partner who speaks your desired language and try to have conversation only in that language! If they only speak e.g. in my case Spanish, then you are forced to talk in Spanish of course. It really helps and you will learn it in no time, haha.

Travels in Spain

My next big thing on my bucket list for Spain were travels. Beforehand Madrid, Andalusia and Bilbao were the places I definitely wanted to see. In the end I realised hell of more. I recommend to check Ryanair and Vueling for flights, Alsa (and other bus companies) Renfe when there are no busses and also BlaBlaCar! If you collect Alsa points from the beginning, you can get a discount in the end (e.g. I only paid one trip to Donostia-San Sebastián because I had enough points to get -50% on my bus ticket). Travelling by a shared car can be a challenge but in my experience it was always very fun to talk to the locals and I got awesome tips from them. Okay, one time Teresa and I thought we are going to die on the high way, but besides that I only had very nice drivers and conversations.

Another tip: Travelling during winter in Spain is cheaper and not too bad. It can get freezingly cold (Granada and if you are staying at a horrible AirBNB like us in Seville) but it is nothing compared to Northern weather conditions. And less tourists.

That's where I have been (no chronological order):

  1. Catalunya: Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, Montserrat & Sitges
  2. Vàlencia: Vàlencia
  3. Aragonia: Zaragoza
  4. Metropolitana de Madrid: Madrid & San Lorenzo de El Escorial
  5. Andalucía: Málaga, Granada, Sevilla, Cádiz & Córdoba
  6. País Vasco: Bilbao & Donostia-San Sebastián

But now I really wanna go to Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Ronda, the Balearic and Canary Islands. After that I am mostly finished with Spain. ;P

How I covered my costs

If you are looking for a room I recommend Idealista and Facebook. I actually only searched on FB and was very lucky to find a place already in June/July but my friends all used Idealista and were quite desperate in the end. Calculate about 350-450€ for the rent and maybe even more with additional costs. Standard-wise houses in Spain are mostly non-insulated and during the warmer months it is fine but during winter it can get freezingly cold. Also look out for mould, they are quite a big issue there. And lastly if you like to have a window (yes, a window is really optional there) avoid "camas interiors".

Groceries-wise it always depends what you are eating. I max. spent 150€ per month and mostly ate vegetarian or vegan (I simply prefer veggies over meat). Eating out is pricey but I am also spoilt by Berlin's prices.

Cultural-wise: On the first Sunday of each month many museums are open for free. And most of them also have free entry every Sunday from 3 PM on. A few ones are even completely free for students all the time. Just check their websites.

As mentioned I received a little scholarship from the Erasmus+ programme, which maybe covered my monthly groceries. Furthermore I applied for Auslands-BAföG and received money from there. If you're studying in Germany you should try for it, even though the load of documents you have to hand in are hell of work. With that I mostly covered all my monthly living expenses (food: 150€, rent: 350€, additional costs: 40-60€, health insurance: 90€, Metro: 48€ [T-Jove for 2 Zonas: 142€ for 3 months], free time: depends, ...), which, let's say added up to 850-900€. Even though I was on a quite tight budget, I didn't want to restrain myself from experiencing anything. Fortunately I can work from home and therefore I took some extra shifts before and during Barcelona to save up some money for my travels. It's all about good calculation and priorities, you know?

My fears, anxieties, worries, …

Before I arrived in Barcelona my biggest concern was the language. I basically just started learning Spanish and even though my knowledge in Latin and French helped me, I had a very hard time and felt so stupid during Spanish classes. I learn grammar very easily but the hardest part for me was to get a feeling of the language, to understand auditively (because I didn't had any practice). That's why I was really anxious of studying there because I was worried not to pass any course.
Well, funnily after I arrived in Barcelona the university was my least concern and I even didn't care if I passed or not (of course I needed and wanted to pass, but I didn't worry too much). All my fears before: Pooooof, gone.

I wasn't worried about living by myself in a foreign country. I already have been there (even though I lived with my family in Korea and it still was different) but in the beginning I was a bit concerned that I will end up on my own because I didn't know anybody. Unnecessary concern as well, since I arrived in Barcelona with three other girls from my university and made friends at the UAB, went out with my flatmate, dated some people and met my tandems regularly. And I enjoy doing stuff alone anyway, so also here: Worries – pooooof, gone.

Did I regret it? 

As I said earlier I had already finished my studies last May, so the semester abroad was a decision to expand my study time. If I hadn't done that, I could already be in my second semester of my Master's programme or work. So I had to decide if I want to take (half) a year off again. Under certain circumstances it is a very crucial decision and in my case it was one.

But immediately I arrived in Barcelona I knew, just knew, it was the right choice. And now, in the end, I can say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I could clear my mind from all the cloudyness I felt before, recharge my inner batteries, travel as much as I want, do and eat and just enjoy everything without worrying too much. Get to know various people, learn a fourth language and just experience and gain many memories.

I only regret one thing: Stopping to work out. I have been doing sports for over five years regularly but last year it was very hard to keep up with my fitness schedule. And after I moved to Spain I didn't go to the gym anymore but tried to keep me fit with pilates at home. Well, the motivation wasn't as high as expected so I stopped completely. The results? Constant back pain, no stamina, loss of all my muscles, horrible weight loss, falling ill seriously every damn month, fatigue, ... I couldn't wait to get back to Germany only to start training again.

One note: Pickpocketing in Barcelona is serious. Nearly every two weeks people tried to steal from me, didn't matter if on the streets, in cafés, at the Metro, at a shop. Maybe because they thought I am an a tourist from Asia and therefore an easy target. I lost my wallet due to that and had to waste time at the police station to file a report. Since then I am even more paranoid, even back in Berlin. So please, please keep an eye on your stuff. Secure your backpack with a lock, use a bumbag, don't put anything into pockets which cannot be sealed. I am bloody serious. It could have been worse (I heard horrible stories about being robbed and hit heavily) but it will save you a lot of time and nerves.


Some last words

Even though everyone says that: The semester will pass by like nothing. Time flies. Especially if you are in a foreign country with a foreign language you may not speak/understand too well, experience a lot of new stuff, get to know a bunch of people ... It can get exhausting. But enjoy it, even the bad stuff are somehow worth experiencing. It will let you grow.

If you have the chance to go abroad during your studies: Do it. Don't overthink it, don't be worried. When will you be able to live in a foreign country again? Most of the time it doesn't matter how good your language skills are. Take it as a chance to learn a new language. You should be prepared but not plan everything through. It won't be like that anyway.

And everything will be okay in the end, I promise.

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