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Barcelona, Spain

Academics

Students studying abroad through Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) Spain attend the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), a public Spanish university enrolling approximately 90,000 full-time students. Elizabethtown students studying within the biology, business, chemistry and biochemistry, fine and performing arts, history, modern languages, political science, and psychology departments will find a number of course offerings available. Many students from other departments can otherwise fulfill their Elizabethtown College Core Program courses in Barcelona as well. Courses through BCA Barcelona are offered in two formats: BCA classes designed specifically for BCA study abroad students taught by UB faculty members in Spanish or standard classes at the UB in which students study alongside Spanish students. Many students choose to take classes both through BCA and at the regular university level; however, students with a lower Spanish ability are advised to primarily take BCA classes whereas students with a stronger knowledge of Spanish may challenge themselves with a few UB courses.

Students officially register for classes with Dr. Carmen Barbosa Torralbo, BCA Spain resident director, during orientation. She will provide a list of available BCA and UB classes for students to choose. BCA recommends that students going abroad have at least four semesters of college Spanish before going, especially since students will use Spanish every day. No BCA or UB class is taught in English and while all BCA courses are taught in Spanish, it is important to note that the UB is a bilingual university offering classes in Spanish and Catalan, the regional language of Catalonia. Dr. Barbosa Torralbo will know in which language each university level class is taught for students' ease of registration. Furthermore, those students who study in Spain for only one semester and wish to take UB classes will need to confirm with their UB professors the official date of the course's final exam. UB finals typically occur after the end of the BCA program so BCA students must take the final exams for university level classes early. Students should confirm with the professor beforehand to ensure they can take the final exam early. Spanish classes tend to be graded much differently from American classes in that they typically only include a midterm and final exam along with a final paper and few other graded activities. BCA professors are far more lenient on study abroad students than are UB students; however, students who make a point to introduce themselves to UB professors will have a better experience with them.

"While in Barcelona, I chose to take two BCA classes and three classes at the university level. The main difference is the speed at which the professor speaks and moves through material. Any student who feels comfortable with his or her Spanish and is up for a challenge will certainly improve their language ability through classes taught at the UB." (Allan Craven '11)

City and Local Attractions

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and has a population of nearly 2 million people. It is located in northeastern Spain on the Mediterranean coast in the Spanish province of Catalonia and there is no shortage of beaches, festivals, or cultural events throughout the area. The city is often characterized as one of the most metropolitan and culturally accepting in Spain and has a very artistic and natural feel. Some of the most popular destinations within the city among many others include:

Barceloneta: the port neighborhood in which visitors can find the city beach as well as a variety of small restaurants, cafés, and the random concert or cultural event.Ciutat Vella/Ciudad Vieja: located in the heart of downtown historical Barcelona, this neighborhood contains narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants as well as a number of old cathedrals, churches, and the cultural neighborhoods known as El Born and the Barri Gòtic/Barrio Gótico.Montjuïc: a castle located on the top of Montjuïc Mount. Many visitors choose to take the cable car ride up the side of the mountain for spectacular views of the city and the seaport below.Parc Güell/Parque Güell: one of the sites where the famous architect Antoni Gaudí i Cornet designed some of his unique pieces. In the park, visitors will certainly see street musicians and performers along with great views of the city, Gaudí's gingerbread house, and the city's famous dragon sculpture.Tibidabo: many visitors enjoy taking the cable car ride up the side of the largest mountain in the city for a visit to the cathedral and amusement park. This mountain is allegedly where Satan tempted Jesus by offering him rule over the whole world.

Communication

Students who study abroad in Spain often recommend buying a cell phone in Spain in order to communicate primarily with study abroad friends and host families. The most common telephone companies from which students will buy cell phones include Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange. Most students buy pay-as-you-go phones, which cost on average about €25, and students buy additional minutes as necessary from small cigarette shops known as estancos. Students recommend communication with family and friends in the United States through Skype or a similar video chat program. While not all students have access to Internet at their host family's home, the UB has several computer labs in the university libraries that are open nearly at all times of the day. All students receive a mailbox in Dr. Barbosa Torralbo's BCA office, and they may choose to have mail delivered to this mailbox or their host family's home. Students can send mail through the large yellow city mailboxes (similar to American blue mailboxes) that are located on sidewalks throughout the city. Additionally, there are post offices located throughout the city from which students can send mail and pick up large packages.

Cultural Adjustment

"I think everyone has a little bit of culture shock.  However, I think that those students who study abroad expect cultural differences and are ready to handle anything that is thrown at them. I believe that reverse culture shock was harder to deal with than culture shock.  It becomes very difficult to explain such an experience to someone who hasn't gone through the exact same thing.  Friends don't quite understand how spending time in another country could change you so much and give you a different view on life.  The best thing you can do is talk about it with someone else who has studied abroad, laugh about your mistakes, reminisce about your funny night out, and cry about the things you miss.  The friends who simply ask 'How was your trip?' don't understand.  They will smile and nod at your answer, but it does not go further than that." (Alison Cochran '12)

"When I boarded the airplane to Spain, it was the first time that I had ever traveled outside the United States, so I really had no idea what to expect. The three-week orientation class really helps to transition students into life in another country, and since the Spanish lifestyle is so relaxed it makes it easy for students to adjust. I quickly embraced my changing surroundings, but it can be difficult for other students with a lower Spanish ability or who are easily homesick. For me, reverse culture shock was far worse and I found myself missing Barcelona immensely." (Allan Craven '11)

"I didn't have any culture shock since it was the second time that I lived with a host family in Spain; the difficult part was actually leaving Spain, but it was more sadness than culture shock." (Steven DiGrazia '11)

Excursions

During the fall semester, BCA Spain offers a four-day excursion throughout the Spanish autonomous community of Castile and León as part of the art history portion of the pre-semester orientation class. Students visit the cities of León, Astorga, and Burgos for guided visits of the cathedrals and other architectural finds. During the spring semester, BCA Spain offers a four-day excursion throughout the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia as part of the same pre-semester class. During this trip, students visit the cities of Córdoba, Granada, and Seville. Additionally, the program provides optional day and weekend trips during the semester. Locations have varied in the past but typically include a guided tour of the Generalitat of Catalonia and a weekend trip to the Catalan towns of Figueres and Girona.

BCA Spain students are also invited to attend the weekend-long BCA-sponsored International Student Conferences in Derry, United Kingdom for fall semester students and in Strasbourg, France for spring semester students. The conferences are open to all students studying abroad in a European country through BCA and feature speakers related to divided societies for fall-semester students and American-European relations for spring-semester students.

Food

"The Spanish tend to skip breakfast.  However, my host mom was good about making sure there were fruit, muffins, and cereal in the house at all times. I took a bagged lunch almost every day just because of my class schedule, but many people go home for lunch.  My host mom packed lunches for me, which normally consisted of a sandwich and fruit.  On occasion, she would pack some kind of chicken salad or pasta salad. Dinner is typically very late.  Most of my friends ate between 8:00 and 9:30 PM each night.  However, my host mom normally did not serve dinner until 10:30 PM.  I never really got used to that. When dining out, it is normal to sit around for hours just talking and you normally have to ask for the check.  It isn't normal to tip, so the majority of the time we did not unless they treated us particularly special that night." (Alison Cochran '12)

"When living with a host family, I would suggest showing a higher level of etiquette especially when you first arrive to make a good impression. The best policy is to follow what your host family does. For the best seafood, down by the beach is best; for a more modern cheaper dining experience, the Gràcia neighborhood is one of the better areas to eat." (Steven DiGrazia '11)

Health and Safety

Check to make sure that your health insurance policy in the United States will cover you for four months in Spain. If not, you will need to investigate alternative forms of international health insurance. 

In terms of crime, the biggest threat in Barcelona comes from pickpockets, as it can be very common for students have items stolen from them unknowingly while walking in the city. In fact, many Europeans refer to Barcelona as the pickpocket capital of Europe; however, most students who take necessary precautions and are mindful of what they bring with them to what parts of the city will have no problems. Otherwise, most students have found Barcelona to be very safe.

"There is very little violent crime in Barcelona. I never felt unsafe walking alone in the city, even as a female or late at night. The main precaution is to protect your personal belongings. Girls should always keep purses in front of them. The directors suggest something with a flap cover, which I had luckily brought with me. Guys should avoid putting anything in their back pockets because it is very easy for pickpockets to steal from them. Never leave belongings unattended. Luckily I did not have to use my insurance plan. I got a cold once and simply went to the pharmacy and told them what hurt. They handed me medication and sent me on my way. Many things are offered over-the-counter. All you have to do is ask." (Alison Cochran '12)

Housing

All students live with host families, one student per family, throughout the city of Barcelona, the majority of which are located about a half hour to forty-five minutes away by bus from the university. Upon arrival in Spain, students will stay in a hotel in one of Barcelona's neighboring towns (typically Castelldefels) during orientation week before finally moving in with host families. BCA requires all host families to provide their host student with his or her own room and three meals per day. Students typically eat breakfast and dinner at home with their host family and eat a packed lunch that the family provides while at school during the day.

Language

Language in Spain, and particularly in Barcelona, is easily one of the country's largest points of cultural contention. The country's official language is Spanish; however, the autonomous communities of Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands share Catalan as a co-official language. It is very important to understand that Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish. It is in fact its own language with its own vocabulary and pronunciation. In the region's cities, Barcelona included, nearly all residents speak Catalan as their first language and Spanish as their second. As a result, students should not be surprised if people in the city first address them in Catalan before switching over to Spanish for them. Very few Barcelonans speak English; typically, the only ones who do are university students majoring in English at the UB. As a result and due to the fast nature of city life, it is important for interested students to have a decent command of Spanish (BCA recommends four semesters of university-level study) before studying in Spain.

"It can be pretty frustrating at first to figure everything out, but you pick up on it quickly. It is much easier to read Catalan than it is to hear and understand it. It sounds very different from any other language most have heard." (Alison Cochran '12)

"My semester abroad in Spain was the first time that I had ever been to a Spanish-speaking country and certainly the first time I ever had to use Spanish in daily activity. The limited spoken English in Barcelona really forces you to gain more confidence with the language and I left Spain a far better speaker than when I came." (Allan Craven '11)

Money

The vast majority of Elizabethtown students studying abroad in Spain choose to use their American bank accounts in Spain and not open a separate Spanish account. Automatic telling machines (ATM) are widely available throughout the country, but it is important to remember when withdrawing cash from ATMs that there will be transaction fees of varying amounts depending on the bank. Most students recommend taking out large sums of cash infrequently to avoid paying these potentially large fees. It is also important to keep currency conversion in mind as you travel to Spain. The official currency of Spain is the euro, which can widely fluctuate with the American dollar. Most Elizabethtown students spent between $1,000 and $4,000 on personal travel and other expenses. Traveler's checks are accepted in Spain; however, some students have indicated that they are not widely used and are not cost-effective since they charge commission fees.

"I only used my pre-existing American bank accounts. I spent about $1,000, which included flights, housing, and food for about ten personal excursions out of Spain. I just went to the ATMs to take out money with no problem." (Steven DiGrazia '11)

Night Life

The city of Barcelona has a number of popular attractions at night for those who wish to partake. The legal drinking age in Spain is sixteen years so it is much more common to see students legally drinking than in the United States and there is not so much of a social stigma to drinking as there may be in the United States.   The majority of safe night life in Barcelona takes place in the Barceloneta neighborhood by the beach, in the Gràcia district, or in the downtown section of the city by Las Ramblas. Some safe and popular bars and clubs include L'Ovella Negra and George & Dragon, which is one of only two bars in Barcelona that shows American football games. Drinks typically cost between €3 and €4. It is important to remember to keep all personal belongings with you if you choose to go out in the city at night.

Religious Life

Freedom of religion is very important to most Spaniards; however, the vast majority of Spaniards are Roman Catholic. The remaining quarter of Spaniards are mostly either non-religious or some form of Protestant Christianity.

Transportation

Like most modern cities, Barcelona has a relatively advanced city-wide and regional system of transportation. The two most popular modes of transportation for students besides walking include riding the bus or the subway. In order to gain access to either method, students must purchase a ticket in the subway station or online, which is valid for both the subway and the bus. Information about the subway and bus lines can be found here.

"I participated in a city wide communal biking program called Bicing, where I paid one flat price to use bicycles located all around the city to get from place to place. I only took the bus about twice. The metro is quicker and more reliable. The airport is fantastic; there are tons of flights coming in and out and it is easy to get to and navigate. I took the train to different cities around Spain, and it is new and more comfortable than the Amtrak here in the United States and cheaper too!" (Steven DiGrazia '11)

University

Unlike Elizabethtown, the UB is not a centralized campus since each academic building is located in a different part of the city. All BCA classes are held in the modern languages building, which is located right next to the Universitat subway stop, or the history and geography building, which is located right down the street from both the Catalunya and Universitat subway stops. Students who choose to take UB classes with Spanish students may have other classes in these buildings or elsewhere throughout the city. There are some clubs available that may be of interest to some students, especially clubs that are designed specifically for international students. The BCA director also encourages American students to sign up for an intercambio, or Spanish conversation partner, who will help students practice their Spanish while also improving their own English.

Weather

Seasons in Barcelona are comparable to a typical Mediterranean climate. Students studying in Barcelona during the fall semester will find average temperatures to be around 75 °F upon arrival in August that will eventually fall to around 50 °F by December. Students studying in Brussels during the spring semester will find average temperatures to be around 50 °F upon arrival in January that will eventually rise to around 65 °F by May. Rain is not uncommon in Barcelona, but it is highly unlikely that students will need to prepare themselves for snowy or icy conditions.

"When I went in the fall, my semester started in the summer. There was simply no escaping the heat at that point. It can get pretty humid because city sits right on the sea. After a couple weeks, the weather cooled down slightly and hovered in the mid 60s to mid 70s range. This weather lasted for a long time and called for just a light jacket or cardigan at night. The last two or three weeks of the semester got very cold very quickly. Virtually overnight I had to switch to a heavy coat and sweaters. By that point, I was very thankful that I had packed boots to wear. I do regret, however, not packing taller socks." (Alison Cochran '12)

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