Barcelona is a unique city full of many sights and Catalan charm. I have been studying in Barcelona for 4 exciting and super busy weeks. With so much to see and do in a short summer semester, here are a few tips to make the most of your study abroad experience.
- Be aware of the cultural differences. You have to keep in mind that you are in a different country, so some things that might seem rude or strange to you is normal for Catalans. For example, people in Barcelona may jump in front of you in line and think nothing about it, even if you have been waiting ten minutes already. They also might look at you a little crazy if you apologize for bumping into them. Don't be rude about it, but don't feel bad or annoyed if it happens. And speaking of looking... Spaniards stare. A lot. Extended eye contact might creep you out in America, but it's best to assume they are just curious and send a friendly smile back their way. Then there's tipping. If someone asks you to tip at a restaurant, it is because you have been spotted as a tourist. It is not typical to tip everywhere you go since their employees are paid on salary. Of course, when you have had excellent service or want to be remembered at your favorite local coffee shop, don't hesitate to leave a euro or two. Most importantly, watch how the locals interact with one another and you are halfway there!
- Get yourself a metro pass. Public transportation is the cheapest and probably most convenient way to get around the city. With a metro pass, you have access to all 1-zone metro stops, the day and night buses, and a few local trains. To get a pass, just go to the nearest stop and look for a red kiosk. Once you find the English language setting, the rest is a piece of cake! I chose to get the "T-50/30" pass which allowed me 50 rides in 30 days. It has been a great option for me since I like to walk to school and purposely get lost around the city, but there is certainly an unlimited monthly pass that costs a little more if walking isn't your thing. If for some reason you need or want to take a taxi, consider using "MyTaxi" or "Uber" as safer and cheaper options. Using a local taxi, you cannot see the taxi route on your phone while in route, so it is possible they may take random turns to inflate your ride cost. I have also spoken with other students whose taxi didn't even drop them off at the right location.
- Hold on to your stuff. I won't stay on this one too long. If you are going anywhere in Europe, you have probably heard this a million times. Just be smart and always keep your hands on your pockets, purses, or backpacks. A professor told me that if I am a little paranoid while in public, I'll leave with everything I came with. So far she was right! I bought little locks in the U.S. before I left to put on my backpack zippers and they have made me feel so much better about carrying my laptop and camera around. If something does get taken from you, do not let it ruin your trip! I have had a couple friends get their phones stolen while here, but it wasn't the end of the world for them believe it or not. Just go to a local phone store and they'll hook you up with a cheap replacement until you get back home.
- Home-stays are the best stays. If you get the option, I highly recommend doing a home-stay! I live with a host mom and one roommate from the U.S. Sure it was little scary to think about living with two strangers for 6 weeks, but they are both far from strangers now and I could not imagine staying with anyone else while I have been here. I have even had friends tell me they regret not living with a host-family. Did I mention I came here speaking no Spanish except for 'hola' ??? Okay, maybe I knew a little more than that, but not much. Regardless, our hand gestures went a long way at first, and living with my host mom has made me practice my Spanish and learn new words every day. I have also gotten to eat true Spanish home-cooked meals while I have been here. There are definitely plenty of great restaurants to visit while in Barcelona, but not much compares to eating food cooked by a local. If the food didn't convince you, I'm not sure what will. But seriously. Stay with a host-family!!!
- Try new things, but comfort is OK. I have had a blast trying new things while in Barcelona. I went to a cooking class to make paella and tons of tapas. I am learning a new language. I am calling a new place home in a whole new country. I am even dressing in a new way, because let's be honest, I wear shorts and a big t-shirt to class most days at UA. People in Barcelona dress less casual while out and about. Just like me, you will have lots of new experiences, but it's okay to do things that make you feel at home, too! Don't completely wreck your body by taking away every bit of its routine. If you usually run for fun (I don't, but I'm sure someone reading this does), find a trail on the outskirts of the city or run along the beach. If you go to church on Sundays, do that here. I even found one that speaks English! My point is, trying new things are great, but a lot of things you already do are great, too!
Going to Barcelona, or leaving the U.S. in general, may be a little overwhelming. The best advice I can offer is that your study abroad experience will be what you make of it. If you walk an hour and a half in the wrong direction (which I did, by the way), laugh it off and find a metro. If you accidentally say the entirely wrong thing to your senora (which I also did), apologize and learn the right words. Don't get caught up in the small messes or you will miss out on the entire trip. I hope these tips help you have the best summer ever in Barcelona!