Antje Blumhagen, an exchange student from Denmark, shares her first impressions about living and studying in Barcelona. In spite of COVID-19, she’s taken advantage of her semester abroad in Barcelona.
The prospect of sunny weather in winter, the beaches in front of your door and a welcoming culture made my decision easy to apply for a semester abroad in Barcelona. After I studied one year at my home university SDU in cosy and rainy Denmark where you can calm down and decelerate life, a stay in Barcelona would be the complete opposite.
After I have received the confirmation of ESCI-UPF that I can participate in the Bachelor courses in International Business, I started to prepare for my stay abroad. The contact persons at the university were very helpful and reliable in case of questions regarding course selections, documents etc. The organization was fast and smooth and except for Coronavirus, nothing stopped me from backing my backpack. Of course, the situation in Spain regarding COVID-19 was different than in other countries, but the university initially planned face-to-face classes and guaranteed a switch to online courses immediately in case of deterioration.
Before I arrived in Barcelona, I was already searching for a flat. Platforms like Badi or Idealista as well as several Facebook groups were very helpful to get an idea about what you can expect regarding prices, accommodations and areas. Finally, I booked a room in a shared flat through Badi in Barrio Gótico (a charming quarter close to the beach and normally one of the most touristic places, but luckily due to Coronavirus it felt I was the only tourist). Since I wanted to soak up the atmosphere and impressions of the city, I arrived two weeks before the university started. I spent the first time to explore the city and its highlights. The Sagrada Familia, Camp Nou, bunkers and Tibidado from which you have great views over the city, the hustle and bustle of the different quarters and beaches around Barcelona were a must. The streets are lively, cafés and restaurants are visited all times of the day and it is easy to get in touch with people. The first thing I bought was a bike through the marketplace Wallapop (very helpful for things you may need but don’t want to bring) as it is much cheaper and more comfortable than using the metro or busses. Also, Barcelona is very centralized, you can reach everything easily and quickly by bike. I was not used to wearing a mask as soon as I walked out of the door, but you get used to it and everybody sticks to it as well.
At the beginning of the trimester, the university organized a welcome day for all international students. We were shown the campus and most important facilities followed by a guided city tour with interesting background information about history and development. Within the first month, we were able to attend face-to-face classes and get to know our teachers and fellow students. Some classmates couldn´t participate in person, so they got the chance to follow online from the beginning on. Since I study a master programme in Sports Management in the second year at my home university, I cannot really compare the content and courses themselves, but evaluating the methods at ESCI-UPF I would say it is a good mix between frontal teaching, individual and group work. The teachers are happy to help wherever they can and offer direct contact. The final grade of most of the courses is made up of weekly assignments, presentations and exams.
I spent most of the weekends travelling around Barcelona and exploring the nature around. Places I can highly recommend to visit are Tossa de Mar, Cadaqués and Sitges along the coast and Vic, Rupit, Montserrat and Congost de Mont-rebei to go for a hike. The train connections for places around Barcelona work very well and are available from many stations in the city. For longer trips or destinations that cannot be reached by train, we have used the app Getaround where you can rent cars for a reasonable price.
Due to the development of COVID-19, classes had to be switched to online after a couple of weeks and it was no longer allowed to be at the university. The feeling of studying abroad was a little bit lost but due to the good organization, we were able to keep the schedule of the trimester and finish the courses as planned.
Barcelona is a lively and varied city with plenty of opportunities. To get in contact with locals I can recommend the apps Meetup and Celebreak (in case you like to play football). If you have doubts about language skills, don´t worry! People are very welcoming and willing to help you out. Nevertheless, it is always nice to have some basics in mind. My Spanish is far from being fluent, but I have noticed that the locals appreciate it when you try it anyway. COVID-19 of course influenced the stay and limited some things, but it has been a great experience to get to know the Spanish culture and mentality.