Exchange year in Barcelona, with COVID-19

Ena Burger
Ena Burger at Parc de la Ciutadella

Ena Burger is an exchange student from Switzerland that has experienced a year abroad living in Barcelona and studying at ESCI-UPF. She shares how she’s lived this period of time with COVID-19.

When it was time to choose a location and a school for the exchange year, a lot of criteria were on my mind, like the school’s and the city’s reputation, the connectedness and infrastructure of and in the country, the language and culture and not to forget the offered courses. My goal was to learn a new language, live in another climate than the one I grew up in, Switzerland, and be able to choose interesting courses. I compared a lot of schools in Europe and saw that ESCI-UPF had a very organized and transparent website with all the information I needed.

When my exchange year finally started, I didn’t know what to expect as COVID-19 was making life complicated. From the enrolment, to the organization of the courses and the handling of the COVID-19 situation, ESCI-UPF handled it very efficiently and flexibly. Although there were uncertain times and I couldn’t decide whether I should stay in Barcelona or go back home, at least I didn’t have to worry about school. Online classes were easy to follow. Even if concentration crashed, because staring into a screen for several hours from the same spot one lived, spending leisure time and working wasn’t helping, the courses were well documented and made it easy to keep up. However because classes were online, no activities nor cultural gatherings were allowed and many international students went back to their home country, there was little of the exchange part in the exchange year, until this year, when restrictions started to be lifted. It is unfortunate to have had an exchange year in these times.

But seeing how life can be without many restrictions I would definitely recommend choosing Barcelona. It seems as though there are more international people living here than locals, which ensures many interesting connections but also creates a more difficult time connecting to locals, especially when one hasn’t mastered the language yet. However there are endless opportunities to meet people or to engage with people. It seems as if the city is always moving. Moving on wheels like cycling, roller skating, or then by feet running, hiking and walking or even exercising in many parts of the city. Furthermore there are endless gastronomic pleasures, cultural institutions and many groups meeting with the help of the app meetup. Make sure to check out the calendar of smaller theatres, where tickets are student friendly, and don’t miss the first Sunday of every month when many museums offer free entry.

However don’t be surprised if you feel overwhelmed at one point as you want to explore the city but at the same time need to invest a lot of effort into school. Courses in ESCI-UPF are quite challenging but very well structured. In my home country, we have another structure. During the semester there are not many obligations, however preparation for exams is incredibly intense, whereas in Barcelona there are constant efforts to be done during the trimester, but preparation for final exams are not that stressful.

I didn’t have any expectations when coming to Barcelona, except to find the sea and get a tan. Still it surprised me. Staying for a longer time, you get to create a new lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow, in nature or in the city, here you can do it all. It is a challenge not to get overwhelmed by the possibilities, and not to constantly look up to the rooftops and walk into things on the street.

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