9 March 2014
Notwithstanding the iconic film Auberge Espagnole, Barcelona is probably the epitome of the Erasmus experience. It is almost the polar opposite of St Andrews, with its mild weather, open minded and diverse population, cheap prices, perfect size, good food, and even better nightlife. I spent my year abroad interning at a translation agency just off Passeig de Gràcia in one of Barcelona’s most central neighbourhoods (la dreta de l’eixample), renowned for its Gaudí buildings and Art Nouveau architecture.
Aside from drastically improving my Spanish and picking up some Catalan along the way, I created countless memories to which this brief article cannot even begin to do justice. I lived with Spaniards, which I strongly recommend — aside from teaching you a lot about the local culture, they are an extremely warm and friendly people. Also, my Erasmus friends from all over Europe became more like siblings than friends as we shared countless struggles and joys. And, last but not least, my office was a tremendously stimulating environment. My co-workers were very friendly and they made sure I was receiving valuable training and transferable skills.
Although my year abroad was undoubtedly an invaluable experience, students should carefully consider the implications of working full time in a foreign country. Even though my employer was extremely helpful, there was some inevitable initial culture shock and loneliness which comes with suddenly being flung into a large city with little or no contacts. Students should also realize that if they embark on a work abroad placement, most of the friends they make will be outside the office. This is an important difference between the placement option and the traditional study abroad, in which one is surrounded by similarly aged, like-minded people from the start. However, the pro-active student will take it upon him or herself to take initiative and make friends with a more diverse set of people he would not have otherwise met on a traditional Erasmus.
I strongly recommend Barcelona as an Erasmus destination. I will be extremely jealous of the student that read my review and decided to head for the Catalan capital. Whilst I sulk over piles of books, he or she will be basking in the Spanish sun, learning life lessons which cannot be taught in a classroom, all over a cold canya.