When I think about the fact that I’ve spent a month abroad already, I have to pinch myself a little bit. That’s a whole month without ringing my mum, crying about how much I want to come home; or giving in and speaking English out of frustration when not understanding what people are saying to me. My tolerance levels have grown ten-fold over the space of this month in that respect — it’s amazing how much you have to step back and evaluate each situation when you’re adjusting to living in a new environment with new people, new customs and different languages. It’s a lot to take in.
I’m living in the very heart of the bustling Catalonian City of Barcelona, in the north-east of Spain. My time is being split doing an Erasmus study abroad placement at the Universitat de Barcelona — which I can only describe as a sunnier version of Hogwarts in appearance — and working part-time in retail, similar to how I have been in Leeds for the past year. What can I say? I’m a creature of habit.
When I stepped off the plane and on to the train to the city centre, that’s when I had my first proper realization of what I was about to me stepping in to. I had been anticipating that day for at least two and half years when I got my confirmation from UCAS to say that I was going to be studying Spanish at Leeds, and I had already made the big move from Manchester to Leeds in September 2013 when I graced the territory of Lyddon Hall, but a 40-mile trip compared to a 750+ mile trip doesn’t quite compare as much. I had a lot organised in advance with my move to Barcelona, including a flat to live in straight away, so I felt less nervous than I could have been, but nerves were still definitely present. I guess you could say it was quite naïve of me to pay a deposit on a flat before actually seeing it in person, but I did my homework and I knew I couldn’t let go of it. The bonus of having a land lady and a flatmate that don’t speak a word of English means I got plenty of language practice in from the very start, so I was very thankful for that as well.
If I was to give a bit of a summary of how everything is going so far, I’d say I’ve spent roughly 30% of my time sorting out legal documents which allow me to work in Spain (NIE, Bank Account, Social Security, etc.); 20% of my time in university — mainly battling with the 8am lectures that I signed myself up for; 25% of my time battling with myself, trying not to purchase food from every vendor in the street (I can’t help the fact that it all looks so good!); and another 25% of my time refining both my Spanish and Catalan accents so that I can try and fit in a little bit more. Throw in easy access to a very beautiful beach, up to 30 celsius heats and a lot of very nice coffee, and I think that sums it all up!
I think it’d certainly fair to say that I came to Barcelona just at the right point. September is very much the month of celebrations, at least in Catalonia, if not in all of Spain, and that then means plenty of public holidays and lots going on within the city. First came the National Day of Catalonia which takes place on September 9. This is an opportunity for Catalans to take a day off and celebrate their beautiful land. Past celebrations have included creating a human chain of people right from the top of Catalonia and its borders with Andorra and Southern France, right to the very bottom of the border with the Valencian regions, as well as creating a rainbow run of people right through Barcelona. Running from September 18-24 is La Mercè, which is a localized celebration of Barcelona – a yearly six-day event that has tonnes of cultural events on, such has concerts (a free Crystal Fighters street concert was not bad at all), huge firework displays and Castells (otherwise known as the human towers, a huge Catalan tradition).
So far I’d like to say that I’m making the most of every opportunity that comes my way. I’ve been trying to visit as many different places as possible during my time here, both within the province of Barcelona and outside. It’s extremely easy to act out desires to travel within Europe when living in the mainland — so much so that I’ve already scribbled out a list of other places that I’d like to visit before my year abroad ends next July. I have Berlin and Lisbon (potentially) on my list, as well as a couple of places in Spain as well that I’d like to visit, so watch this space.
Places I have visited already include Tibidabo, a beautiful mountainous spot just within the city which offers spectacular views of the city from high up — a ‘must do’ for when in Barcelona for anybody visiting the city either on holiday or as part of a year abroad. The place includes a very majestic church which can be climbed for even more breathtaking views, and a small theme park to help pass the time a little bit more.
Further trips have also been made to Girona – a neighbouring Catalan province, Figueres – home of the Dalí Museum and Theatre, and Besalú – an extremely beautiful medieval city nearby. I had the privilege of visiting these places last year when studying Catalan in Girona over the summer, but seeing them the second time around made it even more special. It was a flying visit to each of these places, but it was all still fantastic. Eating candy-floss topped ice cream in Girona, seeing the amazing works of Salvador Dalí in Figueres and visiting a very lovely independent publishers fair in Besalú and buying myself some very lovely Catalan literature is by far a nicer experience than needing to go out clubbing each night. There’s so much to do and to take in during the day, it’d be a massive shame to miss it, I think.
I can honestly say that I am really enjoying my time here in Barcelona – it’s to be expected that I would feel a little homesick, and I do, but having a beautiful city to live in and some great friends that I’ve met over here lessens that feeling for me. Until next time — greetings from Barcelona!