By Dani Thomason
You have taken a leap of faith and decided to move half way across the world to study abroad in a foreign country. Now comes the hard part. Where should you spend those unforgettable couple of months?
If you are like many Americans, Barcelona seems like a pretty good deal. With the beach, beautiful weather and outrageous nightlife what more could you possibly want? I had the privilege of studying abroad in Barcelona for a year and I can honestly say I loved every second of it. When I was making the decision of where to go, I had a very different idea of how Barcelona would be. That is why I have put together a list of pros and cons for studying abroad in this very special city that I will always call home.
1. Easy to Travel:
The majority of the study abroad students who come to Europe fully intend to hop from country to country on their free weekends. Since Barcelona is such a large city, they have one of the best international airports in Spain to travel in and out of. No matter where you are trying to go in Europe, Barcelona’s airport will have cheaper and more frequent flight options compared to that of smaller cities. Barcelona is also well connected with the RENFE trains, which can take you throughout the country if you are just traveling within Spain.
2. Food Options:
One of Barcelona’s best characteristics is the abundance of food options offered. Of course you can find those rustic traditional mom and pop tapas bars, however lots of restaurants around the city are redefining classic Spanish cuisine by offering a spin to the standard Jamon plate or Patatas Bravas. Whether you are looking for healthy vegan options or a late night kabab stand, Barcelona has you covered. There are also lots of restaurants that cater towards places you might find in America. Craving a Sunday brunch or good ole cheeseburger? Don’t worry, Barcelona really does kill it in the food game.
3. Great Public Transportation:
No matter where I travel to, I always come back to Barcelona with such an appreciation for its awesome public transportation. In the states we are so used to depending on our car to get from point A to point B, but while abroad that’s no longer an option. The metro in Barcelona is so efficient, easy, and helpful. You can effortlessly get anywhere in the city through its metro or bus system. Even if you have to take a taxi, they are very reasonably priced and cost just a couple of euros if you split one with a few friends.
4. Fun Night Life:
We all know that there is a lot more to studying abroad than just the “study” part. It’s important to keep up the social aspect of being in college. Barcelona’s crazy nightlife reputation does not disappoint, and many students who study abroad here take full advantage of the nightly club promotions and special student deals that are always offered. If clubbing Monday through Sunday isn’t quite your cup of tea, that’s not an issue at all. There are endless bars that are a lot more low-key and relaxed to check out if that’s more your scene.
5. Endless Places to See:
Even after studying abroad in Barcelona for an entire year, I can honestly say there is always something to do. If you are the kind of person who likes being busy and going on adventures, Barcelona would be perfect for you. There are so many places to see around the city in your free time. You can grab a juice from the Boqueria or stroll through the El Born neighborhood in the afternoon. Regardless where you go, you will always find something new to explore!
6. Unique Culture:
Barcelona is very different from what you might think of as “typical Spain”. In fact, I’d consider Barcelona to be its own unique breed. Since a large population of the locals refer to themselves as “Catalan” instead of Spanish, it is very interesting to see and learn about the differing ideas that make up the city. Regardless of whether you support their fight for independence from Spain or not, it is fascinating to hear all the different perspectives.
7. International Hotspot:
No matter what time of year it is, there will be travelers from all around the world visiting Barcelona. If you are someone who wants to go abroad, but might be hesitant to go somewhere too far outside of your comfort zone, Barcelona would be a great fit. Even though it’s in Spain, you don’t necessarily need to know Spanish to study there. Actually, the majority of the people in Barcelona speak English as well as Catalan and Spanish. I very rarely ran into any language barrier issues during my time in Barcelona.
8. Museums and Artists:
Barcelona has a cornucopia of museums, exhibitions, and famous architecture throughout the city. Antoni Gaudi, the architect behind the incredible Sagrada Familia Cathedral, is the main star for Barcelona when it comes to local well-known artists. You can find his distinct and whimsical work scattered through this city. There is even a museum of Picasso’s early works to check out!
9. Perfect Weather Year-round:
I think it’s safe to say that Barcelona is one of the best locations for great weather year-round. Barcelona’s few rainy days are incomparable to the rest of Europe during winter. Not only is it blessed with great weather, but it also has a wonderful beach to kickback on. Whether you are studying abroad for the fall or spring semester in Barcelona, you will still get your fair share of beach days!
1. Not "Traditional" Spain
If you are set on studying abroad in a Spanish city because of the culture, don’t go to Barcelona. I suggest you go somewhere in Andalucía if you are looking for flamenco and paella. Barcelona is a very busy and metropolitan city, and the charm that you might expect from studying abroad in Spain may be hard to find there. Keep in mind this can easily happen in any large city. You just don’t get the same “homey” feeling you would find in a smaller place. Even when it comes to celebrations, Barcelona has its own holidays and traditions separate from the rest of Spain.
2. Hard to Learn Spanish
Whenever I told people I wanted to study abroad in Barcelona and learn Spanish, I would often get asked “Don’t they speak a different language from the rest of Spain?” Although the locals speak Catalan, they also speak Spanish and English as well. I figured it’s still part of Spain, so it should be no problem to learn Spanish, right? Wrong. Everyone speaks English, so every time you try to order at a restaurant or ask a question in Spanish they almost always respond in English if they can hear that you are not a native speaker. There just isn’t a need to learn Spanish, unless you are living with a host family. For me at least, I wanted to be forced to learn the language, but everyone spoke perfect English.
3. Challenge to Meet Locals
Once again, being in a big city comes with a price. Locals seem to immediately separate “tourists” from “locals” and can come off as distant if they know you are not from Spain. I have been in smaller cities throughout the country where this was not an issue. In many cities around Spain I have found people to be more outgoing and friendly even if their English isn’t as strong. Locals from Barcelona seem to keep to themselves a lot more, which might be something to consider.
Unfortunately, pocketing is an issue in Barcelona. No matter what time of year it is, this kind of theft happens often. The worst part about it is these thieves are known to be some of the best pickpockets in all of Europe. Sadly, students from America can be a target if they come across as tourists. As long as you are being extra cautious while walking through the streets, you should have no problem.
If you are in Barcelona during or near the summer months, the city completely changes. While there are always tourists throughout the year, the city gets unbearably crowded nearing the summer months. It seems almost unavoidable no matter where you are in the city. Prices rise, streets flood with tour groups, and the city is taken over by selfie sticks. That, to me, is not how Barcelona should be enjoyed.
All in all, Barcelona is a very safe choice for studying abroad. It boils down to personal preference and what you want to get out of your experience. Personally, the romantic streets of the gothic quarter and late night trips to Bunkers del Carmel captivated me; it truly is such a unique city.
No matter what you end up choosing, just remember your experience abroad is what you make of it. By the end of your journey I guarantee that you will be calling your new host country your forever home away from home.