Spain, Barcelona – Michael Taylor – 2006-2007

Barcelona: Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Congratulations, I assume that in reading this, you are interested in studying in Barcelona. Wise move. Do it.

Arrival and accommodation

The university run a welcome week for Erasmus students, which I’m told is really good, I was doing an internship at the time, so couldn’t make it. However with city tours, tapas crawls and general orienteering programs it is a really good way to meet people and settle in quickly. With regard to accommodation, there are two options.

  1. Hall of residence. The halls are run privately by RESA and they have 2 halls specifically for Pompeu students (Campus del mar, Ciutadella). Places are limited and so if you wish to stay in hall you will have to apply in your second year. This is what I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed hall. Rooms are en suite with a tiny kitchen, but most importantly you will be living with Spanish people!
  2. The more popular option is to get a flat in the city. There is an abundance of accommodation so finding a flat is easy. The university website has links to student accommodation offices, and flyers in the uni and across the city will be constantly advertising accommodation. Many people book into a hostel for their first couple of weeks and then look for accommodation; this allows you to meet potential flat mates as well. Basically, although it seems daunting, it really isn’t.

The University

Situated next to Parc Ciutadella and just back from the beach it really is the perfect location (metro Vila Olimpica). Most of the other universities are based in the hills of Tibidabo, a real trek from the centre. However be warned the streets become home to a tribe of transvestites after 9, don’t be lured by the pvc! So uni by day red light by night, that’s pretty typical of Barcelona as a city, a mass of contradictions.

The language centre is based in a campus on La Rambla the most famous street in the city, so if you wish to take Spanish courses these will be based on a separate campus to the business and economics modules.

Modules

There is a list of modules available to business Erasmus students. It’s fairly extensive and offers courses in Spanish, English and Catalan. You are free to choose whatever you like but be warned there is a huge spectrum of difficulty levels. The economics modules are much more mathematical than in Exeter as a general rule, so I would advise that you speak to the lecturer to gauge what will be expected come the exam.

When choosing modules you have two weeks to sample classes before committing. However, once the course fills you will not be permitted to take it. This happened to me in my first term, and I wasn’t allowed to take 3 of my preferred modules. What happens in reality is that students sign up to literally tens of courses, then they sample them and follow only the ones that interest them. So play the game sign up early and don’t lose out.

Exams

This is the Erasmus students biggest worry! Its quite simple, if you keep on top of your work and take your language study seriously you will be fine. Many modules are examined with multiple choice tests, and past papers are available on the uni website (similar to webCT) so make sure you find the most appropriate courses during the first 2 weeks of each term!

NB: The pass mark is 50, not 40!

Language

Getting by in Barcelona city is easy as it is such a global city. However in the classroom this is not the case. I would advise taking a mix of English and Spanish language modules, as at the end of the day you have to pass and the Spanish lecturers aren’t very understanding or accommodating, don’t ask them to speak slower! What is essential is that you really make an effort to improve you language skills, and in time you will become used to the speed of lectures, and you will cope without difficulty. If you are worried then speak with the lecturer, it is occasionally possible for Erasmus students to take extra coursework or do a presentation to replace a part of the exam.

The City

Barcelona offers something for everyone. To get the most out of the city buy a good guide, Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are good. These are most useful in your early days. I picked up a brilliant book in Waterstones called ‘a weird and wonderful guide to Barcelona. Le Cool’ This book basically tells you about tiny secret bars and quirky things to do etc… it is written for students, and even recommends the uni library as a place of calm in the middle of the busy city!

The city is split into districts or barrios. Barrio Gotico, the gothic quarter is the most charming, comprising of tiny bars, restaurants and quirky shops all set along a maze of tiny streets and alley ways. The rest of Barcelona is designed in a block format, with long straight roads. The central areas for shopping lie along the Pg De Gracia, leading away from the Plaza Catalunya, and the Carrer de Angel, running parallel to La Rambla. Here you can find all the major Spanish high street shops. What is great about Spain, and Barcelona however is the abundance of privately owned shops, unlike England, not every Spanish high street is identical!

Transport

Public transport in Barcelona is very good (bus/bicycle/tram/metro ). The metro is quick, clean and much cheaper than the tube! You can buy termly passes for 100 euros that are also valid on buses and trams. When going out at night in Barcelona taxis are essential (the metro closes at 12pm) Taxis are not expensive and it will never take more than a couple of minutes to find one wherever you are in Barcelona, there’s no need to pre order. A word to the wise, make sure you watch the route your driver takes. Taxi drivers have a tendency to take the longest route possible to squeeze the money out of you. If you speak Spanish though this shouldn’t be an issue, its more a trick played on naïve tourists.

National travel in Spain is reasonable. I really recommend you take the opportunity to travel throughout Spain, the Costa Brava is beautiful, but further a field don’t miss Valencia, Madrid, Salamanca, Toledo….Lisbon is great as well.

Nightlife

The nightlife is vast in Barcelona, quite simply you will never grace every venue! That said here is a rundown of my favourite places.

Clubs: Razzmatazz. Huge club in Marina, the killers/ arctic monkeys/ Jarvis cocker / 2 many DJ’s all performed here during my year! Need I say more?

Danzatoria: A converted mansion house on the hills of Tibidabo, this place feels more like a house party, and is very elegant and cool, pricey though.

Carpe Diem: Very cool, sofas, lounging beds, and a haunt of Barcelona FC stars Ronaldinho and Henry, right on the beach, this place is great

There are so many other places, Erasmus nights are typically held at baja beach club, which is a dive but fun, Port Olimpic has a strip reminiscent of the tackier offerings in Spain.

The Xampaneria is a hidden gem, you won’t read about it in any guides, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so you will have to discover it for yourself.

Money

I would recommend opening a Spanish bank account, for ease and so you don’t face bank charges for using your card abroad. Also most landlords will want to be paid from a domestic account. I used Banc Sabadell and had no problems, Caixa Cataluna however is the choice of most students.

Things you must do!

  • Watch FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou.
  • Spend an afternoon in the xampaneria
  • Laze on the beach
  • Pass exams
  • Get involved in the La Merce celebrations
  • Do a ‘Monica Lewinsky’ shot
  • Make friends with Spaniards!

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