First Impressions

By Hannah Langan (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain).

The University – Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona

This uni accepted me as an erasmus student on the 10th of May this year and I hadn’t heard a word since. So after a couple of weeks I was beginning to worry something had gone wrong. Based on what I could find on the internet, term started on the 2nd Sept but when I eventually got some information (by going to the international welcome point at uni) I discovered my course didn’t start until the 16th. Don’t get me wrong, those extra days of freedom were bliss but I would say this university is much more casual than UoM.

I think Barcelona has more universities than Manchester! My friends are from various universities within the city. I am lucky enough to be at UAB, a recognised institution in spain that is located a scenic 35 minute train ride outside of the city in the mountains. Most of the local Catalan students live close by in Sabadell but most of the Erasmus students choose to live in the centre of Barcelona as it is perfectly accessible to the university, so you can still enjoy the life and buzz of the city.

My first day at UAB was the scariest I’ve had since arriving. Everyone around me was brunette, tanned and speaking Catalan. I’m white, blonde and obviously foreign. I looked around me and for the first time in my life felt like I didn’t belong, I felt different and completely alone. My friends don’t go to my uni, the lucky rascals are all at universities in the city or doing internships so it was like starting all over again in terms of settling in. It wasn’t until an italian student began speaking to me in English that my overwhelming anxiety diminished and I was at last able to speak. A little Spanish gets you by in Barcelona, a city thriving with people from all over the world but here, a little outside of the city, the students are all very much Catalan and it was my first true exposure to the Catalan culture. The people are lovely and do of course speak Spanish too, but all the signs are in Catalan so initial orientation was a little difficult. I feel like my erasmus life in the city and my academic life are two entirely separate parts of my life and I’m trying to find a balance between them.

 

The City

I can’t believe I live here, I really can’t. I have found a great international flat in the Gothic Quarter – the very centre of Barcelona. The streets are thin, winding and romantic, I have completely fallen in love. The sun shines every day and there is always a buzzing atmosphere that feeds the vibrancy and life of the city. From the live music in the metro to the people dancing in the streets, Barcelona is alive, the people here love life and embrace every day. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you leave your flat and walk into the streets you are almost certain to stumble across something entertaining that will brighten your day. I constantly find myself saying ‘I love Barcelona!’ (to the point where it’s annoying), somehow there is always something going on and I’m yet to experience a dull moment. I’ve made sure to be a top tourist before uni begins as I have so much free time.

Highlights include Piknik Electronic, a free open-air festival every sunday where you can chill on Montjuic with some sangria and dance to the live DJs, who are often well known. There are beach volley-ball tournaments you can get involved in, sometimes a stage with live music will unexpectedly appear in a square, or a DJ will pop up in the bar you’re sitting in and before you know it you’re salsa dancing. Barcelona is bursting with life and I love it.

¡Hola España!

By Hannah Langan (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain).

2 days to go! 

So, I’m going on my year abroad. I speak un pocito Español and I certainly don’t speak Catalan. I don’t know anyone there and I’ve never been to Barcelona before, actually I haven’t spent much time in Spain at all as it goes. This is all completely unchartered waters for me and I couldn’t be more excited.

My flight is in two days. I have been waiting to go for so long but, strangely, it doesn’t feel any closer now than it did a couple of months ago, I don’t think it’s really going to sink in until I’m there! Having said that, this week has been emotionally draining at times because I’ve had lots of goodbyes. Last night I met up with all of my friends for farewell drinks, they are all very sad to see me go but so happy for me. I’m absolutely dreading saying goodbye to my family. It’s really difficult knowing that the next time I will see them all together again is Christmas. Leaving everyone behind is genuinely the toughest thing about going, but I’m leaving for Barcelona so it’s not too hard to look on the bright side (extremely clever pun: intended).

Now, I took a very helpful Manchester student’s advice to come out a week or so early to find accommodation before uni begins. Except I extended that ‘week or so’ to I think around 3 weeks, accidentally of course. This has resulted in a mindset of packing for a holiday. My suitcase is composed almost entirely of summer clothes and hawaiian tropic. I’m not really considering winter just yet as an inevitability. I’m saving space by not packing towels or bed sheets because I can buy those when I arrive! I have scoured the internet for packing advice and the message repeated everywhere is ‘pack light!’ so I am! I’m stocking up on toiletries though and I figure that I can buy whatever else I need over there. As well as sending my friends extensive lists of things to bring me from home, in return for free accommodation when they come and visit me of course.

Ok so my biggest stress is where I’m going to live. I’m pretty terrified in all honesty. Apparently the norm for Erasmus students is to just come out a week or so before uni starts, look around at some flats, explore the neighbourhoods and decide where you want to settle. It sounds pretty easy and I’m possibly the most last-minute, least-stressed, chaotic person you will ever have the pleasure to meet but booking a one way flight with only 4 nights booked in a hostel is freaking. me. out. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Arriving…

A beautiful 3am start, my parents drive me to Heathrow and we have a departing coffee before I have to go through security. I was expecting uncontrollable tears but all I could feel was pure excitement that I was at long last jetting off on my year abroad! After a well-wished goodbye I headed to my plane, making a little stop to pick up some much needed Barcelona ray-bans. Also (on an unrelated note) I find putting ‘Barcelona’ in front of any item justifies the purchase, for example: Barcelona ray-bans. The journey was extremely quick and I’ve finally landed in the city I’ve been dreaming over for the last year. It’s 31 degrees and lets just say my sunglasses are getting put to good use.

The reality of being alone in a city I don’t know with no one I know has finally hit me. Ay dios mio. I won’t take you through my journey from the airport to my hostel but if I told you I have a history of getting on the wrong train and ending up really quite far away from where I’m supposed to be (including a different city), then you can imagine the ordeal I’ve been through today. In the end though, I made it to my hostel. I did it.

Upon arriving, I spent a considerable amount of time standing on the street outside my hostel trying to get inside, speaking through the intercom with my exceptionally limited Spanish and the receptionists’ non-existent English. When I was eventually buzzed in, with no thanks owed to anyones language skills, I made it to my room, completely exhausted. I indulged in a lengthy siesta (this part bears no cultural shock for me) and I shall be spending the rest of my evening sorting out apartments to visit over the next few days! Possible homelessness pending so I’ve got to get going.

To be continued amigos.