I had a great many experiences on my six-month exchange to Universitad Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. So much so that I think I am still processing these experiences as I write this a week after returning to Adelaide.
Unlike some student exchanges, accommodation on campus was not available and private student colleges were extremely expensive. As a result, most students lived in flat shares. Finding and changing such accommodation was one of the major stresses of the experience, but ultimately led to us seeing many corners of this city for late dinners and cava drinking.
Whatever the risk of community culture lacking from not living together, our Universities’ ESN Club ensured that it flourished. We had a Welcome Week with cultural and bonding activities by day and night, such that a group of some hundred students from all corners of the world knew each other well within the first few weeks of the exchange. Each week there was Tandem-Linguistica, a language exchange at a local bar, and SONORAZZ, a combination of a Sports Bar overcrowded with students, and one of Barcelona’s biggest nightclubs. These weekly rituals were supplemented by monthly cooking classes, where students were invited to teach how to make dishes from their home countries at the famous Boqueria market on The Ramblas. Also a favourite were the fortnightly karaoke nights, where we battled rival Barcelona Universities. There were a number of regional trips around Catalunya and wider Barcelona, as well as national trips, including Madrid, Salamanca, Basque Country and most incredible of all Ibiza; where there were enough students to charter a ship for ourselves, complete with an open air nightclub on the high seas. As if all this were not enough, there was also Voluntariat Lingüístic, a university appointed group who organized cultural tours in Catalunya.
Quickly Facebooks and phone numbers were exchanged to organize group activities and share relevant information, like navigating the maze of university and immigration bureaucracy, and looking for new housing options. I did not take a smartphone to Barcelona, which saved me a lot of money as I was one of the only people I know who was not pickpocketed, but may have deprived me somewhat because of Barcelona youth’s affinity for WhatsApp. No one called or messaged, it was down to Facebook and WhatsApp messages.
Living in Barcelona provided many travel opportunities, as it is a travel hub with many cheap flights available. I was able to travel to Sweden, the UK, Morocco and Tunisia, but there were many who were jetting abroad every weekend.
We were blessed with an excellent exchange group at UPF. There were only a handful of native English speakers, with the majority from Continental Europe or Quebec. As a result, when not feeling guilty about being monolingual, I feel I learned more about International Studies & Politics (my major), through my friendship with these people than in any class I took. Travel certainly broadens the mind, and I have travelled before and met many amazing people, yet the exchange provided a context for more meaningful personal exchanges that can only arise when spending time with people for long periods.
By the end of six months as a close group, there were a lot of tears when we parted ways. But there was a resolve that the world had shrunk a little smaller. I now have welcoming couches awaiting for me from Iceland to Quebec, and have a myriad of perspectives and experiences to draw from.
Never Barcelonely in Barcelona, never Barcelonely in the world.