Second-year Working with Children, Young People and Families student, Alex, studied at the University of Barcelona for part of her second semester this year. Despite having to return to the UK earlier than planned due to coronavirus, she had the time of her life! We caught up with her to find out all about it.
“I’ve wanted to travel from a young age; even before confirming my place at BCU I’d already checked which countries you could study abroad at in relation to my chosen course and had emailed the Go Abroad department! So, I knew that completing a semester abroad through the Erasmus scheme during my studies was an experience I couldn’t pass up! I would be able to satisfy my passion for travel at the same time as completing study towards my degree, otherwise the only opportunities I would have to travel are during university holidays (which of course can’t happen this year anyway!)
"By completing an Erasmus trip, I was able to study, travel – and receive funding to help with the costs – to allow me to accomplish both these things. In terms of choosing the University of Barcelona, the desire to travel to a Spanish city was natural for me because, as my surname, Gonzalvez-Smith might indicate, I’m also part Spanish! I already knew the basics about the country and could get by when it comes to speaking Spanish and Catalan.
“I enjoyed every moment of my Erasmus trip. I found out after applying that I was the only person from BCU to apply to go to Barcelona and, after researching some more, it became apparent that no other students from England were studying Education at the University of Barcelona, so I was nervous about making friends. However, I didn’t let that stop me! After receiving my tutor appointment, which included a list of students studying Education, I had a search on Facebook in the hope of making a friend before I arrived. I made a few friend requests but heard nothing initially but, surprisingly, on my first day in Barcelona, one of the students messaged me on Facebook and we met before our tutor appointment.
"Although I knew that I would be fine to go to the university on my own, it was a big relief to have made contact with another Erasmus student as it allowed me to calm down as I do suffer from anxiety. Overall though, if I hadn’t managed to make contact, it would have still worked out because the first meeting with all the students was so fun and exciting and you had to mix with each other.
“Soon after I arrived in Barcelona, we began the introduction week which gave us the opportunity to meet and bond with other Erasmus students as well as getting a real feel for Barcelona as a city. This was done through the usual methods, like presentations, but also an organised hike through the mountains to capture the best view of Barcelona, which I can confirm it was!
"I was able to make an amazing group of friends from all over the world including Canada, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium and they will remain friends for life. I also became close with the lecturers; John and Anne were the most kind-hearted and passionate people I have met, assisting me along the whole process, as well as video calling me weekly after my return to England.
Family and food
“The best part about being abroad was being able to visit all the surrounding cities of Barcelona, including Sitges for its famous carnival, Figueres where I visited the Dali museum, and Girona. Unfortunately, I did have to cancel some trips to other places due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was able to take my friends to visit my family in Mallorca, where we stayed with my aunt and toured the island.
"Showing my friends around the island that my granddad was from on was amazing! My friends enjoyed getting to see the island from a native’s perspective and it is so much more exciting going to family-owned restaurants rather than franchises and seeing places on the island that you would have never even thought of visiting. The culture is unique and my family were so welcoming. We made the most of every minute, including going to morning mass at Palma cathedral and eating my aunt’s beautiful homemade food.
“The food was absolutely out of this world and I think I spent the majority of my time eating out with my group of friends and enjoying all the sights Barcelona had to offer. I loved finding places to eat that weren’t surrounded with tourists so you got a real authentic vibe from visiting places like small, family-owned churro shops and I would often get a café con leche and watch the world go by.
"Every day something new and fun was happening. You’d be walking down Las Ramblas and see large statues and figures walking around the street and new festivals every day such as the LLUM festival (light festival) which was free to visit. Another exciting aspect of being a student in the city was that many things were free to access or at least discounted, which was great for saving money while still being able to visit all the sites.
“In Barcelona, everyone is laid back which makes it really peaceful. Due to the hot weather, everyone just goes with the flow. One of the strangest things though was having late lectures due to the heat, meaning I would often eat dinner with friends and then attend my English language teaching methodology lecture between 7:30pm – 9:30pm. The city never sleeps though so sometimes I went for food and drinks after lectures and got the metro back home at 12pm. Barcelona is still buzzing with people, even during the early hours of the morning, so it was still really safe.
“Surprisingly, the lecturers were very laid back; they expected you to get on with the work but were always available for support. Many of my lectures were very interactive so we didn’t sit at our desks. Instead, we worked in groups, constantly communicating with each other. My classes were mixed with both international Erasmus students and native students, which was also a nice change.
“As well as making friends for life, I gained so much confidence because I was able to step out of my comfort zone and grow as a person. Although my time in the beautiful city was cut short, Barcelona will always have a huge space in my heart as I made memories that will last a lifetime. It was an unforgettable experience and I returned a different person. I am so much more independent, and I proved to myself that anything is possible if you believe in yourself (although maybe not improving my cooking skills!)
“If other students get the opportunity to go on an Erasmus trip, I would say to take it – it will be the best thing you ever do! The process is not as difficult as it might look, and it’s all worth it in the end. There are so many free opportunities and organised outings with other Erasmus students which are easily accessible and make you feel at home with the group. You will make friends for life and I’m already planning my next visit to all my friends’ hometowns, which is so exciting. So, take the leap, because you won’t regret it!”
Enrich your study with international travel
The HELS Go Abroad Erasmus scheme enables you to travel abroad and study while you work towards your degree.
During the current situation, we continue to monitor and adhere to government guidelines and we look forward to continuing the programme when it is safe to do so.