By Woody Dickinson
¡Hola! I’m Woody, a third-year student of the LLB programme, and I’ll be writing about my time on exchange in Barcelona.
To start off with, I think it’s fair to say that most of you thinking of applying for there aren’t going for academic reasons, or at least I hope so – anyone who is going for that reason should think twice. Almost every single other Erasmus student I asked said they had loved everything about their time in Barcelona, before then adding ‘well, apart from the university of course.’ In the first session of one of our classes the teacher told all the Erasmus students that he knew we weren’t there to study, because (and I quote) ‘Spain is in the second division of world academics.’ I think that’s a little harsh, but don’t expect it to be Harvard Law. That said, Barcelona has other things to offer…
It was nice to be able to choose what I studied, though. I chose courses in Introduction to Spanish Public Law, Introduction to Spanish Private Law, Social and Political History of the Contemporary World, Copyright Law, Roman Law and Company and Commercial Law. The first three subjects were only for Erasmus students, and to be honest everyone knows you’re there to pass; they’re quite relaxed subjects.
My major issue with the university wasn’t that the actual standard was too high – it wasn’t, I got grades much higher than I would have got in Groningen for the same quality of work – but that it was completely unorganized. To start with, two of my courses were not what they were meant to be: Social and Political History of the Contemporary World was actually 20th-Century Spanish History, and Company and Commercial Law turned out to be Competition Law with a bit of IP thrown in. As for the actual courses themselves… the hardest part was not learning the material, but figuring out what you were supposed to learn for the exam, as this wasn’t made exactly clear.
As for practicalities, I would really discourage anyone who wasn’t confident in their Spanish from going. You really don’t need to be perfect, and you will improve massively once you get there, but don’t expect to be able to survive with just English. Most older people don’t speak English and even younger people are often far from fluent. The university offers some courses in English, but the choice is limited, and for the only course I took in English the textbook was in Spanish, so be warned.
You’ll probably know that Barcelona is in Catalonia, where they speak Catalan. Before I went, I was told horror stories of Erasmus students having to take courses in Catalan because the professor refused to speak Spanish, and things like that; I heard about that happening in one course, but 99% of the time, courses are in the language they are advertised in (you can often choose between Spanish and Catalan groups for the same course, as well). Personally I never had any problems with people refusing to speak Spanish or whatever, either at uni or outside, though I did find it fascinating how bilingual Barcelona is – you even overhear conversations where one person is speaking Catalan and one Spanish, for example.
Regarding money… Barcelona is marginally more expensive than Groningen, though not hugely. Rent might be a little, but not hugely, more expensive, at least if you aren’t willing to compromise a little on location/quality/size/having windows in your room (seriously). I’d recommend living somewhere on the Linea 3 in the metro, as classes are often early in the morning and you really don’t want to have to spend 40 minutes commuting to uni.
Food costs were about the same, and going out is a bit more expensive, though you can use Shaz’s List (google it) to get into most of the top clubs for free with your friends. That said, drinks in clubs can be quite expensive so predrinking either at home or at a cheaper bar is advised (I’m still hurting from paying 14 euros for two 0.33L beers at Pacha).
It’s safe to say Barcelona’s nightlife is a little different from Groningen; it’s a little strange to go from going to an ESN party in Kokomo to partying in the 27th-floor penthouse of a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (where I got in for free, by the way, thanks to Shaz’s list… this guy is a lifesaver).
I’ll leave it you guys to explore yourselves, but I’d particularly recommend Mint Bar for predrinking - their 4 euro mojito is very drinkable and, shall we say, gets the job done quickly enough, while the music and atmosphere are great too.
In terms of clubs there’s too many to go into detail, but I’d particularly recommend Apollo for a slightly more alternative vibe; the only issue with Apollo is that it tends to get very full. Jamboree was another hip-hop club I really liked, while Pacha, Razzmatazz, Otto Zutz, Eclipse and Bling Bling are all popular destinations. I’m told a lot of the ‘local’ nightlife (outside the Erasmus bubble) is centred on the neighbourhood of Marina, but I never really got the chance to explore that in depth.
Barcelona has far more than just clubs to offer, though. There is so much to see that you could probably go sightseeing every day, whether it’s the Sagrada Familia or lesser-known attractions such as Refugi 307. The city’s architecture is breathtaking, so just walking down the street is something to enjoy, particularly in areas such as Eixample, Poblenou, Raval, or Barri Gotic.
For those who are into football, I don’t need to tell you about the chance to see Messi, Neymar and the rest live, and I’m told that if you go outside the stadium before a match and ask around, you can find tickets for cheaper than the official price.
The food is wonderful – I particularly recommend the patatas bravas at the uni bar, they’re fantastic – and the weather is great too (I wore short sleeves in January, for example). Add to that really warm and welcoming people and you have the recipe for a wonderful six months (well, apart from the uni of course…).