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Tapas, Tears, and Techno: One student's experience of moving to Spain for a year abroad


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Before embarking on a year abroad, it is not uncommon to be told you will have the best year of your life. According to friends and professors, "it will change you". Maybe it will, but as with many experiences, the pressure to have the "best time" whilst struggling to get to grips with a brand new country can be extremely stressful, emotional, and difficult, to be frank.

As part of my university degree in Spanish and Politics, I chose to spend my year abroad working in Barcelona. I arrived in Barcelona nearly two weeks ago, and I can proudly announce that I am still alive. I have navigated house viewings, been to more tapas bars than I can afford, spoken very broken Spanish (why did I not pay more attention in Spanish classes?), and survived the furnace of heat that is Barcelona. As a British student who complains about the weather every day without fail, this is an achievement.

Credit: Camille Minouflet on Unsplash

Fortunately, I have not been completely alone, having been accompanied by my mother and my younger brother who have helped me to settle into my new home. Mum and I spent the first two days searching for a flat, frantically traipsing between apartments and securing viewings with the Spanish rental app Badi, the tinder for house searching. The worse part of apartment hunting was being rejected by people. I started out with a romanticised idea of a room with a balcony and shutters, yet as my impending homelessness loomed I dropped this criterion.

Over two days, I viewed over five different apartments, some of which were extremely interesting excuses for a place fit for habitation. Fortunately, I secured a room living in an apartment with two Ecuadorian girls in the laidback residential area of Vallcarca, still, only five metro stops from the city centre.

Finding a place to live was only one job ticked off. I had (and, in most cases, still have to) get empadronado, open a bank account, purchase a phone contract, obtain my NIE… the list goes on, and the intricacies of Spanish bureaucracy do not make it easy to do anything. For instance, when I attempted to open a bank account, I had to wait over an hour in line for the employee to tell me that I can’t have a bank account with them and I received no full explanation, although she did offer some Brexit banter.

To make matters even more difficult, Catalan is a real thing here … who knew? Everything is written in Catalan, especially in local council offices or supermarkets, which can make something as simple as food shopping extremely challenging.

Obviously, moving to a new city let alone a foreign country by yourself is never easy, and no matter how prepared you are, it will still be a daunting prospect. I have had many full-scale breakdowns over very trivial things. Adapting to a new country and a new job has been hard.

After my Mum and brother left, I attempted to fight the wave of homesickness and the what on earth am I doing in a foreign country all by myself feelings by joining Erasmus Facebook groups and going to a few meetups. After meeting a few people in similar situations here to study or do an internship, I felt much better.

I have been to Monserrat with my new pals (having unknowingly signed myself up for a five-hour hike). I have been to brunch, visited the nearby seaside town of Stiges, and also a cool techno festival in the Montjuïc Gardens.

The first two weeks of my move abroad have been extremely scary, emotionally draining, but equally as exciting. I am sure that it is not the end of my trials and tribulations of being a Brit abroad, but for now, I am going to make the most of living in a beautiful city. It is important to remember that wherever you are, it is okay to have bad days.

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