Nia McVicker – Llotja, Barcelona, Spain

Written by Nia McVicker, Graphic Design & Illustration, Erasmus Study 2022/23.

19 Oct 2023   5 min read

Nia McVicker – Llotja, Barcelona, Spain

Erasmus Study 2022/23

“The best thing I have ever done for myself was deciding to study abroad in Barcelona.”

Favourite memories

I have so many great memories from my time abroad and got to do things I'd never done before. The Spanish love a good festival and some of my favourite memories are from celebrating these with my friends and locals. Whether it was running through the streets of Barcelona following drummers for La Merce or watching fireworks on the beach and swimming in the ocean at midnight for San Juan.

Barcelona is extremely well connected to different cities and countries, so I got to do a lot of travelling while I was there. Some of my favourite trips were to Costa Brava, Madrid and Morocco. Riding quad bikes through the Sahara Desert is definitely one of my favourite memories from my time abroad. However, what genuinely never wore off me was how exciting it was living in such a beautiful city, waking up every day to great weather and being able to walk through streets with amazing architecture.

Spanish culture

A difference I noticed was the amount of festivals Spain have, there's genuinely one every few months. They unite the entire city and bring out people of all ages, families, old people and teenagers can all celebrate together. Similar to this is the fact that everyone stays out much later, having food or drink late into the evening. However, it's not just young people staying out drinking, parents will sit in plazas drinking with their friends while the kids run around, even after 11 o'clock.

I did however notice that the people weren't as friendly as I believe we are at home. There was no queuing for buses (it was every man for himself ) and people were less patient in general, shouting at you for moving too slowly. However I do think that this may just be a symptom of living in a big city, with everyone constantly in a rush to go somewhere and the locals getting fed up with the amount of tourists.  I also think that the sense of humour in Spain is very different to home and I found that they didn't really understand sarcasm.

Challenge during the time abroad

Although the majority of my time there was positive, there are obviously going to be some difficult moments. I would say the hardest aspect was that 90% of my university teaching was done in Catalan, a language that I don’t speak or understand. Every single document and presentation was in Catalan, so before I began any project I had to begin the tedious process of translating the briefs and supporting materials. It also meant that I often missed out on vital information during class, as it had been said in a passing comment.

At times I also found it difficult as I felt like an outsider and sometimes I didn’t know we had a project deadline, a presentation to attend or why everyone was changing class rooms. Although this was hard at the time, I feel like it has made me even more aware of people that may be feeling left out and I know that I would go out of my way to try and make them feel more included.

Another difficult aspect was having to do presentations in my second language. Not only is it extremely nerve wracking having to do a presentation in Spanish, in front of native speakers but trying to justify and explain your design decisions with limited vocabulary is extremely hard. I also think that the workload was a lot more than I was expecting and I ended up having to do their final year project on top of four other classes.

Making friends

At the start I found it extremely overwhelming being in a new country where I didn't know anyone. However, this didn't last long. I found my roommates on Facebook, so I was lucky in the fact that I had people to do things with from the very start. While this worked out well, finding an apartment for four people was extremely difficult and it would've been much easier if I was just looking for myself.

The Erasmus student network put on a lot of events for students throughout the entire year and I met most of my friends through these. I wouldn't describe myself as an extremely extroverted person but I do think that I had to put myself out there a lot more that I was used to in order to make friends. The first few weeks or months will be hard but eventually you'll feel more settled and it may even begin to feel like a second home to you.

Travelling around

Living in Barcelona allowed me to do a lot of travelling to other places in Spain and neighbouring countries. A company called Erasmus Barcelona offer lots of trips throughout the year to students, so my friends and I took advantage of these. In the Autumn term I did day trips to the South of France, as it only took around two hours to drive to. I also visited Girona and had the opportunity to go to the Dahli museum. While I was there I was also able to travel to Mallorca, Morocco, Paris, Andora and many different cities around Spain. You can get flights as cheap as £20 from Barcelona to Mallorca.

Reflection after the time abroad

I don’t know how many times I’ve said this sentence but I’ll say it again: studying abroad is the best thing I have ever done and my eyes have definitely been opened to how much this world has to offer. Not only will this experience benefit me in terms of my career but I truly believe that living abroad has allowed me to learn so much about myself.

Moving to a country where you don’t know anyone is definitely going to allow you to learn so much about yourself and help you discover your strengths and weaknesses. Moving to Barcelona, not knowing a single person has undoubtedly made me more independent. Since then I have done my first solo trip and I know now that I can do things by myself and don’t need to wait on others. Being the outsider in the class, doing presentations in the second language and living in an unfamiliar environment has helped me massively to develop my confidence.

Advice for others

In terms of advice I would say to start your accommodation search as soon as possible (if it's not provided by the host university). I would also advise to look for yourself rather than looking for an apartment with a group of people as it's so much harder.

It will be scary at the start but if you want to make friends you really have to throw yourself into everything. Get out of your comfort zone and attend all events the universities put on, search to see if your city has an Erasmus group on Facebook, anyone can usually join even if you're not a student, join clubs and use the app 'Meetup', to look for events on near you.