Universitat de Barcelona
A letter from Universitat de Barcelona by Matěj Dostál (2015)
A letter from Universitat de Barcelona by Jaroslav Pýcha (2015)
My name is Matej and I had decided to spend the third semester of my M.A. studies at the University of Barcelona (UB). Here are a few observations from my Erasmus experience which you may find helpful or interesting.
I was lucky enough to be accepted for a short intensive Catalan course before the beginning of the semester. Some very brief information about the course can be found on the UB website, you apply and then wait (for a very long time) for an answer. As far as I know, the selection is pretty random.
I definitely recommend future UB Erasmus students to apply for this course for a couple of reasons: a) you learn some basic Catalan (prior knowledge of Spanish really helps a lot here), although don’t worry, in Barcelona (unlike in other cities in Catalonia) you don’t need to know any Catalan in everyday life. If I hadn’t wanted to, I wouldn’t have had to say a word in Catalan during the whole semester. b) Right after your arrival in Barcelona, you meet a small group of other Erasmus students, some of whom may become your best friends during the rest of your stay, and c) the free course includes ten days of free accommodation in one of the UB’s dormitories. This gives you more ‘bonding’ time with your new friends and, more importantly, plenty of time to search for your accommodation during the semester.
Student dorms are ridiculously expensive in Barcelona so after some time of considering renting a flat with my friends, I chose a more flexible option and started looking for a single room in an already rented flat. There are thousands of such rooms in Barcelona but criteria such as a reasonable price, a convenient location, a window, a desk, Spanish-speaking environment, potentially a non-smoking flat etc. narrow it down considerably, so one has to be quite patient and act fast. There are many students coming to Barcelona in September and it happened to me a couple of times that I finally found a nice room published on the website at 3pm and at 8pm its owner told me the room had already been sublet. After seeing roughly five flats, I finally found a small room within walking distance from my future faculty (in the city centre) for approximately 300 €/month, including bills.
So it was time to go to uni. Local students normally enrol for 4-5 subjects each semester and every subject at the Faculty of Philology (all worth 6 credits) has one 1,5-hour and one 2-hour session a week. After sending what seemed like a hundred emails, I finally found out that I could attend any subject, B.A. or M.A., at any faculty of the UB, the only condition being that I would enrol for more subjects within the Faculty of Philology than other faculties combined. In the end, I decided to take four subjects, all from the Faculty of Philology. English Phonetics and Phonology II with Brian Mott, a native professor from London, was very interesting and Teaching English as a Foreign Language II with Roger Gilabert was a very enriching, perfectly balanced mixture of theoretical knowledge and practical attitude. I highly recommend the latter to all of you who seriously consider the teaching profession as their future job. As you probably noticed, there is no such thing as prerequisite subjects at the UB.
There was one thing I found really refreshing at the UB. Generally speaking (and I know I really AM generalizing here), the relationship between teachers and students is way friendlier or one might say more spontaneous and straightforward than that in Czech environment. Although they are great experts in their fields, the teachers seem to be somewhat more equal to the students than in the case of the sometimes rigidly formal atmosphere at Czech schools. Interestingly enough (or maybe not at all so), this informal relationship (when not forced) doesn’t lead to the students’ respecting the teachers less but quite the opposite. I really enjoyed this non-judgemental, spontaneous class atmosphere and its impact on the students’ (sometimes not so) creative participation.
One last comment about the studies: the evaluation of all subjects was a combination of continuous assessment (usually between 40-50%), that is against-the-clock essays, quite long and demanding group projects, homework etc., and a final exam (50-60%). All in all, the subjects were quite time-consuming (reading, projects…), but on the other hand, having only four subjects allows one to fully concentrate on them which is not always the case of the ten and more courses we have in Prague. Thanks to this and the fact that the 210 minutes of each subject a week help one to absorb the knowledge quite effortlessly, the intellectual difficulty of the studies seemed to be slightly lower than in Prague.
Long story short, it was an amazing semester on so many levels (including the academic aspect) and simply…GO! :)
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Matěj Dostál. Some rights reserved.
A letter from Universitat de Barcelona by Jaroslav Pýcha (2015)
Hello my fellow students in Prague!
My name is Jaroslav Pýcha and I am currently participating in the Erasmus+ exchange programme, which I would like to tell you about. I am studying in Barcelona, Spain. Even though Barcelona and the district of Catalonia are still a part of Spain, the separatist tendencies are very apparent everywhere you look. Political issues aside, Barcelona is a very pleasant city to live in. It is situated on the shore of Mediterranean sea, with its sandy beaches being located fairly close to the city center. The weather is also great, at least so far, as sweatshirts are redundant most of the time, even at the end of October. The city of Barcelona has around 1.6 million citizens, but due to its outstanding economic and industrial status, the urban area of the city is closer to 5 million inhabitants. The most frequently used language here is Catalan, but Spanish is also universally understood. Furthermore, as Barcelona is an extremely multicultural city, one can hear a countless amount of other languages and the percentage of people speaking English here higher than I initially expected. In the following paragraphs, I would like to recap my experience with getting settled here and hopefully provide some useful information for students who are considering studying here in the future.
First of all, you should contemplate your financial situation before choosing Barcelona as your Erasmus destination, for the costs of living in Barcelona are substantially higher than those we are used to from Prague and the money we receive from EU is not nearly enough to cover all the expenses. The most expensive thing here is rent, for sure. The student houses/dormitories are insanely overpriced and as a result, most students live in shared flats, as it is the cheapest option. Despite the fact that there are
many websites where you can find ads for rooms or apartments for rent, the actual room hunting can be exhausting. The only advice I have is to be patient, answer a lot of ads, see as many rooms as possible and never sign anything without seeing the place and examining the contract (that is if you get one) carefully, as there are a lot of scammers. The prices differ greatly, based mostly on the location of the flat and position of the room within the flat - it is not uncommon in Barcelona to have "interior" rooms without windows. Most probably, you will have to pay between 250 and 400 euro for a room per month, with wifi and bills included. Public transport is also quite costly - 3 month ticket is over 100 euro. Consequently, a lot of people use public "bicing" service as an alternative, because you only pay 50 euro a year, if you manage to return the borrowed bike to one of the many stations of the "bicing" service scattered across Barcelona within a half an hour from borrowing it. However, you need a Spanish ID card (NIE card) to be able to register for the use of public bikes, and receiving a NIE card is a huge achievement on its own as I will mention later. But who needs public transport or bikes. Walking is healthy, right?
Another thing you should keep in mind if you decide to come here is that the academic year starts at the beginning of September. Even though the classes themselves begin during the third week of September, I would recommend you to come here as soon as possible. Not only will you be able to enjoy the sea and relax on the beach, an early arrival will also help you avoid waiting long hours at the International Exchange Office of Universitat de Barcelona and get you a head start on all the tiring paperwork you will have to do. No matter how soon you come though, expect to pay the office at least three visits to get everything in order. As endless and unnecessarily complicated may the processes of registering for classes, getting your student card and enrolling in the university moodle may seem, it is nothing compared to the quest of getting a NIE card at the foreigner's office. First step is to actually get an appointment through their website, which can take weeks. The pattern seems to be that the office releases new dates for appointments to the system on the first Monday of every month. All available dates are then taken within a couple of days, so if you miss this window, you have to wait for another month. There are many documents required by the office, but some of them are barely specified, which can result in a very unpleasant encounter between you and the clerk and a second visit to the office. As it turns out, Erasmus nomination letter from our home university is not enough of a proof of our participation in the programme, nor is the student card or enrollment confirmation you get from Universitat de Barcelona. You must submit to them the one and one only document they require. Too bad they do not explicitly say which one it is on their website and only inform you about it when it is too late. To make matters even more complicated, UB employees at the faculty of philology have no knowledge of the existence of such mysterious document and argue with you that the enrollment confirmation must be enough. Anyway, lets hope the second time is the charm, as I do not think
my already excessively tested patience could handle yet another visit to the foreigner's office. But then again, despite the wishes of Catalonia, this is still Spain, so some level of disorganization must always be expected.
Also worth noting is the use of a different examination model. Students can choose between an "one-off assessment," which is an analogy to our exams and is worth 100% of the final grade, or a "continuous assessment," testing students throughout the semester by home assignments (be prepared to do a lot of reading) and/or tests, each of which is worth a different percentage of the final grade. The scheduling of classes is dissimilar too - each subject is taught twice a week with one lesson lasting for 90 minutes and the second one for 120 minutes. There is no distinguishing between lectures and seminars. The teachers I have met are very nice and dedicated to their job. Furthermore, their English is brilliant, so the classes truly are conducted in English and not in Catalan, as someone might fear. As nice as the teachers are, do not expect any kind of special treatment just because you are an exchange student and you are not used to their ways of doing things. You will be treated like any other student. The subjects do not appear to be overly complicated and impossible to pass so far with the continuous assessment, definitely not to students like us who are used to doing a lot of studying for final exams. Vast majority of teachers here do not take attendance, but at least some level of class participation is necessary for passing the subject. The faculty of philology resides in the historic building of UB - a gorgeous and atmospheric building right in the center of Barcelona. Attached to the historic building is a new one, creating a small campus with a park and lots of cats. All the classrooms are appropriately equipped and newly furnished. Overall, the university has a very positive and energetic vibe, with its modern style and the beautiful trees decorating the premises of the faculty. I certainly do appreciate the absence of the "flush the toilet after use!" sign that is so familiar to everybody who has ever stepped into the Celetná building.
Lastly, one cannot talk about Barcelona without talking about its nightlife. After all, the city does have the word bar in its name. With the huge amount of exchange students, interns and tourists looking for a good time, the city truly never sleeps and you can always find something fun to do. The prices, as I mentioned above, are horrifying mostly, but there are also "guest lists" targeted at exchange students. When you put your name on one of these guest lists, you are granted a discount or a free entrance to some of the famous clubs and events. Barcelona is the city of endless festivals, parties and parades, so there is always a lot to choose from. The companies providing these guest lists also organize "pre-parties" that sometimes offer regional food for free. Along with the numerous events organized by the official International Exchange Student Network, this is a great way to meet other exchange students like you and make new friends while learning about different cultures and countries at the same time. Anyone who loves travelling, exploring and adventure will have a blast here. In addition, Barcelona is also an extremely open minded city, which probably makes the way for the cultural diversity and the strong LGBT presence the city enjoys. My view may be a little distorted due to the fact that I mostly meet immigrants like me, but to me it seems that people are rather embraced and not discriminated for their differences here. All things considered, Barcelona is a one of a kind experience. Living here is an invaluable and extremely enriching experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Jaroslav Pýcha. Some rights reserved.
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