My Year Abroad

Week One?!

I had a pretty interesting time starting my classes at the Univeristy of Valencia. That is to say if within this sentence interesting is synonymous to horrific, confusing, scary and wanting-to-tear-my-hair-out. But hey, it’s just a timetable (although I wouldn’t have said that to myself at the time of the experience!) and I feel that having the past two weeks to organise my thoughts on this enormous first-world problem have been invaluable. For any of you wondering if I made it through this difficult time, it is okay, I pulled through it.

My main problem centred around the fact that I had wanted to be organised and prepared for my year abroad. At the beginning of August, when timetabled classes were released, I had spent a pair of afternoons trying to squeeze the lessons I wanted to study into as few days as possible. According to this timetable, I would’ve been able to have both Monday and Friday off and I was, I must say, very pleased with my efforts. I checked it thrice before saving my class numbers on my laptop. I left for Spain on the 20th August, pleased with my future timetable and unsuspecting of the problems that lay ahead…

I was an idiot for not checking that the class times hadn’t changed before I went to enrol in early September. To be honest, I think it was a combination of being so proud of how well my timetable had worked out and not wanting to have to spend another few hours working on it; I thought if I ignored it and assumed it to be right it just would be, surely? Or, if not, they would at least inform me of this during my enrollment, right…?

Wrong. Well for me it was wrong anyway. They did, to an extent, warn us of some timetable troubles we were trying to enrol ourselves into. My friend Tom was trying to take a class in Valencian and the lady politely asked him if he knew how to speak Valencian to which he replied no, he could not. You could say that it would have been impossible for him to take this class; impossible in the sense that how could he possibly enrol in a class where he wouldn’t understand a thing he was saying? However, impossibility didn’t seem to help me. It was only five days later, as I went to check the room where I would be having my evening class on Tuesday afternoon that I realised I did, in fact, have a class on Monday morning at 9 am, 8 hours from that moment in time. But to make matters even worse, I realised that out of the six classes I had signed up for, three would have a lecture at 15:30 on Wednesday afternoon.

Horrified, after finishing my class on Monday, I quickly made my way the International Office where I was met with the biggest hurdle of this entire experience. After braving the 4-hour queue, and being the final person to be seen before the office shuts at 14:00 (Yes, everyone behind me had to come back tomorrow) I was told that I cannot change any of my timetabled classes until 1st October.

Don’t ask me why because I don’t know why. Their advice was to go to the other classes that I wanted to be in and ask  permission to stay in the class.  I was warned that the teachers could also tell me that no, their class is full and as I failed to register for this class, I would be unable to attend it. Luckily, all of the members of staff that I approached permitted me to become a member of their class. It has to be said that the staff members did get progressively friendlier when I asked to be in their class. The response went from ‘How did this happen? Fine. Okay. Do X, email X and always be here,’ to ‘Wow you’re English, this is fantastic, we’d love you to join!’

They also informed me that I must wait until October until I can access any of the documents on the virtual classroom. This meant that I had to ask all the teachers for any information that they uploaded to be emailed to me until last Friday. In my final class of the week,  a fellow student explained to one of my teachers that she could manually enrol me. This meant that without me having to wait until October she could put me into her class and I could finally just access the documents from home like a regular person. The process was so simple, taking the whole of two minutes, with no 4-hour queue or waiting until October! I guess the International Office just likes to keep this a secret so we don’t go around pestering the teachers so they will enrol us within their class. Although, I have to admit; I’ve definitely pestered all of my teachers far more than these two minutes by asking them to email me everything.

So yes, I am alive, well and attending class. I’ve also had a lot of fun going to events and parties but unfortunately find it difficult to recount them quite as vividly as my daytime experiences.

I am having an absolutely wonderful time and even experiences like this are just helping to develop me as a person, improving my Spanish speaking skills as well as making me wiser and stronger. I did not nearly die, get sued or go to jail. At one point I was sure I’d make it, I know, but week three is officially here and I am looking forward to officially enrolling in the remainder of my classes on October 1st.

Para días grises, paraguas de colores: for grey days, colourful umbrellas.

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My Year Abroad

Barcelona

Barcelona was a city of dreams. I’ve never been in a place where the people are so friendly, relaxed and welcoming. There was also excellent food, spectacular buildings and  I had plenty of opportunities to practice my Spanish.

We booked our accommodation via Air B & B and it worked out a lot cheaper than even a hostel would have been. It was also in a prime location, in the middle of everything that we would see during our visit.

Our hosts were a Mexican couple and nothing we asked was too much trouble. They are, in part, the reason why our trip was so successful.

Before we even arrived, they were eager to share details of what were, in their opinion, the best Barcelona attractions. This meant that before we even got there I could research, plan and book how we were going to spend our holiday.

Booking was an absolute blessing for all of the Gaudí tours. Online, you can buy ‘skip the queue’ tickets which allow you to enter the building at a certain time and avoid the monster of a line at the ticket office. It was so much less stressful to be able to know that at 11:30 you would be in Park Guell and by 14:00 you would probably be finished there and could move on to the next attraction.

Apart from the Gaudí attractions, everything else we decided to do during our four days there was free.

Our greatest find whilst in Barcelona was definitely The Bunkers. Following a map, we managed to climb to one of the highest points in Barcelona. The Bunkers were difficult to find, the map seemed to point to roads that didn’t exist but then, just as we were about to turn back, I noticed a sign at the bottom of a set of steps.

Fuelled by curiosity, we continued our climb until we arrived at the most breath-taking view I have even seen in my life; a full 360-degree view of Barcelona with even the Sagrada Familia as a tiny blob in a sea of buildings.

We also went to explore las Ramblas, a long strip within Barcelona where there are stalls selling souvenirs and then, hidden on the left is a large market where they sell all types of delightful food. We bought portable fruit salad and Gazpacho Andaluz and began browsing the many items each stall had on display.

Next, we visited the gothic part of Barcelona, home to the famous Barcelona Cathedral.  Stupidly, I hadn’t realised that the Cathedral would have a strict dress code and that my sleeveless dress and Sophie’s backless top would never be acceptable attire, regardless of the 33-degree heat just outside.  However, the exterior of the cathedral still served as an interesting contrast to the Sagrada Familia that we saw earlier that day.

The Sagrada Familia was wonderful. I didn’t think that I would love it quite so much as I did. The inside also really does look like a forest. I find it really hard to comment on the beautifully complex architecture but information points told me what I already knew; Gaudí used nature to create this wonderful masterpiece and took advantage of all the spectacular things that he believed God created.

You cannot capture the magic of that place in neither video nor photograph, although many tourists, including myself, were trying their best with the cameras, mobiles, and tablets. It was a very busy place, but I think that is what Gaudí would have wanted. Having dedicated the last few years of his life to this breath-taking place I was glad that there were thousands of people milling around trying to capture some of its beauty.

Park Guell is also spectacular. You can enter a part of it for free but the main part, with the famous salamander, has ticketed entry. Again, the park is very natural and you can see many elements of nature in it, including the many tree-like structures that are dotted all around the park.

Travel to the city wasn’t too costly either. We used Bla Bla Car on our journey both to and from Barcelona. It was a really relaxing experience and we were lucky enough to find someone who would drop us off directly at our door when the tiredness and holiday blues were slowly starting to sink in.

Barcelona was even better than I thought it would be, I can only dream that one day I’ll get to go back and do it all again.

 

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