Conversations on Studying Abroad

How to Set Yourself Up for a Successful Semester in Barcelona

Feb 7, 2020 10:45:00 AM / by Nina Vrtjak

A little prep work ahead of time will chase your travel worries away! In her first post, Nina Vrtjak writes to us from Barcelona and shares 4 important ways to prepare for your study abroad in a global city. Look through tips on how to overcome your first wave of culture shock, the language barrier, and first week jitters.

After being settled in Barcelona for a little over a week now, I am finally starting to let all the worries I had prior to my arrival slip away. The stress and preparation I put into my arrival have paid off, but at the same time, I spent too much time worrying about things that were avoidable. I believe there were definitely ways I could have prepared myself better, so I hope I can share some tips on how to prepare for your study abroad.

1. Do Your Research and Be Prepared for Culture Shock

Feeling Prepared prior to takeoff!Feeling Prepared prior to takeoff!

I wish I would have taken some more time to look into Barcelona. I was aware of the concept of culture shock but did not expect to experience the language barrier as soon as the plane took off from O’Hare. It would have been very beneficial to me to learn more about Barcelona, and Spain as a whole to be able to get started on my adventure right away. If I had, I wouldn’t have wasted my time trying to find a place to eat during Siesta.

2. Remember If You Don’t Pack It, You Can Buy It

Parc de la Ciutadella in the Born NeighborhoodParc de la Ciutadella in the Born Neighborhood.

The last week leading up to my departure, there were multiple miscellaneous items that were driving me crazy trying to figure out if I would need them or not. I must have tried on at least 10 different black beanies before admitting I probably wouldn’t need one. The good news is if I change my mind, there are stores full of black beanies and everything else I could possibly need. Believe all the sources that tell you to pack light because there is everything from makeup wipes to Doritos on this side of the world as well. My only suggestion would be to bring the few specific products you like to use for health and beauty although you can always ship them to the CAPA Center if you cannot find them here.

3. Put Your Health First

Port de BarcelonaPort de Barcelona.

Traveling to Europe takes a toll on your body whether you notice it or not. Ensure your body is getting the rest and nutrients it deserves to fight off jet lag and change of environment. By all means, you should go out and explore your new home but make sure you are allowing time for adjustment to be able to take on these new experiences. I speak to this tip personally as I managed to pick up a bug due to what I believe was a mix of all the factors of my new environment. I spent my first weekend bedridden. Although I missed out on some sightseeing with my roommates, I knew it was important to get myself back to full health to be able to fully immerse myself into Barcelona life.

4. Stay Open to New Experiences and Go With the Flow

Traditional Barcelona Tapas of Patatas BravasTraditional Barcelona tapas of Patatas Bravas.

The most important way to prepare for your study abroad is to be open-minded and ready to explore and go with the flow. Take advantage of the resources CAPA provides you during your orientation to mingle with your peers and to experience Barcelona. The program is small, so taking the time to meet the other students you will be spending the next 15 weeks with is beneficial. CAPA helps you do this by offering traditional tapas dinners at local restaurants and guided tours around different neighborhoods in the city. The guided tours are full of history and fun facts and the meals get you excited for the cuisine in the coming months. Aside from the CAPA resources, be prepared to put on a good pair of walking shoes and delve into your home and see all the amazing things Barcelona has to offer such as visiting La Sagrada Familia, chasing pigeons at the Port of Barcelona, or watching the sunset at the Carmel Bunkers. The first week may not go seamlessly, but with the right attitude, you will be totally prepared.

Thanks, Nina!

Nina Vrtjak


Nina Vrtjak is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2020, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. An Accounting and Human Resources major at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she is studying abroad in Barcelona this semester.

Nina's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

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Topics: Predeparture & Study Abroad Preparations, Barcelona, Spain