Bella in Barcelona!

Guest Post By: Isabella Schwalm, a Junior studying Accounting. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through ABLA Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, during Autumn Quarter 2022.

My Experience

If I can recommend anything to a college student it would be to study abroad! It was an incredible experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone in impactful ways. I participated in the ALBA Study Abroad quarter long program in Fall 2022, where I got to live and take classes in Barcelona, Spain. I met students from different universities who all were eager to open their minds to new experiences and new people. My program was a small cohort of around 70 students from U.S. universities, allowing for classes to be personal and embrace discussion, which I loved. ALBA also offered Friday excursions, my favorite being a hike and swim in Costa Brava! I learned to cook Paella and make Sangria through the cooking classes offered as well – all included in the program cost. In the evenings I went to tapas with friends, had study groups in cafes, went running with a running group, shopped in the cute alley way shops, or went dancing in the nightlife. There were endless activities and places to explore, including landmarks such as Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia. My friends and I also went to an FC Barcelona game which is a must! Overall, the environment and energy in Barcelona was perfect for a study abroad student who is eager to embrace a different culture and life. I recommend to a study abroad student to get involved in as much as they can. Apps like Meetup, or for those who like to run/exercise, Heylo, offer many groups and activities to meet not only people from your university, but also from different areas and walks of life. 


I chose to stay in a homestay, where I was housed with a local family in Barcelona. For those who want to practice Spanish and fully immerse themselves in a different culture, I could not recommend this more. My family cooked dinner for me, where I got to try a variety of different meals I may not otherwise have had the chance to. They also invited me to family gatherings where I had the opportunity to practice Spanish and be in a cozy and welcoming environment. My family owned a Tex Mex restaurant in Barcelona where my friends and I would go to Taco Tuesday every Tuesday as well. I learned how to make tamales from my host aunt and spent time conversing with different host family members, who answered all of my questions, from Spanish grammar to daily life living in Barcelona. I had no curfew and my own house key but was respectful towards family members’ sleeping schedule any time I arrived later, which is incredibly important. In a homestay communication is key and ensure to voice anything you have questions about or are uncomfortable with. For me, this was the perfect fit and an incredible experience!


The ALBA study abroad program has classes Monday through Thursday, giving students Friday off to go on a weekend trip or go on the Friday excursion to a different part of Catalunya. They offer Business classes, which is perfect for those who still want to get credit for the business major like myself, and other fun electives. I took International Business (IBUS 300), where I got a unique perspective on business because I was taking it in another country. I also took Spanish, which I think is a must, and had an incredible professor, Claudia. Our assignments included going out in public and speaking to locals which allowed students to truly develop their Spanish skills. I also took Art & Architecture in Barcelona, where every week we would go to a different landmark and learn about the history of it. For those doing the ALBA program I highly recommend this class, as you get entry to museums and churches you might otherwise not find out about, and delve into their significance and how art and architecture is such an integral part to Barcelona. During the ending weeks we also got to see La Sagrada Famila as a class!

Advice & Obstacles:

  • Get the International Student Card! It will allow you free entry into museums 
  • It can be lonely at first living in.a new place. Ask friends in your classes to grab tapas after class or do an activity! My first week I felt lonely at times but then almost instantly felt at home
  • Go to the beach! I wish I would have went to the beach more in Barcelona 
  • Go on weekend excursions with people you meet from your program! Nine of us from my program went to Lisbon, Portugal and had an amazing time!
  • Get a fannypack! Being transparent, there is pick pocketing in Barcelona – as with any city, get a small bag to protect your things (especially phone). When they say students will lose their phones they are not lying
  • Go to class!!! A late night might make it tempting not to make it to class, but from what I found the classes are too valuable of an experience to miss
  • If you like Paella, eat at L’Arrosseria Xativa!

Closing Thoughts

I really wanted to practice Spanish during my time abroad but this sometimes proved difficult in Barcelona where most people spoke English because if they knew you were not fluent they would speak English to you. Kindly and politely express you are learning and practicing and ask if they would be willing to speak in Spanish with you. This worked for me every time and I ended up having many interesting conversations with people like waitresses or baristas at coffee shops. Finding a local coffee shop where you can get to know the workers and have daily conversations helps tremendously! The ALBA program is more structured than an exchange, so if you are looking for something that is not as independently driven or provides guidance abroad, this will be a perfect fit for you! I loved my experience 🙂