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A nightmare abroad

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Have you ever woken up from a nightmare and felt like someone was in your room and then realized your imagination was playing tricks on you?

This happened to me my first weekend of studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. The only difference is that it wasn’t a bad dream and my imagination wasn’t running wild. There was a man sitting at the foot of my bed and my roommate was actually screaming.

It’s crazy to think that something like this could happen after planning extensively with a study abroad program and being promised safe housing accommodations. But I wouldn’t categorize broken locks as “safe.” I wouldn’t categorize a cockroach infestation as safe, either, as they carry diseases. The infestation got so bad that we were forced to change apartments.

Before I went abroad, I planned extensively with my program, I went to their office with my mom to discuss all of my potential options and how to apply. The program I chose was nothing like the program I got. I was told I would be immersed in language classes with local students from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day, so I would still have ample time to explore the amazing Barcelona.

I was in a classroom with four or five other American girls at any given time who were all native English speakers, many with less experience in Spanish than me. We were in class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day with a one-hour break for lunch.

BIC Website Claims

Website: The BIC campus boasts sleek, modern facilities that help create a stimulating academic atmosphere in which students are encouraged to expand their minds. Classrooms are spacious and luminous, not to mention equipped with multimedia equipment, and as a BIC student you will also have access to a library stocked with materials that you can consult.

Reality: My classroom, well, conference room, had a large table with chairs in the center of the room; there wasn’t room for someone to walk comfortably around the table without touching the walls. There was a white board, and no other technology. Occasionally, the Wi-Fi worked. There were no windows, and I never saw a library.

Website: Check your email or surf the web in our computer lab, or bring along your own laptop and take advantage of our high speed Wi-Fi available throughout the campus facilities.

Reality: I tried to use the “computer lab.” It consisted of one outdated computer that could hardly load a web page, and a printer that worked occasionally at best. Again, Wi-Fi was a rare commodity.

Website: As a BIC student you will study in the center of Barcelona in the L’Eixample neighborhood, famous for its numerous Art Nouveau buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí. The Plaza España and Plaza Cataluña, two major hubs of town, are within short walks of the school.

Reality: I guess the definition of “short” is ambiguous. From the Enforex building (our “campus”) to my apartment, near the Arc de Triomf and Sagrada Familia, was about a 40 minute walk. To Plaza España and Plaza Cataluña, is about 25 minutes. By metro, the trip isn’t made much shorter.

Website: The BIC campus boasts numerous common areas that you can use to study, relax, and socialize. On-campus cafés provide laid-back places to relax and refuel with a snack or drink, while our magnificent roof-top terraces — perhaps the most spectacular part of the BIC campus — is ideal for hanging out with a book or simply enjoying the famous Mediterranean sunshine.

Reality: There is a roof-top terrace, but cafés do not exist. There is a line of vending machines providing an array of packaged snacks, bottled water, and coffee.

CISAbroad Website Claims

Website: You’ll be studying at Barcelona International College, a beautiful campus located along the Mediterranean Sea coast. The college attracts students from all over the world, so not only will you hear Spanish and Catalan on campus, but you’ll likely hear languages from a number of different nations as well.

Reality: Barcelona International College is not located along the coast, and the roof-top terrace is surrounded by buildings, although the image on the website shows blue skies all around. The only students I met during my time at BIC were American students studying abroad and we were not given any opportunities to meet local students.

Website: Your diverse international professors are all highly qualified.

Reality: My professors were very nice, but I wouldn’t say they were highly qualified. They too were students at Barcelona International College, and were native Spanish speakers.

Website: Your summer will begin by being picked up at the El Prat airport by a CISabroad staff member. During every step of your study abroad experience, CISabroad staff will be there to help with any questions or concerns you may have.

Reality: CISabroad staff was at the airport, and they handed us euros, put us in a cab, and sent us to our apartment. When I got to the apartment, nobody was there to give me a key or let me in. The doorman yelled at me in Spanish until someone finally showed up.

In no way am I encouraging anyone not to go abroad. Traveling and living in another country is a once in a lifetime experience that I would recommend to everyone. Use this as a cautionary tale to read between the lines when you pick your program and talk to others about their experiences and the programs they decided to go abroad with. Although the Instagram photos you see from abroad are happy, it’s a challenging experience and it’s worth doing your research before you take the leap.

Taylor Gilmore can be reached at @[email protected]

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
A nightmare abroad