My experience abroad with ISA was THE study abroad experience. I studied abroad in Fall 2010 in Barcelona, Spain. I loved the experience so much that I ended up interning for ISA to promote study abroad in general, but I am writing this review based on my experience in their program.
What really defined my experience was being able to be independent in the city but also having a support system and some familiarity. ISA really provided that because it has students from all over the United States and not just from your school; as a result, you are not surrounded by people from your university but you can meet other study abroad students through different outlets that you can relate to; your classes, ISA activities, excursions...Their staff is incredibly accommodating and like what they do, and they are always there if you need anything. I met friends not only from Spain but all over the United States, many of which I still keep in contact and visit.
I lived with a host family with another girl from ISA. Our host family was an elderly woman who spoke to us primarily in Spanish and cooked us the most amazing meals ever. She hosts to support herself, but was also interested in getting to know us and allowed us to be part of her life. My roommate and I were complete opposites (she was more of a city girl from Alaska and I was from a small town in Florida), but we ended up learning so much from each other and becoming lifelong friends.
We took classes at a local university called AUB. Overall, from what I heard, the classes were relatively accommodating because they were for international students. Mine had Brazilians, Chinese, Germans, but they were all taught in English (except the Spanish language classes). My electives were similar to my university's classes but with slightly less work, but my Spanish classes were particularly challenging because how they teach them are sort of sporadic. Our class did not have a syllabus and was hard to follow, and we only had one test at the end of semester; in the end, I did not really know what to expect or what to study, but it was probably because I just could not adapt to teaching style. I would recommend to make sure you are in the right language level and if you feel uncomfortable in it, try and change your schedule.
Every school day we would take the metro to school, which were two campuses meant for international students within the city. To make it easier to get around, get a T-Jove pass! It is expensive, about 100 euro, but you get free metro for about three or four months which was ideal for my program. It makes it very convenient on the weekends too because the metro is open 24 hours on Saturdays, and until midnight or 1 o clock on weekdays. Look out for festivals that the city does (ISA will send you information on upcoming events too). One of my most memorable experiences was being able to attend the events at the festival Merce (Look it up, you won't believe it! Its in the fall) that ISA told us about.
Also, a lot of students like to travel around Europe while they are there, which I highly recommend. Use the low-cost airlines like RyanAir and Vueling (especially Vueling because it is based out of Barcelona). Usually you can take weekend trips; I went to Ireland, Italy, France, and the south of Spain. Plus with your excursions, you can get a full travel experience.
I really enjoyed my experience abroad and ISA facilitated that experience very well. They also keep contact with you after you leave and offer you opportunities. For example, I work as an intern in their Global Ambassador program. What we do is promote their programs on campus through creating social activities and presentations to different clubs. Its also a great way to meet other people who are coming back from abroad and were just as passionate about their experience as you are. Anyway, I encourage anyone who reads this: Barcelona is an amazing city to study abroad in, and ISA really helps you make the most of it. BUT, study abroad in general! It is so worth it.