Postcard from Abroad: Zaragoza, Spain

Rachel Adepoju writes about her time on Erasmus in the city of Zaragoza, Spain. I’ve spent the past seven months in Zaragoza, Spain. I get a lot of “where’s Zaragoza? I’ve never heard of it,” to which I always respond, “oh it’s just in between Madrid and Barcelona.” Zaragoza has been a bit of an adventure. I didn’t choose it for any specific reason, it was almost entirely random to be honest. I remember filling in the Erasmus application form the day before it was due and I did minimal research on all the options. It would have been nice to have had some idea of the vibe of the city but I definitely don’t regret coming here blind. Even right now, there’s a lot that I don’t know about Zaragoza, and a few attractions I still haven’t seen but will get round to visiting in due time. Zaragoza is crazy, because in September, we experienced typical Spanish summer weather, you could go to college in shorts and summer clothes. All of a sudden, one November day, the cold hit us like a tonne of bricks. It was absolutely freezing and I had not packed appropriate clothing. Right now, the weather can be very changeable. There’s a mix of sun, extreme wind, and a lot of rain. I don’t know if it’s a nationwide thing, but Zaragoza has a lot of holidays and festivals which are basically an excuse to day drink for a week straight. At the beginning of October, we had a week off college for the “Fiestas del Pilar,” the patron saint of the city. It was a week-long festival with entertainment and concerts. One thing in particular which I loved here was the atmosphere around Christmas time. Christmas stalls and exhibitions were set up and the lights were gorgeous. There was ice skating, mulled wine, and a huge Christmas market which gave off great holiday vibes.
“At the beginning of October, we had a week off college for the “Fiestas del Pilar,” the patron saint of the city.”
Personally, I wouldn’t say that I experienced much of a culture shock. However, the most surprising thing is that shops don’t open on Sundays, so you can’t just go out and get a loaf of bread or any hangover food if you need it. The transport prices were also a shock. The bus and the tram only cost 75 cents no matter how far you need to go. Also the rent has been a huge relief from Dublin prices. A surprisingly large portion of citizens speak English, so it’s definitely possible to get by with English, but I’ve noticed that whenever I try to speak Spanish, they would rather speak English if they can, so it’s quite difficult to practice Spanish outside of the classroom. Speaking of the classroom, college life is very different. In September, it took weeks to get settled because of their registration system. Basically, we were able to choose from the module catalogue of the entire university and sit in on two hour lectures (which are too long in my opinion). We had to go to the international office and register in person one by one. It involved hours of waiting, which was a bit of a joke. Classes are either too intense or too casual, and in my experience there is no in between. You’re either transcribing everything the lecturer says for two hours straight or you’re listening in on Spanish teenagers debating on random, but futile topics. I was in a geography class once and the students were literally debating about something to do with airports for the whole class. I definitely don’t think the University of Zaragoza is the best, but it has introduced me to some great people. While most of my friends are English speaking Erasmus students, we still get our chances to practice our Spanish. Usually it involves asking the person next to us what the teacher just said. In general, other students tend to be helpful whenever we don’t understand what’s going on.
“Zaragoza is also home to a large park, Parque Grande José Antonio Labordeta, where you can take the most Instagram worthy photos.”
The city isn’t a very touristy area, so there isn’t a lot to show. Puerto Venecia is particularly impressive. It is the third largest shopping centre in Europe where we can get our fix of Penneys and IKEA. Zaragoza is also home to a large park, Parque Grande José Antonio Labordeta, where you can take the most Instagram worthy photos, and also the “Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar,” which is a stunning cathedral that is open to people at all times with impressive architecture and art. Would I go back? I think Zaragoza is a beautiful city but I don’t think I would live here. After my Erasmus year, I think I will have exhausted the city and done everything I would want to do. However, I’m definitely open to the idea of moving to Spain after my degree and figuring out what I’m doing with my life. So far, the year has been a lot of self-development, improving social skills while spending time by myself and explaining that Ireland is not in Britain! I’ve experienced a lot that I would not have done if I weren’t here. So all in all, I would highly recommend the Erasmus year abroad to a friend.