Chicago Booth Study Abroad Stories: T’estimo, Barcelona

Chicago Booth Study Abroad Stories: T’estimo, Barcelona

I knew I wanted to study abroad in graduate school before I even knew I wanted to go to Chicago Booth. Whether or not a school had a study abroad program was one of the make-or-break factors for if I applied to it or not. I wasn’t able to study abroad while in undergrad, and business school felt like my last chance to have this kind of experience. 

The view from the rooftop of IESE, looking out towards Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea.

Booth stayed on my short list of schools to apply to, in part, because of its International Business Exchange Program (IBEP for short)—30 schools; 20 countries. The world was at my fingertips and I knew from the moment I stepped foot in Chicago that there would be one quarter I’d spend elsewhere (and, considering my Californian intolerance for cold, it was going to be winter).

Fast forward to Winter 2022 and I was on a plane to Barcelona to start my exchange quarter at IESE, the graduate business school at the University of Navarra. It’s located in the hills of Barcelona and on the rooftop of its newest campus buildings, you can see the city and the Mediterranean Sea. 

I could write for hours on how much I enjoyed this experience. About how Spain carved a special place in my heart, about how I actually enjoyed sharing a flat with five other Boothies, about all the patatas bravas and vino tinto we shared, about all the sunny Sunday afternoons I spent dancing in a park and making friends with locals. 

But if I did that this post would go on forever. Maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing. But all good things are, in part, good because they do not overstay their welcome. So I will try my best to be brief here and share what will (hopefully) be useful to someone considering this exchange program.

Academics

IESE and Booth are on different schedules (IESE is a semester system while Booth operates on quarters), so I needed to take shorter half unit classes that allowed me to finish my credits and make it back to Chicago in time for Booth’s Spring Quarter. 

IESE offers many of its half unit classes as condensed programs in the two weeks before the spring semester begins, so in those two weeks I was able to finish four of the seven classes I was taking. It meant 6 to 9 hours of class a day, but it was worth it because the remaining three classes that I had were isolated to Mondays and Tuesdays, giving me Wednesdays through Sundays to explore the city and other locations around Spain.

Our first day of classes! We took condensed classes over the two weeks before the semester started, which meant early mornings that started before sunrise but allowed more flexibility with our later schedules.

Culturally, the schools are different, and I don’t mean U.S. versus Spanish culture. Students are more likely to wear slacks and leather loafers to class while at Booth we are more typically don jeans and snow boots unless we’re interviewing. Students applaud professors after every class. The average age is a touch older. There is a distinct, but still welcoming, air of formality that felt different than the laughing echoes in Harper Center’s Winter Garden. 

Two classes that I want to highlight as my favorites were From Adam Smith to Pope Francis (ADPO) and Public Speaking for Leaders (PSL). ADPO, a class examining business ethics and practices through the lens of Catholic theology, was taught by a priest and reflected the University of Navarra’s religious affiliation. It challenged us to ask ourselves what our priorities are for the lives we want to live and the businesses we want to someday run. Meanwhile, PSL was a hands-on practical course that every week had students workshopping different types of speeches in small groups. We worked on clear calls to action, effective pauses, and engaging storytelling, and I know I came out of this class a better speaker thanks to our coach Kyoko.

My practice team for Public Speaking for Leaders. This day we were working on hands and open body language while speaking.

Social Life 

With 85% of students being international, IESE’s social life revolves around an exciting array of cultural events. The highlight of them is MultiCulti, the biggest social event of the school year. Students represent their home countries with local food and drink at assigned tables and perform, typically with dancing, on stage for their classmates. How was the United States represented? Sliders, light beer, and dancing to the Backstreet Boys. Germany? Bratwurst, Jagermister, and techno. Brazil? Pão de queijo, caipirinhas, and a live student band playing Brazilian music. If you ever find yourself enrolled at IESE, this event is a must-do. 

Beyond MultiCulti, there are more happy hours, cultural group dinners, fútbol matches, and cafecitos than you’ll be able to count. Soak in as many of them as you can.

Students organize the annual IESE World Cup and I played with the US+Canada team to take on France+Scotland, finishing with a 5-1 victory.
Every week IESE students organize Bar of the Week (equivalent to Booth’s TNDC) and this final one we attended was Brazilian Carnival themed. We danced the night away to live bateria and spent the next several days finding glitter in our hair.

Adventures

I visited the Plaza de España in Sevilla but Star Wars fans might know this location better as Naboo’s Theed Palace.

While I wanted to get to know Barcelona well, I also used my time between class days to see other parts of Spain with my exchange classmates. We explored tapas and museums in Madrid, pintxos and seaside statues in San Sebastián, breathtaking volcanic views and ocean waves in Tenerife, sunshine and relaxation in Mallorca, and architecture and the heavenly scent of orange blossoms in Sevilla. We became Game of Thrones nerds in Girona and wound our way up mountain roads to enjoy views from the top of Montserrat. 

I stayed within Spain until Spring Break but several classmates used the weekends to travel internationally, including skiing in Andorra, carnival in Venice, and cafe hopping in Paris.

We took planes, trains, and automobiles to hostels, couches, and hotels. We practiced our broken Spanish, struggled with Catalán and were absolutely baffled by Basque. We found things to love in every location and will be happy to return one day, hopefully soon. 

Exploring Madrid with exchange students from Kellogg, Cornell, and CEIBS.

Life in Barcelona

There are a million little things I wish I could highlight about this city, but I am already breaking my promise of being brief. I don’t have enough space here to write about the balconies in Eixample and the flags that hang from them, the legs of jamón in every grocery store, or the thrill of seeing a flamenco show for the first time. I will just say I became more attached to Barcelona than I thought I would. From zipping through the city streets on mopeds to admiring the wisteria blossoms just beginning to open in Park Güell and wandering the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter, I will miss living there even more than I missed having a clothes dryer when I was doing laundry. 

Thank you to everyone who made it such a gift to have something worth missing.

We made it to the famous Camp Nou stadium to watch Barca take on Napoli, a 1-1 draw. When I learned I was accepted into this exchange program the year before, my brother gave me a FC Barcelona jersey for my birthday so I would be able to wear it to Camp Nou one day.
While we love Chicago, we knew we made the right choice to study abroad when we had a warm beach day the same time a snowstorm was hitting our Windy City.
To celebrate the end of our quarter abroad together, exchange students from Kellogg, Cornell, London Business School, and Ross joined us on a sailboat sunset cruise along Barcelona’s coast.

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