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Semester abroad - Toledo v Barcelona

My son is choosing a destination for his semester abroad. (Business w Spanish minor)

Spring semester would be February through April in either Toledo or Barcelona. Thoughts on both as a place to spend 3 months in the Spring?

Posted by
237 posts

We're going to Toledo for the first time in Oct, but we spent time in Barcelona once before. But I'm pretty sure Barcelona is a much bigger city. It also has some unique areas like the Barrio Gothic (with narrow streets and some Roman ruins) and the beach (at least visit if it's too cold to swim)....I'd def choose Barcelona. Others who've done both cities can offer a more balanced approach, though.

Posted by
14139 posts

How did he come to choose those two?

We have spent multiple nights in both cities, and enjoy both, but they are very different. Toledo is very small, but offers easy access to Madrid for exploration.

Note that the first language in Barcelona is Catalan, not Spanish.

Posted by
2635 posts

We really enjoyed Toledo. But three months? No. It’s small he’d go stir crazy. Barcelona is vibrant with lot’s to do and a beach. Barcelona hands down. Everyone speaks Spanish, don’t worry about that.

Posted by
6222 posts

Two interesting but very different cities.

Toledo is way more "traditional" for lack of a better word. Toledo is quite a bit smaller. Gets a daily influx of tourists but outside the relatively small touristed, old-city center, is a much more "authentic" Spanish city. Close enough to Madrid to be able to access everything there pretty quickly and easily.

Barcelona is huge by comparison, and although full of history, it has much more of a "big city" vibe. International and cosmopolitan (even flamboyant), it's extremely popular with tourists (some might say excessively so). Many more opportunities in Barcelona for, well, everything. Much more of a "party" scene. Barcelona would probably appeal more (a lot more) to most young people (maybe a little too much, if that young person is easily distracted).

For a very serious student who wants to really stick to a demanding academic curriculum, Toledo is probably a good choice (fewer distractions). For a young person who was seeking a great time (including non-academic distractions, as such things are defined by youth), Barcelona would probably be a much more "target rich environment." Of course, a lot would depend on the individual student, their own tastes, preferences and goals, not to mention the academic opportunities. Both are amazing places. Your son is lucky to have this opportunity.

Posted by
2765 posts


Toledo is very interesting but also very limited in size. I think it would feel very dull after a while for a young person. Especially in winter/early spring like February-March when the weather is less pleasant.
Barcelona is a huge city with activity in all seasons. He’d definitely not run out of interesting things to do in Barcelona! I’d guess it’s weather is warmer in that timeframe just due to being on the sea, but I don’t know for sure. I’d look into that.
Toledo isn’t far from Madrid so there is somewhat easy access to a big city and an airport. But being in a city is very different than being an hour away from a city.

Only thing is Spanish. While they definitely speak Spanish in Barcelona, Catalan is preferred by a lot of people. As an American with some but obviously not native or fluent Spanish, I found many people preferred I speak English, since I don’t know Catalan. This was in tourist areas with tourist-facing people, might be different in more residential areas. While in non-Catalonia Spain my iffy Spanish was very well received. So strictly from a practice-Spanish mindset, Toledo would be a bit better.

Posted by
2780 posts

As a side note regarding languages in Catalonia (Catalan vs Spanish)... this is always a thorny issue.

It's not a matter of knowing this or that language (many Catalans also know English and other languages), it's a matter of what one's mother tongue is that decides which language one uses in daily life, after all one is not travelling, one's at his/her own homeland.

Everybody born in Catalonia -or migrating there at school age and regardless of his/her origin- has achieved proficient command of Catalan and Spanish (and a third language) when graduating. For those migrating later in life, the learning of the local language Catalan tends to be achieved gradually over time by interacting with the rest of the society: at work, with kids and friends, in leisure, etc. much like anywhere else in the world. This is so if (if!) the individual makes the effort, of course. There are also free resources available (official courses, online sites...) to help to speed it up.

It's worth mentioning that both languages, Catalan and Spanish, are Romance languages derived from Latin -much like French, Italian or Portuguese among others- so, while being full-fledged independent languages on their own, both share many similarities in vocabulary and also in grammar and syntaxis. This is to say that knowing one of them facilitates, at least, understanding the basics of the others.

Many households have ancestors that migrated from elsewhere in Spain to Catalonia and have maintained the use of Spanish in their daily life. Some people feel Catalan as his/her language and are more comfortable expressing their thoughts in this language, while others feel Spanish is. But in any case, residents born in Catalonia -or those that lived long enough here- know both languages.

This has evolved into a de-facto 'agreement' among both communities (Catalan and Spanish) and since everybody understands both languages nobody forces the other party to switch, instead conversations freely flow in one's preferred language. Thus, it's very common to find groups in which some parties use Catalan and some use Spanish in the same conversation. This has become so natural that speakers don't even realize it. This has brought RESPECT for everybody's right to use his/her mother tongue in Catalonia.

For many native Catalan-speakers, Catalan is our mother tongue and the language we normally use. If someone moves in (even temporarily) not knowing Catalan, we'll gladly change to English, French or Spanish to 'integrate' that person into the conversation. But we'll do that only for a reasonable period that is, after all for many of us the 'other' language is not the one we feel more comfortable speaking in. After some time, it feels reasonable to assume the guest will have made the effort to learn a bit of the local language, if not to speak it at least to understand it. And thus, we go back to the previously mentioned 'de-facto' agreement: "you choose the language you want to communicate with and I'll do the same". Life balance gets restored.

I know some local forum members might differ, but this is not a 'statement', it's rather putting on-the-ground facts in black and white so readers in monolingual communities can understand "the why and the how" things are the way they are in multilingual communities like ours here in Catalonia.

Posted by
1540 posts

I’d ask the young man which town his own research has lead him to prefer, and why.

Posted by
3209 posts

I'd go with Salamanca, probably the single best place to learn Castilian, plus it's home to one of the oldest universities in the world, so there's a lot of student life and youthful ambience in the streets. The city is in between Toledo and Barcelona in terms of size and things to do. It's also well connected with Madrid via a high-speed train so it's easy to go on weekend trips to other parts of Spain.

Posted by
9238 posts

Which program does his college recommend or endorse? Most study abroad programs are for a full semester.

Posted by
112 posts

His specific program has a college in both of those cities so he’d be able to graduate on schedule

Posted by
1423 posts

I hope he is conducting independent investigation to determine a preference. We faced the same issue of choice with our daughter's study abroad and were impressed with the deep dive she made contacting students who were on the same journey. A significant benefit was being able to speak with students from her university who had just completed the program and learning their thoughts. Her university study abroad program coordinator should be able to help place him in contact with fellow students.

Toledo is small, but the size of the number of fellow students may be a significant factor. Our daughter studied in Granada and was please with a smaller program enabling quickly finding fellow students to take weekend trips to other destinations. What else is a study abroad program for but to place access to Europe at easy reach? ;)

Enric's comments are spot on and Barcelona offers a completely different experience in terms of a broader "at hand" menu to experience without needing to travel beyond the city boundaries. The opportunity to travel to other destinations is also easy.

Many study abroad programs do NOT align with American semesters so three months does equate to a full semester experience in terms of credit hours. Regardless of his choice we recommend adding the month of May to stay in Europe and enjoy a huge menu of festivals and phenomenal weather opportunities.

The bigger question is when will you travel to visit him?! ;)

Posted by
3209 posts

His specific program has a college in both of those cities so he’d be able to graduate on schedule'

In that case for a young person I'd choose Barcelona. He'll learn Spanish with a Catalan accent, both linguistically and culturally, I think that's a very cool.

Also Barcelona is one of the top business cities in all of Europe, ranked 6th by Business Insider. It's particularly well known for it's tech startup scene, like a mini Silicon Valley.

Posted by
92 posts

If I was a student on a budget, I think a smaller city such as Toledo would be better because it would be cheaper and offer less temptations for shopping, nightlife, etc. I’m sure the students there manage to have plenty of fun locally and it would probably offer more opportunity to practice Spanish and meet Spanish people. If money was no object, then yeah, Barcelona would be fun… but I think Toledo would be a better study abroad experience - and spending time in Barcelona at a later date is always an option.

Posted by
7175 posts

Barcelona is big, busy, city, with a youthful energy, and a pulsing nightlife. It has food, history, culture and the beach.

Toledo by comparison is small, with an older population, a daily tourist influx, and very little nightlife. Very historic, yet less diversity in food and culture. No beach !!!

Posted by
1188 posts

We have been to both Toledo and Barcelona, and our daughter, who was getting her MBA at the time, studied in Barcelona for a semester. I would choose Barcelona. It's a much larger city than Toledo, and I think it's more fun for a young person. Even for an old person like me!