Italy | Acing Academics Abroad

By Jessica Helfond

A big portion of studying abroad is the actual “studying” part. I took 9 units in 4 weeks, and while it was challenging, taking these classes abroad was very efficient and enriching. 

During our month in Rome, we could take 2 out of the 3 following courses:

  1. Italian 1: Beginning Elementary Italian (4 units)
  2. Italian 42A: Saints and Sinners in Early Modern Italy (5 units)
  3. Italian 191: Medieval and Renaissance Italy in Pop Culture (4 units)

We could also enroll in Italian 199, which was an additional 4 unit class on a research topic of your choosing. Italian 1 met from 9:30am-12pm Monday-Thursday, Italian 42A had class from 2-4pm on Monday and Wednesday, and Italian 191 had class from 2-4pm on Tuesday and Thursday. Classes were held in the ACCENT Study Center, which was about 30 minutes away from our apartments. To get to class, we took the metro for 7 stops, and then walked for 10-15 minutes to get to the study center. 

The study center was two stories that were fully equipped with air conditioning. On one floor, there were classrooms that could fit around 25 students, bathrooms, a silent library for studying, and a faculty lounge for office hours. Upstairs, there was the student lounge (equipped with a microwave and refrigerator), a computer lounge, and desks to study or complete work at. There was also fast wifi and a printer to use in the study center.

I took Italian 1 to get started on my language requirement and Italian 42A to fulfill my historical analysis GE. I’m going to be honest. Italian 1 was VERY fast paced. After Week 1, we had a quiz. After week 2, a midterm. After Week 3 we had another quiz, and after Week 4 we had our final exam. We took all of the quizzes and exams online with an online system that monitored our computers and surrounding environment. However, taking them online meant we were able to take them whenever we wanted before the deadline (which was usually Sunday evening). This meant we could study as much as we wanted before taking the exams, and take them whenever we felt we were ready.

Although the class was very fast paced, it was very possible to succeed in. Our TA did an amazing job of teaching us the most essential concepts during class, and then giving us homework to reenforce the concepts. As long as you asked questions on what you were confused on, did the homework, and studied before the exams, you were able to succeed in the class. Besides learning the Italian language, we also learned about Italian culture. We played fun games, and on our last day of class, our TA brought a variety of sicilian cannolis for us to try.

Italian 42A consisted of learning a lot about the history of Rome, which meant a lot about the history of religion in Italy. The best part of the class was actually being able to visit locations that we talked about in class. For example, we actually got to go see the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City instead of just looking at pictures of it in class.

Although taking the classes in a month abroad was very fast paced, actually being able to take them in Rome made them so much more enriching. It was way easier being able to learn a language while being immersed in a country that speaks it, and actually visiting locations we learned about in history class made it way easier to put meaning to the information we were learning. I loved taking these classes abroad, and I would recommend it to anyone that wants to fulfill requirements in a more enriching, fun way.

Jessica Helfond studied abroad in Rome in Summer 2019. 

France | What Art Can I Photograph?


I enjoy falling into paintings from the past to enter a different world or to understand my feelings more deeply. But if you photograph artistically, museums can be a boring place to take creative shots. Taking a photograph of a museum-lit painting is boring and unimaginative. We can feel like copiers of great art, and that’s all. But their are beautiful things that we can shoot in museums that creates a new art and can challenge our creativity.


A man in stone at the Louvre, Paris

A reposing woman inside the Louvre, Paris

Sculptures, like humans, are 3D constructions that can be captured in beautiful, new and imaginative angles with different lighting and positioning.

Whenever I enter a museum with my camera, I am drawn to the statues, challenging myself to find unique ways to capture the art. Sculptures are the pieces of art that we can manipulate in unique ways without using the use of a live human. We can take a piece of art and create a new piece of art, a unique way of looking at the sculpture. Unlike a flat painting (which can be creatively shot but not the extent of a sculpture) which as no angles to be of use to the photographer.

The backside of the Venus de Milo in marble

The soft figure of a woman at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The sun shining through an open window illuminates an “important” man at the Louvre, Paris

The Pain

Women bitten by a snake lies beautifully, but writhing in pain

These photographs are only scratching the surface of the immense possibilities that exist in using sculptures in photography to create art. I hope that these photographs inspire you to become more creative at museums, challenging yourself to look at art differently and using your eye to capture something unique to you and your experiences observing the art. By challenging yourself to look for new angles, you may discover something new and exciting about a sculpture.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

Spain | Unique Inside Access to Bomb Shelters from the Spanish Civil War


This was the most touching and real walking tour for me in this class.

I didn’t really know anything about Franco or the Spanish Civil War prior to this trip. It was one thing to read about it in our assigned book or even discuss it in lecture, but it’s a completely different story when you see the remains of bomb hits and the places where people fled to protect themselves and their families.

Thanks to the connections provided by our professor, our class was able to take a tour inside the bomb shelters used during the Spanish Civil War which took place from 1936-1939 and was between the Republic (which is the democracy here) and the Fascists. It ended with the victory of the Fascist and a dictatorship by Francisco Franco until his death in 1975.

My mom was born in 1975. That was my first thought when I was first learning about all this. This dictatorship wasn’t far too long ago. This put things into perspective as we entered the underground tunnels of Montjuic that were used as bomb shelters to hold up to 1500 people per shelter.

Rafael Lemkin tried to explain the war in one word: urbicide.

To him, this meant that the war was not only killing cities, but relationships among people, not just merely buildings. This was the first time planes bombed cities. 400,000 Spaniards fled to France as refugees.

After Franco’s victory, no one could talk about it for the entire time of his dictatorship. Our tour guide explained how many Spaniards today are not even aware of the bomb shelters. Although Spain was not officially apart of World World II, Franco did assist Hitler.

Life within the shelters had to have some rules. They were written in Catalan and Spanish on the walls. People were not allowed to talk about politics or religion, for obvious reasons of trying to keep a calm environment. It’s important to note that these shelters were for ALL people, no matter what side you were on. Everyone had to pay their debts by either working or payments to use the shelter to make it fair.

The tunnels were cold and damp. They were constructed in narrow curved forms to withstand the impact of the bombs. The tour guide told us a sad story about how the one room that was not built in this form was the children’s playroom. It had a wider ceiling and was larger in size. Unfortunately, there were two boys playing in this small room when a bomb struck and the walls in this area could not withstand the strike. The ceiling came crashing down, killing the two young children. We saw the room and the destruction; I can’t describe it. I just know that it shattered my heart, thinking about them and the way the families in here were real people, parents, and kids.

There was also another room for the sick so they could be contained in one area. If you were a doctor, you most likely worked here to pay your dues of using the tunnel. The tour guide explained about pregnant woman would also be giving birth in the bomb shelters sometimes. My friends and I just imagined the unsanitary and sad conditions to bring life into this world. It was a lot to take in, but definitely brought everything to life.

After the Spanish Civil War was over, the soldiers kept building and adding to these shelters just in case there was a chance Spain would be apart of WWII. A poor family apparently used the shelter as a home for 10 years without anyone knowing from 1949-1959.

Because Barcelona wanted good branding for the Olympic Games of 1992, the shack towns that once existed in Montjuic up to this point and in Barceloneta were removed and renovated. Only 2 of the bomb shelters are preserved.

As I said time and time again, this was the saddest but most eye-opening learning experience that I’m grateful I had the chance to experience. I hope you do too!

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Breathe in the MUSIC the City Makes


The musical stylings from The Cheetah Girls 2 may or may not have been downloaded on my Spotify prior to coming to Barcelona. Hey! You never know when you might lose service or data and need to listen to Strut” on the train ride.

But the music in the city sure is something. Though I wish I did come across more random people playing the Spanish guitar in the streets, I was mesmerized by my trip the Palau de la Música, which is a concert hall. It is one of the modernism buildings we could visit for one of our assignments. We had heard great things about it from our other classmates so we decided to check it out.

How to Get There

Though you can take a bus, my friends and I decided to walk there because it is only about a 16-minute walk, which you will learn is not bad at all. It was beautiful scenery all the time, and we decided to grab lunch before so it ended up working out!

*Pro tip: Trip Advisor is used more in Spain/Europe than Yelp if you’re looking for the best restaurants and ratings in general* In our experience, we wouldn’t take the metro or bus (even more complicated) if we could walk there in 25 minutes or less. Walking is a more popular way to get somewhere, I would say, in Barcelona than in Los Angeles. It’s funny because I would keep thinking about how I used to Uber from apartment side back to my sorority house because I thought THAT was too far of a walk. 

However, you can take the bus. You can follow the following directions from the Arc of Triomf via bus by click here (it is about the same in time).


When we got the Palau de la Música, we learned there are different ticket choices depending on what you want to do. We did the Guided Tour that costs 20 Euros (because that’s what we needed for our assignment). Remember to ask for a student discount by showing your UPF student ID! We enjoyed this one because half of it was learning about the building itself and the beautiful architecture and art, and the other half was a mini concert. There are other tour options

However, you can buy actual concert tickets for different shows and performances going on. They host all kinds of concerts, so for more information, I would check out the website here and plan accordingly.

My Experience

Modernism is a type of architecture style I got too familiar with being in Barcelona for a month. Antoni Gaudi designed many of the famous modernism buildings known today such as La Sagrada Familia. Anyway, this building was beautiful in every sense of the word.

Make sure to use the bathroom before and to not be late! We had to run around the first 5-10 minutes of the tour because we lost our group. This place is not that big so it was funny going up and down the stairs trying to find them. After another tour guide helped us and we reconnected with our group, we sat on the upper level and learned about the meanings behind the giant sun in the ceiling, flowers that were found all around the concert hall, and some of the art and glass work. My mind was truly blown by the amount of detail.

Finally at the end, we sat in the first couple rows and listened to a talented organ player who made me feeling like I was walking the streets of Main Street at Disneyland or walking down the aisle of my own wedding. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the museum if it wasn’t assigned, and I know I definitely would’ve missed out. So, I hope you get a chance to check it out even if it’s just for the tour and love it as much as I did!

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | How in the World Do You Juggle Class + Traveling?!


Everyone who has studied abroad has had this struggle. Everyone who is thinking about studying abroad wonders about it. But it makes sense because your mind wants to be on vacation 100% of the time of you being in a different city, country, or continent — and you should let yourself enjoy the trip!! Just remember that these programs do cost money and you don’t want to go wasting that by missing your classes. But trust me when I say there’s a balance, and it may be hard at first but you can and WILL find it!

It’s different for everybody and also depends on the classes your taking. This program had me enrolled in 2 upper division Spanish courses that counted towards my minor. There was also an option to add a 3rd upper division class for an extra charge. If there’s anything my professor told us that I remember, it’s that although we were there to experience the city for ourselves, we were still enrolled in 8 units and the work would feel like it. Figuring out how to balance was up to us.

For this program in particular, we had class every day of the week Monday through Friday (minus one free Friday) for the 3 weeks we were enrolled. However, not every one of these days had the same format:

Two of the days of the week, we would have a four-hour lecture at the university. Sometimes there were guest lecturers, and we always had at least a 20 minute break. I would always go to the cafe and get a cafe con leche and donut.

Two of the other days of the week, we would have walking tours, which were my favorite because it meant we were learning about the city in a hands-on way. The professor would give us a location somewhere in Barcelona to meet at 10AM on the dot. Sometimes it was in the Gothic Quarter, sometimes it was in a plaza. Either way, we had to make sure we were there whether that meant taking the metro, a taxi, or walking. We would walk around via tour guides or just with the professor explaining what we’ve learned in lecture and see the buildings and city for ourselves. There’s definitely a difference from reading about these places in a textbook and actually visiting them!

Finally on Fridays, we usually would take a field trip somewhere outside of Barcelona, like Gràcia or Montserrat. This would usually be an all day thing and we wouldn’t get back until about 7PM or 8PM. This meant that if we wanted to travel outside the city on the weekends, we had to book our transportation at least past 10PM. It was definitely doable, however.

Anyways, it may seem like class takes up all your time, but it really is only 4 hours of lecture 4 days of the week plus field trips on Fridays (that are fun anyways). The assignments were things like visiting a museum and writing about your experience, presenting on assigned areas we had to explore, or quizzes based on the readings. It’s all dependent of your work ethic, but if you time managed appropriately, you could get your work done just in time to enjoy the rest of the city. Trust me, it IS doable if you want it do be; you just have to be willing to put the time in to make the most of your time! 🙂

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

France | La Tour Eiffel


It’s simple to find a photograph of the Eiffel Tower online. In fact, it often feels futile to take the same photograph that has come many times before you. I decided to try something different.

In this collection of photographs, I attempted to take one of the world’s most photographed monuments and tried to create something unique. I challenged myself to find new angles and ways of looking at the famous structure.

Here are some photographs taken in my attempt to create something unique.

Sarah Brandenburg studied abroad in Paris, France in summer 2018:

Spain | Things to Do at the Top of Tibidabo


So I only ended up on the top of Mount Tibidabo because my group decided for our project, we wanted to visit the Observatory. I didn’t even know Barcelona had one before coming, so I thought we would check it out. It interested me in particular because it seemed like more of a low-key thing– kind of something you should do if you have time after seeing all the other touristy things.

How to Get There

Well THIS was definitely a longer journey, but very doable. It took us about an hour leaving from Arc de Triomf once again. We had to take the metro, a tram, and a bus, but the views were 100% worth it. You can view the directions from Google maps here or follow these steps:

  1. Take metro line R1 to Molins De Rei
    1. 2 stops
  2. Get off at Plaça de Sants
    1. You’ll have to exit and go to another metro station for the next line
  3. Take the S2  to Bellaterra
    1. 5 stops
  4. Get off at Peu del Funicular
  5. Walk to the tram and take FV to Vallvidrera Inferior
    1. Non-stop
  6. Get off at Vallvidrera Superior
  7. Walk to bus stop 111 to Tibidabo
    1. Stop depends on if you want to go to the Observatory (4 stops) or the amusement park (5 stops)

Observatori Fabra

When we finally got to the observatory, it reminded me of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The Observatory Fabra is actually the 4th oldest active observatory in the world. Once the bus drops you off, you walk along this pathway surrounded by trees and greenery and end up at the gates. The hours of visitation are dependent on when you go:

Day Visits are only Sunday mornings from 11AM to 12:30PMNo bookings are needed, but tickets cost 2 Euros and includes a guided tour (children under 10 are free!). This applies all year except for August, Christmas and Easter.

Night Visits must booked ahead of time during the months September to June. The price is 10 Euros(children under 7 are free!) and you get to look through the telescope Centenari.

Something that I WISH I got to do was Dinner with Stars which includes a dinner at the observatory under the stars, a guest lecturer, a tour, and the opportunity to look through the telescope! You can definitely check out the website for more details on pricing and dates, or click here.

Tibidabo Amusement Park

You can see the castle from this amusement park all the way across the city in Barceloneta. Once again, I didn’t even know there was an amusement park in Barcelona! When we were up on the mountain, it seemed like a lot of children’s summer camps were visiting as well as families with young children, but it has rides for all. From the iconic ferris wheel to a statue of Jesus (like the one in Rio), this is just another fun activity to add to your list of non-so-touristy things to do in Barcelona! You can purchase tickets here.

Uaala! Gelateria

After a long day of traveling to Tibidabo, there is conveniently a lovely ice cream store across the street from where the tram drops you off call Uaala! Gelateria. It had some great gelato and a sweet owner so I would definitely recommend checking it out while you’re up there 🙂

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | City of Girona


When I first heard the name of this town, I instantly thought of the Princess Diaries because the name was far too similar to Genovia. However, this city did have characteristics and architecture that gave you the feeling that you were in some sort of fairytale land. Girona was one of the places for our class’s Friday field trips.

At the entrance, you see a Lioness statue with some small steps right next to it. Our tour guide told us the story of how back in the Roman times when they had walls surrounding the city, citizens of the town had to be within the gates by sunset or else they would be left outside the doors for the evening. This was done to protect the city from outsiders. However, the people came up with a secret code to show the guards if they were locked out and were in fact from Girona: they would kiss the bottom of the lioness statue!

I am not a huge follower of Game of Thrones, but apparently Girona was one of the places used to shoot the show. With its Romaness, gothic and baroque architecture, I do not blame them. The Cathedral of Girona is probably one of the more iconic Game of Throne landmarks (at least that’s what my classmates would tell me). Inside the cathedral was just as beautiful. The glass-stained windows have always been my favorite part of these churches. This one in particular had this courtyard surrounded by pillars; above each pillar, there were carvings of the most famous Bible stories. If you were to follow along the pillars, you could unfold the tale yourself. There was something peaceful about this courtyard that made it my favorite place in Girona.

We also got to tour the Arab baths, which were preserved thanks to local nuns who recognized that this place was in great condition for its age and wanted to continue that. I was surprised myself of the preservation, as our tour guide gave us rich history on the importance of each of the 3 rooms. People of Girona used to only shower once a month, so it was a luxury and recreational time to go to the baths.

We walked to the very top of one of the preserved Roman walls of the city where we had a breathtaking panoramic view of Girona. The walls, now full of greenery, kind of reminded me of a jungle gym, which stairs, bridges and walkways. There’s a line to go to the very top with a steep staircase but it is definitely worth the trek!

Afterwards, we learned more about the Jewish Quarter and how badly they were mistreated in the city back then because they were believed to bring the bad luck to the city. These areas had very narrow roads which would easily be crowded. As we walked through, I overheard a man playing his Spanish guitar on some steps and it was the first time I had heard one all trip! It reminded me of that scene in Cheetah Girls 2 where Angel is playing from the top of the restaurant.

During our down time, my friends and I ate at this great Italian place and got some ice cream at this well-known ice cream shop called Rocambolesc Ice Cream. We also walked across this bridge that was designed by the same man who made the Eiffel Tower!

This was a beautiful field trip and a nice way to explore Spain outside of Barcelona. I enjoy them because it’s like traveling is part of my curriculum for the class.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Visiting Camp Nou


My family and I are major FC Barcelona fans, so I knew visiting Camp Nou was definitely on my to-do list. I went with 2 friends from the program who mentioned they were going one day after class. Purchasing the tickets online was very easy, though you can also buy them at the stadium. We decided to do the cheapest option that included the museum and tour of the stadium for 25 Euros, and let me tell you, it was WORTH IT! They have other options that include more but are more expensive but include access to an audio guide, virtual reality experience, exclusive sites, a gift, an official tour guide, or walking around the pitch. You can click here to buy tickets and compare them for yourself.

Getting to the stadium was not too difficult. Google Maps was definitely a friend on any traveling needs because you could use the public transportation and it told you EXACTLY what lines to take and how many stops for the metro. If you’re at the Residencia Dorms, you can take the Metro from the Arc de Triomf and follow the following steps or click here:

  1. Take the L1 metro line to Hospital de Bellvitge
    1. 8 stops
  2. Get off at Plaça de Sants
    1. You’ll have to exit and go to another metro station for the next line
  3. Walk to the Metro Plaça de Sants
  4. Take the N2 metro line to Estació Av. del Carrilet
    1. 6 stops
  5. Get off at Riera Blanca – Les Corts
  6. Exit station and follow signs to Camp Nou

When we arrived, we took a couple pictures outside the main entrance and then made our way over to the stadium. There are large signs telling you where the entrance is for the tour. We got to take pictures with professional photographers and had the option of buying these photos afterwards. As we enter the museum, it is filled with all the trophies and exclusive valuables. A couple of my personal favorites were Luis Suarez Bota de Oro and an old jersey from Messi! Since we did not have the audio-guide, we just walked around and saw what we wanted to see. They had this cool wall with a bunch of panels that would constantly flip and land on a certain page that gave you a clear image of one of the players if you stepped back and saw the bigger picture. You could spend as much time here or any of the places on the tour as you wanted.

To be honest, all I thought I paid for was the museum and walking into the stadium to see the classic “Més que un club” on the stadium seats, but in reality it was far more than that! Really, we kept walking and following the signs into all these different regions of the stadium that I didn’t know we had access to so that was super cool!

After the stadium seats, we were able to actually go down where the players sit and close to the field. I got a picture of me sitting on one of the chairs where the players sit! After we went to what looked like the press room, the visiting players’ locker room, the announcers’ room and ended at the giant FCB store. I got myself some nice fuzzy socks to remember this incredible opportunity.

Ironically, while I was visiting, my dad texted me an article that FC Barcelona was actually at UCLA practicing that day. I really came across the world and we decide to swap places lol.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018:

Spain | Best Part of Class: Having Dinner with a UCLA Alumni’s family in Gràcia


As I had mentioned in previous blogs, I had always dreamed of studying abroad because I wanted to assimilate to another culture that was completely different than anything I was familiar with. Even though this program is about 3 ½ weeks, I still felt like I got that. However, the defining factor of this experience was when we had the privilege of meeting John Arboleda, a fellow Bruin now living in the neighborhood of Gràcia in Barcelona with his beautiful wife and 2 children.

Our professor had us meet Arboleda at the IED School of Design Barcelona, where he works as the director of Special Programs and Innovation. We got a small tour of the modern and colorful campus, received some small gifts, and ended up in a classroom where we got the opportunity to hear Arboleda’s story: where he grew up, his own study abroad experiences, and the opportunities for living abroad. I never really considered living outside of The States until this lecture. His charisma and sense of humor kept us students engaged and wanting to hear more about how a Colombian LA-native ended up living in Spain away from everything he knew. The timeline of how he got to where he is now is something of a story that I hope you get to hear if you decide to go on this program!

It was awesome being able to relate to a fellow Bruin who wore many caps of first-generation to transfer student. He talked about the struggle of finding employment post-grad and how studying abroad in college shaped the way he wanted to live his life.

Afterwards, we walked over to his home through Gràcia. He explained to us how during the evening, families and kids, adults and teenagers, all come to the plazas to eat, talk and enjoy each others company. I saw this group of little ones playing with those battling spin tops that I haven’t seen since I was a kid. It was so refreshing to see people outside, socializing and playing instead of locked inside with electronics.

Inviting 30 students over to your home for food is more than generous. Arboleda let us know how in Spain, the home is supposed to be private and intimate for the family, so having someone come over was a big deal — which made us feel all the more special and welcomed. He also had a fellow friend he studied abroad with over. We got a tour of his home, met his kids and got a chance to mingle some more with him, his wife and family friend. I asked questions about how it felt moving so far from family, how to continue traveling under a budget and his lifestyle in Barcelona.

I was so intrigued that this could be a reality. Since then, I have thought about possibly taking a gap year abroad.

Arboleda also serves on the UCLA Alumni Association and visits the campus every few months for his meetings. I currently am in the Student Alumni Association (SAA) which is a branch of the Alumni Association, so it was fun to talk to him about how we could work together to get more events like this going– having students abroad meeting up with Bruins living abroad in that area. It was definitely a unique experience that gave us more insight the idea of living abroad.

Paulina Hernandez studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain in summer 2018: