Tips and Tricks for Studying in Spain
1) Bring tennis shoes. You will walk a lot. If you study abroad in Oviedo, you will live with a host family and won’t have a car to drive around everywhere. You will walk to class, walk to the bus station, walk around town, walk A LOT when traveling to other cities/countries. If not tennis shoes, definitely bring comfy inserts to put inside your shoes. You will save yourself a lot of pain!
2) Budget for traveling! It is really cheap here, but you will want to go everywhere. Flights to Rome are around 100 euros ($140), trains from Oviedo to Sevilla are around 70 euros ($100) and I found round trip flights from Santander to London for 60 euros ($83), one way to Paris for 50 euros ($70) and so much more! Everything will add up, and fast. You’ll have to think about hostels (usually around 20 euros a night, so $30) and food. Ryanair, Kayak, and Hostelbookers will become your best friends for the semester!
3) Leave room for souvenirs. Shipping things from Europe to the United States in insanely expensive. Personally, I brought enough toiletries to last me for the semester and a lot of food for the flights. By May, I plan on having a lot of extra space from not having all that stuff to take home.
4) Many cafes have wifi, but don’t be glued to it. Experience Spain! Use the cafes to book your flights and hostels, but then shut everything off and go on a walk with friends around town.
5) Bring an umbrella and possibly rain boots. I found a pair of rain boots here in Oviedo for 6 euros ($8) because I didn’t want to waste the precious space to pack mine. Now I won’t feel bad leaving them behind since they were so cheap! It can be really windy, so you’ll probably end up needing to buy a replacement umbrella or two throughout the semester if you aren’t careful. I can’t even count how many broken umbrellas I have seen stuffed in trash cans around the town! My host family has at least 10 stashed away in the coat closet. My trusty $10 umbrella from Walmart is holding up just nicely though!
6) Learn 24 hour time if you don’t know it already. The Spanish write it in 24 hour time, but say it in 12 hour time. For instance, if a store opens up after siesta at 3:00, the sign will say 15:00. But if you ask the time, phones will say 15:00 and they will tell you 3:00.
7) The Spanish think it is way colder than it actually is, or at least colder than we think it is. They will be bundled up in fur coats, scarves, and gloves when you’ll be wearing a light jacket. Your host mom will tell you it is cold every day and want you to wear socks around the house and a scarf when you leave. Make sure to bring a coat though, as it does get rather cold at night and most of December and January. Also, try not to laugh at the poor dogs in the park whose owners dressed them in a puffy pink doggie coat with a hood.
8) Learn to mentally figure the exchange rate of degrees Fahrenheit to degrees Celsius and euros to dollars. *F = (2 x *C) + 32. *C = (*F – 32) / 2. The euro is about 2/3 of an American dollar.
9) GET A TANDEM CONVERSATION PARTNER. SERIOUSLY. Or two. Or three. Practice your Spanish. You probably need it. Tandem conversation partners are good because you pair up with a native Spanish speaker who wants to practice English, so you each help the other out. I can’t tell you to practice the language enough. It is up to you to practice, so take the initiative!
10) ESN is a student group led by native Spaniards who plan and lead events like soccer games, tandem conversation events, trips around Spain, and so much more. Are you a rowdy partier who loves to go out? Go on the trips. You’ll have a blast! Not rowdy? Suck it up and go anyways. Their trips are so much cheaper than if you went yourself and they are already preplanned for you. Or, if you’re like me, you can leave the group and meet back at the hotel later so you can see what you want.
11) Buy school supplies (folders, notebook) when you get there. The paper in Europe is slightly different sized than that in the United States. Silly tip, but maybe it’s just my OCD that doesn’t like the top of the paper sticking out of the top of my folder.
12) Rebajas will be the greatest thing of your entire life. Rebajas (sale, in translation) happens in January to February and again in the summer, and you will be able to find things for 20%-70% off. I was able to go shopping as soon as I got to Oviedo and only spent a fraction of cost.
13) You will have lots of free time. If the classes are not too terribly difficult, and not much studying is needed (sorry mom and dad), then find stuff to do! Explore! Practice Spanish! Plan upcoming trips. Get involved in volunteer work with kids. Teach English!
14) Write, Read, Speak, Listen. This was the last advice my translation professor gave our class before he left mid semester. In order to improve your Spanish and move towards fluency, you need to write, you need to read, you need to speak, and you need to listen. They are all very important components to learning another language.
15) Write a blog. You will want to remember everything, and writing it all down or typing it in a blog is a great tool to look back on in 10 years! Plus, friends and family undoubtedly want to keep up with your travels.
16) If you go by yourself, you’ll be fine, I promise. I thought I was going to be miserable the whole semester when I first arrived. Make friends and go to the ESN trips for the first couple of weeks so you can meet a lot of people. If you’re going with someone from Westminster, branch out and add people to your group. No one wants to return to the States after a semester abroad only knowing the people they went with!
I could go on and on, really. Enjoy, and if you’re wanting to study abroad, feel free to ask me questions or go to the Study Abroad Office!
A lot of really good advice. No matter how much “book” Spanish you know, it’s a good idea to think in Spanish and, when possible, speak it before you go. You may still be met with quizzical looks when you speak Spanish in Spain, but they appreciate your trying. It’s a wonderful country!