Choosing to study abroad in Spain during college is one of the most rewarding decisions you will ever make. If you are fortunate enough to attend an American university that emphasizes study abroad as an important aspect of your education, you will likely have many possible locations from which to choose. There are many reasons to choose Spain as your study abroad location; to improve your Spanish language skills, to experience the country’s vibrant culture and historical relevance, and to take advantage of the proximity to travel destinations in the rest of Europe.
When you choose to study abroad in Spain, you will likely have the option of living with a host family or on your own in a shared apartment. Living with a host family can be extremely advantageous in terms of assimilation and language skill development. Although it can be extremely daunting at first to enter the home of complete strangers who speak little to no English, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Living with a host family forces you to practice Spanish on a daily basis, and it also gives you invaluable insight into the culture and customs of a local family. The adjustment may not be easy; from the moment you arrive, your entire routine will be turned upside down. Besides being in an unfamiliar city, the basic comforts of home will be gone. Although you may have your own room, which can provide a certain amount of privacy, it may feel awkward or uncomfortable sharing a home with people you have never met before.
One of the most notable aspects of the homestay is the fact that you will likely eat three meals a day with your host family. Eating schedules in Spain vary greatly from what we are accustomed to in America. Breakfast tends to be a very small, light meal consisting of coffee and toast. After classes, around 3:30pm, families eat a large lunch, usually including a meat dish, soup, pasta or bread, and salad. Dinner, which is generally smaller and lighter than lunch, is served around 9:30 or 10pm, and sometimes even later in the summertime. Although the difference between Spanish and American eating schedules at first may appear overwhelming, with an open mind it is easy to adjust your expectations and daily routine. Initially, the pressure to converse with your host family during mealtimes may be stressful, but as you become more comfortable speaking Spanish, you will likely look forward to having the opportunity to converse with your host family. Spanish food is delicious, although on the heavy side. Be prepared to see a lot of fried food and meat, and say goodbye to your favorite fresh vegetables. Although they are readily available in Spanish supermarkets, most families tend to eat a lot of carbohydrates, and when served, vegetables are generally cooked.
Since the point of study abroad is to globalize your education, you will be pleasantly surprised by the difficulty of the studies while abroad. Most study abroad students find that the majority of their learning stems from immersion into the local culture, and that their classroom hours are much less demanding than those at their American university. Many students choose to focus on Spanish language and culture in their study abroad courses, and the expectation of work to be completed out of the classroom is generally quite low. You will likely not have classes on Fridays, which allows for a convenient three-day weekend to take advantage of affordable travel to many European destinations.
Spain is well-known for its vivacious nightlife, and study abroad students are lucky enough to be able to take full advantage of these opportunities while living in Spain. Many American students will find that the schedule for going out is quite different from what they are used to at home; friends generally do not get together to go out until around midnight, and clubs don’t fill up until 2 or 3am, depending on the city. In addition to the multitude of bars that line most city streets, large groups of young people often gather in plazas outdoors during the warmer months of the year to botellón, the Spanish equivalent of an outdoor pregame, before heading to a bar or club later in the night. When you go out, don’t expect to come home in time to get a full eight hours of sleep; if you do, you’ll be missing out on all the fun. You can always take a siesta the following day!
The cost of living and going out in Spain depends greatly on your location within the country. Northern cities are significantly more expensive than those in the south, but depending upon your hometown in the U.S., many people find that they spend less on a given weekend during their semester abroad than they would in metropolitan cities at home. However, this depends on your habits; if you take taxis, pay cover to get into clubs, and buy expensive drinks, you’ll obviously spend more than someone who is more budget-conscious. It’s difficult to generalize about the cost of eating out in Spain, because restaurants vary in price depending on their location and the type of food they serve. Large cities like Madrid and Barcelona have comparable prices to cities in the United States, while smaller cities and villages are generally much cheaper.
The amount of money you spend during your semester abroad also depends entirely on how much you choose to travel while you’re in Europe. It is definitely a wise decision to work hard before you leave for Spain to make sure you have a solid savings account. There are countless travel opportunities to take advantage of while you’re here, and many like-minded study abroad students to travel with. It’s possible to find great deals on plane tickets all over Europe through airlines like Ryanair and Vueling, and busses and trains between Spanish cities are relatively inexpensive as well. Living in Europe means you have easy access to some truly incredible travel opportunities, and the light workload and long weekends provide further incentive as well. Regardless of how much you choose to travel during your semester abroad, you won’t regret a single trip! They will become invaluable memories that you will cherish for years to come.