If you’re planning to study abroad in Spain, your life is about to get a whole lot different and we don’t just mean the language. The Spanish people will welcome you into their country, but there are certain conventions to follow if you want to fit in. Here’s what you shouldn’t do.
The point of going to Spain to study is to learn Spanish, right? So have a go. Even the most faltering and pitiful of attempts will be met with kindness and encouragement. The better you get, the more feedback you’ll get – it’s perfectly OK to be corrected so don’t take it as a criticism. There are a few mistakes you’ll only make once out of sheer embarrassment – soy aburrido (I am boring) rather than estoy aburrido (I’m bored) springs to mind – but at the very least, you’re going to provide some entertainment for your hosts.
Live and socialize in an expat bubble
It might feel less isolating to spend your leisure time chatting with friends who share your native tongue, but the point of going to Spain to study is, well, Spain. If you want to spend your afternoons in Starbucks chewing the fat about the state of domestic politics, stay in the USA. Far better to immerse yourself in the country you’ve chosen to be your new home. Each day will be a little easier than the one it follows, and before you know it, you’ll have an opinion on Spanish politics too.
Stay in your rooms
One of the greatest pleasures of being in a Spanish town or city is the delight you’ll get out of walking around. In summer especially, when the weather is too hot to stay indoors, life is lived on the street. Old men meet under the shade of trees in plazas to chat, and they’re always willing to pass the time with you, no matter what your age or gender. Hidden back streets and narrow alleyways will reveal what life’s like away from the tourist spots, further developing your understanding of Spanish culture.
Be afraid of crime
Spain’s a safe country in general, and the biggest problem you’re likely to encounter if you’re unlucky enough to be a victim of crime is the loss of your wallet. Take precautions but don’t be afraid. Leave your passport in a safe place, carry enough cash and a card to use while you’re out, but keep the rest at home. Stow valuables like mobile phones in zipped pockets. Don’t be paranoid, but don’t take chances either, particularly if you’re in Madrid and Barcelona where pickpockets consider foreign nationals an easy target.
Limit yourself to one place
Public transport is cheap in Spain and though you might need to plan carefully if you’re to avoid being stranded for hours, there are few places which are hard to reach without a car. Spain’s high speed trains are surprisingly affordable if you book in advance and a ticket for the regional stopping trains can be picked up for a steal on the day. Jerez, Cadiz and Cordoba all make for memorable day trips from Sevilla (though you’ll want to stay longer!) and from Madrid, the cities of Segovia, Avila and Toledo with their long and rich histories are all within easy reach.
Pay full price for visitor attractions
Make the most of your student days and take full advantage of the discounts on offer. But you’ll find you don’t have to pay at all if you’re smart. You can get into the Picasso Museum in Barcelona without paying a Euro cent if you visit on a Sunday afternoon. Likewise, in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, it’s free for a couple of hours every single evening. Most cities offer walking tours for the cost of a tip and of course, Spain’s well-tended gardens and spectacular beaches are also free to access.
Eat dinner at six
While in cooler climes it might be perfectly normal to dine out at six or seven in the evening, if you do so in Spain you’ll be met with puzzled looks at best and a closed restaurant at worst. Traditionally, Spaniards eat late, at perhaps nine or ten, sometimes even later in the biggest cities. Dinner is to be savored, so plan on having a late night and go with the flow. Late nights are what siestas were invented for.
Though traveling to Spain might be a daunting prospect, the fear of the unknown can be mitigated by seeking advice from the experts. A specialist security company such as Salus Security Services will be able to fill you in on everything from keeping safe to avoiding a culture shock, leaving you free to enjoy your time abroad.
Carlos J. Barron
Salus Security Services