I have been here for a little over 10 weeks now and it has been an incredible experience so far. I am content with my endurance and wanted to give some random tips to help you with your study abroad trip. I really hope this helps!
- Money – I brought about $400 in cash with me from the U.S. because you need to be financially prepared for any situation as soon as you get here. I had no idea what the currency exchange was going to be like here before I came. Airports usually have exchange stands stationed, which you can ask around for. One thing I can tell you is do NOT exchange money straight from your U.S. bank card to Euro notes using these exchange offices. Do this only at the airport when you get here. Depending on your bank, you will get charged a ton of commission fees and rates. Investigate with your bank before you come! I have Wells Fargo, and I just withdraw 400 euros at a time with a Deutsche Bank ATM. They do not charge any fees, only the exchange rate, but Wells Fargo does charge a $5.00 ATM fee. I still find this to be the best alternative to going to shady exchange offices, by far. I have gotten charged as low as $435 for withdrawing 400 euros from a Deutsche Bank ATM. They are all over Europe!
- Traveling – As you can see in my posts, I have traveled almost every single weekend since I have been here, all over Spain. While organizations like City Life give an amazing opportunity to travel, remember to explore the city you’re actually living at! I honestly do not feel like I have really enjoyed Madrid as much as I should have by now due to my extensive travels. Don’t stay home or leave the city every weekend. Try to balance it out as much as possible. I feel like I could be doing a better job at this, but I’m getting there.
- Food – Regardless if you do a homestay, live with friends or at a residence hall, eating food is something we all have in common and that brings us together. Indulging in the local dining scene is such an important part of studying abroad. Madrid, for example, is a food haven. There are dozens of places to go in every barrio for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Go out and explore these places. You will not regret it!
- Entertainment – Big cities like Madrid are great places to explore the entertainment scene. There are always shows, concerts, performances, plays, movies, etc. being shown here. Unless you really want to stay in, there is no reason to be home and bored. There’s literally always something going on around here.
- Safety Tips – Don’t be that one tourist that gets too drunk and blacks out in the middle of the street. I have seen it happen. There’s no fun in that. Go out and have fun, but avoid drinking heavily if you’re alone or without proper vigilance. Madrid is generally a very safe city. You can walk around at 4:00 AM and nothing will likely happen to you, but you have to be aware at all times. Don’t think rules don’t apply just because you’re not in Philly or in the U.S. If anything, that is a reason to be extra careful.
- Mental Prep – This is especially important. Try not to have overly ambitious expectations of your study abroad trip, but also do not underestimate how difficult it may get for you at times. Students that left their family behind to study at Drexel may have no problem with this at all, because they know what to expect, more or less. But anyone like me that has never been away from family for more than a month or so can be taken aback by certain things, such as: missing home-cooked meals (everyone can probably relate), feeling forgotten, or lonely especially, and other, profound feelings of homesickness. Also be prepared to feel like an outsider, particularly if you do not speak the language. Putting yourself on the inside of a different culture and looking out towards the world is a great way to get to know yourself better.
- Keeping Busy – Because you will be so removed from your comfort zone and everyday routine, you have to try and find new things to do for replacement. I, for example, go to a Dominican restaurant to eat some foods from back home and otherwise feel in a more familiar setting. You shouldn’t do this too often, but whenever you feel the need to, definitely find something to do to make you feel more comfortable. You can also just take a valuable piece from back home on your trip. Anything that will help you get your mind off of the everyday difficulties. Somewhere in between is also staying on top of school work, which shouldn’t be a huge problem. Classes here are less time-consuming than Drexel.
That is all I can really think of off of the top of my head, but I hope it helps!