So whether you’re planning on studying in Spain for a semester, or you are on the fence and still wondering if it would be a good fit for you, this is an important post to go through. While most of these tips for study abroad are Spain-specific, many are applicable through most of Europe.
- Don’t bring school supplies with you other than maybe your favorite types of pens/pencils or that one gadget that makes your life way easier. School supplies are very cheap at the universities and local shops. Also, at UP Comillas, printing is free as long as you provide your own paper.
- Before leaving, get a credit card that has a $0 international fee and can be charged in any currency (Visa and Mastercard are the most widely used here).
- I do not recommend opening a bank account in Spain if you’re staying for less than 6 months. Instead, you should open up an account that has European ATMS (aka Santander, Bankia, etc) or find a bank that has minimal international cash withdrawal fees. Many do not recommend coming to Spain with a large sum of cash on your person because of large rates of pickpocketing and theft. I’ve personally never had a problem, but make sure you keep aware of your surroundings and don’t keep valuables in your back pockets.
- Start saving money now. Study abroad itself is incredibly affordable, but, for many people it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel and go on unforgettable experiences that you’ll treasure for decades to come. If you start saving ahead of time, you’ll have plenty to splurge while you’re in Europe. (“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”)
- Shop local. Not just local chains, but family-owned, one-of-a-kind stores. It’s cheaper and more authentic.
- Reuse your grocery bags or buy/bring a reusable bag. Many stores in Spain will charge extra for plastic bags at checkout (usually $0.05). Go green!!
- Try not to look for other Americans right away to make friends (it’ll be hard…many of the exchange students at universities are American). Go outside of your comfort zone and try to meet people from other countries and backgrounds and plan new experiences together. You never know when you might be in their home city and want a personal tour guide.
- Unless you have a great quality and cheap international plan with your current phone provider, buy a SIM card once you get into the city. It’s typically €4-10 a month for a pay-as-you-go plan with data. Also, I highly recommend downloading Whatsapp (communication app with texts, calls, video chats, group messaging, etc). Everyone uses it instead of SMS texting because the app is free and just requires data/wifi.
- Always be aware of your valuables. Spain has an incredibly low violence rate, but there are very high levels of petty theft from pickpockets. Stay alert in crowded and touristy areas and thoroughly review housing options before committing to a lease.
- Go places by yourself. In the city, out of the country, wherever. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and become more independent. Plus, you can explore things of a particular interest to you that your friends might not have (for me, that’s naval history, architecture and beer).
- Call home. Parents, friends, partner, whoever it is, call them. It will help keep you grounded while you change emotionally during your time abroad.
- Buy all your toiletries abroad except for specialized things you can’t get anywhere else. But, if you’re like me and aren’t picky about shampoo or shower gel, buy abroad and buy conservatively so you don’t have to take any with you or leave it behind unused.
- Don’t go to El Corte Ingles for anything if you don’t have to. All of their stuff is heavily marked up, but it is convenient because it’s a large department store. Most of the things you would need you can get for cheaper at general stores, chinos, or El Rastro (a huge street market held every Sunday morning/afternoon).
I hope that some of these answered some questions you might be having about going abroad. I encourage everyone to go abroad at least once while they’re in college: it looks great on a resume, it’s a fun experience and you really do learn a lot about yourself and how you interact with the world.