Thinking of studying in Spain for a semester? Or a whole year? About to start your exchange program? Or perhaps you’ve already started but haven’t quite found your groove?
I’ve come up with a list of tips, tricks, advice and all things ‘Studying on exchange in Spain’. Don’t worry, I’ve gathered very insightful information from trusted sources – my Contemporary Spain Lecturer/Coordinator of ICS (In-country Study) Spain @ UTS, another student from UTS who just came back from their exchange in Spain, other international/ERASMUS students currently studying abroad here, a handful of Spaniards I’ve been lucky enough to have been acquainted with along this journey and of course, from my own experiences this year. So I can promise you, you are being well advised.
I’ve divided them into categories so it’s easier to follow:
- Coming from an Australian standpoint, university in Spain takes more of a high-school structure. You’re pretty much with the same people, every subject, every year for the entirety of your course. That being said, strong friendship groups within your classes will already be formed amongst the local students – it is YOUR job to make the first move; break the ice!
- If you’ll be taking your courses in English don’t expect to make a lot of Spanish friends this way. If you’ll be taking your courses in Spanish, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. There is 98% chance that local students will sit on one half of the classroom and ERASMUS/international students will sit on the other half. Say hi first because chances are, they may just be intimidated by your english.
- Get the swing of your printing system at your university or your local printing shops. Handouts and worksheets are not things that your professor will provide for you.
- Get involved with social groups at your university created especially for international exchange students. I’m not sure how they work in Australia, but these are a huge deal here in Spain. Your uni will definitely have at least one! You’ll always have something to do and you’ll always have new people to do them with. In Madrid there is CityLife Madrid and Disfruta Madrid Más who send out an email every month with the calendar of events happening for that month as well as notices about domestic and international trips that they organise. Could save you some $$!
Finding your new home
- Easypiso.com and Idealista.com were my two most visited websites before I arrived in Spain. By the time I got here, I had a lineup of apartments (inspected 11 in 3 days… ¡joderrrrr!) ready for me to inspect. I highly recommend doing this before you get here. It’ll make the process a lot easier. An apartment may seem good online, but it may not be true to reality. Inspecting the apartment before you make your decision also allows you the opportunity to properly see its facilities and gives you the chance to personally meet your potential landlord and ask them questions re: how/when to pay rent, utilities, maintenance, security, other tenants, contract guidelines etc.
- I would highly recommend finding an apartment in the city (I have Madrid in mind but I know my friends in other cities all live in an apartment within their cities) – a shared apartment.
- ‘¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? ¡Buenas!’ – start each encounter with this and you’ll be sweet. Generally, the Spanish are very very friendly and treat everyone as a friend who they just haven’t seen in a while.
- When you’re saying thank you and leaving a cafe or store, try and slip in an ‘¡Hasta luego!‘ before you exit. It’s another nice thing to say when saying good bye and it’ll make you seem like more of a local than every other extranjero.
- Don’t be surprised if you’re the first one to everything – university classes included. The mañana culture is suuuch a thing here that everything, yes i mean EVERYTHING, is delayed by at least 10 to 15 minutes. This also includes opening times of stores. This is just a heads up so you’re not thrown and think that they’re just not opening for the day.
- SIESTA. I think it’s an obvious one. Luckily for me, since I live in the city centre of the capital, not everything is closed. The main shopping strip at Sol/Callao and Gran Vía all stay open. The smaller stores just outside that main hub, however, all close for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Most close from around 1:30 – 2:00 until 4:00 – 5:00pm. If you really need to make a trip to the shops, don’t get caught out during this time! Unfortunately for me, this is around the time I come home from uni so sometimes if I haven’t done my groceries, I have to wait until my local supermarket has opened again! (Note: not all supermercados close.. mine just so happens to).
- The metro/cercanías/renfe/autobus will be your new best friend. And don’t worry, the public transport system here is pretty flawless. There are tickets you can buy that will give you 10 trips and the great thing is, it never expires! There is also what they call ‘Abono’ – not sure if this is just a Madrid thing. It has the same concept as the Oyster Card in London and the Opal Card in Sydney. It’s a monthly travel card whose price is dependant on how far you have to travel and how old you are. For instance, since I’m under 23 and I have to travel to Zone B (a touch out of the city), I only have to pay €20,00 p/m (this new price change came in Oct). I’d highly recommend this if you have to catch any form of public transport at least 3 times a week for university. It saves you money and saves you the hassle of always buying a ticket. This also cancels the extra fee when going to and from the airport (bonus!).
- In saying that, I could probably walk to most places I need to go. Keep in mind that Madrid is the biggest city in Spain. Generally I can arrive at 80% of my destinations in give-or-take 20 minutes. It’s a great way to explore the city and stumble upon new bars, cafés or boutiques.
- No more english for you! No more Mandarin for you! No more German for you! .. or whatever language you speak. Immerse yourself in the culture, in the language. Once you’re surrounded by it, you’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll pick it up.
- Watch Telanovelas .. seriously. I know the acting is bad, and the plots are ridiculous, but trust me – watch them. They’re easy to follow, and since everything is so predictable it’ll be easier to understand. Watch them with subtitles, then watch them again without. (Even watch regular TV – but be warned, Spanish TV is … terrible.)
- Language exchange/Tandem/Intercambio de idiomas. Chances are, there will be a spaniard that will want to practice their english. There are always weekly tandem nights held in bars or cafes around the city where people meet to socialise, have a few drinks and develop their language skills. They’re easy to come by, too. Check social group websites for your city or do a quick search through FB groups. I’m certain you’ll find one.
- Read a young adult book that you’re familiar with, in Spanish. Or even a children’s book for that matter. I’m currently reading Harry Potter and it’s been a challenge, but a good one.
I hope this helps all of you future exchange students! And those who are already well into their program! Feel free to comment with any other tips for future/present students that I can add to his article by the way. Happy “studying” & Good Luck!
Til my next post,
Besos para ti xx