Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advice for Studying Abroad in Spain

So, my time in Spain is up.  Many students came before me in Spain and plenty more will come after me.  Those of you who are choosing to study abroad are very wise, so allow me to impart a few words upon the wise...
  1. Live with a host family and spend time with them: I know it may be tempting to spend every night out with your American friends getting your party on but remember, you can do this back in the States.  You’re in Spain, go emerge yourself in the local culture!  This includes, hanging out at home and talking with your host family.  Now I'm not saying that you should spend every living second with them but spend some time with them.  If you show them even just a little bit interest in them and their way of life they will open up a lot.  Seriously, I probably learned more talking to locals than I did in any of my classes.
  2. Try to meet some locals: I know that you all probably want to do this but I’ll put it in here as a friendly reminder.  I answered a flyer to help two Catalans improve their English and it was an incredibly rewarding experience.  Not only did I get to talk and hang out with them but I also figured out what I would like to do after graduation: come back and teach English in Spain.  Now, this may not happen, but I’m going to try my hardest to make it come true.  Again as with the host families, your new local friends will help you improve your Spanish, teach you about their culture/ideas and show you the cool spots in the city. 
  3. Learn some words in the local language (Català, Euskara or Gallego):  If you’re in Catalunya you don’t say “adiós” you say “adéu.” and in Euskadi (the Basque Country) it’s “agur.”  Little things like knowing how to say good morning/afternoon/night, thank you, please in the local language will go a long way.  Plus I enjoyed learning another language in addition to improving my Spanish and I’m sure you will too, after all that’s why you are continuing to study Spanish, right?
  4. Try to be politically correct: This goes a long with #3.  What I mean by this is recognize that people in your autonomous region (namely Catalunya and Euskadi) might not consider themselves to be Spaniards but rather Catalonian or Basque.  They have a different customs and languages from the rest of Spain and you need to respect that.  So when you’re talking make sure you differentiate whether you’re talking about Spain as a whole (that is away from where you are) or your autonomous region.  Furthermore, it’s CASTELLANO not español.  I can’t stress this enough; you’re teachers will be understand if you call it español but to other people it has a very negative connotation.  Note of caution though, this may not apply if you’re in Andalucía, the two Castillas or Madrid.  As I didn’t spend much time there I really don’t know their attitudes about a pluralistic Spain so it would be best to just observe before you open your mouth.  
  5. Don’t think about what you’re saying, just say it!:  Don’t worry about making errors with your verb tenses and don’t let it hold back your sentence fluidity.  9/10 they will know what you’re trying to say and it will make the conversation much more natural.  I found that if I tried to plan out what I was going to say it would always come out f-ed up but if I just spoke without giving it much thought it came out nearly perfect.  Furthermore it wasn’t until I stopped worrying about “oh am I becoming fluent?” that I actually started to improve.
  6. Study food vocabulary: Half the time when my host mom asked me if I liked something I would turn to my roommate so that he would type the word into his iPhone Spanish dictionary app.  It probably helps too if you know a little bit about the local cuisine before you come over.
  7. Travel Travel Travel!For God’s sake, you’re in Europe!  You may only be here once (though I certainty hope not) so enjoy yourself and travel around the continent.  However I would recommend that you also travel within Spain.  Remember, Spain is composed of very diverse regions; it would be worth your time exploring them.  Your program probably has some excursions within Spain planned for you guys (we went to some places in Catalunya, Valencia, Madrid and Toledo), but if you got a free weekend go somewhere else in Spain.  I am so happy I got to spend 2 and a half weeks in Euskadi and they are some of my favorite moments from my trip.  
  8. Save up a lot of money: Again, let’s be realistic.  Europe has a very high VAT everywhere (15-25%), you’re going to want to go to bars/clubs and you’re going to want to travel.  So put down that pair of designer jeans and instead put that money in the bank.  But even then the exchange rate will screw you, so just be prepared for how much this trip will cost.
  9. Expect to get homesick at some pointLet’s be realistic, even though you’re going to fall in love with Spain you will eventually miss the people that made up your life back home, namely friends, family and pets.  This is natural, don’t let it get to you too bad.  Even though I’m really sad to be leaving Catalunya I really am anxious to see my family and friends again (and my dog!)
  10. STUDY IN BARCELONA!Hahaha, I can’t do anything if you’ve already chosen and paid for your program but if you haven’t decided what city you want to go to may I suggest Barcelona?  The city has everything your heart desires: stunning architecture, great food, beach, good weather, fabulous nightlife and above all, the Catalan culture. 

    Lost in Translation....

Sometimes, things don’t translate perfectly and problems ensue.  Here’s a short list of some things to avoid if you don’t want to have problems (these are probably the top three errors). If you do want to have problems, do the opposite :p
  • Me gusta a ______: Since we were taught in high school that the construction “me gusta fill in the blank” means “I like _____” you would think that we can use this construction to describe how we like someone, you know as a friend/person/colleague/teacher/coach/ect.  No.  Do not use this.  It means that you like the person sexually.  The correct expression is “Me + forma de caer + bien/mal ____” (as in me caes bien (I like you) or Pablo me cae bien (I like Pablo)).  You can also use it to say how you don’t like someone, just swap out bien for mal.
  • ¡Estoy caliente!: An English speaker will say this and think it means, “I’m hot.”  No, it means you’re horny.  If you’re in a club do not say this even if it is very hot or you will have a mob of young teenagers coming after you.  Instead, say “Tengo calor
  • ¡Estoy excitado!: Again, an English speaker thinks that this means, “I’m excited” like “I’m excited to see you!”  It’s true, it does mean you’re excited…sexually excited.  Please use “estoy emociado/a” to avoid potentially awkward situations with your host family.
  • It’s not really going to cause problems but as a word of advice use “estoy cansado,” when talking about how you are physically tired (like after running 5 miles, ect.) and “tengo sueños” to say that you’re tired (as in you’re sleepy)
Whew, overwhelmed yet?  Don’t worry if you are, everything will be better once you get there and you’ll come to realize that you never want to go back home, that Spain has become your new home and where your heart will always stay.

If you have any questions about Spain, Catalunya, studying abroad feel free to e-mail me at as I will be happy to help you out :)


  1. Sean! I have had so much fun keeping up with your blog these last few months. It is going to be soooo helpful for me! I am even going to print out a few of the pages to keep with me. Can't wait to get some coffee! :)

  2. Really, these quotes are the holistic approach towards mindfulness. In fact, all of your posts are. Proudly saying I’m getting fruitfulness out of it what you write and share. Thank you so much to both of you.
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