Student Guide for Studying in SpainCategory: Studying in Spain
- How to Select a University, School or Program in Spain
- How to Adjust to the Spanish Culture
- How to Find a Place to Rent in Spain
- How to find an Internship in Spain
How to Select a University, School or Program in Spain
Selecting a university, school or program is a major decision that should not be taken lightly. Like with other decisions you will make, it could have consequences that will impact your life. The outcome of your education will depend not only on the institution and program selected, but also on your ability to adjust to a new environment and your commitment to reach your goals.
When selecting a school or university, you should consider the school’s student to instructor ratio, the characteristics of the faculty, the University’s reputation, its location and facilities, and the number of graduates that found employment and where. Following is a list of questions for international applicants to ask themselves regarding reliable institutions by Amy Kirle Lezberg, New England Resource Center for Higher Education.
Narrowing Your Choices
- College or University? Public or Private?
- In what country or region of the country? Urban, rural or other setting? Size of institution?
- What can you afford to spend annually for your college education / What are the estimated total costs of the institutions you are considering? What Does The Institution Have To Offer You?
- Is the institution and are any of its programs accredited?
- What are the academic qualifications for acceptance and what are your chances of being admitted?
- Does the institution offer majors/programs that interest you?
- What will you be spending your time learning?
- What kinds of electives/interdisciplinary courses are available?
- Can you participate in any alternative learning experiences? Are internships available and/or required?
- Are faculty members teaching in the field where they earned their degrees and regularly available for out-of-class conferences?
- What libraries and other learning resources are available to you?
- What orientation programs does the institution have for foreign students? Choosing Among Likely Alternatives
- Is there on-campus housing for four years if you want it? Can you imagine living in the dorms?
- What kinds of extracurricular activities are offered? Is there a variety of intramural sports for both men and women?
- What is the role of any fraternities and sororities on campus?
- Are there job opportunities for international students?
- What is the makeup of the student body (male/female ratio; age range; ethnic composition; geographical distribution)?
- Do you think you would be happy at this college? Where To Find Information
- Look through college guides and web sites (many tour the campus)
- Contact students at and graduates from the college in which you are interested and ask them why they went there and whether their expectations have been/were met
What to bring to Spain
Comfortable cloths and shoes—new, nice looking jeans are fine; one dressy outfit; waterproof jacket; sweater; umbrella (in the fall); money belt (or similar to keep petty thieves away). Walking shoes (same issues as jeans)or other comfortable shoes. Bring a hat for the times we will be out sightseeing, especially in the summer or if the sun bothers you (the sun is hot). Your passport (and copy of it to carry with you when you are out), credit or debit card (and pin number), camera, medication, and lost of enthusiasm and energy.
If you are coming from the US or the west, also bring Melatonin or a similar remedy. You will have difficulty falling asleep because of the time change. It can also be taken to prevent jet lag (or so they say). You will need it!
Times and Schedules in Spain
The time in Spain is GMT+1 (6 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard time).
The following information is meant in general terms; and exceptions should be expected—nothing is cast in stone in Spain!:
- Times meals are served at restaurants : Breakfasts: 7 to 11 am; lunch (this is the main meal of the day) 1:30 to 4:00 pm; dinner 9 to 11 pm. There are some restaurants where meals are served continuously (mostly fast food places).
- Store hours: 10 am to 2 pm and 5 to 8 pm. Large department stores open 10 am to 10 pm. All stores close on Sundays (except the first Sunday of the month) and holidays.
- Banks open Monday through Friday 8:30 (or 9) am to 2:00 pm. Saturdays until 1 pm.
There is a lot of activity going on until late hours of the night—if not all night.
Money in Spain
Currency: Euro. Currency exchange rates at http://www.oanda.com/convert/classic
- Euro bills: 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 euros
- Euro coins: 2 euros, 1 euro; 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 cent
How to get money in Madrid
There are ATMs everywhere, where you could get money. Make sure you have a valid pin and that your bank allows you to use your debit card abroad. If you will draw money from your credit card, make sure you know your pin number. You can get money from an ATM at the airport.
You can get money exchanged also at the airport. Just as you come out the luggage retrieval area, there is an American Express counter. You can get your traveler’s checks exchange there also—you may not be able to get them exchanged anywhere else other than an American Express office. Make sure you have some euros with you when you leave the airport. On Sundays and holidays, banks are closed. Sometimes the hotels will exchange money, but don’t count on it to be safe.
Food and Health in Spain
The typical Spanish cuisine is distinctively Mediterranean, and it is characterized by its tremendous variety in meat, poultry, fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit. Typical ingredients are olive oil, garlic, parsley, saffron, meat, poultry or fish, and fresh vegetables. You will be happily surprised to find out how good food can taste–Spanish gastronomy is among the best in the world. Please be aware that the Spanish diet with all its fresh fruits and vegetables and specially its olive oil could cause you loose bowls. If you think you might have a problem, bring some medication or other remedy with you.
Spanish water is safe to drink (except in public fountains where there is an “agua no potable” sign (this is not common). You do not have to buy bottled water, but it is convenient to have a bottle with you when you go out sight seeing. Water in Madrid tastes good, but not so in Barcelona. Although it is safe to drink, you probably will prefer to get bottled water when you visit Barcelona.
If needed, good medical care is available in Spain. You should contact your medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm that your policy applies abroad and it will cover emergency expenses.
Safety in Spain
Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most of the 58 million tourist who come to Spain each year have trouble free visits. However, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas. In Madrid and Barcelona there have been incidents of muggings and violent attacks. Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATM machines. You should to carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of your passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location. If you are victim of a crime, report it immediately to the local police and to your Embassy or Consulate.
Driving in Spain
Spain is the third most visited country on the planet. It’s no wonder considering the culture, tradition, historical sites, art, and beaches.
People coming to Spain to visit need to travel around the entire country to get a glimpse of all Spain has to offer, from the beaches of Malaga to the history of Madrid to the sites of Barcelona.
If you plan on driving around some of the major cities, be sure to get a compact car as finding car parking in Spain can be difficult!
Driving and car rental in Spain can be a little scary especially if you are accustomed to driving in the US. Sometimes lanes are nothing more than lines on a road, virtually ignored by many drivers in the city. Many intersections are administered through ‘rotondas’, which are circular intersections without stoplights. Some are very large and very chaotic so be sure to keep an eye out when circulating. Spaniards generally drive about 20 km over the speed limit.
Tourist can drive and hire car rentals in Spain with a foreign license for a period of 3 months.
If you are coming from a country outside of the European Union, keep in mind that some aspects of the driving code will be different from those in your country. Likewise, you could experience driving situations that are new to you.
- There is an overabundance of traffic signs, many you have never seeing before. The icon within the sign will give you an idea what it means, but the shape and color of the sign are extremely important.
- A triangular sign with a horizontal base indicates danger; it tell you to be cautious.
- A circular sign with a red edge indicates a prohibition. It tells you what you are not allowed to do.
- A round blue sign is a compulsory sign; it tells you what you must do.
- A square blue sign is informative; it gives you information regarding various aspects of the road.
- You must drive on the right side of the road and on the right lane unless you are passing another car or you are within the city limits.
- If there is no light or sign indicating otherwise, in an intersection the traffic coming from your right has the right of way except in a roundabout where you must yield to the traffic coming from your left.
- If there is a crosswalk the pedestrian has the right of way, unless there is a traffic light indicating that you have the right of way.
As in any other country drinking and driving don’t mix well, so be careful not to drink—yes not even wine—If you are going to be driving. Remember the use of cell phones is forbidden while you drive unless you have hands free device.
Telephone codes: to call Spain dial 011 34 and number (9 digits).
- Postage. Purchase your stamps at the post office or at any tobacco store. Here you can find out the correct postage for your country. Yellow mailboxes are located throughout the city. They usually have 2 slots: “Madrid capital” and “otros destinos.” Place your letter in “otros destinos.”
- Electricity is 220 (110 in the US). If you come from the US bring and bring an electrical device, you must have a transformer to change the current and an adapter for the switch (with round prong).
- Smoking is not allowed in public buildings. There are smoke free restaurants and restaurants with non-smoking sections.
- Drinking: Wine is always served with your meals (lunch and dinner).
- Tips. It is customary to tip at restaurants, but not as much as in the US because the service charge is included in the bill and waiters are usually paid on a salary basis.
- Taxis. They are inexpensive, and you can find a taxi just about anywhere in the streets of large cities. In Madrid they are white with a red stripe. To know if they are occupied of free, look for a “libre” or “ocupado” sign on the windshield during the day. At night a green light shows they are free.
How to Adjust to the Spanish Culture
So, you’ve decided to study in Spain. How do you adjust to a new culture and life in a foreign country? How do you learn about that new culture’s mind frame? What happens when as a student you enroll in a foreign study program? How do you make the transition from your culture, your frame of reference, to one you have never experienced before?
When you decide to enroll in a study-abroad program, it usually means that you want to experience something new and different in your life. You may be motivated for many different reasons including; learning a new language, a sense of adventure, a different academic experience, a career building investment, or a reunion with “old country” relatives. Regardless of the reason, the experience is looked forward to with anticipation and excitement and sometimes, some misgivings, fear of the unknown, or fear of loss. It becomes a trade off.
While it is exciting to anticipate a trip, students know they will have to say goodbye, sometimes for many months, to family, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and lifestyle. Feelings of occasional sadness about this and doubts about leaving are normal. Taking a few moments and pictures to cherish and making arrangements for some kind of ongoing communication may be helpful. It is important to have made a decision based on a careful mental analysis of the pros and cons of making the commitment. Once that is done, then you can go back to that reasoning if fear or doubts accumulate.
If you are a student preparing to study abroad, another good way to get mentally ready for a trip is to learn as much about the country and culture in which you’ll be immersed as possible. You can be assisted with the nuts and bolts of getting ready (what to study, how to obtain necessary travel documentation, what to take, what to wear, where to stay etc.) by your school program officials, but the mental preparedness is up to you. The more you learn and understand about the country, its history, its customs, its food, its language, its geography, its politics, its music and popular culture, the more you will appreciate what you see, hear, taste, and smell once you get there.
There are many ways to access this information. Obviously, one of them is the Internet. Others may be reading books, talking to people who have been there, seeing movies about the country, or made by the country, learning as much of the language as you can before you go, or buying popular CDs of the culture.
One of the best and most fun ways to learn is to take a course in some aspect of that culture. This will help you learn along with others interested in the same thing. It helps give you a sense of endeavor or mission. For example Spain, if you know what the Royal Palace of Madrid or the Alhambra of Granada looks like, something about its history, architecture, and the people who occupied it, it will be far more exciting and awesome when you see it for real. Instead of being just another building, you will find yourself appreciating from foreknowledge its unique importance.
Once all the preparations are over and you have arrived in the new country, you will be delighted that your troubles have produced the expected results. It will be a great experience at first, but little by little, you will be faced with aspects of the new culture that you do not understand and frustration will begin to show and overwhelm you before you realize what has happenned. You will need to be aware that this is normal and will happen to every one in one degree or another. It will be best for you to develop—or at least be aware of the skills needed to communicate cross culturally.
How to Find a Place to Rent in Spain
Spain is a very vast and diverse country so depending on where you plan to live, your expectations regarding finding a place to live will vary. Many people looking to study at a university will end up in a bigger city such as Madrid or Barcelona. So, let’s start there. We want to help you get off on the right foot and tell you what you want to avoid regarding how to find the best place for you.
As you probably guessed, a very useful place to start looking for your next place to call home is online. Idealista, is a very helpful site as they allow you to refine your search in a number of ways. You can choose whether you would like to rent on your own or share with another person, and they even give you the option to search for listings on sale if you are interested in buying. Then you get to pick from different types of housing such as apartments, flats, and rooms, among others. Lastly, Idealista, lets you chose from a list of approximately 100 different cities and areas within the country of Spain.
Although Idealista is a great resource, you do need to be careful as so many people use it. Once an apartment is posted, it is generally only available for a couple of days, so you need to be quick in responding when you find something you’re interested in. Also, it might be a good idea to actually CALL when you see something you like, as email conversations tend to take longer and the likelihood of getting what you want is generally decreased. You can also try Fotocasa, while Idealista is currently the most popular site for finding a flat, Fotocasa is also still widely used.
Facebook groups are another way to find a nice place. Erasmus groups are generally directed toward young national and international study abroad students. For the most part, every city and small town with a university or college will have a correlating Erasmus Facebook group. On these pages, students will post upcoming events, trips and information regarding housing and/or roommate searches.
Another great and very practical way to find a place to rent in Spain, if you are already in the area is by simply walking around. If you know which neighborhoods you are interested in, go, and check them out. Keep your eyes open and make sure to look up, as often times people rent the higher floors for living arrangements. If you see a sign that says “Se alquila”, either see if you can talk to someone there on site or make a note of it and call the number for more information.
As you are probably aware, the closer you are to the heart of a big city, the higher you can expect to pay. So before making your final decision, you will need to consider transportation costs verses the cost for living downtown. Keep in mind that most cities offer inexpensive forms of public transportation, so it might be worth taking the extra time to travel a bit to and from your university each day and save yourself some extra money on your rent.
If you decide you would like to split the rental costs with a roommate, it is likely that your roommate will be another foreign person. It’s common in Spain for students to share flats with each other and usually makes the stay more fun because you make friends more quickly. Be sure to not live with another English speaker! You need to force yourself to be immersed in the Spanish language.
More often than not, young people from Spain live with their families well into their twenties and even into their thirties. It is recommendable to not sign a long, multiple month lease before “testing out” your new roommate. Make sure that you get along and enjoy living together before tying yourself into an uncomfortable situation. Many people say that setting up some type of cleaning schedule is very helpful and helps keep all of the roommates on track with the cleaning and avoids frustration and a messy living space.
Before you sign anything, make sure that you have toured the place as opposed to just seeing pictures. You should also be sure to ask all the questions you have before you commit to something. We suggest you are clear on what appliances and furniture will be available to you if you will need to purchase anything, such as blenders, coffee makers, a bed, bedsheets, a fan, a space heater, a washing machine, a dryer, etc. You should know that generally, apartments are not furnished with clothes dryers or air conditioning and heating systems. Another important thing to remember to ask about is utilities. Be clear on exactly what is included and what you will need to pay extra on a month to month basis. Even if you’ve read that “all utilities are included” make sure go over what that means. Wi-Fi, for example, is not always considered a basic utility. Knowing all of this key information will help you make the best choice.
Make sure that you have enough money available/saved up for at least one month’s rent. Most times, you will be asked to pay for at least one month of rent up front as a security deposit (La fianza). This payment is usually used towards your last month’s rent or returned to you upon your departure after the apartment has been checked for damage.
Now, you need to keep in mind that it is very possible that the people renting out their spaces won’t speak Spanish. So, if you don’t speak the language you may either want to brush up on some basic phrases that will allow you to at least get this information you need to throughout this process or find a bilingual friend who can help you make these calls and close on a deal. You shouldn’t expect them to speak English and be patient if you don’t understand them or they don’t understand you. Remember, you are the foreigner now and it’s important to show respect.
How to find an Internship in Spain
Have you ever considered doing an internship in Spain? You might be feeling hesitant because maybe you have never been there or maybe you don’t have very much experience branching out and traveling to different countries. However, just because you don’t know what to expect, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. An internship abroad, especially in a country as unique as Spain, will help you to learn so much. Not only will you gain an incredible international experience, but you will be surprised how much you learn about yourself. Having an experience like this can truly be life changing and give you the confidence to achieve your biggest goals and where better to do it as in a place as diverse and beautiful as Spain?
You should also consider how having an international internship would look on your resume. An experience such as this will help you stand out and it will also prove that you aren’t afraid to try new things, be independent and work with people of diverse backgrounds at the same time. Your potential new employer will feel more confident hiring someone with this experience and know that you would be more open to working in and adapting to a diverse work place.
You will be surprised to see how important some of the people you meet on in internship abroad become to you. During this experience, you will see the significance of friendship with people of diverse backgrounds and having internationally based work contacts is always a plus.
Now, if you have decided that Spain might be where you would like to carry out your internship, let us give you a few tips on where to begin and how to make it happen. While making arrangements, don’t stress yourself out and remember that this may be a once in a lifetime chance so just have fun with it, get as much as you can out of it and enjoy every step of the way.
It is possible that you don’t speak Spanish, which will require you to use your patience and resources as best you can, but it doesn’t mean the internship isn’t possible. Although many Spaniards don’t speak English, they often times need people within their businesses who do. That’s where you come in. If you’re not sure where to start, think about tourism. As Spain is such an interesting and popular travel destination for people all around the world, companies in this field need people who speak other languages, such as English.
Another direction you might want to look into is teaching English. Since so many people are interested in learning the language, there is almost always a high demand for native English speakers. So, if you are looking for a way to get involved with the people in your new community and really make a positive impact on their lives, teaching may be the perfect option for you.
You will need to do quite a bit of research to decide which industry you want to work in and what you would like the focal point of your internship to be. Consider your skills and future goals while making this decision. Another big choice will be which city you want to do this in. The most popular areas of Spain for internships are usually the bigger cities, such as, Madrid and Barcelona. If you, on the other hand, feel more comfortable in a more lowkey setting, places like Seville, Granada, Cordoba, and Valencia all have fantastic opportunities for international interns as well.
Madrid, Spain’s capital city, is one of the top choices for international interns. The city has so much to offer and explore. Whether you are interested in tourism, art, nightlife, politics, etc., Madrid will likely be able to fulfill your interests. In Madrid, you will be right in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital. Barcelona is another great choice as it will give you the chance to mingle with the locals and make contacts from all over the world. Barcelona will allow you to enjoy the nearby beaches, explore incomparable architecture and culture that simple isn’t available in other cities. Although Barcelona is more laid back than Madrid, it’s opportunities are so unique and you can rest assured you won’t regret your time spent there. If you decide on going to a bigger city like Madrid or Barcelona, keep in mind that you will need to consider your budget, as like in any big city, rent and other expenses will be a higher.
If you aren’t comfortable in such big cities, Spain has other options that people have enjoyed just as much. Smaller cities such as Seville and Granada also have so much to offer. Their closer-nit communities all for a more personal experience. The tiled patios and cobblestone streets make for beautiful and inviting atmospheres. You will love exploring the city’s markets and historical sites. Since Spain isn’t a huge country geographically, you can still check out places like Madrid and Barcelona on weekends or holidays. Keep in mind that the country has great public transportation which allows for easy and quick weekend travel.
If you don’t know anyone who has travelled to and is familiar with Spain, a great place to start looking for ideas as to how and where to do your internship is, yes you guessed it, the internet. Inter-nations is a great resource for getting connected with expats from all over the world. You can put the word out that you are interested in doing an internship in Spain and you just might come across someone who can point you in the right direction. Another helpful page is the Erasmus Internship Facebook Page is also great as it is specifically set up for discussing just this. You can check the site frequently as new information is constantly being posted there. Internship positions are also advertised on various other sites, such as Spain-Internship.
One of the most highly recommended companies to go through for international internships is CEA Study Abroad, with headquarters in Arizona. They offer internship programs all over the world and work closely with and have multiple options in Spain, specifically in Alicante, Barcelona, Granada, Madrid and Seville. An internship through CEA are all pre-planned and provide you with support throughout the entire process. CEA is also recognized for their efforts in preparing participants with cross-cultural and workplace orientations, housing, social activities, excursions, airport pickup and around the clock support.
Internship Makers is another great place to look at for interning in Spain as they offer programs in Madrid and Barcelona. You can find more information about what they offer at internshipmakers.com. If you are interested in going forward with doing an internship through them, they are very helpful and responsive throughout the process. You will first need to register and set up an initial phone or skype interview. If that goes well, you will need to decide exactly what type of work setting you would like to be placed in and then will be interviewed a second time for the specific internship you are interested in. Next you will need to sign a training agreement and start planning for your time abroad.
IES Internships is another popular choice for students looking to gain international experience through an internship in Spain. They offer a very competitive and beneficial program in Barcelona that will help set you apart from your peers and give you the knowledge, experience and confidence to attain your future goals. You can start finding out more and ask any specific questions at www.IESabroad.org/internships.
So, start spreading the word of what it is you are interested in doing. Start doing some research and asking your questions. Your plans will start coming together you before you know it you will be on the adventure of a lifetime.