As my semester studying abroad in Granada, Spain comes to a close, I wanted to put together a list of my top 10 tips for studying abroad that would have been helpful to read before I embarked on this adventure. These are in no particular order. Some of these apply to studying abroad in general but some of them are specific to Spain.
1 – Speak Spanish as much as possible!!! It does NOT matter what level you are at, go for it! If you start to feel nervous or embarrassed, it’s completely okay but keep trying. I promise you will not regret putting yourself out there in this way and will learn as much as possible the more you actively engage with the language. In general, 99% of the people I have encountered here are so patient and helpful with language learners. My Spanish professors at my university in the U.S. were more intimidating than anyone I ever talked to in Spain. It can be tempting in bigger cities/areas with more tourists to revert back to English, but don’t give in. It is sooo worth it to keep practicing! You will be proud of yourself for committing to it and going all in!
2 – Learn to operate the transportation of your city early on. For me, this was the bus and metro system. The more you use it, the less daunting it will feel. Early on in your program, ask a local friend to help you or find a study abroad friend and figure it out together. Also, decide if it makes sense for you to buy a bus or metro card instead of paying each time. Sometimes it is cheaper this way! Halfway through my program I realized it was way cheaper if I loaded money onto my student ID and paid for the bus that way instead of paying in change each time. Don’t be the study abroad student taking cabs and ubers all the time when there are easier, cheaper, more convenient, and eco friendly ways to get around! However, if you get confused or lost or are in a pinch, don’t beat yourself up if you do have to call an uber, it happens!
3 – Invest in a good pair or walking shoes, seriously! Walking is a primary mode of transportation in the majority of Spanish cities I have visited and Europe in general. Make this easier and more enjoyable for yourself by investing in a solid pair of walking shoes. Trust me, you will love your scenic walk to class and exploring the city this way. We walked a ton during the orientation phase of my program so I was grateful I brought a good pair with me. However, if you do happen to forget, Spain is a great place to buy good quality shoes at an affordable price. Granada specifically has amazing shoe shops!
4 – Try all the foods!!! I honestly did not realize that I sometimes have picky eater tendencies until studying abroad. BUT I never regretted trying a bite of something and Spain has so many unique foods that we don’t typically have in the US. You will never know if you like it unless you try it! Food is also always and forever a great talking point. The seafood scene is amazing here and I definitely tried many kinds of octopus, fish, squid, snails etc that I had never been exposed to in the US before.
5 – Get ready for the Spanish kiss & the *lack* of personal space. Literally everyone who has ever been to Spain talks about the Spanish kiss greeting yet I still felt unprepared for this. When Spainards greet someone, it’s usually with a kiss on both cheeks, starting with the one on the left. It took some getting used to, but I have begun to appreciate this tradition. It also can occur when meeting someone for the first time, which caught me by surprise more than once. Spaniards in general are comfortable with less personal space than is typical in the US. For example, if you bump shoulders with someone on the street or brush up against someone in a busy restaurant, Spaniards typically won’t be phased or even notice at all. This is not necessarily a bad thing but just something to mentally prepare for.
6 – Let yourself rest. Things may feel like they are moving a hundred miles a minute and you can’t take a breath—there is school work to be done, weekend trips to be planned, tapas to be shared, etc. Especially when learning a new language, it is normal to be fatigued. Let yourself rest. Take a nap, go for a walk alone, read a book, do whatever you need to do to rest and recharge. This is so important !!! I promise you will enjoy all of the fun, amazing things you are experiencing more if you take time for yourself in-between.
7 – Prioritize the things you personally want to get out of your time abroad. It is easy to get caught up in a swirl while abroad trying to do all the things. Yes, do as much as possible but make sure to prioritize the things that actually matter to you. One of the amazing things about going abroad is there are a thousand things to do and experience, but at the end of the day, you are in your host country for a limited time. Making a bucket list before I left for Spain helped me to prioritize what I really wanted to get out of my experience and looking at it periodically helped me to think about what was left that I still needed to plan.
8 – Try something new and enjoy the process! Take a class you wouldn’t have the chance to take at your university, take a local art class, take a local cooking class, explore a new hobby, etc. Studying abroad is a great time to try something you have always wanted to try but never had the chance to. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t great at it; it’s about the process more than the product. This semester, I decided to take a watercolor class through my program without any real experience and it was so refreshing to dive into a new hobby while in Spain.
9 – Don’t get caught up in comparison. While abroad, it can be pretty easy to compare your experience to someone else’s on your program or other people you know who have been abroad. Honestly, someone is always going to have more money to spend than you do, “cooler” trips planned than you do, “better” photos, etc. And that’s okay. Don’t get caught up in what your study abroad experience isn’t or what you don’t get to do, but focus on what it is and what you do have the opportunity to do! At the end of the day, your experience will be unique and special to you!
10 – Spend time in your city!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. If you want to travel, please travel! But don’t forget to get to know and explore the city that you are in. Spend time there on the weekends, wander the streets, try new restaurants with your friends, etc. Throughout my time in Granada, it truly has become a home to me. I am convinced this because I chose to spend time here and became involved in the local community. I never regretted the weekends I stayed in Granada because the city truly came alive as locals were out shopping, enjoying a drink and tapa with their family and friends, or going for a slow paseo as they rested on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
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<p>Hi! My name is Hannah Dean Smith and I am from Summerfield, North Carolina. I am currently a senior at UNC Chapel Hill and am majoring in Hispanic Literatures and Cultures. I have a passion for authentically connecting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, which led me to study abroad in Granada, Spain. A fun fact about me is that I share a name with the legendary UNC Basketball Coach, Dean Smith -- go Tar Heels! In my free time, I love to read, play soccer, and search for vintage books, furniture, household items, and postcards in local antique stores.</p>