4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad in Spain

Jenny Oslund
4 things I wish I knew before studying abroad in Spain

Going abroad for your first time can be scary, messy, and challenging, and I have a whole list of things that I wish I knew before studying abroad in Spain.

Spain is one of the most welcoming and sociable countries in Europe, known for its never-ending night scene, long siestas, and delicious tapas. Be ready to try new things, dive into the culture, and experience a whole new way of living—the Spanish way. And while learning to become a local can be very exciting, there are a few rules every newbie has to get used to. Let’s break it down for you with these four scenarios:

1. You’re tired and late for class so you ride the metro in pajamas…

In the U.S. you can easily get away with this scenario. I get it—you wake up late for class and rush out the door with whatever clothes you can find. But coming to class, or even walking in the streets in pajamas is not only a fashion faux pas, it’s the fashion faux pas. Spanish people like to be well-dressed, and you’ll want to catch on to this to better fit in with the crowd and feel like a local. To add, dress code in the classroom may be higher; your professor might feel genuinely concerned for you if you’re wearing pajamas. It’s also insightful to know that eating on-the-go isn’t a thing either. Sure, having a coffee while riding the metro is okay, but eating a full-on bagel with cream cheese really isn’t. Lastly, siesta culture is real; take advantage of the break between classes or your internship for a long lunch, nap, or workout. You may have up to two hours of free time before you have to resume class or work—it’s also true in the corporate world. Since Spanish people like to eat late and party later, a siesta should be more than ideal to prepare yourself for a long night ahead.

Four things I wish I knew before studying abroad in Spain

Rule: Leave the pajamas at home, you can buy to-go but don’t eat on-the-go, enjoy a siesta if you can

Interested in studying Spanish abroad in Spain this summer? There are plenty of opportunities to become an Adelante Abroad candidate. Apply now!

2. You want to experience the Spanish nightlife but…

The clubs, or discotecas, open at midnight. You’ll find that the majority of tourists go to the more famous clubs—for example in Madrid, Kapital, and in Barcelona, Opium—but don’t miss out on the smaller bars that are less crowded, cheaper, and still fun! Nonetheless, get ready for a fun night, or should I say morning, of dancing, drinking, and mingling until six a.m. If midnight seems too late to start your night, a good nap and a late dinner will do just the trick. And if you leave the discoteca late enough, the metro will open up again at 5:30 a.m. so you’ll be able to get home safely.

Rule: Be prepared to party until sunrise, check out smaller bars and clubs to beat the crowds of tourists and overpriced tickets. 

Experience Spanish nightlife while you study abroad in Spain

El Teatro Kapital, Madrid

3. You want to practice your Spanish and have fun doing so…

Try out language learning apps and in-person language exchanges! When you come to Spain on your own to study or intern, I highly recommend trying a language exchange to enhance your Spanish in a fun and loose setting. It can be either online or face-to-face (whichever is the safest option for you). Thanks to online apps (and quarantine), I have met several native Spanish-speakers (from all over the world!), who are also learning English, to converse with in both languages. For a great online language exchange app, I use Tandem. It’s free to join and use, and is basically online dating but for language learning partners. For face-to-face language exchanges, Se Habla Español hosts language events at various bars throughout Madrid all year round. I wasn’t aware of language exchanges my first time studying abroad in Madrid, but the second time studying abroad I depended on them as a way to meet new people in a more structured way. Best of all, they’re free (or under 15€ depending on the business) and a fun way to party with fellow travelers and even some locals when you don’t initially have many friends abroad yet.

Practice your Spanish before studying abroad in Spain

Language Exchange at El Estudio de los Arquitectos, Madrid. 2019.

Rule: Make new friends with people outside of your study or intern abroad cohort, practice your language skills with language exchanges.

Want to gain Internship experience abroad in Spain? Apply for an internship in Barcelona, Madrid, or Seville with Adelante Abroad.

4. When you dine out with a group of friends, waiters will love you if you…

Don’t spit the bill. For a more practical tip that I wish I knew before going to Spain, restaurant etiquette is just as important as the rest—since you’ll likely have the most interactions with locals in restaurants. In the U.S., we can split a bill ten-fold if we wanted to. Try that in Spain and they’ll probably, quite literally, tell you no. Keeping tabs and taking pictures of receipts will avoid having to constantly deal out cash or transferring money online (which not everyone uses). On another important note, you’ll have to flag down a waiter to get your check and then ask, “La cuenta, por favor.” Otherwise, waiters do not bother to check in very often nor place the bill on your table without your asking first. So, feel free to stay and chat at a restaurant for as long as you want—it’s simply the Spanish thing to do. Lastly, finish all your food. While Americans are typically unafraid to bring home large portions of their meals in to-go boxes, I discovered that it’s not quite as common to do so in Spain. Try to avoid asking for a to-go box in a sit-down restaurant. If you do, keep in mind that there isn’t the same pressure to leave as quickly like in the U.S, thus you’re expected to have enough time to eat all your food.

Rule: Keep a tab, take pictures of your receipts, don’t split the bill, always ask for the bill, skip the to-go box.

Food antiquate in Spain

Overall, doing your own research before going abroad is helpful not only for avoiding a few embarrassing moments, but also to better adapt to the lifestyle, tastes, and cultures of Spain. Having a better idea of what to expect once you arrive at your study abroad or internship placement will make your initial time there more manageable and less foreign. Whether you’re about to embark on a study or intern abroad experience soon, or thinking about one with Adelante Abroad, I hope that you learned a few do’s and don’ts of living and adapting to life in Spain! As always, keep the travel bug close and your dreams closer.

Until next time,

Jenny O.

Adelante Abroad HQ Intern

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