Okay so, I should probably be revising right now. But, I haven’t written anything on this blog in a while and thought I should remedy this by posting something. And, for that matter, make it a useful post. Having been in touch with some fellow students in the process of beginning their next sojourns of the Year Abroad, I thought it might be worth imparting some wisdom I’ve gained having studied in Spain for almost five months.
So what advice did I have or wish I had when I arrived? I’ll try and consolidate this into 5 steps:
Those having already done half a year’s study in another country will be all-to-familiar with the process of your humble abode upon arrival being a hostel. I struck lucky having friends in Madrid already who helped me overcome the trauma of websites such as ‘easypiso’ where my searches only got me offers of rooms from men old enough to be my Grandad or crazy women owning a multitude of cats and claiming to be ‘actress and/or translator, writer and psychiatrist’. But that’s not to say that looking online doesn’t work. It just depends on YOU. Internet is undoubtedly a useful tool as it can put you in touch with people for room viewings. You can also find a plethora of adverts around your host university’s campus, and all universities have residencias which are open to foreign students and normally very close to campus or central. Also be wary of the flat system. Most landlords in Spain will take rent cash-in-hand and some don’t have contracts, so make sure you are sure of a flat before you take a room!
2) Do a bit of price comparing.
Despite Corté Inglés dominating the skyline (well, in Madrid anyway), there are lots of cheaper supermarkets and fruterias which can cater for your culinary needs at a fraction of the price. Dia, for example, has become one of my favourite supermarkets as it’s cheap and cheerful with the slogan ‘Que tengas un buen dia’. Alternatively, Lidl and Mercadona (which even has it’s own song) can be found everywhere and are also favourites of Erasmus and Spanish students alike.
Okay, so there’s the obvious factor of the language barrier. But, as a nation, Spanish people are generally friendly. Although it may take some time and patience, you will gradually find that a smile and ‘hola’ can get you far. Remember that most students already have a tight-knit group of friends at university as they spend most of the day studying there, just like you at your home uni. But if you show a willingness and an openness to them, they will show one back. It has been hard and slow progress sometimes, but persevere and be friendly. A smile never hurt anyone, eh? Also, don’t be afraid to mingle with as many Erasmus students as you can. You’re all in the same boat at the end of the day…
4) Go out!
This is ‘go out’ in two senses. The first is obviously making the most of the nightlife in Spain. Clubs close at 6am, bars at 3 or 4am. Alternate between the going out you do, as this can be a chilled night at a bar with friends taking advantage of the cheap tinto de verano and living the Erasmus dream at discotecas with all the europop you could ever want playing all night. But the second sense of this is go out and go travelling. Wherever you’re studying, you’ll be within an hour or so bus journey of other Spanish cities. Museums and a load of other tourist spots are free on Wednesdays and Sundays, some all week if you take along your student card. Make the most of your time in Spain to travel, see the rich culture that each city and region has to hold as spending the entire year blowing all your money on nights out won’t necessarily be a waste but this year’s about being cultured and stuff, maaaaaan.
5) Be organised.
It’s a well-known fact that Spain isn’t notorious for efficiency, especially the universities when it comes to organisation. The Erasmus office at my host uni is extremely good, but it’s opening hours are a bit strange and they will expect you to be organised. Teachers not showing up to classes, being relaxed about deadlines and exam dates being published late are common, so embrace this opportunity to develop some organisation skills. This year counts and, it’s definitely about having fun and enjoying yourself, but keep on top of stuff such as Learning Agreements and especially work. If you don’t hand something in, your tutor won’t necessarily hunt you down and demand you do it but at, the end of the day, you will sneakily lose marks if you don’t. Also, knowing what’s going on helps. If you’re not sure about something, another Erasmus student will normally know.
So, there we have it. That’s a mantra that has helped me make the most of the first half of my year here and I hope it might help some of you too. Spain is a great country and you will enjoy every moment if you make the most of it.
Qué disfrutéis la vida española, muchach@s!