Study Abroad: 4 Things to Know Before You Visit Spain

Since I lived in Spain for 11 years, I have had the chance to meet many international students, including some Americans that were confused and unprepared for some of the most common Spanish customs. So, I have decided to write some useful tips for those of you who are interested in studying abroad in Spain or even just visiting this beautiful country.

Eat like a local

There are a lot of things that you should know about food in Spain. First of all, food in Spain is cheap and delicious, but only if you eat like a local. Try to avoid going to the most touristy places, for example, near the beach, and instead ask a local where do they like to go for food or a drink, or for “cervezas y tapas.” Locals are your best food guide for Spain! They may not know about the trendiest places but they will definitely know where you can find the cheapest and yummiest places to have a bite.

Also, don’t expect to have dinner at 6 p.m. Spaniards never (or almost never) eat dinner before 9 p.m. The trick to survive until then without eating is to have a snack around 5 p.m., the famous “merienda.” Nice places won’t be open if you expect to have dinner at the American time. So remember the rule, eat like a local!


You don’t need to travel far to have amazing experiences

You can’t imagine how many Americans go to Spain (or anywhere in Europe really!) only to then take flights outside of the country every free moment they have, sometimes even just a day. But the truth is that Spain has so many things to offer that you don’t need to leave it. Menorca, one of Spain’s most beautiful islands, has one of the world’s prettiest beaches and you can just take a boat or a short flight and enjoy a weekend in paradise.

Morocco and Portugal are also some great options to visit interesting cities and have exotic experiences close by without needing to take long flights to other places. Or if you prefer to not leave the country, you can enjoy the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, admire some of Gaudi’s masterpieces in Barcelona, or dive into the Al-Andalus and discover ruins from medieval Muslim Spain. But remember, you don’t have to live in a plane when you go to Spain. Just enjoy what this country has to offer.


Different languages in different regions

Something to keep in mind when you go to Spain is that you should not expect Spaniards to speak English. Spain is not like many other countries in Europe where everybody speaks or at least understands English, so it is a good idea for you to learn a few words in Spanish before you get there. Even just a few words will make a big difference for you.

Also, remember that there are four official languages in Spain: Basque, Catalan (or Valencian), Galician and Spanish. Don’t be surprised if you visit Barcelona with your few words of Spanish freshly learned and you don’t understand anything. They’re probably speaking Catalan!


Don’t be afraid, they are not angry at you!

If you are not used to Latin culture, you will probably be wondering why everybody is constantly yelling. But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. In Spain, like in many other countries, the tone of voice is louder than you are probably are accustomed to. You will probably notice if you are flying to Spain with Spaniards on your plane. They aren’t exactly discrete.

Also, don’t be surprised if your boundaries on personal space aren’t the same as the locals. Be prepared to be kissed and touched! Even though they are not the most excessive of Europeans in terms of kisses (they only give one kiss on each cheek instead of three like the Dutch), Spaniards are also well known for hugging friends, kissing a lot and placing a hand on your shoulder while they talk to you. But it is all part of their charm, isn’t it?