You’ve just stepped off the airplane and you already feel jet-lagged and dehydrated. People are rushing around you, they’re not speaking English, and all you want to do is get your bags and get to your accommodation. Studying abroad can be stressful, but it doesn’t always have to be. Below is a list of 9 things I wish I would have known or have learned since landing in Spain.
- Bring a change of clothes and some toiletries in your carry on. A few of my friends had their luggage lost on the way to their host country, and the only clothes they had were the ones on their backs. This is especially problematic if your luggage is lost for several days, so to avoid being that smelly newcomer when meeting your new international friends it’s a good idea to pack a spare outfit.
- Don’t forget an adapter! If you’re like me, you brought an adapter for a two prong plug but failed to remember that your laptop has a three prong plug and needs charging too. And if you’re even more like me, you ended up buying a $16 one at a store in Spain that still didn’t end up fitting your plug. Moral of the story: it will be cheaper and more convenient to buy an adapter beforehand instead of in your host country or at the airport. And Amazon sells them for very cheap.
- Getting Euros at a decent conversion rate. If you arrive and need Euros, I can almost guarantee you that the airport will rip you off in terms of exchange rates. Since I need cash to pay my rent, the best option for me so far has been to use the Santander ATMs and withdraw large sums of Euros at a time at a 5€ ATM fee and a $5 PNC fee . Depending on which bank you have it may be different, but the PNC Virtual Wallet Student reimburses the PNC fee up to 2 times each statement period which is nice, especially if you don’t intend to open a checking account with a Spanish bank.
- Know the holidays of your host country. Again, if you’re like me, you flew in on Epiphany which is the equivalent of Spanish Christmas. Therefore, when you were hungry and tried to find food by your apartment, you realized that everywhere was closed. To avoid this situation, make sure you know if there are any holidays when you’re booking your flights.
- Siestas are a real thing. The siesta occurs around 2-5pm where many shops will close and there is a block in the day where there are no classes. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is sleeping. People will take leisurely walks to clear their heads, run a couple errands, or eat a big lunch that will hold them over until their dinner at 9-10pm.
- Smoking is very popular. Walking on the streets the person in front of you may be smoking, the students before class are outside smoking, it’s likely that you have a roommate that smokes. Coming from the US, this was something that surprised me. You don’t see as many people smoking in public and it has been ingrained since an early age about how harmful it is for your health. Nonetheless, there is a strong social smoking culture in Madrid that you should be aware of.
- The truth about traveling around Europe. Yes, it is very inexpensive to travel around Europe, and you have probably heard about buying a round-trip ticket for $40 or less. But the truth is, if you’re a student with classes during the week, finding that $40 round-trip ticket will be difficult. Most of the best deals for flights are only if you are willing to travel in the middle of the week, with Wednesday usually being the cheapest day. Due to my class schedule I try to book flights Thursday (I have Fridays off) to Sunday or Monday and they usually cost me between $80 and $110.
- Not all hostels are created equal. Definitely do your research if you plan to stay in one. Think about location and cleanliness- How close is it to the city center? If it’s not close to the city center, is it close to a metro? Does it seem like they clean it regularly? And girls beware. I chose to stay in a mixed hostel towards the beginning of my trip and was the only female among 4 other guys who snored and farted all night in their sleep.
- Don’t forget to travel around Spain! I know lots of people talk about traveling throughout Europe but don’t forget to travel within your host country as well. Toledo is just a short (and free with your metro card) bus ride away, Salamanca has the third oldest still operating university in the world, Malaga was Picasso’s birthplace, and Valencia is famous for the Falles festival held every March.
I have been in Madrid for about a month now, and while the transition wasn’t always the smoothest, I am having the time of my life. My favorite part has been seeing all of the intricate and unique architecture throughout the cities I have visited. There’s so much to see and do and I am beyond grateful that I get to be a part of it. So get excited about your trip, and get excited about exploring a new culture!