Top 5 things to know about a Spanish homestay

I have loved having a homestay experience in Spain and would highly recommend it to anyone going abroad. I got an authentic cultural experience and even had my room and laundry cleaned for me. My host parents were very nice and accommodating, but there were a few things I wish I had known ahead of time.

  1. Quick Showers – You are going to have to take quick showers  (10 minutes or less). If you are shaving your legs or something and know that it is going to be longer than ten minutes, it is respectful to turn off the water when you don’t need to rinse. You also shouldn’t take more than one shower a day. My madre never said anything to us about shower time, but I know a lot of other people’s host parents brought it up.
  2. Turn off lights – Electric, like water, is very expensive in Spain. Because of this, they use natural light and open blinds/windows whenever they can. It was hard at first for me to remember to turn lights off when leaving a room or open blinds instead of flipping the light switch, but eventually I got in the habit of it.
  3. Be ready to speak Spanish – Very few of the people I study with have host parents that speak English. I came over with the view that everyone speaks at least some English, but I have found this to not always be true. If you don’t know any Spanish, don’t panic. I had a limited Spanish background, but was able to communicate with gestures and translations apps just fine. I caught on to a lot of Spanish really quickly as well. Also, in regards to Spanish, some places, such as Sevilla, do not use the formal tense (usted).
  4. Space is tight – Unlike the United States, there is far less space in most cities in Spain. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if your shared bedroom is half the size of your freshman dorm room. In addition, be mindful of clutter. Everything in our host parent’s house had a purpose (if not 2 or 3 purposes) and was very tidy. There isn’t room for junk drawers or misplaced objects.
  5. Estoy lleno(a) – Spanish host-moms will try to push more and more food on you during meals and won’t stop until you stop them. The easiest way to do this is say, “Estoy lleno(a)” aka “I am full.”

Top 5 things to do in Sevilla, Spain

I have been studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain for over two and a half months now, and I have absolutely loved every second of it. I thought I would compile a list of my favorite things to do for people that also want to study abroad here or just come visit for the weekend. Enjoy!

1. Plaza de Espana/Parque de Maria Luisa – Plaza de Espana is one of the most well-known spots in not only Sevilla, but all throughout Spain. This incredible building was built in 1928 for the World Fair and is surrounded by beautiful fountains, tile mosaics, and horse drawn carriages. In addition, it is located inside the Maria Luisa Park, which is Sevilla’s main green area. The park is huge and absolutely breathtaking. You can find exotic plants, birds, sunbathers, and even brides getting their pictures taken here.
2. Mercado Lonja del Barranco – My friends and I go to this market about once a week. They have a great assortment of local and international food as well as drinks. Best of all, it is located right on the river. This modern market is always full of life and has live music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. There is also a really good churro stand about 20 feet away from it!
3. The Real Alcazar – The Alcazar is the royal palace in Sevilla. It is a bit deceptive because you can’t tell from the outside how gorgeous it is. Every room is filled with beautifully tiled walls and the garden is so pretty. You might even see a peacock roaming around. I recommend buying your ticket online in order to avoid the long line!
4. Cathedral – I am not a huge cathedral person, but Sevilla’s cathedral is truly beautiful. It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and it hosts the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Unlike many of the cathedral’s I toured, I got to go through many meeting rooms that are still being used today and through a museum area with beautiful gold and silver artifacts. In addition, you can go up into the tower of the church where you get amazing 360 degree views of the city. As with the Alcazar, I recommend purchasing your ticket online in order to avoid long lines. Also, the cathedral and the Alcazar are located right next to each other so I recommend visiting them consecutively!
5. Las Setas – Las Setas is technically named Metropol Parasol, but everyone in Sevilla refers to it as “Las Setas.” It is a huge modern structure that offers amazing panoramic views from on top. In order to get to the top, you need to purchase a ticket for 3 euros. The price of the ticket includes a free drink so it really is an unbeatable deal. I highly recommend going at sunset, but it is beautiful at all times of the day. In addition, there are ancient roman ruins below Las Setas that you can tour for about 2 euros. It’s an interesting thing to check out while you are there!

Plaza de Espana

Traveling Alone

While studying abroad in Rome, Italy, I quickly noticed just how inexpensive flights were to other nearby countries. There are so many different places that I want to see, and a fair amount of long weekends that I have to go see them! However, if you are trying to book your weekend trips with friends, it is not always as easy as it may seem. A lot of times you will not want to go to the same cities, or maybe you have already gone to the city that your friend wants to go to, etc. Basically, you may have to come down to the decision on whether to miss out on a country that you had your heart set on, or to just travel alone! (Yes.. that is an option.)

People seem to freak out at this concept, always emphasizing the “buddy system” and how “dangerous” it is to travel alone. Well, your a big girl/boy now, huh? You made it all the way to Europe alone, didn’t you? Don’t get me wrong, you still need to be a smart traveler (like don’t go walking out alone at night, but that should be obvious by now). Personally, every city I’ve been to in Europe so far actually felt safer than the city of my home University. It’s not so scary as everyone makes it out to be, just because it’s foreign and unfamiliar, doesn’t make it a life hazard.

When you are traveling alone, you have the opportunity to do just exactly what you want to do. To see what you want to see. To dine where you want to dine. To stop and smell the roses whenever you may feel like it. You run on your own schedule, and it’s incredible. You don’t need to sacrifice activities that you wanted to do just because it’s not what the majority of the group wanted! To be able to experience a totally new city with nothing but your own thoughts is a very unique and liberating experience. With no distractions it seems much easier to truly take it all in. And hey, it’s not as lonely as you may think! When I traveled to Vienna and Salzburg on my own, I stayed in youth hostels. Not only were they so much cheaper than Airbnb’s, (6 euro per night) but I also got to know so many other travelers of my age from all around the world! Some of them were other American students studying abroad. I met a few girls in Salzburg that had been spending their semester studying in Prague. That following weekend I went to Prague and they helped show me around the city! Don’t get me wrong, there are some places that are just more fun with friends, especially if you want to be hitting up the bars and clubs. Although there is really no experience than that of experiencing new places on your own. By the end of your trip, you will feel so independent, that you can take on whatever may come your way. You will feel like a well-versed world traveler!

5 Things to Know Before Studying Abroad

Hi! My name is Annie and I have been in Edinburgh, Scotland studying at the University of Edinburgh for almost a month now. I am truly enjoying my time here thus far and am excited for new experiences to come! I had never been to Europe before deciding to come to the UK for a semester, so I wanted to share a few things that I wish I would have known before I started studying abroad:

1. You will be walking… a lot. For one reason, transportation in cities can be expensive and you will want to save as much money as possible for other trips. A second reason, is that when you walk in the city you are studying in, you get to know your way around a whole lot better than being a passenger in a car. Once you start to get to know your way around, it will start to feel more like home! So be sure to bring some comfortable walking shoes.

2. Shopping bags at the grocery store aren’t free. I didn’t realize this for about a week because they only cost about 5 cents. Store employees should ask you if you would like a bag, and you might have to say yes in the beginning to carry your groceries home. But, be sure to bring these bags with you to the grocery the next time you go to not only save money, but also save space in your flat.

3. Always ask for tap water at restaurants, or else you will be charged for water. In the US, we are used to water being free at restaurants. But, if you just say ‘Water please’ at restaurants, they will most likely being you a bottled water. This water costs money and will taste pretty much the exact same as tap water, so be sure to clarify between asking for water and tap water!

4. Come prepared with cash and any documents you might need (literally any possible document). Getting to Europe can be super stressful and tiring. It is nice to already have money once you arrive so you don’t have to worry about getting it once you land. Also, not all students need a student visa, but if you do, then bring any possible documents that you might need because you don’t want to be missing anything! I’ve learned it is better to be safe than sorry and to be over prepared than under prepared.

5. You will meet a ton of people faster than you think! I was nervous that I wouldn’t make friends fast, but there should be a lot of visiting students wherever you go, and they are all in the same boat! It is important to remember that everyone is trying to make friends too.

If you are getting ready to study abroad, then I am so excited for you. Get ready for an amazing experience! Be sure to take it all in, because I have only been here about a month and it has flown by…in the best way possible!

Top 10 Lessons Learned

With my time abroad coming to an end sadly here are some of the “Top 10 Lessons Learned” I took away that you might find useful while in Madrid or anywhere else you travel. Enjoy!

  1. Trip Advisor can’t always be trusted, usually great local spots are not even on the site but popular restaurants often offer discounts for booking a table in advance which can save you some money.
  2. Always have cash on you, often many places in Europe will have a minimum amount for credit card usage or won’t take them at all.
  3. Pit-pocketing is real. While I did not get anything stolen during my stay I did have an attempt at it. While studying a few kids came up to my table and tried to distract me, I quickly put my phone away and they proceeded to leave.
  4. Download the offline version of Google Maps for cities you will be visiting to save your battery life and data usage. Also this comes in handy if your cell phone service is not very good in the area.
  5. Always pay in Euro when using your credit card. Although it may sound right to pay in USD, fees are often added on rather than your bank doing the conversion for you.
  6. If studying abroad in Madrid, get a Google Campus Madrid membership. It is completely free and a great spot to study and meet new people.
  7. Depending if the water is safe in the country you are in most restaurants will be happy to offer you tap water for free if you request it specifically, BUT if not expect to pay for a fancy bottle of water.
  8. At restaurants bread is not always free if it is placed on the table and sometimes a small service will be added to your bill.
  9. Download WhatsApp prior to leaving the United States or you will not be able to use it in Europe.
  10. Try to space out traveling to every other week or every two weeks, while there are many countries that are cool to visit, traveling every weekend will take a toll on your visit may not be as enjoyable.


Where to Study

Choosing where to study abroad is a tricky dilemma. Unless you have traveled the world extensively, you probably only have a stereotypical perception of most places. I can’t speak for most places from experience, but I can hopefully combat some of the ignorance most students have in making a recommendation.

There are two main aspects to consider while choosing your location. The first is where in the world you want to study and the second is what size of a city you want to study in. When considering the pros and cons of locations, you must consider both aspects simultaneously.  Many students want to study in Australia. Australia has beautiful nature from the kangaroos to the great Barrier Reef. You also don’t have to worry about the language barrier. Yet Australia is quite expensive and it’s difficult to travel inside Australia and to other countries. South America is another popular destination. I’ve never been to South America so to avoid speaking out of arrogance I wouldn’t say much. I will say from what I’ve heard it’s an amazing place, but you pretty much need to know enough Spanish to get around. This is especially true for smaller towns in South America. It also generally applies to any country, the smaller the town the more likely people will only speak the local language.

From a bias perspective, I will say Europe is a great place to study abroad. Now I think where in Europe makes a huge difference. If you want to be surrounded with only local culture, smaller towns are a better bet. Just make sure you are prepared to abandon English for several months. On top of a reduced language barrier, large cities also have the advantage of large airports. If you want to travel Europe, this makes a huge difference. I studied in Madrid and easily found time to visit 8 other countries and 3 other cities in Spain. Europe has ample discount airlines which makes traveling affordable. In addition, I got around easily with minimal Spanish. I recommended a larger city to anyone who hasn’t lived in one. For the record, Louisville isn’t a large city. I was set on never moving to a large city until I lived in Madrid and now it is one of my goals.

Be aware of how expensive cities and countries are. Cities such as London and Amsterdam are wonderful places, but they come with a nice price tag…. on everything. I found Madrid was fairly cheap compared to most other cities in Europe. Prague was the only other city I found comparable to Madrid in size and price. Study abroad is expensive enough even with scholarships so do yourself a favor and study somewhere cheap. Save your money for traveling and souvenirs. So when choosing keep in mind what kind of experience you desire and remember there really is no wrong decision!


During study abroad you usually get a week off for fall break or for a winter break. While studying abroad in Madrid, I received a week off in December. I believe it is a week meant to study for finals since it fell right before finals started. Of course if you are only in Europe for four months, you want to utilize this time to travel. It’s easy to find down time on planes and trains to hit the books. I used this week to take a tour of Italy. I wouldn’t say Italy was my favorite country because it is a little overdone, but overall a great experience. If I took this trip in a time of my life when I wasn’t traveling every weekend, it probably would have been the experience of a lifetime. Since humans are hopelessly relative creatures, it was topped by other more exotic experiences. None the less, I think everybody should experience Italy.

My trip started in Rome. Rome was one of my favorite cities in Italy because it remains frozen in time. It was very rich in history with ample Roman buildings littered throughout the city. The most famous of these buildings being the Colosseum which doesn’t disappoint. This ancient feat of architecture remains impressive and surprisingly well intact considering its age. I recommend getting a guided tour to fulling appreciate this monument. All these ancient gems make it difficult to get around the city by metro because the architecture limits where tunnels cane be built.  Another major attraction in Rome is the Vatican. One could easily spend hours viewing the endless art in the Vatican museums. The Sistine chapel tops the museums impressive collection. The chapel surprised me because I thought the picture of God and man almost touching would take up the entire celling. It is in fact only a small part of the chapel and the rest of the surrounding art is just as remarkable.

I also visited Florence, Venice, and Pisa in Italy. Florence is a great city where the whole ambience sucks you in. The entire city is beautiful and they have the best gelato in the world. The food in general in Italy will not disappoint. I recommend looking up restaurants on trip advisor for the optimum experience. The only thing to see in Pisa is the tower which is most likely smaller than you think. Still Pisa is less than an hour form Florence by train so it makes for a nice afternoon excursion. Don’t forget to take the overly original picture of you holding up the tower or pushing it down. Honestly watching everyone capturing this cliché photo is better than the tower. Venice is worth the visit simply because it is so different than anything in the states. Having canals as roads makes Venice stand out. Although, it is a tourist trap and expensive so I wouldn’t stay long. I found one day sufficient. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to explore the south of Italy although I’ve heard Naples is beautiful. Perhaps if you are studying abroad you could start at Milan and work your way down to Naples.


At their sources, pleasant surprises and frustrations steam from a similar root: expectations. When you have expectations and they are exceeded, you are pleasantly surprised. The vice versa applies for frustration. If you find yourself studying abroad, you may notice you start having expectations for certain cities or countries which results in one of two outcomes. This is a post about a city that left me pleasantly surprised, Istanbul.

The worst part concerning my trip to Istanbul was it only lasted a weekend including the flights. Thus I can only speak from the taste of Istanbul I managed to get, but that taste was  good! I mean this literally and figuratively. Istanbul will keep your taste buds begging for more long after your stomach starting crying for you to quit eating. Istanbul rightfully holds the crown as the meat capital of the world. Anywhere I found myself, I was never far from a sizzling chicken, lamb, or steak kebap. One night for dinner, my food was brought out in a flaming clay pot. The chef proceeded to cut open the top of the clay pot with a sword-like utensil and serve the meal. The level of exoticism in the serving procedure was an adequate indication for the tastefulness of the meal. At the end of my meal, most restaurants offered me tea. I could choose between the local Turkish tea or Green Apple tea. They are both excellent in my opinion, although the Turkish tea is a little harsher especially for novice tea consumers. As a general rule for visiting anywhere in Europe, Trip advisor is a great site to find local gems in the restaurant industry.

Sending your taste buds on an adventure isn’t limited to restaurants. The local desserts need to find a way onto your tongue. Baklava is a must try. My personal favorite is Turkish delight. Try these delicacies for a pleasant surprise regardless of high expectations.

As a city that bridges the gap between Europe and Asia, it overflows with history and a perfect blend of novel and semi-recognizable culture. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are incredible cites to see regardless of your faith or religiosity. The Hagia Sophia started as a church, was converted to a mosque when the Ottoman empire conquered Constantinople (former name of Istanbul), and is currently a museum. If you travel through Europe, a church usually makes the top ten places to see in any given city. Some of these architectural beauties are worth seeing. There are only so many churches you can visit before they all bury together thus visiting a Mosque instead is an enjoyable change. The Topkapi Palace is another top attraction. It’s the former residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman empire. The palace contains numerous cultural rich artifacts although I question the legitimacy of some such as the Sword of David (yeah the David that killed Goliath) and the Staff of Moses. The Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia are all walking distance from one another. Visiting these attractions will provide an amazing, but limited experience of all Istanbul has to offer.            Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on

Lastly, if you love cats or dogs, Istanbul offers a positive externality. The city is littered with cats and dogs and I don’t mean as pets as you may be accustom to. These animals are strays. Everybody in the city takes care of and feeds these animals. They are all tagged, vaccinated, and friendly. Istanbul takes better care of these animals than most cities do with their homeless. This type of spin on familiarity that provides uniqueness is what makes Istanbul special and why it tops the charts on my list of favorite cities.


Favorite Place

One of the most common questions I receive during study abroad is “What is the favorite place thus far?” Parents, friends, and even your European classmates throw this question your way as means to continue a conversation, gain some suggestion for a future travel destination, or in hopes you mention their home country thus affirming it really is the best place in Europe. Now some people are naturally inclined to lean to a favorite whether it is an ice-cream flavor or a place in Europe. Other people believe choosing a favorite should be categorized as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Regardless of your view, I’ve noticed a general pattern in how people respond to the question. This trend became apparent to me after I visited London and several other cities. On my extensive travel list, London topped my travel plans with an unmatched anticipation and excitement. It was a city constantly mentioned in conversation or scene in movies. After traveling around Europe and North Africa, London fell out of my top 5 favorite cities. I believe there is a pattern in what makes students love a travel experience and it’s not what most students expect before traveling.

In order to elaborate on this pattern, I will start with the thing that stood out most which is what isn’t in the pattern. There are a ton of great museums in Europe and in other study abroad destinations. These are excellent opportunities to improve your cultural awareness and some museums should be visited. Now after mentioning that, nobody I’ve asked the infamous question has responded with “this city because this museum was awesome!”. This could be evidence of the need to acquire more intellectually cultured friends, but I doubt that is the reason. It is much more likely that most people enjoy museums, but museums can’t guarantee to make your trip great like Trump has with America. I have a sense that this rule holds true even for students so passionate about the arts they end up being the overenthusiastic humanities professor that turns an easy Gen Ed into your hardest course. On the other side of the coin, only a certain type of person mentions the city with the best clubs and bars. During study aboard you will encounter the once thought to be extinct Neanderthal who cites the best club as an explanation to his or her favorite city. For the rest of us Homosapiens who know Von Gogh is an artist and not a brand of Vodka, clubbing won’t be it.

So what makes a trip great enough to receive the crown as the best? A friend of mine claims his favorite city was Budapest because he went spelunking in the caves around the city. Another friend loved Santorini because they spent their time riding ATV’s around the island. My friends that loved Marrakesh enjoyed the city because of the unique local culture, camel rides, historic buildings, and lively evening markets. My favorite experience was cliff diving into the Mediterranean by the city walls in Dubrovnik. More often than not, the location with the favorite crown isn’t one most Americans can point out on a map. Students don’t fall in love with a city after visiting a museum in Paris or a club in Amsterdam. Most students have their favorite experiences when they choose a place on a map rarely mentioned and have a unique adventure experiencing the local culture.