Spain: Helpful Hints

This is a post for students who are planning on studying in Spain. I’m going to lay out a few tips and tricks you can use to blend in a bit better with the locals and get a really “Spanish” experience out of your time abroad. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but they are good guidelines to follow. I’ve studied in Spain twice, and these are things that I wish I had known when I went.

1. Ditch the Americans- It will be very tempting to stick together with other Americans in your program and go see the sights, try the food, and pick out a good bar to frequent. My advice is to avoid this as much as possible. Find ways to meet locals. At first they will be surprised that you took an interest, but before long they’ll be inviting you to soccer games and parks where they hang out with their friends. Your Spanish will get better, and you will get a real look at what life is like for a Spanish university student.

2. Learn the public transit- Taxis are expensive, and walking everywhere takes time and is tiring. In Seville, there is a public bicycle system that I highly recommend. Granada has great buses, and the Madrid metro is the best I’ve ever seen. You will get lost a few times, but after that you will be glad you took the time to figure it out. There’s no substitute for seeing the city on your terms.

3. Forget your fancy phone- For about 50 euros you can get a good old-fashioned brick phone and plenty of pre-paid minutes. Smart phones are still very much a luxury in Spain, and while it can be tempting to drop a Spanish SIM card in yours and stay connected, it isn’t safe. Most of your friends will be sporting older models too, so you won’t be missing out and you will definitely save some money.

4. Eat the food- I don’t like all of the Spanish food I’ve ever tried. I did, however, try everything that my host mom gave me. Not only is it polite, it’s one of the reasons you’re there. I’ve had four host families, and the number one complaint I’ve heard from them about other Americans is that they are picky eaters. Unless you have a dietary restriction, you should try everything you can.

5. Stay sober- This is the second biggest complaint I’ve heard about Americans from my Spanish friends. Being drunk is a good way to keep Spanish people from talking to you, because Spanish people don’t drink in excess. Drinking too much can be dangerous and it would be embarrassing to show up to your host home obviously drunk.

6. Ask for help- This is the tip that I wish I had followed more. Are you lost? Tell someone. Forgot the word for fork? Point at it and look confused. Not feeling well? Have someone take you to the pharmacy. People can feel isolated when they are abroad, and the biggest reason for this is because they want to do it all themselves. You will make better relationships with people and struggle less if you just break down and ask.

7. Give someone else your passwords- To everything. And make them change them. Don’t let them tell you what they are. Get rid of Netflix, social media, even an email account you don’t really need. Disconnect. Looking back and seeing that you spent three hours a day in bed watching bootleg episodes of The Walking Dead won’t be nearly as rewarding as looking back and knowing that you made the most of every day.

8. Study- I know that’s probably not what you’re looking forward to the most. It wasn’t my favorite thing to do either. But you have to have get credit for your classes, and you just might learn something in the process.

9. Speak the language- Silent dinners aren’t fun for anyone. Not you and not your host family. They know that you aren’t as good at Spanish as they are. They won’t be offended by it, even when you accidentally say something offensive (and you will). My program director said it best when he told us that “those of you who practice will improve, and those of you who practice less will improve less.” Making mistakes is encouraged.

10. Enjoy yourself- It is easy to get over there and after the first few weeks… “hit a wall.” It isn’t fun and new anymore, and you’re starting to get homesick and tired of all of the differences. The best thing to do when this happens is to make yourself get out there and try something new. Make a new friend or find a new hobby. The time will fly by, and you need to make the most of it.

Let me know if you have any questions, and enjoy your time in Spain. It’s a great country.

Life in The Hague – Netherlands

Where to start… Studying abroad here in the Netherlands has been amazing. There are so many places to go, people to meet, things to do, etc. Although it has taken awhile to get used to the way things work here, everything has finally started to fall in place.

First off, the university is much different than back at Louisville. There is one large center building connected to a couple other buildings where all of our classes take place (IBMS students). I can’t imagine how the exchange students from here who study abroad at U of L feel when they find out their classes are in different buildings spread out across the campus. Also, the classes here can change times, classrooms and even different days each week. I have had classes change from Tuesday to Wednesday, from 4:30 in the afternoon to 9:30 in the morning, and from meeting once a week to meeting twice a week. It seems nearly impossible to have a job while attending this university with the way classes change so much. With all that said, it is great meeting new people in class, working in groups with students from all different countries (teachers love working in teams here), and learning how the professors/students in the Netherlands look at the world of business.

Outside of school, there is so much to do in The Hague. Kylee, Sophie, and I decided to make a trip to the beach yesterday since it was a little over 60 degrees outside. After we arrived, we walked down the beach awhile to see what all was there. After hearing from some locals that the restaurants and bars on the beach opened near the end of March, I was surprised to see so many people there. After yesterday’s adventure, it’s safe to say we will be heading to the beach more often in a few weeks when everything is open.

When it comes to traveling, The Hague is a great place to study abroad. Very easy to get around Europe due to the fact that the train station is right next to campus and the airport in Amsterdam is only about 40 minutes away. Since I have been here, I have been to Paris and Majorca, an island off the east coast of Spain. I went to Paris with Sophie and Kylee the week after we arrived before school started. I went to Majorca a couple weeks ago with Kylee for our “spring” break. Both trips were absolutely amazing and definitely once in a lifetime opportunities.

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A few random side notes: 1) Although very unhealthy, Turkish pizza and Kapsalon are two things you have to eat at least once while you are here. 2) Bikes are used by everyone and are very convenient, but you have to be careful because they can be stolen and/or break easily if you buy a used one. 3) Spontaneity is key. Both trips I’ve made here were booked less than a week before we left and they turned out to be some of the best trips I will take in my life. When studying abroad, you have so many opportunities, but only for a short time. You have to take advantage of them.

More posts to come.

Life in Holland!

Windmills, grazing sheep/cows, wooden shoes, and cheese are all stereotypical things one might think of when Holland is mentioned, but they’re all very real! I have been in The Hague, Netherlands for several weeks now and have loved every minute of the experience thus far. From the moment I arrived, I have been trying to make the most out of the time I have here. All of us from U of L got bicycles within the first week of being here (which is SO Dutch). Being a “horse girl” (and Equine major), it was important for me to find a stable where I could ride regularly. I ended up in the center of the city (a very unlikely place for horses), where there is an old, hidden, brick stable that dates back to the time of Napoleon. Apparently, it was a gift to the city of Den Haag from his full brother. I am having a great time learning a different style of riding. Soon, they will begin taking group rides out on the beach of the North Sea! I couldn’t be more excited.
I have also been attending a church that meets in one of the oldest church buildings in The Hague. It is absolutely gorgeous.
The food is incredible- from fresh produce to Holland cheese to delectable European desserts. I am trying as many “local” dishes as possible, wherever I go. My favorite so far are called “Stroopwaffels.” They are super sweet, thin waffle cakes that are sandwiched together with some sort of a caramel/syrup. They are served hot and fresh on the streets, or pre-packaged at the grocery stores.
One of the decision factors that came into play when choosing somewhere to study was the access to modes of travel, and The Hague has proved to be invaluable in that the train station is literally right down the street from my student residence building. The proximity to trains (both intercity and international) makes travel convenient and easy. Over Spring Break, I went to visit some of my friends studying in Germany and England. I also trained down to Brussels, Belgium and enjoyed amazing Belgian chocolate and waffles!
The Dutch culture is very laid back. If you ask someone for help, they will gladly offer their assistance, although not without being asked. I am slowly but surely picking up on some Dutch. It is a rather difficult language, but the good news is that everyone also speaks English, so there is no communication issues.
I am so happy to be on a study abroad, and it has already proven to be the most exciting and profound experience of my life!
Until next time,IMG_5220