Repeat guest-blogger Ron Iacone (see his Top Ten tips when traveling in Europe posted in March) shares his perspective on three distinct areas of Spain to help the would-be Spain-bound study abroad student choose the best place to spend time honing Spanish skills, having new experiences and tasting authentic Spanish cuisine.
Case Analysis: Spain
After narrowing down your chosen study abroad country to Spain, you now face another dilemma: where to go? Spain may be a small country—especially when compared to the United States—but what it lacks in size it makes up in diversity. Spain’s most prominent cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are only two among scores of others, each bringing to life a different facet of the Spanish Kingdom. Using these unique characteristics will, without doubt, help you narrow down the city/region you would like to study in.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity—thanks to my parents and, of course, the superb support of the study abroad department—to live in Spain for an academic year. I spent one semester in Santander, with the Semester in Spain program, and the other semester in Madrid. When my studies were finished in the Spanish capital, I moved to Granada to cap off my study abroad experience. If you’re wondering exactly where these cities are, they’re easy to find: draw a line down the center of Spain, and you’ll find Santander, Madrid and Granada at the top, middle and bottom of the line, respectively. Accordingly, I experienced life in Northern Spain, the capital, and Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region. And its here where I’ll offer you—the potential study abroad candidate—some advice on how to pick a good place to live.
Green! The rolling hills, mountainous landscape and surrounding areas are most certainly green. The beaches, many of which are found alongside cliffs that jut out into the ocean, only add to the beauty of this region. It is rainy however—hence the green—and can be a bit cold in winter, but the advantages of living here far outweigh its disadvantages. I lived in Santander, the capital of Cantabria, and recommend it as a great introduction to Spain. The splendor of Santander is matched by its surrounding regions, which among others include Galicia, Asturias, and the Basque country. Northern Spain’s inhabitants are friendly people, but “breaking the ice” is usually necessary to bring out their extroverted side. The student population, however, is a bit different. Many are eager to learn English and hear about America, so “breaking the ice” is relatively easy. Once you meet friends, you can count on keeping them for the rest of your life. The nightlife here is unique, with many people congregating on the streets before heading out. It does get cliquey, however, so taking the initiative to meet people—although intimidating at first—is well worth it, as most are welcoming to foreigner. It is very cheap to live here—by Spain standards—which is why many Spanish people come to this region to vacation. Northern Spain has many intimate cities, and developing a relationship with the culture and people will come naturally. Life here is a bit slowed down and for the most part, relaxing. Living in Northern Spain will no doubt be a memorable and beautiful experience.
This is the capital. Madrid is a bustling and fast-paced city, with people from the entire world coming here to live. Just like New York City, Madrid is a place that never sleeps, and I would describe my experience living there as an adventure. It is hard to find a word that describes everyone in general, as the sheer diversity this city has is unmatched anywhere in Spain (well, it seems like diverse would be the credited word). The city as well, is one of the cleanest I’ve been to in Europe. The architecture and history represented in the city will make you take the long way back to your place, as just walking down the street can be filled with surprises. The Spanish people that fill these streets—at all hours—can keep you entertained for hours. Getting out of the piso to go walk around, grab a calamari sandwich (yes, its good and is a well-known sandwich in Madrid) will be a daily activity. The things to do here are endless, so being bored is impossible. It follows that because Madrid is the capital, there are many events and activities held here that draw lots of people. Going out and meeting Spaniards is bound to happen, whether you take the initiative or not. Surprisingly—and this has happened to me—you may think you’re talking to a Spaniard, only later finding out that it was someone from another country who just happened to have a good grasp of the Spanish language. Time does pass by fast here, so “missing Madrid syndrome” is common. Just like New York City, Madrid is expensive. There are ways to budget as always, but plan on spending more money. It may be a bit harder to speak Spanish here, as many people—mostly foreigners to Madrid—speak English, but never falling into that trap is easy to do: just don’t speak English. All in all, the advantages of this city far outweigh everything else. If you’re looking for an adventure that will truly expand your global awareness, Madrid is the right place for you.
Flamenco dancing and beautiful weather year round rule this place. The architecture yields a strong African influence with many domes and arches built right into the buildings. The people here are some of the friendliest I’ve met in Spain, although the Spanish is not so “user-friendly.” It will take some time and practice to master andaluz as it is spoken very fast. Between the beaches, landscape and warmth the people bring you here, Andalucía is a great place to spend your time studying. I lived in Granada, and made some of my best friends there. Other people who’ve lived there can probably say the same thing and everybody who visits automatically falls in love with the city. The personality and openness of the population is extremely inviting, and making Spanish friends—quickly—would be very easy, regardless of your level of Spanish. I would also characterize the people here as outdoorsy, as every park, sidewalk, restaurant, bar and anywhere is filled with people. If you come to Andalucía—just like Madrid—you will never be bored. In addition, the tapas bars here are incredible. Nowhere in Spain are they as good, and every Spanish person can vouch for that. The portions are massive and can include numerous items, each of which are specialties to the area. This region is very cheap, and spending money should be the least of your worries here, as should living well and having a great time. If you’re unsure of where to go in Spain, you can never be wrong by choosing Andalucía.
Good luck with your choice! If you want to study abroad next semester, visit our Office of Education Abroad for an info session - http://www.edabroad.uncc.edu/.