It’s no secret that Spain is a top study abroad destination. Thousands of students’ flock to immerse themselves in the language and culture, but before leaving they had to choose a program, right? From study abroad heavyweights like IES, CIEE and AIFS to smaller programs based on individual university partnerships, there is no shortage of options. However, each program is unique so here’s what to consider before committing.
Program Support and Location
Choose a program location where you can truly be yourself with both the participants and the locals. After studying abroad in Granada and living abroad in Logroño, I see the difference between living in a more international city/college town and an authentic Spanish town. Spain has a very homogenous culture and in international hubs, you have a better chance of finding the community you’ll need to escape all the changes abroad. This isn’t to say smaller towns aren’t welcoming, but for many Spaniards, you could be the first POC from the U.S. they’ve met. People are curious and being questioned inside and outside the classroom can be tiring. It is important to choose a program that has an active Residence Director who offers mental, emotional and social support. Culture shock is real so don’t be afraid to ask!
Money, Money, Money!
Spain is one of the cheapest options in Western Europe for study abroad, though cities such as San Sebastian, Barcelona and Madrid are more expensive. While each university handles their costs differently, see if your program offers scholarships for its participants. A basic application and essay could get you $500 or even a full ride! Google is another great resource to search for external scholarships. Studying abroad can be costly so don’t forget to include your flight and living expenses too.
Classes and Cultural Excursions
What you choose will depend on your majors, minors, etc., but be prepared for a required Spanish grammar or conversation course if your language of instruction is in Spanish. Remember that shorter programs won’t offer as much freedom as a semester or yearlong programs and unless you’re pressed for time to graduate, choose a mix of general education and major courses, electives, and classes unique to Spain. Taking as a Spanish history or art class can lead to you and friends planning a weekend trip to the Prado and Reina Sofia Museums in Madrid. Many programs include these cultural excursions with tuition. I went to Morocco and had both an olive oil and wine tasting included, you never know where a class can take you!
Spanish University or Language Center?
Speaking of course offerings, you will have a language exam at the beginning of your program that determines your Spanish level on a scale of A1 (beginner) to C2 (bilingual) or 1 to 8. If you have a higher level, there’s an option to go to the Spanish university instead of the language center. In a Spanish university, you interact with more Spaniards and the classes are harder because they are at a native level. In a language center, there are mostly international students. I personally went to a language center and loved it, then volunteered in the community on my free time to immerse myself more. Your choice depends on how intense of an experience you want in the classroom while abroad.
The process of picking a program can be long, but I promise you it’s worth it! I look upon my time in Granada as one of my best semesters in college. Research your program options, do all the required paperwork and don’t be afraid. Whether it’s two weeks or a year, studying abroad will stay with you forever.
Sojourner is a 22-year-old traveling chocoholic from Milwaukee, WI. A graduate of Bradley University with a double major in Psychology and Spanish and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, she currently resides in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain as a Fulbright Scholar. When Sojourner is not teaching, she can be found writing, eating or wine tasting her way through life at sojournies.weebly.com. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sojowhite to keep up with her journeys to come!