Study Abroad Prep
August 29, 2009 6:59 AM   Subscribe

What do I need to do/know/remember before studying abroad?

Monday night I fly to Spain, where I will be living for the next 6-8 months, in Salamanca. I will be studying there at the University of Salamanca.

For the first semester, I will be living with a host family. They consist of a homemaker (female, age: 60 ) a retiree (male, age: 64) and their son who comes home apparently for "meals" living just outside of town.

For the first month, I will be alone. After that, another student will be joining me, but I will have my own room still.

The second semester I switch to my own room in the "Reisdencia."

Where you come in:
What things to do I need to do beforehand that I may have forgotten?
What should I know about studying abroad/Europe/Spain that I may not?
What must I remember to do now, during, and after my experience?

Any anecdotal advice/comments/suggestions/questions/etc. are extremely appreciated!
posted by PaulingL to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
- Keep a travel blog
- Buy a cell phone when you're there, but don't call the states with it. Use Skype for that
- Bring a linen sleeping bag liner for dingier hostels
- Get used to smoke, hang out in bars and coffee shops
- don't ever turn down an offer from your host family (family trips, etc.)

- maybe a shamwow type thing as a bath towel?

Also, the thing that most people forget is that you can buy everything you will need in Europe. So, as you are packing, don't bother with shampoo, detergent, extra shoes, etc. You can get them while you're abroad. Pack as lightly as possible.

- Finally, bring a backpacking pack so you can bring it on extended trips. They're easy to carry, can be tossed into luggage racks with ease, and can hold a ton of crap.

is there anything in particular that you are nervous about?
posted by Think_Long at 7:19 AM on August 29, 2009

Hm...most of the things I was going to tell you you shouldn't worry too much about until you get there, so I'll spare you a long list. I'm American, 26, and have been living abroad for about three years now.

If this is your first time spending a long time abroad, just remember to go with the flow of things, as an overarching mantra.

At first, I imagine, you're going to be a more passive observer for many things where at home you'd be a more active participant. Local politics, new bars opening, that kind of thing - it may be hard to get a feel for these things at first, which can be disorienting and depressing.

But spend time watching. You'll soon have favorite places - the tapas place with really good olives and no customers whenever you go in, the museum with cheap artsy films on Tuesday nights or something.

Embrace the ordinary and the mundane. Salamanca will probably have bowling alleys and flea markets and libraries and cafés open late and old people complaining about kids these days and their hip-hopping music. Get to know these places. Some of my most memorable times in Indonesia were exploring overgrown temples - and getting haircuts.

I'll assume you can speak some Spanish; if that's the case, then it's going to be worth taking the time over your first few weekends to see what your neighborhood has to offer. The rest of Spain will still be there when you've got vacation time, or when your family and friends come to visit (say, in the summer, or around Easter). Spend some weekends, at least, with no plans, just hanging out with your hosts or looking for a new pair of socks at the mall or something. Get to know your neighbors. Plan a "cooking day" with your host family and ask them to teach you some favorite family recipes. Think about looking at what the rest of the province offers in the first semester instead of flying all over Europe every long weekend. Here's a totally awesome national park which seems pretty close.

And take a zillion pictures. I take my camera with me almost every day, even on the most mundane of trips, and it's really enriched my experience (and made it easy to create photobooks/calendars for family at home: easy Christmas present!).

So to sum up: keep yourself at a relaxed pace, get to know what's local, and don't worry about the passivity you might feel at first.

¡Buena suerte!

And a tiny PS: News in Slow Spanish is awesome for keeping up to date and practicing your grammar.
posted by mdonley at 7:51 AM on August 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

always carry your passport with you and NEVER leave it anywhere.
posted by Ponzimoon at 8:28 AM on August 29, 2009

From Ms. Vegetable:

Go to grocery stores and farmers markets. Keep a journal every day (my favorite one is actually about shoes and how Danes wear better shoes than Americans).
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2009

Here's a couch surfing Salamanca group. I would encourage you to attend a meetup or make a post that you've just arrived and would like to make some friends. It's a good way to meet locals.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2009

From personal experience, don't forget your shower shoes when you go on weekend trips. Hostels will be dirtier than your billet. It can hard to switch your mindset between living abroad and travelling abroad.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2009

Oh, a few more travel-related things -

Seat 61 has the lowdown on exploiting the website of RENFE, the Spanish rail system, specifically the very useful buy-online/print-at-home ticket feature.

Wikipedia lists pretty much airport in the world and the destinations available from each; here's the "list of Spanish airports" page. Your closest Ryanair-served airport is Valladolid - Ryanair sells tickets for basically nothing if you book early enough, and if you can dodge their fees (carry-on only, check-in online, yadda yadda), you can zoom all over Europe for cheap. I went from Berlin to Marrakesh and back this past February for €100 roundtrip, including taxes and fees, and that's not even an unusually good deal.

Porto is only about an hour further from you than Madrid by road (looks like about 3.5 hours each way) and is almost certainly a great place to spend a weekend. Beaches nearby too, but the Atlantic isn't as warm as the Mediterranean.
posted by mdonley at 12:18 PM on August 29, 2009

Living with the Host Family. I know nothing about your host family but my experience with Spanish kids living with British host families, I did learn a couple of things.

Some families take in students because they need the money. If that''s the case, be respectful. For example, don't take long showers. Don't expect the piso to be heated at night in the winter time. Don't make fun of the way of life (seems, obvious, but you'd be surprised). As an American living in Spain, everything at first seemed very disorganized. To get my permanent residency visa, for instance, I had to go to 5 different doctor offices. It's easy to roll one's eyes at such things but it's not very polite. Don't assume no one else speaks English as many many people know English. In general, the Spanish prefer to speak Spanish to you even if they are fluent in English. So don't make fun of your host family or country in English, either. Clean up after yourself. Make your bed.

Salamanca is not far from Avila, which is a lovely walled town. Also try to spend some time in Madrid.

But enjoy yourself. Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is considered by many to the the prettiest in Spain.
posted by daneflute at 12:52 PM on August 29, 2009

Don't be shy, and don't be afraid to look a little ridiculous. I don't mean that you shouldn't be polite and respectful, but don't keep quiet because you don't quite know how to say something, or be too shy to try something. These are going to be some of your best adventures. Study hard and play hard.
posted by Caravantea at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2009

My main suggestion is to be nice to your host family, and please obey any rules they put in place. The easiest way to make a homestay awful is to get at odds with your host family. If you go with the flow it can be a great experience and lead to lasting relationships.

Especially pay attention to the little things, like if they want you to put certain things in certain places or do little chores around the house. They don't hurt you, and not doing them will be a source of small annoyance for your family. Spend time with them, too. They also let you in to be a part of their family, so talk with them, eat dinner with them, generally treat them better than you would treat your own family. If it gets hard, remember it's just a semester. Occasionally families can be bad, but most of the time it's probably you, not them. Remember you're coming into their lives, not the other way around.

They'll probably be happy to take you to the local sights, and they'll know more about the town and the area than you ever will.

(posting from the computer at my host family's house 8 years after my original stay with my host family)
posted by that girl at 4:35 PM on August 29, 2009

"always carry your passport with you and NEVER leave it anywhere."'
I could not disagree more. Your host family/residencia should be a safe enough place to leave it. Hide it somewhere good. You are more likely to have it pickpoketed than to have someone steal it out of your room. Keep extra photocopies of it in a separate place. Carry a photo idea (like a US drivers license) with you in case you get hit by a bus and need to be identified.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:23 PM on August 29, 2009

Bring some gifts from your town/state/region for your host family.
posted by candyland at 10:24 AM on August 30, 2009

« Older Why can't I move photos onto my desktop?   |   Canadian ISO antibiotics in NY. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.