I’m so excited to hear that you will soon be embarking on an adventure abroad to Spain! During these initial stages of figuring it all out I remember being both thrilled and overwhelmed, not really sure where to start with preparing myself. I understand the desire to want to get all of your questions answered and yet also not really being sure what questions to ask. If that sounds anything like you, you’ve come to the right place!
It’s hard to summarize what I wish I would have known before coming to live abroad in Spain since there are so many aspects to consider! Thus, I’ve compiled a short list of the main tips that come to mind and links to where you can find further details throughout the blog. Here goes…
1.) Try not to stress about the visa paperwork. I remember being so anxious about getting it all right and putting together all of the loose ends in time because (unlike when I studied abroad) they didn’t offer any assistance with that through my Teach In Spain program. However, there is plenty of information and personal accounts you can find online. You can totally do it! (And, unless specifically required by your program, you really don’t need an FBI background check so I wouldn’t pay for that. I’d just go to your local police office and get the process started for the state-level one!)
2.)Put together a folder of paper copies of all your documents (everything you needed for the visa paperwork + copies of your passport, credit/debit cards, and IDs) and keep this with you in your carry-on when flying. I’m an over-preparer and never actually needed any of this, but I would still recommend it! Knowing exactly where it’s at will help calm your nerves if you’re asked to present any of it upon arrival at the airport and it’s just smart to have it all in one place in case of an emergency. I’m lucky that I’ve never had any of my cards lost or stolen, but in the off-chance that you do, you’re really going to appreciate having copies so you can quickly find the number you need to call to cancel credit/debit or know for sure the numbers on your identification cards. It’s also a good idea to leave a second copy of these at home with your parents or to make a digital copy as well.
3.) Be a stealthy packer! Having to lug around two full-size suitcases from the airport to your orientation city onto public transport to your host city, etc is just not fun (even if you’re going ‘directly’ to where you’ll live long-term, nothing feels direct when carrying your weight in luggage). And you can TOTALLY fit everything you need into the standard weight limit. I’ve got some good tips about that here.
4.) Live with locals. I cannot stress enough how very much this will help you with your Spanish and cultural experience!! It’s really easy to stay in the bubble of other English-speakers (I know I mostly did in terms of my friends group that first year) so it’s a really good idea to at least have Spanish roommates. It may sound tempting and less scary to find someone in your program to house-hunt and live with, but I would personally avoid this as you will then be a package-deal and, even if you do have Spanish roommates, I think you and they will subconsciously make less of an effort to really get to know each other. Stay tuned for an upcoming article that goes into more depth on this topic!
5.) Go to intercambios to make friends. As long as you’re in a decent-sized city, there are SO many great meet-ups specifically to meet people and practice different languages. This sounds a little intimidating at first (at least it did to an introvert like me), but outside of living with locals, this is the main way I made my friends (people who I’m still close with almost 5 years later)! There are many different kinds of intercambios, so if you’re not pleased with the first one you go to, don’t give up completely and try out another one with a different vibe. We’ve got a couple articles about this here and here.
6.) For cheap and unforgettable travel experiences, give Couchsurfing a try. Firstly, Couchsurfing intercambios were typically the best ones in my city, so I give this community a point on that account, but I’ve also had incredible adventures staying with Couchsurfing hosts throughout Spain, Europe, and Costa Rica. All of my experiences have been positive and some of them have resulted in lifelong relationships. If you’re willing to be a bit adventurous, I highly recommend this option! You can find some more of our tips here and here.
I could go on and on, but I figure I’ll give you these thoughts to start out with and let your mind wonder from there. As I’m sure you’ll be interested in traveling while in Spain, I’m going to recommend you check out the Travel section of the blog as well! Each person is incredibly different and looking for something different in a travel destination, so it’s so hard to make general recommendations. Sifting through some of the travel posts will surely get you excited about all of the options here in Spain– ideally bringing to light some of the lesser-known places that would be perfect for you!
Hope that was all useful! Keep us posted on your study abroad/ teach abroad/ live abroad plans and be sure to drop us a comment as more questions come up for you.