International students flock to Spain to study Spanish abroad, along with many other areas of study. We have more than 50 years of experience taking care of students in Spain, and we’ll tell you why you should consider it, too.
Spain remains in the top three study abroad destinations, and was also recently ranked 3rd globally for its quality of life, and residents and visitors to this Iberian paradise will undoubtedly agree. But what does this quality of life look like for our students?
Spain is always in the Top 5 nations globally for visitors, and its climate is an essential factor. The peninsula is ringed with beaches where you can swim, sunbathe and ride waves. The Mediterranean climate pervades much – but not quite all – of Spain’s territory. For many, it can mean a break from colder temperatures elsewhere.
And it’s not just warm but dry, in most of the country. It means that rain rarely cancels your plans, and you’re not in sticky humidity while you enjoy your beverage overlooking the water. There are some exceptions to this dry climate in the North and Northwest of the country if you like more green and lush surroundings.
Our American students often cite this as the number one reason that they choose Spain. Or that they LOVE Spain once they’re there. Spain can give Americans a new perspective on work and time — it’s a more relaxed day (not to say that Spanish employees don’t work hard; they do).
Meals are eaten more slowly; friends meet friends for coffee or beer; discussions can be long and passionate, wry and funny.
Families gather in parks in the late afternoon and kick around a soccer ball. You can still find some places that close for 3 hours in the mid-day for lunch and a siesta (sadly, this custom is not as common as it once was).
Cafes, restaurants, bars, parks, and other public spaces are significant parts of what you see, live and experience as a student in Spain. It’s city life, but the pace is often slower yet with all the modern trappings. Expect to walk and interact with your surroundings while you’re in Spain. Enjoy the Spanish lifestyle!
We won’t say that everything you taste in Spain will be perfect, but there is no shortage of good – and healthy – food. In Caterwings’ 2017 Best Food Destination Index, 3 of the top 10 cities in the world are in Spain (Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid).
What you can indeed find in most parts of Spain are fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood, which form the basis of a healthy “Mediterranean diet.” In addition, you can find a lot of other choices not on so many healthy lists but are hearty and delicious such as Iberian ham, Spain’s tortilla (egg and potato omelet), and its thick hot chocolate for dunking pastries.
Popular dishes can vary significantly from region to region, so you can experience new delicacies as you travel. Along the Mediterranean, you can expect food such as fresh oranges and seafood. As you move north into the center of the heart of the peninsula, you’ll find delicious stews and lamb.
All this talk of food and we haven’t even mentioned Spain’s famous tapas, available from the corner cafe to upscale restaurants. It’s rare to find complimentary tapas included with your beverage anymore. However, you can still pick at small portions of tortilla, fish, tomatoes, or potatoes served in various ways and many other types of tapas with your friends.
What’s more important than your health?
This reason for studying in Spain combines elements from the previous two reasons — health. Spain is consistently named one of the healthiest countries in the world.
While Spain’s excellent public health institutions are factors in this, the healthy, Mediterranean diet that prevails and the outdoor, active lifestyle are also vital components. These are all things that international students can experience – take advantage of the climate to walk around your city and eat well. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?
In Spain, you’ll find a population of fun-loving and welcoming Spaniards who are happy to converse with international students, learning the language. There are host families who have been hosting North American students for decades who are willing to practice the language and share their local knowledge with you.
Immersion in the Spanish language
Experts have long touted the value of immersing yourself in a language to learn it or perfect it. When a language surrounds you, you’re forced to use it actively instead of passively understanding it. When the crutch of switching back to your native language is removed, it is incredible how quickly you can progress.
Spanish is Spain’s national language – though not the only one. You can count on conversing with native speakers using correct expressions that will enrich your vocabulary and ability to communicate.
It’s hard to argue against studying Spanish in Spain – the place where it originated. Check out the best study abroad programs in Spain, the best universities for international students, and our favourite Spanish immersion programs worldwide, which include many in Spain too.
Culture and History
Spain is well-known for its culture, with its roots going back beyond Roman times. From writers like Cervantes and painters like Goya, Velázquez, Picasso and Miró. Spain has contributed richly to Western culture. The contributions are in art and literature and the invention of the guitar, flamenco music, dance, the cinema of Buñuel and Almodóvar, and its delicious cuisine. Or, more accurately, its cuisines, which vary significantly from one region to another.
American students are not used to walking around cities with 500-year-old buildings, but this is commonplace in Spain. It’s part of what opens study abroad students’ eyes during their time there – the realization that they’re from a relatively “young” culture. You can see “layers” of history in Spain through its architecture, palaces, churches, and castles. In Spain, you can walk through history, and that is rare in North America.
Wherever you decide to study in Spain, you will live memorable experiences through the city’s local festivals such as Semana Santa and Feria in Seville and Alicante’s bonfires – the hogueras de San Juan. Few party better than the Spanish, and festivals are prevalent throughout the country. They’re also a great way to meet people and to practise your Spanish.
Europe, but still affordable
Europe is a draw for almost anyone in North America, but there are places where your dollar doesn’t go very far. That’s not the case with Spain, where food, drink, and travel costs are generally very reasonable.
Spain is about 17% cheaper than Germany and can be more than 30% less than the cost of living than France. It has to do with lower labor costs and Spain’s ample production of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Transportation costs around Spain are also reasonable, allowing you to seek out new places to explore. Buses, local trains, and inter-city trains tend to receive government support to keep them affordable, so make your weekends memorable!
If financing is a concern, check out our article on financial aid available for Spain and other destinations.
Moving around Europe
Latin America is a natural and fantastic destination for Americans to learn and perfect their Spanish. Spain, however, offers the chance to perfect your language skills with native speakers while providing easy access to dozens of other European destinations that you can visit before, during, or after your program of study.
There’s a benefit to spending most of your time in your host city, immersed in the language and culture. But if you have a few bucket list destinations, Europe is well connected by rail and low-cost airlines. So London or Paris are in reach, should you decide to fly through there following your study abroad program.
Break the ice – through sports
Spain has a very sporting culture. International students can often make new friends by participating in their favorite sport. As an American, head to outdoor basketball courts or find a local club playing field hockey, soccer, tennis, or martial arts. If there’s a way to join or practice with them, you’ll create a great network of contacts and memorable experiences.
Another way is to attend professional sporting events. Spain is famous for its soccer league. If you can see the clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona with some Spanish friends, you’ll have remarkable content for your Instagram account. But there are basketball games, tennis tournaments, and many other kinds of sporting events to attend as a spectator.
Is the cost of living high in Spain?
For many Americans, despite being a European country, the cost of living in Spain is reasonable. Fresh produce is of good quality and is priced similarly to North America. Meals in restaurants and alcoholic drinks can be higher than in many parts of the USA. Where you can notice the difference in Spain is in housing prices in Madrid and Barcelona, which are higher than most places other than some of the USA’s large, coastal cities.
What is the South of Spain like?
Generally, the South has a warm and dry climate and attractive cultural traits such as architecture with Moorish influences. There are many miles of beaches, and the pace of life is a bit slower.
Seville is one of the oldest cities in Europe and, at different times, has been under Roman and Moorish control. You find the most Spanish cultural traits in Seville – flamenco, tapas, bullfighting, and outdoor cafes. For students learning Spanish, it has a good combination of being a city and yet the friendliness and walking lifestyle of a town.
Alicante, on the other hand, IS a small city, but it is located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, in the Southeast of the country. While not steeped in as much history as Seville, you can wander beautiful beaches and seafronts from anywhere in the core of the city. It is famous for its seafood and paella – sometimes together – and has a “chill, beach” vibe that visitors love.
How is Barcelona different from the rest of Spain?
The most significant difference about Barcelona and its surrounding Catalonia region is language. Catalonian (or Catalán) is more widely spoken there than what we refer to as Spanish, and while both are Romance languages, most Spanish speakers cannot understand Catalonian.
There are other differences, as Catalonians consider themselves to have separate histories and identities, even though these overlap with the rest of Spain to a certain extent. Catalonia has been an economic and manufacturing powerhouse and, in many ways, resembles other parts of Europe more than the rest of Spain.
Barcelona is undoubtedly a bilingual city, and most people can speak Spanish, but the predominance of Catalonian means that many choose to study the language in other parts of the country. Because of its cosmopolitan nature, Barcelona has become a hub for English study in business and hospitality.
If you’ve got your heart set on Barcelona, check out this interview with our resident director on what to expect, and her top 20 tips to have the best time possible.
How is learning Spanish in Spain different from learning Spanish in Latin America?
Fundamentally, the language is the same between Spain and Latin America – the grammar is fundamentally standardized in the language. The most significant difference is in vocabulary, just as there are great differences in English terms between the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. You find similar differences between countries in Latin America.
Perhaps the most crucial difference is that in Spain, the use of ‘vosotros’ for “you plural” is used, and these constructions do not exist in Latin America. There are also some minor pronunciation variances between Spain and Latin America. But it is important to note that standardized Spanish learned in Spain is understood throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Do Americans need a student visa to study in Spain?
In normal circumstances, Americans can enter Spain with just a passport. However, for anyone staying more than 90 days, a specific visa is required. For study abroad students, the appropriate authorization is a student visa, generally obtained through one of Spain’s consulates throughout the USA.
But for students pursuing short-term study such as a month or two in the summer, no visa is needed. They still enter the country as students – they should provide documentation to immigration authorities, such as an acceptance letter – but no additional visa is needed.
What’s the best kind of accommodation if you’re learning the Spanish language?
Research has demonstrated that language is learned most effectively in an immersion environment. It means that any environment that forces you to use the language is beneficial for your learning.
We recommend living with a local family and conversing with them during meals and free time. Local families can help not only with your immersive learning but also with local information.
A student residence can be an option for a university student studying abroad, assuming that the other students are predominantly Spanish-speaking. If they are Americans or other nationalities, you might find yourself speaking English.
Why study abroad in Spain?
Spain has a cultural richness from climate and food to society and traditions that are rivalled by few other countries – Spanish speaking or not.
Are you looking to study abroad in Spain?
First you should check out our tips for studying abroad in Spain, and also don’t hesitate to reach out ([email protected]) to learn more about Spanish Studies Abroad, and to see if we already have a relationship with your college or educational institution. If you get the chance to study abroad in Spain, then don’t hesitate to take it.