A Guide to Livin’ La Vida Loca: Studying abroad in Spain – Sean Taheny

Ever since I started thinking about applying to university, I knew I wanted to study Law with Spanish so that I could spend a year studying in Spain. I am currently in third year studying at the Universidad de Granada.

Although studying abroad might very well be – as the cliché goes – the best year of your life, it is extremely emotionally and intellectually challenging. You will miss your friends, you will miss your family and, believe it or not, you will probably miss Glasgow University too. I don’t tell you this to discourage or frighten you, but instead I want you to be aware of the challenge ahead so that you can prepare yourself and fully embrace it. Through this blog, I hope to give you as comprehensive an understanding as possible of what to expect from your year abroad, the challenges you will face and how to overcome them.


University and studying in Spain

Spanish universities work quite differently to universities at home. You might find that it feels a lot more like high school in the way classes work and you’ll need to be tactical about figuring out your timetable and picking teachers. Exams are generally more informal than Glasgow exams and there is a huge focus on continuous assessment. It is common for each teacher to have complete liberty to teach and assess in their own way; creating a very inconsistent assessment style. Some teachers will offer separate exams (usually oral) for Erasmus students. For this reason, it is very important to make sure you know exactly what each of your teachers expect of you.

This year it is more important than ever to make sure you take subjects you’re interested in. Studying in another language is exhausting enough without the content boring you and if you study things you’re interested in it will make it far easier. Make sure you properly research the content of the subjects offered; you might find that a subject you loved in Glasgow is terrible in your exchange country. I would recommend looking on patatabrava.com a student note-sharing website which also contains students’ advice about certain classes and teachers.


Finding a flat and life in Spain

There are many ways you can find a flat in Spain. Some people move there early and stay in a hostel or an Airbnb for a week while they flat-hunt. If the idea of that stresses you out, there are several student accommodation websites you can use to reserve a room in a private flat for the year, such as aluni.net, uniplaces.com and studentmundial.com. Make sure you’ve done lots of research before you commit to anything.

When you arrive, there are certain administrative processes you’ll need to go through. Do not go into these processes expecting the administrative efficiency we have in the UK! Spanish administration is notoriously slow and frustrating, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to enrol in your classes and to get your NIE (número de identificación de extranjero) from the Foreign Office.


Language development

Of course, as a Law with Spanish student, the primary reason for your year abroad will be to improve your command of Spanish. First of all, it’s important to do some myth-busting: studying abroad in another language does not guarantee that you’ll come back fluent! Of course, it is possible to obtain a decent level of fluency during your year and the best way to do this is to spend as much as possible talking to native speakers. However, this can be incredibly daunting; especially in your first semester when you are still trying to get accustomed to the culture and brush up on your grammar and vocabulary.

Generally, the best way to immerse yourself is to live with native speakers. If that idea is too daunting for you, it’s okay to live with other English speakers. However, I would recommend making up for it by taking part in language exchanges, etc. It is important to push yourself, but it is also important to know your limits. Speaking from experience, it can be very difficult to become close friends with people who don’t speak your language and spending time with other English speakers can be relaxing and comforting.

Achieving fluency in another language isn’t the be-all and end-all of studying abroad. Your language skills will inevitably improve from going to classes and studying (you will notice a very rapid improvement in your reading, writing and listening), and you will be a far more competent speaker by the end of the year. Everyone’s language skills improve at a different pace, so don’t be disheartened if yours aren’t improving as quickly as your friends. Set yourself a realistic target and you won’t be disheartened. Remember that you’re studying one of the most complex areas of academia in your second language; that achievement alone makes the whole experience more than worth it.


Making the most of your year abroad

Although your main goal from studying abroad (if it’s a language placement) should be to improve your language skills and get the best grades possible to set you up for fourth year, it is also absolutely imperative that you try to enjoy yourself. Particularly when you arrive, it is a great idea to go along to events hosted by Erasmus organisations like ESN. This is a great way to make friends and ease yourself into the culture with other people who are in the same boat as you.

If you’re able to, I would encourage travelling as much as possible. Being in mainland Europe means you have the ability to take a bus or catch a train to another country and this will likely be the best opportunity you’ll have in your life to do so. Of course, you should also try and see as much of your resident country as possible.

Hopefully this advice has been helpful for you and will help you feel more prepared for the year ahead. For some more detailed accounts of my own year abroad, feel free to check out my blog at shontahblogs.wordpress.com.  Good luck with your year abroad and make the most of it!


-Sean Taheny

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