Studying abroad in Spain had been a dream of mine since learning about tapas, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and bullfights in my high school Spanish classes. When the time came in college to apply for a program, I was more than ready!
I chose a program in Alcalá de Henares (a city about 30 minutes from Madrid and the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote) which was a great fit for my Spanish Literature focus.
As an Admissions Counselor at CEA, I work with many students who are set on Spain as a destination, but not yet sure which of CEA’s five locations— Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, Granada and Seville— they should choose.
I thought it would be helpful to share some tips with other students who find themselves in a similar situation:
- Research: Take some time to really learn about each city you’re considering! Websites like Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and TripAdvisor have tons of useful tourist information you can gather to help research potential locations. You may be an art buff and realize that the Prado Museum is why you want to go to Madrid. Finding out about the numerous spring festivities like Semana Santa and Feria de Abril may be the reason you pick Seville. Another great resource is our own CEA Blog where our students share their experiences, providing insight into each city.
- Spanish: It might sound like a given, but there are many students who want to learn Spanish, and lean toward studying abroad in Barcelona to accomplish this goal. Many are unaware that in Barcelona (located in the region of Catalunya) a language called Catalan is spoken most often. This shouldn’t be a deterrent, but definitely a consideration. Locals still know traditional Castilian Spanish, classes are taught in Castilian Spanish, and there are always volunteer opportunities and language exchanges that foster Spanish language skills. However, as an advisor I feel it is important for language-driven students to understand this distinction, and I may suggest considering a city such as Granada which provides a more immersive language experience. It’s a smaller university town (which means many international and CEA students are also there to study Spanish), has many language-focused program choices, and is less “touristy,” so English is not as commonly spoken.
- Academics: What types of classes are you looking to take while you are abroad? If you have certain requirements aside from electives or language, this is something to consider. For example, cities such as Alicante and Seville will be your two best options if you want science- related coursework during the semester. Also, where you take courses may also influence your decision as there are programs at our CEA Study Centers, partner universities or both! The location of your classes also influences who you are taking classes with (CEA, international or local students) as well as what courses are available. Doing your research on what’s most important to you academically is a great way to narrow down your program.
- Weather: Knowing each city’s weather patterns will not only help with your packing strategy once you’ve decided where to go, but may also influence the decision-making process. As an Arizona native, I experienced what I call “weather shock” during the first few months of my spring semester in Alcalá as it was frequently overcast and a bit chillier than I was used to (although I still wouldn’t trade my city for the world). So, if you don’t like the cold, love the rain, etc., take that into consideration. If you’re looking for something moderate, Barcelona’s Mediterranean climate might be the way to go.
All in all, selecting a study abroad program should be a fun and exciting process as it’s the first step of a new chapter in your life. Hopefully, if you’re leaning toward Spain as a destination, these tips will provide a bit more guidance. Buena suerte!
April Arrowood is an Admissions Counselor at CEA Study Abroad, an organization that helps students spend a semester, a summer, or an academic year studying abroad in 12 countries. Where will your learning take you?