A couple years ago, I was invited to participate in a program hosted by the International Studies Abroad (ISA) institution. The trip would take a group of American high school students overseas to Spain for a period of three weeks to study Spanish language and culture. The first two weeks would consist of rigorous language study in Madrid, and the final week would be spent traveling throughout southern Spain. Included in the package was airfare, 15 meals a week, weekend excursions, accomodations to the University of Madrid, and tuition equivalent to 6 credits at a university here in the United States.
Note: If you would like more information regarding the program and its specifics, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This hub is intended merely to provide information from my experiences to people interested in traveling to Spain themselves.
Madrid was a great city to travel to, but don’t expect to find a lot of English-speaking citizens. We were actually quite surprised at how rare it was to find anyone with anything beyond a minimal level of fluency. I’d recommend having a pocket dictionary handy at all times unless you have at least a year’s experience in Spanish. But on the upside, the people were very patient and friendly, so it never turned into a major dilemma.
For almost any shopping need, just head to the nearest El Corte Ingles, kind of like Spain’s version of Walmart. It’s a major department store that has everything from groceries to batteries to CDs to clothing. They’re enormous and very popular, so don’t worry, they’re hard to miss.
I’ll take a minute to make another note - if you’re planning on using calling cards to make international calls back home, wait until you are in Spain to buy them. Many calling cards purchased within the United States require an additional fee to be accessed from payphones outside the States.
I recommend trying paella at least once while in Spain, they’re delicious. The best one I had was from a tiny restaurant outside the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. For those of you who don’t know, paella is a dish consisting of a rice (usually yellow), mixed in with a variety of vegetables and / or meat.
While in Spain, I encourage you to attend a bullfight. Even if you get a bit squeamish,simply get a seat further back from the arena. You’ll see all the action from almost any seat, and it will be cheaper in the back, anyway. I tend to be a sucker for animal rights’ stuff, but I figured that my Spanish culture experience wouldn’t be complete if I did not attend. And it was actually quite exciting – the audience always roots for the bull!
For souvenir shopping, I recommend going to the city of Toledo, located just outside Madrid. The former capital of Spain, Toledo is a gorgeous old city with winding cobblestone streets and an abundance of history and wonder. There are tons of marvelous shops containing swords and flamenco clappers and jewelry of all different price levels.
Which reminds me of a problem I came across that I hope none of you make. Before the trip, I set up an internationally accessible checking account so that if I needed any money, I could simply access an ATM. But when I made my deposit, I forgot to convert my balance into Euros. My account ended up dropping a lot faster than I realized, and I ended up having to transfer more money in (my $500 was only E350). So just try and keep your units all insync.
Be prepared for heat you have never experienced the likes of. One day in Cordoba, it hit 126 degress Farenheit. And unlike American summers,summers in Spain are very dry, so it is a lot easier to become dehydrated. So drink lots of water and wear sunscreen, and stick to the shade when possible.
My final advice to travelers looking into Spain would be to plan a trip to multiple cities as they are all very different and unique, and are all relatively close together so it would be an easy journey. Get out and about as much as possible and don’t be timid with your Spanish. Know your whereabouts and try to avoid getting lost because, like any city, there are bad parts and good parts. And most of all, try new things!