What to Expect When You First Arrive in Spain to Study Abroad

What to Expect When You First Arrive in Spain to Study Abroad

Hi! My name is Georgia Eidemiller and I’m studying abroad in Spain this year. I am here to improve my Spanish and I am excited for all the adventures that I will have here! I have already been in the country for almost a month, so I’ve been through getting accustomed to the new culture and surroundings.

This is what I’ve experienced and I hope it gives you insight on what to expect in your first few weeks of studying abroad in Spain.

Arriving in Madrid Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful

As I arrived to the airport in Madrid, I easily found my way to the baggage claim and through customs. If you are worried about not being able to find your way around, or if you have never been in an airport alone, there is nothing to worry about. The airports signs are all in Spanish and in English, so it is fairly easy to know where you’re going. What I suggest is to just follow the crowd and you will get to the right place.

Immediately as I stepped out into the airport lobby, I spotted my family holding large welcome signs (in the photo above). This tends to be a common thing, as I have spoken with other exchange students about it.

After arriving home, the immediate problem I faced was the jetlag. I stayed up to hang out and get to know my new family for the morning, and after lunch, I took advantage of siesta time. A siesta is a period of time after lunch when most people nap or lay low before going on with their day. This is a typical custom because of the generally later nights they have in Spain.

Get Ready for Late Night Meals and Trying New Foods

The meal hours and sizes are very different from those at home and it was hard to initially get accustomed to. This is was to expect:

  • Breakfasts are eaten at a similar hour, being in the morning whenever you wake up. However, the meal is typically very small and sweet, like a glass of milk or chocolate milk and cookies or toast with jam.
  • Because lunch is much later in the day, after a few classes at school we have 3o minutes to eat another breakfast, generally a bocadillo (a small sandwich on fresh french bread).
  • Lunch is eaten way later in the day at around 2 or 3 pm. This is the biggest meal of the day and there is also dessert. The size of lunch was the strangest thing for me. The first few days I ate a small amount of food, but then would be starving by the time dinner rolled around. There is a large amount of time between lunch and dinner, so eat more than you would normally.
  • After school, we eat a snack to fuel our minds for homework and to keep us from getting hungry until dinner.

    A snack of croquetas- a typical Spanish food, and a palmera cookie from a coffee shop by my house.

  • Dinner takes place very late at night and can last for hours if you are eating with people outside of your family. On weekends, we eat around 9:45, 10, or even later depending on the family. On school nights we eat around 8:30. Dinner is a small meal and is also with dessert. People love sweets here!

There is a lot of seafood here, so if you are a seafood person, you will love it. As for people like me who maybe aren’t so open to seafood, do your best to keep an open mind and try new food. The seafood is very fresh and delicious here and I’ve already been converted to eating tuna.

Don’t Let Language Barriers Keep You From Connecting with New Friends and Your Host Family

My biggest pieces of advice are always say yes to trying new things and to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to talk to other students despite language gaps there may be. People will help you out as much as they can. It’s how you get better! Even if it is just random small talk, try to always be talking to someone new.

If you aren’t a generally extroverted person, get ready to be. Most people are very outgoing because making newcomers or guests feel welcome is a huge part of the culture in Spain. Your family will most likely treat you as a guest for your first few days, but try your best to do chores around the house as you would in your own home so you can feel part of the family as soon as possible.

Biking and exploring with my Spanish host family.

I felt like a part of my new family after the first week! I mess around with my siblings and really feel like their older sister. My two little brothers and I like to go on bike rides and sometimes stop at Chinos (Corner stores with candy and ice cream).

Getting ice cream with my host brothers.

Another big thing to do to feel like part of the family as soon as possible is to spend all your free time with them. Even if you aren’t talking with them and just reading a book, it’s good to do that around them. Also, make sure to respect their rules and the way they run the house. It may be hard at first if it is different from what you are used to at home. In the beginning, it is inevitable to mess up a couple times. Just make sure to correct yourself.

At first it was difficult for me to get accustomed because I’m from a very small and safe town where I never needed to worry at night, so I wasn’t used to the way I needed to behave in a city. After learning the house rules and expectations, there has been no conflict. I became part of the family! They are all so much fun to be around and I feel completely comfortable with them as I would with my family back home.

My new family playing volleyball in a nearby park.

With all of these in mind, my biggest piece of advice is to always say yes- whether it being trying new foods or just going on a bike ride with your siblings. Take every new opportunity that comes your way and get out of your comfort zone. That why you’re traveling abroad in the first place! I hope my experiences help you become more prepared for your upcoming adventures. Good luck!

Ready to start your study abroad adventure in Spain?!

2 thoughts on "What to Expect When You First Arrive in Spain to Study Abroad"

  1. Kermit (Papa) Rosen says:

    A beautifully written and informative article. A must read guide for all students studying abroad.

  2. Carol Gregg says:

    Thanks Georgia for the update! I always wanted to study in Spain but now I can just read your blog! So proud of you , have a great time!!’

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