Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Katie S. - Salamanca, Spain - Spring 2008

Hey everyone! I’m Katie Smith, and I’m currently studying in Salamanca, Spain. Salamanca is a smallish town near the border with Portugal, about 3 hours from Madrid. I’m taking classes through my program, IES, which are taught by University of Salamanca professors and are taught all in Spanish. I’m living with a host family, which consists of a divorced woman, her mother, and her 19 year old son. Ok, so now that I’ve got the details over with I can tell you about what it’s really like. Studying abroad is the most amazing time you will ever have! At least for me, I was scared to death before I left. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. For me there isn’t really a difference between USAL (University of Salamanca) and EC. You get up, go to class, talk to your friends, come home, eat dinner, do some homework, go out partying, come home and go to bed. I don’t really know what to talk about. I guess I could offer some advice based on my experiences so far:

  1. Make sure to pack a laundry bag!
  2. Pack plenty of aspirin/Tylenol/ibuprofen
  3. Start walking now! Walk at least 40 minutes in a row every day.
  4. Find extremely comfortable shoes, even if they’re ugly.
  5. Buy a huge memory card for your camera.
  6. Talk to your bank to make sure your debit card will work all over Europe, it’s best to have one that’s connected to a company such as Visa or Mastercard.
  7. Prepare yourself for limited Internet usage.
  8. Relax, it’ll go faster than you think and you’ll have a blast.

If you’re going to a country where you’ll need to speak a different language: It’s fun and not as hard as it sounds! The first few days are hard but you’ll start improving almost immediately. After about 4 weeks you’ll be fully in the swing of things and while you may not always be able to express your ideas you’ll be able to understand the majority of what people are saying. Especially in classes. I’ve found that when you start classes in a foreign language the first few weeks you pay very close attention so that you can understand everything. After the first 3 or 4 weeks, you find you’re able to space off slightly and still keep up with what the teacher is saying. It’s amazing.

I would definitely recommend staying with a host family. My host family are the most amazing people ever. The abuela (grandmother) sits and watches tv and makes sure you eat. The mother jokes and hugs you and accuses you of not eating enough. The son corrects your grammar and cheers during soccer games. It’s so much fun, at least in my host family. Each family is different, but most of my friends in host families enjoy them. The student residences here have nice things about them such as Internet access, but you also have to provide most of your own meals.

On the subject of homesickness I would say that it usually depends on the person but that in general it’s not too bad. With modern technology most people speak to their parents at least three times a week, whether via webcam, phone, or e-mail. You will get homesick though when you are sick, it’s inevitable. Time flies by really fast though, so you’ll be home before you know it.

McDonald’s isn’t that great in Europe. Burger King is better. Milkshakes are non-existent in Spain, well they have them they’re just the consistency of juice. Don’t eat Chinese food in Spain, in Ireland it’s not too bad. Pizza Hut is pretty good, though the menu is different. American restaurants are horribly expensive though. It’s better to stick with something local, pizza is offered pretty much globally, I think, as a cheap option.

For people traveling to Spain: All incoming calls are free, so if you’re parents can get a cheap foreign calling phone service like Vonage it means they can call you for practically nothing. Internet is expensive and rare, but places called Café & Te offer free Wi-Fi to their customers and I would recommend the Swiss Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream (Chocolate Suizo con Nata) but it’ll set you back over 3 Euros. Hot chocolate here is a really thick, rich affair which should only be eaten with churros, which are yummy. The idea of salad is iceberg lettuce with olive oil and possibly tuna. Lunch is eaten from about 2-4pm and is usually 2 courses, a soup and a meat. Dinner is around 9pm and is something small. Pork is the main meat, if you ever wonder what you’re eating it’s probably pork. There are two main forms of traveling: by bus or by train. I would recommend the train, but it’s generally more expensive. Oh, the Madrid bus station doesn’t stay open all night, be forewarned. The airport is open all night but the train and bus stations close during the night. Bars and clubs generally are open most of the night but they don’t fill up until about 1am. People stay out until around 6am, especially on weekends.

Ryan Air and Easy Jet are good companies to buy plane tickets from, though they don’t always go to the biggest airports causing you to have to pay an extra $20 on transportation into the city. Also, just because it says that a flight only costs 20 Euros doesn’t mean you will only pay 20 Euros, they add on about 40 Euros worth of taxes. Also, you can take one carry on bag and a purse onto the plane without charge, it’s decently expensive to check a bag. Research how to get from the airport to your hotel or hostel before you leave, it makes the whole process much easier.

Ok, so I think that’s all the helpful advice I have. I’m having a great time, I can’t stress that enough. Everyone’s experiences are going to be different, even in the same city, but it’s the most amazing time you’ll ever have. So, relax, enjoy your last few days/weeks/months before you leave and have a great time!


Blogger Jessica C said...

You are welcome to send me photos to post on your blog!
-Jessica Chavez (

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Maggie Romano said...

Hi Katie, thank-you so much for all your useful advice! We were talking about a lot of the things you mentioned in your blog in class and I was just about to research a lot of the specifs about Spain but you saved me some time. That's really interesting how quickly you've become used to understanding Spanish and being able to even space off while understanding, I feel like I really have to concentrate to understand everything in Spanish.
I was planning on staying with a host family in Toledo, Spain, and I was worried that I might feel like an outsider to the students who live in the dorms together. It seems like you've made friends easily since you've been going out and having fun. I was curious if you go out late and your main means of transportation is a train or bus and they aren't active late at night, how do you get back home?

I was also curious how the grading is differing from an ordinary Spanish class at Elmhurst? Are the classes much more demanding? Do a lot of the homework assignments require internet usage?


10:12 AM  
Anonymous Katie S. said...

Well, I think it really depends on what program you're looking into. If you're in a program where you'll all have class together than dorm life versus homestay doesn't really matter. I'm in an IES program and so we all take classes together and get together to go out or study. I mean, the students who live together in the dorms are generally a little bit closer linked, but in my experience it shouldn't matter where you live. I would definitely recommend the homestay though, it's really nice to have a family to come home to at the end of the day. Right now I have a bad cold and my senora has been amazingly helpful and caring. With the Spanish, you'll get used to it really quickly. There are days when I can easily think of a word in Spanish but can't remember it in English. Classes aren't very demanding at all. Typical Spanish students don't study, or even go to class, for the bulk of the semester and then study for a month straight for finals. I have classes through my program which are a little more demanding, but the main thing is to go to class and participate. My professors know that our Spanish isn't the best so they help you out. I do go out occasionally, though not as much as some people here. Nightlife is huge. My house brother came in at 7:30am today, lol. In Salamanca, they have a night bus service that runs until about 3am, though I've never taken it. Salamanca is a really small town and my homestay is only about a 40 minute walk from the Plaza Mayor, so I generally walk home. There are also taxis, which I've used occasionally. I haven't been to Toledo yet, I'm saving that for the end of the semester, but I'm sure there will be some means of getting home. Guns are illegal in Spain and crime is still decently low, so walking at night isn't as dangerous here as in the States. Hope this helps!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Danielle Farrell said...

Hi Katie,
Hearing about how you're loving your experience is getting me so excited about mine! I'm sure living with a family must have been scary at first. How long did it take you until you felt comfortable?? Does it seem like the people there are very friendly towards a forgeiner like yourself? It must be hard having to do school work when your in a new country and just want to get out and explore!! I hope you have discipline haha. It's crazy that you say it's going by fast. Well enjoy your time!


12:55 AM  
Anonymous Katie S. said...

I got really lucky with my host family, they've had students in their home for about 10 years now, so they're very comfortable with the process. They were very nice about making me feel right at home, helping me unpack, bringing me treats, inviting me to watch tv with them. I mean, I still don't feel like it's my home, but after about 3 weeks, you get much more comfortable living in a stranger's home. People are generally really patient with you, although I once had a store clerk make a little bit rude remark about my being a foreigner, needless to say I didn't buy anything in that store. But other than that one time, I haven't had any problems with people. In Salamanca though, there are a lot of foreign students so I think the people here are just more used to it. I'm sure you'll be fine though.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous maggie said...

Hi Katie...thanks for your response back..its very reassuring. I know this is kind or a personal question, but I was wondering about how much do you budget out a week to go out, eat, shop, and travel?

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was just wondering what the culture shock is like in Spain, at least for you. I have lived in central America before and it wasn't too bad to adjust to. Since I will be in Spain this summer, I was wondering what it's like there.


3:09 PM  
Anonymous Katie S. said...

I really don't have a budget, which is probably a really bad idea. But, not including traveling, I probably spend about 20 euros a week at most. All of my meals are included in my program cost so I only spend money on snack foods and occasionally when I go out to eat with friends. In terms of travel, I don't travel every weekend, like some people here do, and so I find cheap flights and accomodations and then I don't worry too much about how much else I spend, also something I wouldn't recommend. Money is a big deal but you have to remember that this is a once in a lifetime kind of deal, so enjoy it. I have a couple of friends here that are so worried about money that when we were in Rome they ate sandwiches from home the whole time and missed out on some really amazing food, but they save about 20 euros. So, while a budget is a good idea, don't be too stingy with your money. In 10 years you're not going to remember how much you spent while you're here, you're going to remember the amazing ice cream in the plaza or the fun night out with friends.
In terms of culture shock, I honestly think it needs a new name. I kept waiting to be shocked but it never came, lol. There are a few things that you have to get used to though, like the meal schedule. Breakfast is a light meal in late morning, lunch is the big meal of the day between 2-3pm and dinner is a light meal between 9-10pm. Also, people don't smile on the street and they tend to seem very rude, but once you get to know them they're immensely nice. People walk every where here, though I've found the bus system very nice as well. Most families require you to wear slippers or socks in the house and you probably won't be able to invite friends over to your house, even for just a couple of hours. Everyone comes home for lunch and you should tell your senora as soon as possible if you aren't going to be home. Spaniards, in my experience, talk over tv shows and get extremely excited about soccer. It really isn't hard to get used to. I think the only thing I can really complain about is that Internet is decently difficult to find, but I suppose that shouldn't be such a big deal, people lived thousands of years without it, lol. Just prepare yourself for an amazing time, tell your parents not to worry, and just enjoy!

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Jessica S said...

Hi Katie!

Just wanted to comment on how your advice is spot on!

I haven't heard many people talk about money the way you have here…but I actually agree with you!

I mean, of course you need SOME type of budget, but you also have to remember to indulge in a few things here and there! It is hard to do that, if you are very worried about your money.

Like you said, it is about the experience! So I definitely factor in SPENDING money for my trips, that way I can do the things that I really want to do while I am abroad. Things always come up that are unexpected, so it’s good to factor out the money you want to spend, and then add on an extra amount.

I always try to taste a local dish while I am abroad, and of course see a few spots that are “world famous”. When I was studying in Spain I met a lot of people that did not want to go out to eat, rather, they wanted to always cook in their shared apartment. This means that they did not get to taste the local, freshly cooked, fried fish of southern Spain! Also, the paella is unbelievable, and they too did not want to order it at a restaurant!

So to fellow soon to be study abroad-ers, definitely factor in some extra cash for your trip, for extra things you would like to do or see, or eat. You’ll be sorry if you missed out.

3:31 PM  
Blogger danielmg said...

hey katie,

I'm a student at Boston College studying abroad at the universidad de Salamanca next semester. I have a couple of questions for you. I am registering for classes with the spaniards and was wondering if you did the same; if so what classes have you taken and which do you recommend? I'm looking into history, literature, and art courses.

also, do you feel that there is a large difference in the style of clothing in Salamanca in comparison to American dress? is there anything that would make everyone know you were an American by the way you appeared?


3:47 PM  
Blogger Smithk654 said...

Ok, first are you going with IES or with another program? I did not take classes with Spaniards I stayed within the IES courses, but I knew a lot of people who did take the regular classes. The classes that I heard were the best were the literature and language classes. There are a couple of teachers I would recommend: Javier de Santiago Guervos, Javier Sanchez Zapatero, Francisco de Luis Martin, and Laura Munoz Perez. Do NOT under any circumstances take Maria Paz Pando Ballesteros. Definitely stay away from the sciences. I heard some of the history classes were pretty good, though they often required longer papers. The USAL professors are pretty good about accommodating international students. In terms of clothing, there isn't a huge difference between Spanish and American students. You don't see sweat pants or pajama pants at all, generally they wear sweaters and khakis though jeans and sweatshirts are also popular. Also, be aware that Spanish students don't like to go to class, they tend to skip a lot. Just make sure you're in class everyday (or at least 95% of the time). Don't bring any clothing or accessories that have Jansport or North Face on them, that's the easiest way to spot an American. If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me at Have a great time in Salamanca! --- Katie S.

7:16 PM  
Blogger danielmg said...

thanks for your speedy reply! :) I have a few more questions!
I am going abroad with API (academic programs international) and will be living with a host family.

Regarding the internet availability...I'm questioning whether or not to bring my laptop with me abroad. I've heard several times that there is limited internet usage...I am aware that my host family will most likely not have wireless in the house, but was wondering how "limited" this other internet usage was. Is campus wireless, as well as the libraries? Did you bring your laptop or write papers and assignments on the library computers? Are there internet cafes? I'm also curious about this since I would like to store my pictures onto my computer after taking them.

I was also curious what places you took side trips to and what were your favorite? I've been/lived in Malaga, Granada, Cordoba, and Sevilla before, but would like to explore other parts of Spain (and Portugal). Were there any "hole in the wall" places that you found especially enjoable? Thanks!


10:32 AM  
Blogger Smithk654 said...

I would recommend taking your laptop. It's really nice to have with you. Internet access is extremely limited though the campus does have wireless. There are also several Internet cafes which are really nice. There's a chain of cafes called Cafe & Te which if you buy a drink you can use their internet for free. I used to buy a hot chocolate for about 3 euros and then sit there using the internet for around 3 hours, so it worked out pretty well. It's also nice to be able to type papers at home and store pictures. I took my laptop and was happy that I did.

Side trips...oh, there are so many possibilities. When I was in Spain I traveled to Madrid, Sevilla, Granada, Segovia, Zamora, and Alicante. I also did some traveling outside of Spain. I went to Rome, Italy; Lisbon, Portugal; Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland; and Dublin, Ireland. Take as many trips as you can! It's so much fun. Just be warned that the Madrid bus station (Estacion del Sur) closes for 3 hours every night (2am- 5am, I think). you can reserve bus tickets online or buy a return ticket when you buy your original ticket, so then you don't get stuck in Madrid like I did one night. For spring break, you should get 2 weeks off, I spent my first week on a beach on the Mediterranean, and it was amazing. I had friends who went to the Canary Islands and others who went to Malaga, Barcelona, Oviedo, and Bilbao. All of them have their advantages. I didn't get to go, but I've heard that Toledo is a really nice town to visit and it's only about a ten minute bus ride from Madrid. Oh, and I would recommend taking the express bus from Salamanca to Madrid. It costs a little more but the seats are so much nicer and it's a much more comfortable way to travel. I was happy everywhere I went, and I didn't hear any complaints from anyone in my program about their locations. What I would recommend is to talk to other people in your program when you get there and find out where they want to go. It's always more fun to go with a group of people. And look on and or to see what places will be cheaper to visit during certain times.

I hope that answered your questions. If not, feel free to e-mail me at either before you leave or while you're over there.

Have a great trip! (I'm so jealous! You're going to love Salamanca.)


9:14 PM  

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