Student Tips: From Our Pandilla to Yours

And so, after a magical semester, the La Pandilla de Spring 2012 will officially be leaving Spain in a week or less. Instead of being sad or freaking out about our departure back to the states, I’ve asked my peers to look back on their experiences and pull some tips for future Tufts in Spain students. Just from our tips, you can tell how much we’ve learned, grown, explored, and traveled. Enjoy, because we sure did!

  • Bring season-appropriate clothes. “It’s not as warm as you would think… 🙁 Bring at least a wool/tweed jacket. You will need it until March at least.” Also, in April it rains cats and dogs so bring a rain coat or umbrella. When it finally gets warm, it gets WARM (like 80 degrees during our last three weeks here), so plan accordingly.
  • “Bring a stash of American cash that you hide during the semester, and only crack into when you need. That way you have a magic store of extra cash when you are running low.” Also, I don’t know about other banks, but mine didn’t have an affiliate here who wouldn’t charge me for withdrawing money. Check your bank’s policies and if yours is like mine, only withdraw large amounts of cash from the ATMs and leave the rest in your stash of magical cash.
  • Make friends with your intercambios and have them take you to local spots with their other Spanish friends.  It’s honestly like opening a door to a whole new world you’d never have ever seen without their help.  You can also find the coolest little places just by wandering around and keeping an open mind when the group is deciding on a decision for the night.”
  • “Don’t be afraid to do touristy things in Madrid/Alcalá. Just because you are here for a semester doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the Prado, Palacio Real and other touristy things just as much as a real tourist.” “Dont forget to do touristy things. Don’t want to wait until the last 3 weeks and realize you havent even seen the palacio real.”
  • “Bust out the camera immediately upon arrival. Soon, you will be used to Madrid and Alcalá and you wont feel like taking pictures. Do it and send them home ASAP before you forget or “get used to the sights.””
  • Keep a blog or send email updates to your family and friends back home. Its a fabulous way to remember everything and to keep a journal for yourself in the future. Plus, people are more interested in what you are doing than you think!”
  • Know that 5 months is absolutely no time. Take every opportunity to go somewhere and say yes to everything. It’s gonna fly by.” ‘Aprovechar’ should be your new favorite Spanish word. Take advantage of everything and don’t let anything hold you back!
  • “Go out til 6am.” It’s kind of a must to check out one of the giant clubs that Madrid is so famous for, stay out ’till 6AM, get churros and chocolate, and catch the metro just as it opens!
  • “Get to know the Buho (night bus) route – you should never have to take a taxi home, there will be a night bus near you!”
  • Get lost (preferably in the daytime…) and figure out how to get home.” Get lost in your neighborhood, explore. There are hidden gems throughout Madrid and if you frequent them enough, you can become ‘conocido’ and have a friendly relationship with people in the area!
  • “No pasa nada. Take things as they come to you. It will be hard at times, but if something difficult happens or you are having a hard time understanding someone, just think of it as a way to learn more vocabulary and take it as it is.” Studying abroad is an incredible adventure, but it’s not all fun and games. There will be times when you’ll hit a low, and when it comes, think like a Spaniard. No pasa nada!

Packages & Mail

  • “Know that packages are difficult to send from the US to Spain. Warn your parents and remember that they take almost 2-3 weeks. Also, if you send technological items, you will have to pay a huge VAT/tax fee. Beware of sending electronics in packages they will most likely get detained in Barajas.” It cost my mom about $90 to send me a birthday package, and it didn’t even contain electronics. Yeah.
  • “Talk to Luis before going to customs, he will have all the information you need! Know that it is a long process (took me 3 hours round trip to go there and back!).”
  • “Stamps are in tobacco stores.”

Host Family Tips

  • “If you do not like your host family, it is better to switch than to spend the whole semester complaining or not liking your situation. All of the directors are extremely helpful and realize that we want to feel as “at home¨ as possible. Also say something if you dont like the food they are cooking. They can and will try to make you feel as comfortable as possible.”
  • Bring them a present. “A calendar from your hometown is good way to break the ice and show good pictures.” I brought mine a Tufts coffee cup… you get the picture.
  • “Talk to your host families: it could be as they get to know you, what they originally said in the information packet will change. For example, at first my host mom didn’t want me to use the kitchen. Now that she knows me and trusts me, she has no problem with me preparing my own meals. Every family is different, and you won’t know until you ask.”
  • “Spend time sitting and watching TV with your host family. It will seem like you are doing nothing, but it is the best way to learn vocabulary, fluency, slang, etc. Your host family will be your biggest advocate and you should spend sobremesa (after meals) just chatting with them for hours.” Personally, my host family was one of my favorite things about Spain and I know I’ll be leaving with better grammar, vocabulary, knowledge of history, culture, and art because of them!
  • “In some families, it is considered extremely rude to a) walk inside without shoes and b) have a messy room.”

Traveling Hints

  • “Make time to travel as much inside as outside of Spain. You will realize that there will be places in the country that you wish you had seen. Spending time traveling in Spain is really fulfilling and you already speak the language! (Definitely go to Sevilla, Granada, Salamanca, Cuenca, Galicia- its far, Barcelona, Toledo, Valencia).” And the program reimburses some of your trips within Spain, too!
  • Italy is a great place for spring break. So many places to see, things to do – the three hot spots that a lot of students went to this spring break were Florence, Rome, and Venice. (Lynne note: they are expensive though!)” I went to Italy for my spring break but you could seriously go anywhere. Also, Spain is famous for the semana santa celebrations! Especially Sevilla.
  • “GO TO BARCELONA. It’s kind of like a modern version of Madrid, and so beautiful!” I’d also recommend checking out Sevilla and Granada!
  • USE EASYJET AND RYANAIR! So cheap, so convenient. Warning about Ryanair though, be careful because sometimes they say they fly to places, but in actuality, they fly to an obscure airport 2 hours away from the actual city. Example: Barcelona. They say they fly to Barcelona, but they actually fly to Girona which is 2 hours away!”
  • Look up free walking tours wherever you go. It’s a great way to learn about wherever you are (sometimes they’re even in English…)·”

This is just a taste of what we have to say. Be on the look out for special Madrid and Alcalá editions! Amig@s de la pandilla, feel free to add more tips about coming to Spain in the comments section! And new students, if you have any questions, feel free to post them on the comments section too!

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