Studying Abroad in Spain – Why, How, & My Goals

written by Christine January 19, 2018


Even before knowing what university I wanted to attend way back in high school, I already knew that studying abroad was to be in my future. I recall hearing stories from students who traveled and studied in Europe, Asia, South America, and so on. Of course, not a single story I heard was any less than amazing, and not a single person had even the slightest negative experience. On top of all these influential stories egging me to go and live in a completely new country for 5 whole months, it was my love of traveling, which is deeply rooted in my DNA, that was the final push to make me say yes…one hundred percent yes.

Studying abroad is completely different than traveling abroad. First, it gives you the opportunity to stay at a foreign country for an extended amount of time using a student visa. While living in a new country, you are doing exactly that, “living.” Not staying at hotels and spending each day sightseeing among other tourists, but actually immersing yourself fully into the culture. There are infinite amount of pros such as the learning experience, improving your fluency, making friends from all around the world, and more.

Now comes the question of why I selected Spain to be my home away from home for the next five months. For starters, Spanish was the only language I studied throughout high school. Though I am not fluent in Spanish, I do know enough phrases to get by, and I decided that I can incorporate improving my Spanish fluency through studying abroad. I also knew I wanted to live in Europe because I adore the culture, lifestyle, and architecture. Spain was the perfect choice since it was a country central enough to allow for traveling across countries within Europe.


Here are the general steps I took to prepare for my study abroad experience:

  1. Research the available programs your university provides

  2. If you are attending a UC university, I recommend looking at the University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP). Also, attending study abroad fairs that your campus holds is an amazing way to view a wide variety of programs, including outside programs not affiliated with your school. Be sure to research programs a year in advance from when you want to go abroad since application due dates can be as early as then.

  3. Estimate your finances & Determine how to pay for your trip (personal money, scholarships, loans, etc.)

  4. Luckily, study abroad programs typically provide multiple opportunities for scholarships. Though some applications are harder than others, my biggest recommendation is to apply to as many as you can. I was able to obtain a few scholarships that definitely helped tremendously! In addition, I am paying for my study abroad experience from personal money saved over the past 2 years doing internships and part-time jobs. Thus, it is never too early to start putting money aside for your study abroad aspirations. And of course, another (but not the best) option is to take out loans.

  5. Book your flight

  6. After being accepted to the Carlos III program in Spain, I was sent an abundance of information including a partner site to purchase cheap tickets. Be aware for any such deals your program may provide. However, you can definitely buy your ticket on your own using these steps to book the cheapest flights possible. Also remember to note that it may be better to book a flight a few days before your program starts to account for any flight mishaps, jet lag, and getting settled in.

  7. Get a student visa

  8. As soon as you are accepted to your study abroad program, I would advise to schedule an appointment as early as possible with a consulate from either the city of your permanent residence or your university. When booking an appointment, the soonest spot can be months ahead. For example, when I booked my appointment with the Spanish consulate in San Francisco, the next available time was not until four months later. It’s also important to allow for some padding time in between your start date and visa appointment to process the visa and account for revisions if any issues arise.

  9. Have the right credit/debit cards & Exchange some cash.

  10. When traveling abroad, it is important to have more than one card in the case that you may lose or get one stolen. Personally, I recommend bringing one credit and one debit card, however I would not carry both cards with me at the same time. In addition, avoid international transaction fees by using cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit (travel rewards, lots of benefits, and no transaction fees) or Charles Schwab Debit (free ATM withdrawals)

  11. Figure out what phone service you want to use

  12. First, research if your American phone service has any available plans in your country of study abroad. Typically, students purchase an international SIM once they get to their country while maintaining their American phone service and switching out the SIMs when needed. In my case, I was personally paying for my own phone bill with T-mobile and decided to suspend my account for 5 months in order to pay less monthly fees. However if you do have T-mobile, you still get free data and text in many countries though the data speed is 2G and calls cost around 20 cents per minute. I purchased an international SIM with BeMadrid with a 15 euro plan that includes 5G of 3G+ data and 800 minutes per month. Since my program is partnered with BeMadrid, I selected this SIM plan also because of convenience. My top recommendation for a SIM in Europe is Vodafone.

  13. Pack the right kind and amount of clothing & Purchase any additional items you may need

  14. Coming to Spain, I only packed one check-in luggage, one carry-on luggage, and one backpack. My plans are to buy another check-in luggage to carry all my new purchases here and bring on my return flight. Be sure to check what the estimated weather would be in your country and bring the appropriate clothing. Half of the clothes I brought were winter clothing and the other for summer. Of course I tried to limit the amount of shoes but barely succeeded. Don’t forget miscellaneous items such as an umbrella (if it rains in the country), smaller cross-body purse, swimsuit, etc. I used an online travel packing checklist to guide me as well. As for toiletries, I purchased empty TSA-approved travel bottles and filled them with shampoo, body wash, lotion, etc. I recommend doing this rather than packing full-sized bottles to save space and purchase the full-sized ones once you get to there so you can refill the bottles for weekend trips.


To be honest, I do not intend to be meticulous with my plans and schedule here in Spain. My goals are just as common as many who study abroad, but here is my list for reference:

  1. Make friends from the UCEAP program, local cities, and all around the world.
  2. Eat lots and lots of good food.
  3. Travel to as many of the countries on my bucket list as possible. (Some include Greece, Prague, Portugal, Morocco, and more)
  4. Remember the experiences through written journals and photos, but also don’t forget to live in the moment.
  5. Actually live like a local. (Read at the park, go to “non-touristy” restaurants and bars, etc.)
  6. Get lost. (Maybe?)
  7. And honestly, just have an unforgettable, amazing and stress-free time.


1 comment

María Lopez-Martinez January 21, 2018 - 6:47 pm

Buena suerte en tu nueva aventura educacional. Espero que el español que estudiaste acá en clase te sirva y que por supuesto lo mejores.


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