A Beginner’s Guide to Studying Spanish Abroad

a beginners guide to studying spanish abroad
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No point in explaining why studying abroad is one of the quickest, surest ways to mastering a language. But many find it hard to convince themselves to go for it, even though traveling becomes more and more accessible to us by the day.

Have you thought about taking your Spanish to the next level by going abroad? Here’s (almost) everything you need to know.

Things That You Should Consider Before Studying Abroad

Age

It’s never too late to do anything in life (except maybe avoid over-plucking your eyebrows back in the early 2000s and other horrible fashion choices… that ship has sailed). But you don’t need to be a college student to enjoy a good month or two abroad. On the contrary, if you’re a working adult (maybe even retired!) you may find yourself with a bit more income on the side to spare. Working around your vacation time could be an issue, but if you plan ahead or are in between jobs… hey. Maybe now’s the moment. Live your best Spanish life!

Finances

If you are committed in your resolve to spend some good months abroad, saving up is key. The way most people go about it is 1. jet a job, and 2. save up those precious paychecks. Pretty straightforward, right? What many don’t know, especially among the young, is that even if you don’t have a lot of experience, you should try to not settle for minimum wage.  If you work minimum wage and have other expenses, it may take you some time to save up the amount you need. While it may sometimes seem like a sacrifice, picking up night shifts or working on weekends occasionally can earn you your target amount faster. It all depends on you, your needs, your time, and your goals.

Another appealing alternative today is crowdfunding. Some may have trouble believing it. However, lots and lots of people are crowdfunding their trips abroad. While you may think it weird to ask people you don’t know to pitch in for your trip, it’s completely ok to seek funding for personal growth. Research successful campaigns to get tips and make yours interesting to get donors. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, and you must be ready to work hard to promote your cause and always, always have a backup plan.

Medical coverage

If you’re thinking you can skimp on medical insurance because you’ve never in your life broke a bone so it’s not likely to happen abroad… think again.

Your visa and most programs will require you to join some kind of health plan anyway, but if you’re taking on this adventure on your own, you may be facing a daunting task. I suggest you first check whether your current plan covers you abroad. Usually, this is not the case. It’s then up to you to apply to an independent international insurance plan. Prices can go anywhere from $30 to $200 a month and even higher. That’s why we can’t stress enough how important it is to do your homework. Go through the lists of what each insurance company will cover (beyond your basic ER visit) and choose what makes sense for you. Watch out for continent-specific plans, though!

Some well-known insurance providers are International Student Protection, Cultural Insurance Services International, and ASA Inc.

How to Find a Program to Suit Your Goals

Private Schools vs Self-teaching

We all know a program can be pricey, but the appeal is that everything is sorted out for you. These programs work with schools specifically aimed at people who want to learn a language through immersion. You can usually choose the amount of hours per week you want to attend classes, whether you want to join in organized activities, and you will be surrounded by people with similar interests and goals. This doesn’t mean that everyone you will meet will be a foreigner like yourself. You’ll still be surrounded by native Spanish speakers, for example, if you stay with a host family. Go Overseas is a site that offers reviews on pretty much every program there is. There’s also info on volunteering, how to get jobs abroad and related travel articles. It’s a great resource to have specially if you don’t know where to begin your research.

On the other side of the fence, it’s a lot more work if you want to go abroad independently, but if you plan well and ahead, you can save some cash. If you have prior travel experience or just don’t feel like sitting down in a classroom, you certainly can avoid going to a school. Some find textbooks and classes uninspired and there are definitely plenty other alternatives. What you can do instead to achieve immersion is download local Spanish newspaper apps, switch your phone settings to Spanish, find a tandem program… and so much more. Of course, making native friends is the surest way of getting some practice while studying abroad.

Personal Growth vs Certificate

Whenever you decide to take a language course, bear in mind that your final goal is very important. Ignore this if you just want to ramp up your proficiency for your own personal growth. But if you want to have that certificate on your resume, or need it for school credit, do your homework beforehand. Make sure your chosen program or school is accredited.

Accommodation

Most programs offer housing with a native family, which is the most desirable environment for immersion. Be careful, though. Students often encounter a less than ideal situation where they’re not really placed in the care of a local family, but rather someone (not necessarily native) that happens to have a spare room and enjoys the extra bucks they get for housing you. Read all the reviews, even if a program is very highly rated, to check that nobody in your program experienced a situation like that.

Another option which is very common is student accommodation, AKA a dorm. The school often partners with a local university’s dorm or may even have a private one for their own students. This is ideal if you enjoy having more freedom and independence while being in touch with people your age.

Not all programs offer variety, though, some may have hostel accommodation only, so check for options first if housing is important to you.

Destination Ideas for Studying Abroad

If you need some inspiration on where next to take your Spanish-learning journey, we have a list of wonderful trip destinations. However, leisure and convenience don’t always go together. Here are a few ideas:

Granada, Spain

Spain is a great destination for its welcoming people, its tasty food and its great location. Hop on to any low-cost flight from your nearest airport and you’re somewhere else in Europe, at almost no expense to your pocket. And while Madrid or Barcelona are great options for the big-city lovers, Granada is a great favorite for different reasons. It’s a small city, but lacks nothing that a big capital may offer. The nightlife lasts through the week, the food is as delicious as it is cheap, and the breathtaking historic sites are just around every corner. Granada is undeniable a university town, holding Europe’s favorite exchange destination for years on end, and it definitely shows!

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Granada, Spain

Puebla, Mexico

One of Mexico’s largest cities, Puebla is a place that will leave you wanting more. You probably won’t want to leave anytime soon. Opposite to Granada, Puebla is a big city that feels like a quaint little town. Its colonial style, showcasing colorful plazas and cathedrals everywhere, will draw you in from the get-go. The food is of course delicious and the people, though many understand English perfectly, are not likely to switch from Spanish that easily, so you will get a good practice out of your stay here. Puebla is also the one place in Mexico where you will be able to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. But prepare for a different kind of celebration!

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Puebla, Mexico

Cusco, Peru

Historical capital of the Inca Empire, World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu… Need we say more? Cusco is one of the most visited places in Peru, and no one can wonder why. Why choose to walk down its narrow cobblestone streets in Barrio de San Blas or hike up a hill to see amazing Inca ruins like Sacsayhuaman when you can do both and more?

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Buenos Aires, Argentina

If something negative can be said about studying abroad in Buenos Aires… is that there are loads of schools. So choosing one may be hard! But if there exists a perfect fit for you, it’s definitely in Buenos Aires. Also, have you ever heard Argentine Spanish spoken before? It’s arguably one of the most beautiful, melodic accents out there, a sort of Italian-like Spanish. And if you’re a bit advanced in your Spanish, you may want to get acquainted with Lunfardo, the most interesting and funny slang you may find. Ever.

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cartagena, Colombia

A port city in the Caribbean, Cartagena is a gorgeous spot in Latin America with a breathtaking colonial walled city and fortress. Walking around it you will have difficulty taking in all the colors delivered by the colonial architecture, the flowers, and the street art. And if you’re a foodie, you’ll hardly ever taste anything quite like the street food in Cartagena.

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Walled City, Cartagena, Colombia

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We come to an end with yet another coastal town, but a very different one. In between Spanish classes, you can indulge in some exciting rafting or take surfing lessons. Puerto Viejo is happily situated between rain forest and beaches! And if nature and adventure are not your things, Costa Rica is known as one of the friendliest countries, so finding people to practice your Spanish with will not be a problem!

A beginner's guide to studying Spanish abroad
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

 

Benefits of Studying Abroad

I know, I know. Yes, we did start this blog by saying that there is no point in listing the advantages of studying abroad… oops. But if after all you’ve read on the topic you still need some convincing, here’s a recap:

  • You get to travel
  • You get to learn
  • You get to meet new people
  • You get to eat new food
  • You get to experience cool stuff
  • Have I mentioned you get to travel?

If this does not convince you… nothing will.

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