Spain in a nutshell: What you should know about Spain before your studies abroad

Original photo by
Original photo by Mantas Hesthaven.

So, you have decided to come to Spain for your studies abroad. Congratulations on making an excellent decision!

Whether you are planning an exchange year abroad, or to study your whole degree outside your home country, going abroad is always a big decision — especially so if you have never been to your destination country before. Researching your destination is therefore an essential part of the preparations for your studies abroad, because knowing what to expect offers a certain kind of security: your study abroad should be a step towards an adventure, not a blind jump into something unknown.

If you are not yet familiar with the country of Spain, we are here to help: here is what you should know about our country before your plane lands!


Spain in a nutshell

The flag of Spain. Source.
The flag of Spain. Source.
  • Name: Spain, España
  • Government: Parliamentary monarchy
  • Capital: Madrid
  • Official language: Spanish (Castilian)
  • Population: 46+ million inhabitants, making it the fifth most populous country in the European Union
  • Size: 505,990 km2, making it the second largest country in the European Union
  • Currency: Euro
  • Did you know that the national anthem of Spain Marcha Real has no lyrics?

Spain, officially known as the Kingdom of Spain, is a Southern European country located on the Iberian Peninsula, sharing border with Portugal, Andorra, and France. Today famous for its beaches, fiestas, and siesta, the country has a long and colourful history: from a Roman colony to a Visigothic Kingdom, from Moorish rule and Reconquista to a global superpower, from the eventual decline of the vast Spanish Empire to a period of internal struggle, and from a dictatorship to a democratic nation and a member of the European Union, Spain has left its mark on the world.

Today the legacy of Spain is well known across the globe: Spain is the third most visited country in the world, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world, and the country is among the most popular destinations for international students across the world. Wherever you go you can hear Spanish pop music played on the radio, and the Spanish football teams have devoted followers on every continent.

autonomous-communities-of-spain-01
Where are you going? Source.

Spain is a diverse country. Historically it has not always been one unified entity, but several kingdoms and nationalities and, in addition, foreign rulers have left their own flavour in the region and its language and culture. Today Spain is comprised of 17 autonomous communities which form the administrative division of the country. Each region is proud of their heritage, identity, traditions, and language: did you know that Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain? Although Spanish, or castellano, is the official language of the country, there are in fact several recognised regional languages that are widely spoken in their respective regions: Catalan in Catalonia, Valencian in the Valencian Community, Mallorquí on the Balearic Islands, Galician in Galicia, Basque in the Basque Country…

So, depending on where exactly in Spain you are planning to do your studies, you should know to expect different things! A noteworthy fact is that many cultural aspects understood by foreigners as generally “Spanish” are in fact regional: paella is not the national dish of Spain but a traditional Valencian dish, flamenco originates from Andalusia, and so on.

In the south of Spain and on the Mediterranean coast you will find beaches, sun, and mild winters: the most stereotypical picture of the country. While the whole country is full of amazing historical and cultural sights, expect your agenda to be full of museums, arts, and culture in the metropolitan areas of Madrid and Barcelona. In the north you can explore the beautiful nature, visit wineries, and even surf and relax on the beach — but remember to pack a coat for the winter months!

To get the full experience of Spain during your studies here, we recommend that you travel and see all parts of the country yourself!

How to have a smooth landing in Spain

Spain has history... (Alhambra in Granada, photo by Victoriano Izquierdo.)
Spain has history… (Alhambra in Granada, photo by Victoriano Izquierdo.)

Do some research — where exactly in Spain are you going? What is the weather like there? Should you pack a swimsuit or a pair of rainboots? What are the living costs like? It can be fun to be positively surprised at the location, but to avoid any uncomfortable shocks you need to know and plan some things beforehand, like what kind of climate you need to pack for and what kind of monthly budget you need. Know where you are going!

Learn some Spanish, even if just some basic phrases. No need to worry if you are just a beginner: you will have the chance to practice with locals and other international students, and you can always further your knowledge of the language by attending Spanish classes. Knowing the language is definitely an advantage, as English is not spoken by all locals, and speaking only English during your stay in Spain can set limits to your experience. Learn Spanish to make friends, to discover Spain outside the touristic areas, to survive your paper war with the bureaucracy, to know what exactly you are ordering in the restaurants… to enjoy your experience in Spain in full.

...but it is also surprisingly modern. (City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, photo by Tim de Groot.)
…but it is also surprisingly modern. (City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, photo by Tim de Groot.)

Adjust your mindset, but be prepared for a culture shock! No matter how much research and preparations you do, something in the location can always surprise you. If you come from a culture that is very different from the Spanish one, you might be especially surprised at some aspects of the Spanish culture. For instance, for a punctual foreigner the way things always seem to start late can be frustrating, the cheek kiss as a greeting might not feel natural, and the general volume every Spaniard appears to use when speaking can seem too loud. Maybe you have heard of siesta, but don’t realize that it is a very real thing — until you try going to the corner store between 2PM and 5PM and find the place closed! Knowing about these aspects of the Spanish culture beforehand helps, so that when it happens for real you know what is going on: however, some level of shock is inevitable. Adjust your mindset and be open to new experiences and these surprises won’t feel too earth-shattering.


If you feel intimidated — don’t, there is no need. You have already taken the big first step by making the decision to go abroad. Now at this point being well informed and open-minded goes a long way.

So take your next step towards the adventure of your lifetime: an open mind, an easy-going attitude, and a dash of common sense make for an unforgettable experience abroad!

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