How to Prepare
If you don't travel frequently, you may want to plan mini vacations while studying abroad. It is nice to check off any dream destinations abroad so you don't have to repurchase thousand dollar international plane tickets. Because I studied in Spain, I was able to take several trips including trips to Cadiz, Granada, Morocco (Africa), and Portugal. Depending on what country you study abroad in, there will most likely be nearby places you can travel to. Almost anywhere in Europe will be near other countries. You may even get to visit 10+ countries depending on how long you stay! One tip would be to bring a backpack or small suitcase/duffle bag to your study abroad destination so you can use it for any smaller, weekend trips. Also, research different companies within your country to find pre-planned tours. A lot of companies cater specifically to study abroad students looking for fun adventures! If you are going to Spain, I used Naturanda tours and WeLoveSpain to travel to Africa and Portugal. Tours also add a "safety net" when traveling in an unknown country. You travel with experienced tour guides and in a large group of people your age. Another thing to look for when planning trips is to look at the methods of transportation. Train and buses tend to be the cheapest, but longest options. Sometimes, flights can be pretty cheap if you only have a small amount of time to travel. If money is a concern, I would recommend staying in hostels for overnight trips. You spend around 30 euros a night to share a hotel-like room with other hostel guests. Most people who stay in hostels are also fellow students or travelers.
Local Excursions: The program I studied abroad with built in local activities for the students to immerse themselves in the Spanish culture. We visited the Real Alcazar which is a royal palace in the middle of Sevilla! There, we learned about the Spanish royal family and historical facts about the buildings throughout the city center. Along with a visit to the local castle, my classmates and I got to cook traditional paella in a cooking class along the Guadalquivir River. Locals instructed us on each step and in the end, we all enjoyed our paella creation. I also attended a Flamenco show while staying in Sevilla. The show included four traditional dances accompanied by a traditional Flamenco vocalist and guitarist. It is so rewarding to attend random events such as a cooking class or dance show. One of the best ways to better understand the place you are staying in is to immerse yourself in the things the local people enjoy.
Other Cities in Spain: My study abroad friends and I also visited cities around Sevilla. On the weekends, we would rent a hostel in a different city and explore. First, we visited Cadiz which is a coastal city in Spain. With a tour guide, we walked all along the city and discovered historical facts. After stopping for a local meal, we spent the rest of our time at the beaches. Another city we visited took us farther East to a more mountainous area. We went to Granada and toured the Alhambra along with the city. (Fun fact: In Granada, Coca Cola changed their branding to blue to match the Arabian-inspired architecture).
Other Countries: Being from America, it is hard to understand how travellers visit multiple countries in one weekend. However, it is important to look at the location of your study abroad country and what countries it borders. I was able to travel to two other countries during my month abroad. My roomates and I took a day trip to Morocco, Africa because we had a day off from classes! We joined a public tour that provided transportation, activities, and shopping between Spain and Morocco. Along with visiting one of the oldest Jewish synagogues, we visited the beaches, Hercules Cave, and a pharmacy that made its own Moroccan Argon oil. After eating a traditional meal of couscous, we returned to Sevilla to prepare for our next trip...Portugal! Because we wanted the ease of having everything planned beforehand, my friends and I joined another tour group traveling around the southern coast of Portugal. We stopped at many beaches; went on speed boats, pirate ships, kayaks; visited what is called "the end of the world."
In the end, plan vacations while studying abroad! They are the perfect way to meet new people and explore new places. The country that you choose to study abroad in is not the only country you can learn from while studying outside of the United States.
- Julia Kirkland