I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Spain for the full academic year, first spending the Fall semester in Córdoba and later extending my stay for another semester in Spain, but in a different city – Granada. Being abroad for the full year turned out to be a great decision, yet the way the two programs differed made a big impact on my experience. If you are interested in studying abroad, consider some of these features and select a program carefully!
One thing to focus on is if your program is centered around a community of US, international, or local students, and similarly, who your classes are with. In Córdoba, my program was composed of 14 UC students, so I spoke a lot of English and traveled around Europe with those friends. My classes were also offered only for us abroad students, and were taught in easy-to-understand Spanish by local professors. In contrast, my classes in Granada were at the official Universidad with local students and professors, helping me make local friends and forcing me to listen and communicate in Spanish much more frequently. This greatly aided my Spanish acquisition and cultural knowledge and also incentivized me to stay put in my program city during weekends. Here I also saw the importance of an immersive academic experience in order to truly learn the language.
Also take into consideration city size and location. If you choose a major city, there will be more international folk living or visiting, and traveling out of the city will be easier because of the prevalence of large city airports. On the other hand, if you choose a more isolated location or somewhere that doesn’t have an airport, travel will be more difficult because you will need to take buses or trains to the nearest airport and the hassle might encourage you to either travel more locally or not travel at all on the weekends.
Finally, look at program accommodations. In Córdoba, I was in a homestay with a single host mom, who cooked, cleaned, and did my laundry. Living with her also benefited me by giving me time to practice Spanish in a comfortable setting. In Granada, I lived on my own in an apartment with international students doing their own year abroad. Here I cooked for myself or ate out, cleaned and did my own laundry, and spent a lot of time with my flatmates. When choosing if you want to do a homestay or not, think about how independent you are and if you want to be living under someone else’s roof and rules, whether you will be able to assert your wishes to your host family (i.e. being explicit in what kind of food you do or do not like, feeling comfortable discussing important housing topics, etc.), and if you are interested in developing a relationship with a host parent or family.
Compatibility between you and your program is of upmost importance, so choose wisely and good luck!