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Tips

I kind of already did a kind of “what to bring post”, but I guess this is more of a “what to know” when traveling abroad. Besides the obvious things like copying your documents, have extra cash, etc. that Education Abroad covers really well, these are my super quick, probably super well-known, travel/study abroad tips:

My first is figure out a way to have a three-day weekend… or more when you are figuring out your schedule at the beginning of the year. It can be harder than you think, and I actually ended up not taking one of the classes I originally planned to just to get that three-day weekend. Honestly though, you are studying abroad and this is probably the biggest chance you’ll get to travel which I personally found more important than taking fluid mechanics on time. Because I ended up having way more time, I got to do a lot more traveling than I thought I would.

Going on with traveling, you probably all know about skyscanner, but if you don’t, you really need to! I booked almost all my flights through this website, and I honestly still use it for domestic flights now. It searches all of the typical search engines, and a couple of not so common ones. I actually booked my flight on a less known website that skyscanner showed me, and I think I saved a couple of hundred dollars that way! Long story short, this is a great travel tool.

Although flying is really cheap in Europe the absolute cheapest way is to travel by bus (if you aren’t doing the eurorail thing). I went on a trip from Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia and the total bus cost was just at 61 euros. I would always use GoEuro for bus purchasing, and it was always the best deal I could find.

In Spain, and probably other countries too, they have Erasmus groups that put on trips and activities every week. Their trips are usually well organized and you can get to know other people that way from all over the world. Pricewise they are pretty reasonable as well. They have big trips to Portugal, Morocco, and Ibiza so of course it would be cheaper if you plan a trip to go there yourself and do all of the work, but I think it is usually a pretty good deal, especially for the day trips. My favorite was paddle boarding in Javea.

More general tips are always start early, and don’t be afraid to ask people around you. These are definitely common sense things, but for me in some situations, I think I needed a reminder. For the starting early, I am mainly referring to flights and in cities you are not familiar with. In Paris, there was a point where my friend and I were actually running down a street to try and catch a flight because some of the transportation system that day wasn’t running (we ended up making it). And most of the time the people around you are more than willing to help if you just ask. I am still thankful for a girl named Flor who helped my friend and I through the subway system in Paris. There were plenty other Flors in my experience abroad because I learned to just ask.

We made it!

Mis restaurantes favoritos en Valencia

During my time in Spain, I found my go to restaurants after a month or so. These places were all really close to my apartment and were all reasonably priced, especially with the menu of the days. I absolutely love that Spain does menu of the days. The menus always have amazing things for cheaper prices and it comes with a dessert, which is arguably the best part half of the time.

First there is the food on campus. There isn’t exactly a specific restaurant, but food on campus is so inexpensive and always pretty good. The cafés in the Agora, the main square, are where I always get my cortado and tostadas. For both of them, it costs around 1.75. It is great. There is also a place across campus that has huge bocadillos for only 3 euros and you can get a 3 course meal for 5 euros, bread and drink included. Not sure how they make any money, but gotta love the cheapness.

Pan de Azúcar is a good place to eat at because it is pretty cheap and is directly across from my apartment. I can see people going in and out from my window. This place has great crepes and appetizers and is always a fun and lively place. The prices are also student friendly, so this has always been a good choice.

Shish Mahal is another restaurant that is probably a 2 minute walk from my apartment. This place is a little nicer and therefore pricier, but if you go during a week day lunch time period it isn’t too bad because of their menu of the day. I have never really had Indian food until this place and I am constantly surprised with how good the food is.

100 Montaditos is actually a chain throughout Spain that you can find in any decently sized city. The thing about this restaurant is that it has deals of Sunday and Wednesday when their entire menu is €1. I think in the end it only saves you about €3 euros per meal, but the amount of times we have ended up going here I am sure we saved quite a bit.

Bastard’s Café. My one true love. Ok maybe I shouldn’t be that intense, but this is hands down my favorite restaurants in Valencia. This is again a 2 minute walk from my apartment, which is so good yet so bad because I go there so much and spend money. It’s now basically the end of the semester and I think at least half of the staff recognizes me. I always take my visiting friends here when they visit and they all love it. I will miss you Bastard’s.

 

Salud

While food is extremely important in the Spanish culture, I would say drinks are just as important. Now here is my short list of some of my favorite drinks in Spain. I know I have missed some for sure, but here they are:

Sangria is probably the most typical Spanish drink you hear about, and I must admit it is for good reason. You can find it on any menu and there are plenty of options in grocery stores to choose from. If you don’t know, Sangria is red wine mixed with fruit juice, and in summer often provides a great refreshing drink in the hot weather.

 

With my tostada I usually have a cortado. A cortado is an expresso shot with a little bit of hot milk poured on top. My taste in coffee changed over the months I was in Spain and this is what I landed upon. I cannot drink really sweet coffee or a lot of coffee now. Even a small caramel macchiato from Starbucks is usually too much for me to drink, so this caffeine packed small drink was perfect because it is not sweet or harsh due to the small milk and can be finished in probably 5 or 6 sips.

Gin and Tonic is strangely a very popular drink here. Or maybe it’s just more of an unexpected popular drink to me because in the plaza near my apartment, there are 2 bars that have half their menu dedicated to the drink. I am very thankful for that as that was one of my favorite drinks before coming here. In one of the bars, they have a list of all the different gins and all the different tonics they have and you choose which ones you want. It is great!

Tinto de Verano is not as well known around the world as sangria for a typical Spanish drink, but it is still extremely popular in Spain. This drink consists of red wine and sprite or a sprite like drink. In my book, tinto de verano beats sangria by a long shot. It is usually not as sweet as sangria but is still a great drink in the summer. This was sold at one of my favorite restaurants in Spain, and I would always get it when I was there.

Finally, something I have loved in Spain was there orange juice. Oranges are grown in Spain, so they are extremely fresh. In the Mercadonas, they have an orange juice machine that squeezes it for you right then and there. Normally orange juice is not my favorite thing, but it is impossible not to like it when it is that fresh.

Buen Provecho

In Spain, food plays an important part in the culture and daily life in the big cities as well as small. The typical custom is that stores and businesses close between 2pm-5pm to enjoy a rest that is mainly spent at various restaurants. Businesses have complete opposite schedules than the restaurants which open from 1:30pm-4:30pm, close, and then reopen from 8:30 – 11:30 every day. Spain has 4 normal eating times starting with desayuno, almuerzo, comida, and then cena.

There are many typical Spanish foods that are well known and many that aren’t as “main stream” that make up these important parts of the Spanish life.

To start with the most typical ones:

Paella is probably the most well-known food from Spain. Paella actually originated in the Valencia area from a small town called El Par Mar. This place is just a 30min bus ride from the city center of Valencia and offers some of the best paella you can find in Spain. Many restaurants offer paella valenciana that has a variety of fish or other things thrown in the pan, but true paella valenciana has chicken, rabbit, and special types of green bean and a white bean. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes while in Spain, especially because is originated in Valencia.

Also an extremely well known dish, tapas are an easy and fun way to try half the menu with a group of friends without breaking the bank or over stuffing yourself. Tapas came from the Andalucía region of Spain, so it is typical to get a tapa with your drink in some bars in that area which is always a plus.

Getting a little less typical are the bocadillos that are an easy find wherever you go in Spain. The most traditional is the española, which comes on a small baguette type of bread with Spanish tortilla, a mixture of potato and egg. This is kind of a combination of typical food, but they come together so much it was hard not to put them together. Bocadillos can have tons of different things on them and there are a few different types of tortillas as well, but my favorite and the most typical as I said is the bocadillo de tortilla española.

Patatas bravas are another one of my go to dishes. They are chunks of potatoes that have been fried and topped with a mayonnaise and salsa brava or with aioli sometimes. This is usually a starter at restaurants or at least a tapa that can be selected.

Becoming a little more obscure, tostada de tomate was something I didn’t discover until I was more than half way through my study abroad experience, which honestly kind of sucks. This turned into my go to snack on the university because it was so good and so cheap. This is basically a toasted baguette sort of bread with tomato sauce put over it. I would sometimes get it with fresh cheese as well. One of my absolute favorites.

This is my small list of favorite foods that I have enjoyed while being in Spain. I know I have missed some and there are other Spanish foods that I have had here not on this list, but they are not my favorite. Everyone should try all the typical Spanish foods, but these are my must tries for anyone going to Spain!

 

English as a First Language

These past months, the friends I have hung out with are from other countries and they speak English extremely well. While their level of English is impressive, there are a couple of words and phrases that I always get asked about since I am the native English speaker in our group. It seems that I have turned into the human dictionary if they don’t know how to say something. I have always been excited to help, but after multiple questions I begin to get confused by my own language because I do not have to think about the basis of their questions. For example, trying to explain when to use good or well in a sentence. I don’t think I ever actually learned that in school but just from listening to my parents speak.

Also, I have found that foreigners make many of the same mistakes in English. One consistently being “Can you explain me this?”, which just needs a “to” and a little rearrangement. As I become more familiar with Spanish and have talked with my friends about this, most languages use similar orders that encourages the “explain me” mistake. There are many others, but I have found that is the main mistake I have noticed.

¿Hablas Español?

Coming to Europe I knew that English was the most learned language, but I did not realize how many people really knew it. In every country I have traveled, English was a requirement in school – or at least seemed like it because of the level of their language. While I could usually find someone who spoke English in the different countries, I started to notice the difference between those countries and Spain.

I feel as if the majority of Spanish people do not know much English at all. I guess I expected that coming over, but in my intensive language course I took at the beginning, everyone spoke fluent English. It might just be my region of Spain, but I can only count a few people who could have a simple conversation in English. While that has been my observation so far, I know my conclusion about this can be very wrong since I am sure everything is extremely subject to region. I just found the level of language in different areas an interesting topic especially in comparison to the US when barely anyone I know learns another language in school.

Fallas

Fallas is basically a month long festival here in Valencia starting March 1st. It ends with the burning of the different statues that each small neighborhood makes. A short description of Fallas would include Mascleta, a type of firework that just makes sound, in the main square, fireworks being blown up in the street by children, and the Falleras walking around with a small band behind to announce their entrance. This festival was by far one of the most memorable events I went to.

With every passing day, the energy in the city increased exponentially. The final nights had 30 minute long firework shows, mini dancing clubs that were set up in tents on the streets, and the final of burning of the statues. This festivity and my experiences with it could take up pages and pages. The only thing I can compare it to in the US would be a mix of 4th of July, a state fair, and a Thanksgiving Day parade plus burning stuff. Even that description still doesn’t describe it because of the importance of religion and the traditional dresses that cost thousands of dollars worn in all of the events.

One of the neighborhood statues that was later burned.

Falleras giving roses to fill up Mary.

 

The main burning in the city center.

Fallas was a fun experience, but I must admit it was nice when it was over. With being woken up at 8 in the morning with our neighborhood’s Fallera’s march, staying up for night festivities, and the kid’s fireworks that would always sound like a shotgun even if you were expecting it, I was slightly relieved when March was over. I actually learned later that my roommates from Spain left for the weekend! All-in-all it was a great experience, and I would be down to come back and visit for the festival… but maybe not the whole month again jaja!

My Necessities Abroad

I have been in Spain now for a while and have successfully procrastinated on posting my blog posts. I mean I’m just trying to do life the Spanish way, you know?? But over the past couple of months, I have created a list of things that I wish I had brought or am extremely glad I took with me. With that being said, I am glad to join the countless posts about items you must bring for your semester or travel abroad with this blog.

Before leaving for Spain, I was constantly looking at people’s lists of “What to Bring to your Semester Abroad” and “27 Must-Need Gadgets for Abroad”. I found that most of those lists only had one or two items that were really relevant and I would actually use. Every location and person is different for what they will need abroad, but I have tried to select the more general items.

 

In no particular order:

 

  1. Wrinkle Releaser

I use this almost daily, and it’s probably the most used item I brought from back home. I have even gotten a travel spray bottle so I can take it on airplanes. Most of my travel friends here have asked if they can buy it in Spain (which I am sure you can, but I’ve never checked). It is perfect if you don’t have an iron or if you have to reuse clothes because most wrinkle releasers have odor cancelling fresh scents as well, which will allow you to be summer fresh and wrinkle free for your entire trip even if you’re wearing the same shirt for the third time.

  1. Luggage Scale

While I do not have to use this item very often, it has proven useful for obvious reasons. You will no longer have to open your suitcase in the middle of the airport to repack your luggage because it weighs too much. I am very glad I brought this and many people have asked to borrow it from me for when they travel.

  1. Portable Charger

This item is on most lists of things to bring abroad because it actually is very useful. Especially for plane rides and for traveling days in general because you don’t realize how much battery you use up when you are 1 – bored on a 5 hour bus ride or 2 – In a new city and have no idea how to speak the language or know where you are. It is always good to have a back up in those situations because those situations usually go together.

  1. Travel Bottles

These are the perfect size for airplane carryon and they are made to deal with different pressures, so you don’t really have to worry about them leaking! I have bought more for myself since I have been here. They have different styles and sizes to ensure you can bring what ever you need.

Going along with this, if you are want to bring perfume or cologne they have travel size containers out there that are refillable! They last quite a while too.

  1. Filter Water Bottle

This is something I didn’t take with me, but I wish I had. In Spain, the water from the faucet doesn’t taste that great so most people buy large plastic bottles for home drinking and small water bottles for daily use. This is a money saver and when you go to other countries, you have a free source of water.

  1. Checkable BackPack

This is something I bought right before I left and am extremely grateful. I use this on all side trips and am able to pack everything I need. It might be easier to find a roller carryon, but I think it’s worth it to find a backpack. Firstly, when you first arrive abroad it is not fun to maneuver 2 roller bags when you are already exhausted and tired. Also, on side trips, it is much slower to be dragging a roller behind. It also makes you more obvious that you are a tourist, so I would definitely recommend the backpack option.

7. TSA Locks

These are mainly for peace of mind. They are double sided, so if you’re in a pickle and are having to sleep in the airport or on a train, you can clip your luggage to you belt or purse strap making it more difficult for people to take it. That might be all you need to deter thieves.

8. Olloclips

These are simple to use and give you some variety to your pictures. At first, I was dead set on getting a new camera to take with me, but since I have never been heavy into cameras or photography, these lenses have given me the perfect balance. I get more variety and they are small and easy to use.

9. Selfie stick

Embrace the selfiestick. It is a great life filled with fun pics.

10. Peanut Butter

I miss peanut butter rn so it’s on the list. Most places here don’t have it or it is low quality peanut butter. Plz bring me some. There’s no appreciation for that wonderful nut here. SOS

Study Abroad Meeting

During my study abroad meeting, we learned all about the basic need to know about going abroad. It was actually very similar to the slide show that I constructed when I was an intern for the OUA program, so much of the information was review since I had stared at those slides for hours last fall! But it was definitely good to review that information as it was slightly different than the info in the OUA slides that I helped with. At the end of the meeting, students that had either studied abroad or were international students from that area came to give information to the new people who were going to the same places advise and answer questions about the programs or areas. There was no one for my school in Spain since I am the first person from OU going, and I guess my friend I meet at OU Cousins didn’t get the memo! I am excited though because hopefully other OU students after me will go to this program and I can answer any of their questions that I am still trying to figure out!

Beginning the Process of Abroad

While I have been abroad on a short term trip, realizing that I will be gone for an entire semester is a little daunting. This will be an experience that I know I will absolutely love and will grow so much from, but I am beginning to realize that the trip is only in a few short weeks and I really haven’t prepared done anything for this trip yet (a part from getting my visa). Now that finals are over though, I now officially have time to really get excited and prepare for this trip. I feel that since I really haven’t done anything for this trip, I am more nervous about it than excited, but I know the more I do for it the more I will get excited for my adventures in Spain!

My Friend is actually getting back from Ireland this week and I know I she will give me great tips as she got to travel a ton on the weekends. I think she ended up going to around 10 different countries during her 3 month stay. Hopefully I will be able to top that!