Since returning to the States, I have been faced with the task of describing my study abroad experience to family, friends, and random strangers. It was incredible, of course, and I did not want to leave. Six weeks in a foreign country is not nearly enough time for me, while others on the same program were ready to pack up after week three. My roommate, for example, dealt with homesickness and spent much of her time talking with her loved ones back home. Don’t let worries about missing home be a reason to cross studying abroad off of your college bucket list though! By being aware and knowing how new experiences affect you as an individual, you can better prepare yourself for time spend abroad.
Choosing a place to live is a key element to your study abroad experience. In Granada, students had three options: a student residence, a homestay, or an apartment. Each offer their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you want to gain from studying abroad. I do have some opinions on which option I think is best, but I’ll save my thoughts for the end. First, I will break down the different styles of living:
The Student Residence
Although it is described as dorm-style living, it is nothing like a dorm in America. The building resembled a Spanish hotel, with a beautiful white stucco lobby and tiled stairs leading to the rooms. It is a co-ed dorm, although the bedrooms are gendered, and two people share it with one bathroom. A family of women run the entire place, acting as housekeepers, cooks, and overall guardians. All of the meals are held in a cafeteria, although it is nothing like what you would imagine, no linoleum floors or florescent lights. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are freshly prepared every day, and they are very understanding and accommodating when it comes to dietary preferences or allergies. This option provides the freedom to come and go as you please, with the guarantee of 3 meals a day. This would be a good choice for those who don’t like to spend time alone.
(Photos courtesy of Bry, who lived in the Residencia. See more about the Residence and Granada on her blog)
If you highly value independence, prefer to cook your own meals, or perhaps don’t want the obligation of coming home to someone, then an apartment would be for you. While the set-ups vary greatly, they are all centrally-located. You will be living with other students, although they may not all be on the same program. Someone, typically the homeowner, comes once a week to clean the kitchen and bathrooms. The apartment is stocked with bedding, cooking supplies, wifi, a TV with cable, as well as furniture which includes desks, armoires, and beds. You do your onw laundry, hanging it up to dry on clotheslines strung in nifty courtyards. Shopping in the markets was one of the unexpected cultural experiences that those who choose apartments become comfortable with. Living on your own is best suited for people who want to be as independent as possible.
Living with a family is the most immersive experience one can choose. You will sit down for three meals a day (or more) with a family that wants to talk to you and hear about your life, in Spanish. This situation forces the student to engage in Spanish conversation from the moment they wake up to the time they go to sleep. Missing a meal requires prior notice, but you can always count on a bocadillo (sandwich to-go) for any outings that happen during meal time. The homestays provide a support system and more of a familial experience, because it is inevitable that the students and families become close. Privacy is not as important in Spain as it is in the U.S. so there may be times when a Señora will come into a bedroom and clean without any warning. This option is for those students who want to experience as much Spanish culture and language as possible, and are also comfortable living with a family of strangers. Although by the end of your stay they will no longer be strangers.
Personally, I chose an apartment for my trip, thinking that I would be much more free than those who chose homestays or the residencia. As it turned out, I spent so much time with the students on my program that my schedule synced up with theirs. So at 9 pm, which was dinner time for those who had meals prepared for them, I would either head home to make my own meal or go out to eat with my fellow students who lived in apartments. What I came to realize was that the Spaniards are much more in-sync with their schedule so dinner time was pretty much a universal event.
Looking back, I would have chosen the residencia, simply because you always have friends and freshly made meals to come home to. It seems like a happy medium between an apartment and a homestay. Each has it’s benefits; just decide what you value most, and go from there.