STUDY ABROAD SURVIVAL GUIDE BILBAO, SPAIN By: Gabby Bates
All things travel! How to do it
Try to get to know music that is
inexpensively and have a great
different than your typical playlist.
time doing it.
BARS AND CLUBS
Similarities and differences as well
Go out on the town and find your
as what it will be like.
go to places.
MEETING/GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE IN Y OUR PROGRAM FOOD AND DRINKS TO TRY
PHONE & MONEY Answering all the questions and uncertainty you might have!
DIFFERENCES IN LIVING ACCOMODATIONS
Yum!! The more you try the more
All the similarities and differences
things you will find.
PLACES TO VISIT IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY
The most beautiful places to
How to adjust to the differences in
WALK AND EXPLORE BILBAO & GETXO
USEFUL APPS & PHRASES A set of tools to use in order to get
Don't forget to explore your city!
the help you need.
There is nothing like it.
FUN CULTURAL EVENTS Ways to get into the Spanish
FUN THINGS TO DO THAT USAC OFFERS
culture and try new things.
Get involved with what they have!
BASQUE CULTURE AND HISTORY So many amazing things to learn
SUPPORT One of the most important things while abroad.
A NOTE FOR READERS This guide is based off of my experiences studying through USAC in Bilbao, Spain during the spring semester of 2019. I have adjusted it to my experiences, but also with the help of input from our international students. These tips and ideas can be changed depending on your own personal experience, but it is more of a guide on how I did things. I hope you enjoy it!
W E E K E N D
T R A V E L
- Traveling on the weekends is one of the most exciting things that comes with studying abroad. Knowing that so many countries and cities are basically at your fingertips is extremely empowering, but also slightly overwhelming. A million questions might run through your head. Where should we go? Should we take a train or bus? Should we stay in a hotel, airbnb, or hostel? What are we going to do once we get there? Etc. - These are all amazing questions to ask, but donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t let them overwhelm you. I would recommend making a list of all of the cities and/or countries that you want to visit during your time abroad. From there you may be able to map out when to go where in a better way than just randomly choosing. However, random and spontaneous trips can be some of the most fun too. - I would consider things such as weather. For example, it may make a little more sense to go to Barcelona towards the end of your trip versus the beginning because the weather will be much warmer and you will be able to enjoy time on the beach and walk around in summer clothes. Another thing to consider may be the cost of going, staying, and doing activities in this specific place. Some can be much more expensive than others, so if budgeting is important to you maybe look back at your original list of places you want to go to and do some research on the average cost of each place to see which ones may be better for you financially.
WEEKEND TRAVEL - I personally loved staying in hostels because it was such an easy way to meet people from all around the world, and a cheap way to do things around the city. For example, a lot of hostels do free walking tours or bar crawls. This was a fun way to meet other people my age who were also staying at the hostel all while exploring the city and country that I was in. I think people often have a stereotype of hostels being unsafe and dirty, but my experience could not have been any different. I did all of my bookings through Hostelworld. This gives photos, reviews, and all the details you need on the hostels. You can view the hostels in a map view which may be helpful so you can book a hostel more near a city center or a specific place you want to go to in that city. Hostels are really inexpensive, and just an overall awesome place to stay in while traveling.
- Airbnbs are more appropriate for larger groups. For example, my friends and I went to Mallorca and there were a total of 20 of us. Because of this we decided to rent out two, ten bedroom airbnbs in close proximity to each other. This was great because we had our own space, and we all were able to cook meals together and hang out in the airbnb. This differs from a hostel because we had our own kitchen, washer and dryer, rooms, etc. Airbnbs are still fairly inexpensive, but a little more expensive than hostels. PAGE
- Some sights to use to find cheap ways to get to the places you want to go to are Omio, Google Flights, and Scott’s Cheap Flights. Omio will give you information on train prices, bus prices, as well as plane prices. Google Flights and Scott’s Cheap Flights are focused on airfare prices. One other piece of advice I would give to
traveling for as little money as possible is to book things in advance. The closer you book trips to the time you are wanting to leave, usually will cost more money than if you book it a couple weeks ahead of time. - Solo traveling is definitely an option for people to do as well! I personally did not do any solo travel, but my roommate did and she really enjoyed it. Be diligent about where you go and where you stay, but I am sure you will have a blast if this is something you wanted to do! I loved traveling in groups because I was able to really get to know the people I was studying abroad with, and sharing those amazing, yet sometimes crazy memories with other people was something that I absolutely loved.
- USAC offers really cool classes such as Basque cooking, a field trip class, and even a surfing class! These are really unique classes that I totally recommend taking or at least learning more about. During your first week it will be an orientation and they will go over all of the information you need to know regarding these classes as well as other opportunities that they offer!
Classes - The differences between my classes in Spain versus at Boise State were structure, size, and overall layout of the class. The classes you take will only have other USAC students in them, so you wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have any classes with local or erasmus students. The classes were really small. It varied based on the class, but it was anywhere from a minimum of 4 or 5 students to a max of 30. There was a little less homework in my opinion, but more projects. There were still tests and exams so that is a similarity! The classes were all interesting, and I enjoyed going to all of them. - Schedule wise it will vary based upon the classes you take. If you choose to take a Spanish Track, you will have class every morning around 8:30 for about 2.5-3 hours I believe Monday through Friday. The other standard classes are twice a week for about an hour and a half. If you do not take a Spanish Track, you will not have classes on Fridays. Most of the other classes are in the afternoon, but I enjoyed this because I used my mornings to explore around. PAGE
Classes - The USAC professors are some of the sweetest people I know. They genuinely care about you learning in their classes, but they also realize and understand you are there for the entire experience.
- I took 5 classes which were Economics, Supply Chain, Spanish Literature, Spanish Culture, and Surfing. Yes, you are reading correctly, SURFING! I had different professors for each class and they were all amazing. I learned so much and had such a fun time while doing it.
MEETING/GETTING TO KNOW THE PEOPLE IN YOUR PROGRAM
- Once you are all in Bilbao I would try to start a GroupMe or a group Snapchat so you guys can all communicate! This was fun to talk about weekend trips, anything we were doing during the day, where we were going out on the weekends, etc. It is really nice and helpful to have everyone in your programs contact information! - Follow everyone on social media! This is a fun way to communicate while you are there, but also once you come home. - After being there for a little bit you will start to become close with a group of people. This is really fun because you get to know them so well, and you are able to kind of create this travel group so if you guys create plans for weekend travel you can see who is interested as well! This is not to say to only hangout with these people, because you should really get out of your comfort zone and hangout with as many people in your program as possible. - Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be afraid to ask people to do things. Everyone is in the same boat and wants to make friends, explore, travel, etc. Reaching out gets the ball rolling on doing all of these things with people!
FOOD & DRINKS TO TRY
- Bilbao has such amazing food that it almost seemed like there was something new to eat almost every day! - Some delicious restaurants are La brasa canalla, Mesón Lersundi, and El dinámico. These are recommendations from someone who is from the Basque Country, so I am sure they are great! - I think one of the best things to do is to just walk around and to go in and try places that you see or think might be good. There are so many places to try that you almost can’t go wrong. - Some of my favorite foods were tortilla (especially ham and cheese tortilla), squid in its own ink, bollos, cod, and almost everything on the menu of the day! If you were to order these it would be “tortilla de jamón y queso”, “chipirones en su tinta”, “bollo”, “Bakalao al pil-pil”, and “menú de sagardotegi”. - My favorite Basque drink is a kalimotxo! It is red wine and coca-cola. I think this is a really fun thing to try as it is so different, and it is super common. - Eating out is a lot different in Spain than it is in the United States. For example, lunch is the biggest meal of the day instead of dinner, and it is typically eaten around 2-4 pm. They have a thing at restaurants called “Menú del día”, which gives you a drink, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. It is a very inexpensive way to eat and the food is delicious! - Pintxos are great for snacks if you are just out and about grabbing a drink or walking around. They are usually a meat or fish of some sort on top of a piece of a baguette. Some people get concerned because they sit out all day, but they are super good and a really cool way to try a lot of different food! - The price difference is quite large between Spain and America when it comes to food and eating out. It is a lot less expensive in Spain. This is great because eating out vs cooking is not a huge price difference, and it is an awesome way to go out and try things but also to cook and try to learn how to make the amazing things that you are trying!
Places to Visit in the Basque Country
- There are so many amazing places to visit and go to
- Some of the places I would
within the Basque Country. The small towns are amazing,
recommend going to are:
and I think that is the best way to get to see the rish culture
that is all over the Basque Country.
- Mundaka - San Juan de Gatxugalete
- How to get there:
- Traveling around the Basque Country is very easy. The
metro, bus, and train systems are very easy to follow and
extremely inexpensive. You will have a metrocard to go
- Gorbea mountain
to and from Bilbao and Getxo, and you can load money
- Gujuli river fall
onto this card to use the buses and trains. It is really
easy to see the schedule of the two, and an awesome
- San Sebastiรกn
way to get to know all that is the Basque Country.
WALK AND EXPLORE BILBAO & GETXO - I think that walking and exploring are the best ways to find different places and see new things! Here is a list of some of the places I liked walking around and exploring: - The park in Bilbao - Around the university - Along the beach in Getxo - Around my apartment - The old port of Algorta - The cliffs in Algorta by the windmill - The Guggenheim
Fun Cultural Events
- Carnival is a really fun cultural event! This happens towards the end of February (ish) but each location has it at their own times. This is the biggest in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It is a huge festival where people dress up almost similar to halloween, and are all around the streets and hanging out and dancing. I loved this event and we met a lot of people all around the streets! - Las Fallas is a huge festival in Valencia. Basically people make these beautiful sculptures that are almost paper mache, and they are presented to everyone in the streets. A winner is then selected, and the rest of them are burned. I did not personally go to this, but some of my friends did and they said it was so much fun and a really cool way to see a cultural event that is specific to Spain. PAGE
BASQUE CULTURE & HISTORY - In Bilbao they speak two languages, Spanish and Basque. Nowadays English is taught more in schools, so younger people tend to have a good understanding of it. - One tradition that is different than the United States is how to greet people. Instead of a handshake, you do two kisses. One on each cheek to greet people and to say hello! - There is also an unspoken transportation etiquette when it comes to transportation. If you are younger and the metro is busy, then you stand so that older people can sit down in the chairs. There are poles to hold on to and you can lean against the walls of the metro. Also, when it comes to escalators if you are not walking up or down the steps then you need to stand to the right so that those who want to walk up or down can do so. - There are also a few differences when it comes to restaurant etiquette. You need to ask for the check when you are ready to pay and leave. Eating out is seen as a slower, more relaxed time, so if you don’t ask for the check they will assume you aren’t done or ready and therefore will not bring you the check. Tipping also isn’t usual, and it is sometimes seen as offensive if you tip. People view it as they work hard and get paid well, so a tip is not necessary. PAGE
MUSIC - A lot of the Basque Country area listens to Reegaeton! Here is a playlist you could listen to in order to try to get to know the type of music that is really common!
- They also listen to a lot of American music as well. When you go to bars and clubs there will be a decent mix, but a lot of the kids our age that live over there listen to both Reegateon and American music. It is super fun!
BARS & CLUBS - There are a lot of really fun bars and clubs in Bilbao and Getxo! - The main ones are on Calle poza which is right next to the stadium. It is normal to go into the bar to grab food or a drink, and then everyone hangs out outside if the weather is good! The street can get really full, but it is such a fun way to meet people. On game days it is even more fun! All of the bars play the game, so if you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have tickets it is an awesome way to watch it and have fun! - Another street is Calle somera. This is in Casco Viejo which is the old part of Bilbao. Similar to Calle poza, the street fills up and everyone is out and about socializing and having a good time! On Thursday night there is something called Pintxo pote which is a really good deal for food and drinks if you want to do so. There is a bar called Grafit that is on Calle somera that does it, and my friends and I always had a good time here. - The biggest difference between bars in America and bars in Spain is that they do not ID you in Spain. This is the way it is because bars are also cafes. It is normal to see families in them and there is not an age restriction just to enter. This is more common during the day, and as it gets later it starts to become more of just people who are of age to drink in Spain. This is awesome because there are regular
There is a program called Happy Erasmus that
beverages, alcoholic beverages, food, snacks, etc.
you can join for about 10 euros, and they do
- There are so many bars/cafes! The best way to
deals for drinks and entrance fees at some of the
really find the ones you like are to go in and try out
clubs and bars. They also offer trips for really
as many as you can! The people who work at them are always so kind, and this is just another way to meet people and get out of your comfort zone. There are some clubs in Bilbao and they are called Budha, Flash, Back&Stage, and Moma. I am sure there are more than this, but these are really popular ones! If you want to try these out and see what they
inexpensive prices. Erasmus is when a student in Europe studies abroad in a different country than where they are from. Therefore, if you participate in the events they hold, go to the clubs they have deals with, and go on the trips they offer you are bound to meet so many people from so many
are like I totally recommend that, but if this isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t
places! I really recommend this so you are able
something you are interested in by no means do you
to always have something to do and new people
need to go!
to meet! PAGE
PHONE - When it comes to using a phone while abroad there are a couple of options that you can choose from. Depending on your phone carrier some might include an international plan. I believe one of the only ones that does this is T-Mobile, but that also depends on the plan that you have with them. I had AT&T and my plan didn’t include an international plan. - The easiest way to get around this and to not have to pay international fees for your phone carrier is to get a SIM card once you get over there. I got a SIM card from a store called Orange. This is similar to AT & T but in Spain. I was able to get a really inexpensive plan each month for about 20 euros. This included 10 gigabytes of data, 80 minutes of calling, and a certain amount of text messages. I don’t think that I ever went over the data limitations that I had. This was the smallest data plan as well as the least expensive, but it was perfect for what I needed and wanted. I think it is good to have a Spanish SIM card in case of emergencies. Having the ability to call an emergency number is important. You can also call restaurants and stores. - The main form of communication while you are over there is going to be WhatsApp. This is a messaging app that allows you to text, call, facetime, etc. It is wifi based which is nice to have, but it can also run on data (which is why having the SIM card comes in handy). I downloaded the app before I left for Spain, but you can download it once you get there as well. Once I switched over to my Orange SIM card, I went onto the app and it asked me if I wanted to keep my American phone number linked to the app or if I wanted my new Spanish number to be linked to it. I chose my American number, and I recommend this because then all of your contacts from your American number are still in there and once you contact someone from home you are able to reach out to them and they know it’s you and not some random Spanish number that is texting them. WhatsApp is how everyone communicates over there, so getting comfortable with using it will be a key success to your time over there! - Don’t forget to tell your friends and family that they should download WhatsApp to communicate with you too. Having everyone on the same page on how to communicate with you relieves the stress of not hearing from people or reaching out to people and having them not get your messages. The app is free and really easy to download and work, so there shouldn’t be any problems. - Know emergency numbers that are important!!! - The Spanish 9-1-1 is 1-1-2. - USAC will give you a little paper with its emergency phone number on it. Keep it with you and write it down. You may not need this, but it is good to have in case of emergencies.
Money - Money can be kind of a complicated thing while you are in Spain at the beginning, but once you get into a groove it all makes sense and you can kind of know what to do and when to do it. - I would figure out where the nearest ATM is to you that has the lowest amount of fees so you have a go to place to withdraw money. You will need cash for things like rent, eating out (depending on how much you spend), and other random things here and there. - When you go to a cafe or a bar a lot of transactions are done with cash. There is usually a 10 euro minimum to use a card at these places. You would be surprised how hard it is to pay that much for a couple pintxos and a few drinks if you choose to do that! - I used my credit card most of the time when paying for things because it had no fees to use it! I think this is one of the best options to avoid paying fees and also if you were to lose a credit card vs a debit card it is a quick cancel and you can get sent a new one. However, if you lose a debit card you then canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t withdraw money and have no cash which could lead to some difficulties. - Grocery stores accept credit card or cash so whichever you prefer is totally fine! I usually used my card because I tried to save the cash I had for things that could only be paid for in cash since withdrawing money did cost money. - When it comes to withdrawing money it can be a little difficult. I would start with asking your bank if they have any partner banks in Bilbao because this will usually help to minimize any fees associated with withdrawing cash. My bank had a partner bank, but there still was a small fee when I withdrew money. I think the best practice is to withdraw more than you think you need because each time there may be a fee associated with it. - When it comes to budgeting I would say to save more than you think you need. It is expensive to eat and travel and do other fun things in Spain, but it all still adds up fairly quickly. I cannot give an exact number because I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t keep track of how much I was spending or anything, but I would say to try to save up anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000. This number may be slightly shocking, but if you are planning to travel a lot (which is a great idea) things really start to add up. I would air on the side of caution in order to try to be as prepared as possible. PAGE
DIFFERENCES IN LIVING
- Within the apartment some things that are different are obviously the size. They are much smaller, but very cute and have everything you need. Electricity is also different because it is easier to short fuse the apartment. If you have the stove going and oven on with a bunch of lights on you will probably fuse your place. It just requires a little bit more caution. Most apartments have washing machines, but a
- There are a decent amount of differences in
dryer is very rare in a flat. Hang drying clothes is how people
living accommodations between the United
dry them. This takes some getting used to, and eliminates the
States and Spain. The biggest one is that
possibility of a quick wash and dry. Noise is also a big thing. Being quiet after about 10 pm and until about 8 or 9 am is
people don’t live in houses in Spain like they do
really important. House parties and/or get-togethers are not
in the U.S. They live in flats. It is more similar to
common because people go to bars or parks to do those
the style of living in a big city versus living in the
things. You will get a noise complaint from your neighbors if you don’t follow these rules. The last thing would be showers.
suburbs. It depends on the building, but usually
Water is more expensive in Spain, therefore taking shorter
each floor has two apartments, one on the left
showers is a key to saving some money on utilities. The water
and one on the right. For example, I lived on the
doesn’t stay warm quite as long as it does here in the U.S.,
3rd floor of my building on the left side so my apartment was 3I (3 Izquierda).
so the sooner you can get used to shorter showers the better. PAGE
- Grocery stores in Spain are strictly grocery
- Shopping was one of my favorite things
items which include food, toiletry items, and
while I was in Bilbao. Gran Villa has almost
drinks. They donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have a place similar to something like an Albertsons where you can pop
every store you could possibly think of to shop at. This is right next to the school, so it
in and grab some Advil or Tums. They also have foods similar to what you can get in America, so if you are craving some food you may usually
was perfect to go before or after class. Some of my favorite stores were Zara, Pull
eat at home you can definitely buy the
and Bear, and Primark. They all have super
ingredients and make it!
cute clothes and are very reasonably priced.
- In order to get medicines or pain relievers you
- In Spain they only have sales (rebajas)
must go to a pharmacy. There is always a
twice a year, in January and in August. This
pharmacy open. They do a rotating schedule, but this ensures that 24/7 there is a pharmacy
is mandated by the government, and the stores are required to sell things at the
that you can go to to get the things you need. I would be comfortable with your Spanish when going to pharmacies, but it is not crucial. Most
lowest price it has ever been. If you get there in January, it is the perfect time to buy
of the time they will pick up on what youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re
things because everything will be very
saying. They have most of the medicines you
inexpensive. Even day to day it is
could want or need, but if you have particular
inexpensive compared to shopping in
things you need I would pack enough for the
America, but during rebajas it is prime time
duration of your time abroad.
to get a lot of things!
-Here is a list of some useful apps to use while you are abroad! - XE Currency - This allows you to input different types of currency. Once you add the currencies that you want, you can select one and type in an amount. The app will then spit out what that amount is in all of the other currencies that you added at the beginning. This is useful to compare Euros and Dollars for bigger purchases, and if you go outside of the EU to help you know the conversion rates. - Duolingo - This is a great app to help you learn Spanish!
- Wordreference - This allows you to type words in in English and it will tell you what it is in Spanish, or you can type things in in Spanish and it will tell you what it is in English. A dictionary basically to help you with words if you may need it. - Bilbao Metro - This shows you the metro times for the Bilbao metro. It is good to know when the last metro is coming, and for when you want to plan to go somewhere you can plan it on when the next metro is coming. - Ren Train App - This app shows trains that are going throughout Spain. It is a good way to see prices as well as duration of time. It is helpful to plan trips and it is easier to navigate than the website. PAGE
Useful Phrases - I am going to give a list of useful phrases for while you are in Bilbao. These can get a little difficult because some are in Spanish and some are in Basque, but they are all really important and super fun to learn! - Basque - Kaixo - Hi/Hello - Agur - Goodbye - Eskerrik asko - Thank you - Spanish - Hola - Hi/Hello - Hasta luego - Goodbye/See you later - Gracias - Thank you -
¿Dónde está ________? - Where is ________?
- Necesito ayuda - I need help - Tengo una alergia de _____ - I have a(n) ______ allergy
FUN THINGS TO DO THAT USAC OFFERS - The university where you take your classes has a library which is an awesome resource to use if you are studying for an exam or working on a project. This is a silent area at all times, so being able to focus is really easy. - There is also a public library close to the school if you want to go and check that out! - One of the coolest things that I did that USAC offers is to tutor in English. I chose to live in an apartment with other USAC students, so I did not have a host family. However, by tutoring this little girl and going to her flat and meeting her family I was able to have that host family experience. They were so kind to me and offered to help me if I ever needed it. The girl I tutored was eight years old, and both of her older brothers had USAC students as tutors as well. You do get paid to do this which is a great way to get some spending money! I tutored once a week for an hour so I got about 40-50 euros a month. Overall, it was an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to everyone! - There is also an option to teach English in a school. I did not do this, but some of my friends did and they really liked it! There is a little bit more work involved, but it is a great opportunity. They go over the details of this during orientation, so if you have questions or concerns they will be able to help out. - They also have an Intercambio program which matches you with a local student your age at the same university to be buddies. This was a super cool opportunity to get to meet someone my age from Bilbao and who knew so much. It helps to immerse in the language which is great! It was also cool to meet my intercambioâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s friends. It was a great program to immerse into the language and to get out of my comfort zone and to meet people and hangout with people who werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t in my program. - There is also the opportunity to get credit for doing an internship. They can set you up with an internship in whatever field you like, and you get credit for it! Something to think about when you are planning your classes.
FUN THINGS TO DO THAT USAC OFFERS - When it comes to support the USAC staff is absolutely incredible. If anyone ever needed help with anything at all they were always there to help. For example, if you get sick or injured they go with you to the doctor so that they are able to help with translation and also to be there with you. - I did not personally experience bad homesickness, but it definitely does happen. If I were to have experienced this I would have felt totally comfortable going to one of my professors or one of the USAC staff members to ask for some help or to just talk through things. They genuinely care about your wellbeing and if you are enjoying your time abroad. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think I could have imagined a better USAC staff or support system to have while I was abroad for five months.
- If you do experience homesickness, I would recommend reaching out to your family at home. Talk with your friends at home and get caught up. Everyone is only a text or a phone
call away. One of the best things to remember is that everyone in your program is doing the exact same thing as you. You all had the courage to leave your lives at home behind to explore something new. Lean on your close friends in the program. More likely than not they have all experienced the same, or similar, things and they will be able to help you with anything you need. Even if it’s just taking the time to listen. This really helps you to feel like you aren’t alone.
Are you wondering how to adjust to reverse culture shock and being home?
Part Three Coming Fall 2021!