Preparing yourself mentally and linguistically for life abroad is just as important as all the other kinds of (practical) preparations.
- Set your goals (think of all of the reasons you are choosing to have this experience) and try to honor them. Remember to keep them in mind when other interests, or your desire for fun, compete for your attention. One thought: you probably will have many occasions to travel, but may not have more opportunities to live for an extended period of time in a Spanish-language country. Avoid binge travel: it will undercut your immersion and maybe even your grades. It is possible to go abroad for 4 months and return with the same level of Spanish: it depends on your choices, and adult learners learn differently from children (adults need to learn actively, and improve their spoken command of a language best through reading and writing, as well as immersion). You need to take your academics and your integration into Spanish life seriously if you expect to improve your spoken Spanish significantly. “Bonding” with your fellow Americans may be rewarding but it will not improve your Spanish or enable the much greater rewards of immersion in another culture. When will you be given such an opportunity again?
- Check the Program calendar: take note of the times you’ll be very busy either adjusting or studying for finals, and the weekends for the Program’s excellent field trips, as to avoid guests or other distractions at those times.
- Prepare your Spanish: brush up or keep up your Spanish with reading and viewing.
- Inform yourself about Spain: don’t wait to get informed until you get there or be satisfied with what you know already. The more you know the more you will engage with the country and the culture.
Here is a short list of readings that have been suggested by previous directors:
- Newspapers online: El País, Público, El Mundo, ABC, and La Vanguardia.
- The New Spaniards (the 2nd revised ed.) by John Hopper (an incisive study of post-Franco and pre-crisis Spain by a foreigner who loves the country), Spain: What Everyone Needs to Know by William Chislett, (2013) A very condensed and up-to-date history of Spain.
- Time Out Madrid (only the latest edition, available on Amazon discounted for ca. $14): it has been described as “the Bible” of the program. One of the few guides to Madrid written by long-term residents, and it shows. Carry it with you on your forays into the city and consult it for a wide variety of fantastic things to check out.
- esMadrid.com: a link with up-to-date information on the city.
- Guía del ocio: A weekly guide to the latest shows and exhibitions, concerts, plays, restaurants, bars and cafés, etc. 1 euro at street kiosks (comes out on Thursdays); there is also a website with recommendations.