PRACTICAL INFORMATION SPANISH STUDIES

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

SPANISH STUDIES

Logistical Issues

Packing Tips

Before deciding what to pack, and what luggage to use, find out the luggage and weight

restrictions imposed by your airline. As a general rule, don’t pack too much! You will have

to carry your own luggage, so make sure you can handle it.

You will be glad that you decided to pack lightly, especially if you plan to travel while

abroad; long-distance buses, trains, and taxis in Spain limit luggage to one piece per

passenger. If you have excess luggage you must research and find your own storage

space. Your home-stay host, apartment landlord, or Study Center will not store luggage.

Most items available in the U.S. will also be available in Spain. If you forget something, or

find a need for an additional item, you can purchase it in Spain. Clothing in Spain tends to

be of good quality, and is reasonably priced. Wool items are of particularly good quality.

Shoes are well made, but large sizes may be hard to find.

When selecting clothing to pack, keep in mind the Spanish culture; women who wear

skimpy clothing need to be prepared for comments and attention that can be crude and

often annoying (except at the beach and recreational areas where lighter clothing is more

common and acceptable).

Warm clothing is essential for the winter and lightweight clothing for spring. You should

bring clothing suitable for both hot and cold weather. Fall students will arrive to warm

weather and leave with cold, while spring students will arrive to cold weather and leave

with warm. People in the larger cities tend to be very fashion conscious.

Finally, clearly identify each item of luggage on the inside and outside with your name,

home address, and Study Center address abroad. Never leave luggage unattended. It is

strongly recommended that you insure personal property before departure. PAST

STUDENTS SAY

Essential

• Good pair of walking shoes

• Dress shoes

• Sandals/flip-flops (for the beach or at home)

• Slippers (Spaniards do not go barefoot at home)

• Long-sleeve shirts

• T-shirts

• Shorts (of an appropriate length)

• One good outfit (skirts, dress pants, tie, etc.)

• Jeans/trousers

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• Rain jacket/umbrella

• Coat, gloves, warm socks, warm sweaters

• Underwear

• Bathing suit

• Toiletries/cosmetics

• Bath towels (If you are not going to live with a spanish family)

• Extra contact lenses and contact lens solution

• Day pack (to carry books around the city or to use for a weekend away)

• Spanish and Spanish/English dictionary

• Spanish grammar book

• Laptop computer

• Travel alarm clock

• Camera/film

• Extra passport-size photographs (for transportation passes, student ID, etc.)

• Prescription medication (enough to last the length of your stay).

Optional

• Notepaper and pens for the first few days

• An over-the-shoulder purse or bag with a zipper and a flap (will help to guard against

pickpockets)

• Calculator (to help with monetary conversions)

• Electronic appliances (hair dryer, razor, etc.)

• Travel converter/transformer and adapter plugs (see Electrical Appliances)

• Beach towel

• Sleeping bag

• Measuring cup with metric units (you can’t get this in Spain)

• Gifts for foreign hosts and new friends (CDs, T-shirts with city, state, or campus logos,

baseball caps representing Major League teams, posters, or scenic calendars)

• Photos of home, family, pets

• Ziploc bags

• Vitamin supplements (in original containers)

Do not pack

• Bicycles, surfboards, skis

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Electrical Appliances

The electrical current used in Europe is 50 cycles AC rather than the 60-cycle current used

in the U.S. and voltage is 220-240 rather than the standard U.S. 110 volts for small

appliances. Additionally, most electrical sockets have round holes.

A converter (or

transformer) and adapter plugs are needed in order to use typical home appliances.

Most

all computers come with a built in voltage converter.

Travel irons, curling irons, blow dryers, and electric razors with built-in converters for all

currents can be purchased in the U.S. or abroad. Because the cost of electricity abroad is

very high, and since improper use of appliances may damage electrical outlets and the

appliances themselves, it is a good policy to ask before using the outlets.

Climate

Spain’s climate is described as continental or Mediterranean, with hot summers and cold

winters. The winters generally have long, cold, dry spells, with occasional downpours. The

average winter temperature is 30ºF to 40ºF, but from December to February it may be well

below freezing.

The climate in Alcalá and Madrid is generally dry, with intensely hot weather in the

summer (sometimes reaching 100ºF), and cold, wet winters.

Many buildings in Spain have no central heating and tend to remain cold even after the

weather outside has warmed up.

Weather upon Spain

Late January and early February are cold and wet in Madrid, Alcalá. You should be

prepared for cold, damp weather at the beginning of the program; Alcalá will usually begin

to warm up quickly in March.PAST

Travelling within Spain

For travelling, the following books and guides provide helpful information:

• Lonely Planet’s Shoestring Guides for Eastern and Western Europe

• Frommer’s Spain and Morocco

• Let’s Go Spain and Portugal

• Michelin Guides (red and green)

• Baedekker’s Spain

• Blue Guide Spain

• Nagel’s Spain

• Spanish Island Hopping—A Guide for the Independent Traveler

• Berlitz guides to Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa Dorada, Costa del Sol, Ibiza,

Majorca and Minorca, and Madrid.

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Communication

Use e-mail, faxes, and private couriers (for example, Federal Express or DHL) for critical

communications and shipments, as the Spanish mail system can sometimes be slow.

Mail

During the semester, mail can be sent to your Study Center, home-stay, or residencia

address (once established). Past students say that airmail from the U.S. takes from two to

six weeks to arrive. Rush or priority mail can be sent from the U.S. to the local Study

Center (addresses provided below) via DHL or Federal Express.

Packages of any kind should not be sent to the local Study Center office as the Study

Center can only accept regular envelopes, not packages. You can receive small packages

at your home address once settled in a home-stay or residencia. Warn friends and family

at home to send small packages only. Large packages are not delivered and you must

pick them up at a distant facility or at the cargo airport. In addition, daily storage charges

often are imposed on packages that are not retrieved immediately. Warn friends and family

about not sending food in the packages.

Do not plan to ship items to Spain. Shipped items can take several months to arrive, and

are subject to very high duties and other fees, which will be charged upon arrival.

Parents and friends should use care in declaring the value of packages sent to Spain.

Senders need to resist the temptation to declare a high value; Spanish Customs will

charge an import tax or “duty” based on the package value. In some cases, the duty could

exceed the value of the package. You will have to pay these high duty charges (often

much larger than the value of the item itself) in order to accept the packages sent. You

should ask family and friends to stop sending you mail and packages at least two weeks

before the program end date.

Any packages containing used books, clothes, and other personal items must be clearly

marked

Efectos Personales Usados

(Used Personal Items) and

Sin Valor Comercial

(No

Commercial Value).

You are responsible for paying any delivery charges for packages sent. There are limits to

what the Study Center can do to assist once a package has arrived. If customs taxes have

been imposed and customs agents have been involved, you must pay these taxes.

Do not use the phrase “in care of ” on any letters; the phrase “in care of” is not recognized

in Spain.PAST STUDENTS SAY

Cell phones

Cellular phones are extremely common in Spain and are easy to rent or purchase (your

on-site orientation will provide you with more information on this topic). Past students have

found that purchasing a cell phone that works with pre-paid calling cards (which can be

recharged using a credit card) is a very convenient way to stay in touch with friends and

family. Cellular phones are also advisable as they allow the program coordinator to contact

you at any time in case of emergency. Cellular phones cost anywhere from U.S. $73 to

$150. The main providers in Spain are Movistar, Vodafone, and Orange. Using a cell

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phone to call the U.S. can be expensive, but receiving calls (including calls from the U.S.)

on a cellular phone is free for the cell phone owner. Text messaging is very popular and

the cost of messaging varies. We do not recommend that you bring a cell phone from the

U.S. to Spain; many do not work in Europe and the ones that do often carry high charges

for calls. Check with your cellular provider for more information. PAST STUDENTS SAY

Calling Cards

Many U.S.-based long distance phone companies, including AT&T, Sprint, and MCI,

provide special services that make it easy for students to phone home from abroad. Some

provide a toll-free access number that connects with an operator in the U.S. Some provide

the means to charge long distance calls either to a credit card or to a third party. You

should investigate the possibilities before departure and shop around for the best services

and rates. Be sure to confirm the card you purchase will work for calls originating outside

of the U.S., as many students find that some prepaid phone cards purchased in the U.S.

do not work overseas. It will probably be less expensive and more convenient to purchase

a phone card once in Spain. You can purchase an international calling card from any

tobacco shop (estanco).

Computer Access and Use

Spanish universities are not as computer oriented as those in the U.S. Therefore, you

should not expect the same computer privileges abroad that you have at USA. Computer

access varies by Host University; facilities can be crowded and waiting is common. In most

cases, the ability to surf the web will be extremely limited. In general, we encourage all

students to bring a laptop computer to Spain. However you will get a computer card to use

the computer lab during week days. University buildings are closed at weekends.

If you plan to bring a laptop:

• You should be certain your laptop is fully insured in case of loss or theft.

• Do not ship your laptop overseas. Your laptop may be held for inspection by customs

officials and customs fees are quite costly, even for older laptops.

• Be sure to carry your laptop with you at all times and never set the bag containing your

computer out of reach. Laptop computers are among the most frequently stolen items

from travelers.

• Make sure you have a wireless card installed in your computer in order to access

available WIFI networks.

• Bring your own Ethernet cable.

• Ensure that your laptop is equipped with a built-in voltage transformer that enables it to

operate on the 220 volt used in Spain (this is a fairly common feature) and bring

adaptor plugs.

• Install the latest anti-virus software to minimize hassles.

• Do not expect computer use in a home-stay. You will not be allowed to use the phone

jack in a home-stay to connect a laptop to the Internet.

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Handling Money Abroad

Before departure

Ask your bank and credit card companies how to contact them from abroad if necessary.

Many banks and credit cards offer online services, which will allow you to check account

balances and pay bills quickly while abroad. Check with your bank and credit card

providers before departure to make any necessary arrangements.

Most large U.S. banks maintain affiliate relations with prominent Spanish banks such as

Banco Hispano-Americano. In order to make check cashing and money transferring

easier, you should find out which Spanish bank your U.S. bank is affiliated with and what

services may be available.

While in Madrid

Plan on using a combination of methods to handle money in case one doesn’t work (e.g., a

local ATM is temporarily out of service). Do not rely solely on one form of accessing

money!

You will have to cover the costs of daily transportation, books and school supplies, and

personal items, among others. Many past students found that their living costs were much

greater than expected. The cost of living in Spain, and especially Madrid, is quite high.

Recommendations

• You should have more than one way to access money while abroad.

• Arrive in Spain with at least 200 euros (some in small bills). Euros can be obtained

from a local U.S. bank. Some banks require at least a week or two to obtain foreign

currency. It may be too late after you land in Spain to do any banking; banks close at 2

p.m. The best option is obtaining euros in the USA. It’s not recommended to take

dollars in Spain: change is very expensive for Americans, due to the price of the Euro.

• Take two international credit cards (in your name) and two ATM cards (if possible) from

your home U.S. bank account. The ATM card must have an international (4-digit) PIN

in order to work in Spain.

• Do not plan to have checks (financial aid, money from family, etc.) sent to Spain.

Checks should be sent to a trusted friend or relative who can deposit the funds into

your U.S. bank account.

• Leave your Power of Attorney with someone you absolutely trust.

The official currency unit in Spain is the euro (abbreviated € or EUR)

Cash/ATM

Using an ATM card is by far the easiest way to access your money overseas, and the

exchange rate is the most favorable. ATMs are widely available in Spain and you will

receive cash in local currency (euros). You may also have financial aid or other support

funds deposited directly into your U.S. checking account by a relative or reliable friend.

You can then withdraw these funds (in euros) via an ATM.

Before departure, check with your home bank to see if your ATM card has international

access (Cirrus and Plus systems are common throughout Europe) and whether it can be

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used in Spain. The ATM card must have an international PIN (4 digit, numerical only) in

order to work in Spain. Contact your bank to change your pin, if necessary (keep in mind

when choosing a PIN that ATMs overseas do not have letters on the keypads as they do in

the U.S.).

In addition, ask your bank if there is a daily withdrawal limit (there may be European ATM

withdrawal limitations) and obtain information on any fees your bank may charge for using

an international ATM. The ATMs in Spain may also charge a small usage fee.

We strongly recommend that you bring an ATM card linked to your checking account

rather than your savings account. Students have had trouble accessing their savings

account from Europe. Using a checking account and signing up for online banking is an

alternative that allows you to easily transfer money between accounts and monitor bank

fees, etc. Be sure to check with your bank about online banking fees and transfer limits.

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash and do not withdraw money from an ATM at night.

An ATM card can be lost or stolen, or might not work. For this reason, we recommend that

you bring two ATM cards (from different banks, if possible) to Spain.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are useful for emergencies, travel expenses, and everyday purchases. Most

stores and restaurants in Spain honor major credit cards. VISA is the most widely

accepted credit card in Europe followed by MasterCard. American Express is not widely

accepted, but can be used to purchase travelers checks overseas. The Discover Card is

not widely accepted outside the U.S. and is not worth taking to Spain.

Bring at least two international credit cards from different banks (always leave one at home

while in Spain; if one is lost or stolen, you will have an immediate backup). These credit

cards must be in your name (not a parent’s).

Before departure, write down contact numbers you can call while abroad to report a lost or

stolen credit card and to obtain a replacement. In addition, you may want to notify your

bank and/or credit card companies that you will be traveling overseas. This will prevent

them from questioning unusual activity.

You may obtain a cash advance with your VISA or MasterCard from a bank offering this

service, though this can be an expensive way to access cash. Before departure, you will

also want to find out what fees may apply for cash advances. We recommend that you

obtain an international PIN for your credit card in the event that you need to obtain a cash

advance after-hours. Your PIN is not usually required if the transaction is conducted inside

the bank, but you must show your passport. Keep in mind when choosing a PIN that

overseas ATMs do not have letters on the keypads as they do in the U.S. If you plan to

use your credit card for cash advances, check with the issuing bank in the U.S. before

departure to confirm that the card will be accepted by European banks and ATMs.

UDENTS SAY

Traveller checks

For everyday purchases, traveller checks are almost obsolete; you are better off relying on

cash, an ATM card, and credit cards. However, travelers checks can be useful in an

emergency or as an alternate source of money should you lose your wallet, or if your ATM

card does not work.

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Purchase the checks in U.S. dollars before you depart; American Express Travelers

Checks are the most widely accepted. Be sure to make two copies of the check numbers,

and give one copy to a family member or friend before you leave home. Keep the other

copy for yourself, separate from the actual checks. Should your checks be lost or stolen,

you will need to provide these numbers and corresponding receipts in order to obtain

replacements.

Travelers checks can be exchanged for local currency (euros) at any bank marked Cambio

or at exchange offices (oficinas de cambio) conveniently located throughout Madrid. A

transaction fee will be charged and some banks may insist on exchanging a minimum

amount.

Western Union

Western Union can be used to have money sent from home in a very short amount of time

(sometimes within minutes). In most instances, you can receive local currency at

competitive foreign exchange rates.

Your local telephone book should have the number and address of the nearest office or

check westernunion.com.

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References

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