For as long as I live I will sing the praises of lesser known cities worldwide and how they can bring your study abroad experience to a completely different level. This post was recently published on The College Tourist, a site featuring posts written by students, or in my case, recent grads, about their experiences traveling and studying abroad.
I decided to study abroad for a semester in Oviedo, Spain.
While my main goal for my semester abroad was to study the Spanish language, like many college students I was drawn to Spain by its mild climate, tapas culture, beautiful beaches, and warm culture.
With the promise of nightlife, cultural events, and big city-vibes, Madrid or Barcelona were both at the top of my list; however, I soon realized but there are plenty of smaller cities in Spain that provide truly unique and enriching study abroad experiences. With this perspective in mind, I ultimately decided to study abroad for a semester in Oviedo, Spain. A city of just over 200,000 residents, it is the capital city of Asturias, a small coastal region in the north of Spain. While I might be biased, the five months I spent in Oviedo were some of the best of my life and by the end of the semester the small city felt like a second home.
Without further ado, here are five reasons why I loved living in a small Spanish city, and why you might want to consider spending a semester in a location that is off the beaten path.
1. Language Immersion
If you truly want to learn a language while studying abroad, living in a smaller city is your best bet. Because Oviedo does not attract large crowds of tourists, falling back on English when going about daily routines like grocery shopping or ordering a cafe con lechewas simply not an option. By the end of the semester, my conversational Spanish skills had improved immensely, and I was able to chat comfortably with everyone from new friends and classmates to the owner of the coffee shop near my school. With so many opportunities to practice the language, you might even learn some slang too. Soon enough you’ll be speaking like a local!
2. Budget Friendly
One of the best things about studying in a smaller city is that the cost of living tends to be less expensive. In Spain, for instance, you can get a full meal, or menu del día, which includes bread, beer or wine, soup, a main dish, and dessert for about ten US dollars – talk about a steal! Additionally, many small cities are centered around the local university, which makes them student friendly. As a popular Erasmus destination for students throughout Europe, Oviedo is just one example of how small cities with their free events and affordable, but plentiful, nightlife options are the perfect choice for a semester abroad. Not to mention spending less money on everyday purchases leaves more money for traveling.
3. Laid-back Lifestyle
If you prefer a more relaxed lifestyle or you think navigating a large cosmopolitan environment sounds overwhelming, you might want to consider studying abroad in a smaller city. Generally, I found the Spanish lifestyle to be way more laid back to the hustle and bustle of American culture, even in larger cities. One of my favorite things about living in a less touristic locale was that I was able to really slow down and observe my surroundings, not to mention that fact that long midday meals and a daily siesta are still very much a part of life outside of larger urban centers.
4. Social Life
One of my main goals for my semester abroad was to make local friends. Coincidentally, this was also on of my biggest fears. Soon after arriving, though, I found how easy it was to meet people in a small university city like Oviedo. Spanish culture is incredibly social, and even more so in a city of Oviedo’s size. It is more common to go out with friends to tomar algo (grab a bite or a drink) than to invite them to your home. This means that you might have to work a little to put yourself out there, so take advantage of events attended by like-minded people, like conversation exchanges or Couchsurfing meetups, or join an organization at your university. Even if you feel that your language skills are not up to par, don’t feel too intimidated. Many people you meet will want to practice their English skills, so you can help each other out!
5. Find a Home Away From Home The semester you spend abroad will absolutely fly by, and part of you probably won’t want to leave. In my experience, living in a smaller city made me feel as though I will always have a place and people who will welcome me back. While studying in a larger city means no shortage of things to do, it might take a lot more getting used to so that by the end of the semester you have just hit your groove. Despite not having the endless social and cultural possibilities of Madrid of Barcelona, the strong sense of community that I found in Oviedo will always pull me back in.
Have you studied or lived in a small city that now feels like home? What were your initial fears about jumping into a new lifestyle? Any favorite local haunts, traditions, or memories? Let me know in the comments!