Sandro Humann at Sheffield Centre Spanish Programs (formerly known as WiredSPAIN Languages), does not hold back on compliments for his adopted home country of Spain. “Spain has the best environment for a foreign student to study Spanish; it’s the cradle of the Spanish language, offers one of the best climates in the whole of Europe, has a great variety of cultural activities with many world heritage spots... beside the astonishing natural beauty of the beaches, mountains and landscapes on the peninsula and islands.”
Yeilin González Reinoso at Colegio de España in Salamanca wholeheartedly agrees. “Spain is a perfect destination, seeing that the whole country offers a wide variety of culture, monuments, art, history and also because it allows foreigners especially those from Northern Europe to get familiar with the... different way of life [in a Mediterranean country].”
“Spanish culture is extravagant and inspiring and Spanish people, especially those in the south, are welcoming to outsiders,” adds Douglas Haines at Spark Spanish in Puerto de Santa Maria. “Add in the sun, the food and the nightlife and you have a highly attractive place for incoming students.”
The friendliness of the country’s population is a major draw for international students and Humann asserts that even in the capital city, Madrid, students can expect a warm welcome. “I am a foreigner in Spain and [have lived] in Madrid for eight years now,” he says. “I like the city’s open atmosphere a lot the way the people welcome a foreign visitor. I live downtown and like going to the flea market, El Rastro, on Sundays and bank holidays. The La Latina neighbourhood is also full of cafés, restaurants, squares and gardens.”
David Sampere at Estudio Sampere, which has centres in Madrid, Salamanca and Alicante, describes Madrid as a “vibrant city”. It has over four million inhabitants and lots of theatres, coffee shops and a wide range of activities to do both day and night. “Madrilians say De Madrid al Cielo, meaning from Madrid to heaven, because it’s the best city in the world,” he adds. Around 200 kilometres west of Madrid is the historical university city of Salamanca. “Once you arrive in Salamanca, you feel part of the history,” asserts Sampere. “The cathedrals and university complex take you back in time!” According to Sampere, the city is one of the safest places in Spain, so they especially recommend the destination to juniors and school groups.
Towards the southwest coast, Rafael Ordás from Academia Hispánica - IH Cordoba describes the town as very ancient. “Romans, Arabs and Christians left not only monuments but part of their culture,” he says. “The city is in the Unesco heritage and intangible heritage list.” He adds that the friendliness of the locals makes it easy to enjoy events such as Festival de los Patios, when, much to the delight of visitors, Cordobians open their home and patios. She also recommends a visit to the Arab Baths, massage included.
Salamanca is also a city of festivals, the most famous being Semana Santa (or Holy Week), where processions of robed people holding candles and flower-adorned floats wind through the streets. Indeed, festivals can be found throughout Spain. Pamplona, capital of the Nevarra region in the northeast of Spain, is host to the San Fermín festival, which is a seven-day celebration and includes the famous Running of the Bulls when a group of bulls are let loose in a sectioned-off part of the city’s streets and people run in front of them. As well as being the first stop on the Pilgrims Way to Santiago de Compostela, Pamplona has many other attributes, says Carmen Neira Freire at Pamplona Learning Spanish Institute. “Pamplona is the capital city of Navarra it is one of the greenest cities in Europe and it is very safe and quiet, apart from during the San Fermín festival, it is not a touristic place,” she says.
Similar to Pamplona, Valencia is, according to Mariló Estevan at Caxton College in the city, away from the well-trodden track, making it an ideal destination for students wanting to immerse themselves in the Spanish language and culture. “Valencia is a well-kept secret destination,” says Estevan, “with guaranteed hot weather in the summer, golden sandy beaches and beautiful gastronomy.” There is always something going on, and students can enjoy traditional customs like the Batalla de Flores (Battle of Flowers), which takes place in July, and includes a spectacular parade of floats decorated with flowers and ends with a breathtaking fireworks display.
Southwards along the coast on the Costa Blanca is Alicante, which, according to Sampere, is “a beach city that mixes history and culture with a great microclimate all year round”. He continues, “It’s a great place for students looking for a sunny quiet stay.”
Further round the coast to Costa del Sol is the popular destination of Malaga, and the lesser-known Almuñécar. “The highlights of our region are the tropical climate all year round and the proximity of the coast [and] beaches, and mountains [so that] people [can] ski in the morning in Sierra Nevada... and have a drink on the terrace of a bar on the beach in the afternoon,” says Elena Rodríguez at Tropical Coast Languages in Almuñécar. “The proximity of coast and mountains is also perfect for the practise of open-air adventure sports such as kitesurfing, windsurfing, scuba-diving, trekking and paragliding.” Almuñécar is also well-placed for visits to Peña Escrita National Park, which according to Rodríguez, is made up of a landscape full of contrast. “It is the meeting point of different geographical reliefs: the foot of Sierra Nevada, La Alpujarra and the Tropical Valley. And, although it is located 1,100 metres above sea level, is only 13 kilometres from the Almuñécar coast.”
Another location off the tourist radar is El Puerto de Santa Maria, where Spark Spanish was launched in 2010. “An authentic Spanish learning experience where students integrate with and get to know the locals is definitely possible in a small and friendly town like El Puerto,” asserts Haines at the school. “It is famed throughout Spain for its beaches, great restaurants and friendly people, not to mention being the home of sherry (with Jerez and Sanlúcar) and its rich history being one of the points from which Columbus embarked to America.”
To enable students to feel part of Spanish culture, Spark organises a Spanish and Feria (Flamenco festival) course. Combined with Spanish language tuition are dance classes in Sevillanas (the feria dance), a trip to a Flamenco shop to see how the dresses are made, and organised trips with teachers to eat, dance and party at the Flamenco festival itself.
Finally, Vejer de la Frontera in Cádiz is a small and traditional town, according to Eli Galindo from La Janda Spanish School in the area. “I love spending time at the surrounding beach spots of Vejer such as Caños de Meca, El Palmar and Zahara,” she says. “These places have the most beautiful views along with a lot of history...Students often do not know that Vejer is only nine minutes from the beach...and it has a lot of Moroccan influence. The Battle of Trafalgar also took place only 10km outside the town.”
“Spain has a rich cultural heritage, good weather conditions and, last but not least, high quality language schools. Barcelona and Madrid are very popular due to their range of cultural highlights, and people also like to go to Nerja, Tarifa or Cádiz because of their locations near the sea. The rich culinary tradition in Spain is certainly very appealing to me. Furthermore, I am also very fond of the linguistic diversity with all the local dialects and languages.”
Christian Graf, Boa Lingua – Language Studies Abroad, Switzerland
“Students enjoy Spain’s sunny climate, the great food, the beaches and the friendliness of its people. Two of our most popular destinations are Alicante and Málaga younger students especially love those cities which are by the sea and offer a great nightlife as well as many interesting places to visit. Students are surprised about just how many variants of Spanish accents there are even inside Spain! I personally like Seville - it’s a perfectly sized city for a student. I just wish it didn’t get so hot in the summer months! I’m also always amazed about how affordable and fantastic the food is in Spain.”
Silja Isberner, Kolumbus Sprachreisen, Germany