España is for Students

España is for Students: An Inside Look into Study Abroad in Salamanca

Daniel Dawson is a student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and was an ISA Featured Blogger. Daniel studied abroad with ISA in Salamanca, Spain.

Daniel Dawson Salamanca 3

1. Describe the place where you studied abroad in 140 words or less.

Salamanca is the leather-bound book you find in an antique store—aged and with the edges worn from the many hands and places it’s passed through. The cover is carved with intricate designs of gargoyles, church spires and vines with such precision that you might find yourself lost in it before you open the pages. When you do leaf through the hefty tome you scan stories of history, royalty, adventures, feasts, magic and celebration. You realize that it would take dedication and time to read it word for word, but you are content with the sections you choose to read and feel as though you’ve created your own tale. This is Salamanca, and it’s waiting for you to explore it.

2. What was your day-to-day life like as a student?

Salamanca was made for students…literally. The city is home to the University of Salamanca, the oldest and most prestigious university in Spain at its time founded in 1218. For nearly 800 years students have been roaming the city streets. I would walk 15 minutes to class from my residencia on top of a hill, with the skyline of cathedrals and university buildings glowing in the morning sun. Sometimes I would meet with my classmates at a small café next to our building, or wander through the shops or run errands between classes. Everything you could need is within 1 to 30 minutes walking distance.

At night and on the weekends, though, the city transforms. She gracefully takes off her horn-rimmed glasses and sets aside the books to show us how the modern Spanish student embraces the university life.

Daniel Dawson Salamanca 43. What was the “vibe” of your city?

Not only is Salamanca a popular university town within Spain and Spanish students, but it welcomes international students from around the world to study in its golden stone buildings, capitalizing on its world-class education and ubiquitous setting. There is a lively a youthful atmosphere in the city because of the abundance of students during the school year. The city itself is steeped in history and architectural marvels—there isn’t one street in the old town that doesn’t impress. Salamanca isn’t a major city, but doesn’t lack any amenities that you would find in one either. It combines its history, Spanish tradition, international excellence and small-town charm all within its limits.

Daniel Dawson Salamanca 14. What types of activities did you do with your friends in your city?

Nightlife is an integral part of the Salamanca experience, but doesn’t define it. I’d lie if I said that going out wasn’t something I did nearly every weekend I was in town, but it’s only one way to socialize with friends.

There are plenty of other things to do in Salamanca. I like art and history, so I found a handful of museums right in town. Two major pedestrian streets, Calle Toro and Calle Zamora, have all the brand name and local shops and cafes for retail therapy and strolling. Outdoorsy and active people will appreciate the bike and running paths around the city, sports park across the river, paddle boats, and nearby (45 minute bus ride) mountain range. There are many ways to stay in shape in Salamanca. One of my favorite activities that my friends and I would do when the weather got warmer was stock up on food at the grocery store and bring blankets and music down to the riverfront to picnic.

Daniel Dawson Salamanca 25. How much Spanish was spoken your city (as opposed to Catalan, English, Arabic, Basque, Klingon, etc)?

Salamanca is the birthplace of the Castellano language (coming from the region of Spain, Castilla y Leon). Students come from all around the world to learn and perfect their Spanish, so I think it’s safe to say that Spanish is widely spoken here. Because of the international influence, the language of choice between international students is usually Spanish and then English if both parties can speak it. In my experience I’ve found there to be a lot less English than I was anticipating, which was a good thing. Other than passing tour groups or glimpses of Portuguese from tourists day tripping from over the border, Salamanca is a very quintessentially Spanish city.

Daniel Dawson Salamanca 56. How many hipsters did you see in your city?

With a big chunk of the city population in its 20s there is a fair share of hipsters. Hipster or not, Salmantinos are stylish. College students were dressed either like they walked off the Zara runway or like they haven’t showered in a week (purposefully, of course). There definitely is an undercurrent of punk/hipster/avant garde fashion among students in Salamanca, but for the most part Salamanca can be a bit on the classy or even well-to-do conservative side in older generations. Septum piercings and other facial piercings—tastefully done—seem to be a common sight in Salamanca and the rest of Spain.

7. Did you visit other cities in Spain? If so, what would say made your city unique? Why should someone study there?

I focused nearly all my traveling during the semester within Spain, so I got to see different cities in regions across Spain. After a few days of being outside of Salamanca, I was longing to get back. That’s what’s so unique about the city. Despite its incredible history and importance in Spain, its combination of an ancient city with a modern student life, and influx of international students, Salamanca feels like home.

I lived in Madrid for a month after my semester ended in Salamanca and even though I loved the capital, it was hard to feel at home in such a metropolis. Studying in a big city is fantastic—I certainly do not deny it. But, with an entire town within walking distance, dozens of bars and restaurants as opposed to hundreds, and being able to wave to classmates and professors on the streets, Salamanca felt a lot more comforting to me. Consider your goals for studying abroad and also what you can tolerate. I wanted to study in Madrid originally and challenge myself to live in a big city, and while I think I would have had an incredible—but different—experience there, after living a bit of both I can say with confidence that I made the right choice for me.


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