A picture of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

A Semester Abroad: Balancing Learning and Living in a New Culture

Alright, let’s dive into this new adventure!
I’m 22 years old, on the brink of my last year of my bachelor’s degree, and about to embark on my very first exchange semester in the city of Bilbao, Spain. Now, if you’re thinking this is just another typical semester abroad story, think again.
After getting a taste of wanderlust during some epic travels in Australia, I knew I had to keep the momentum going. So, what better way to spice things up than by immersing myself in the culture, delicious cuisine, and language of Spain? Join me as I share the highs, the lows, and all the unforgettable moments from my journey to learn and improve my Spanish in the heart of Bilbao.
Trust me, this is going to be one for the books!

Sunset at the beach near Bilbao.

Arrival in Bilbao

Leaving my boyfriend behind was one of the toughest goodbyes I’ve ever had to make. But as soon as I stepped off the plane and felt the warmth of the summer sun on my skin, I knew I was in for something special.
For my first week, I slept in a hostel—a whirlwind of new faces, shared stories, and unexpected connections.
Exploring the streets of Bilbao was a sensory overload, each corner revealing a new facet of the city. From the architecture to the aromas coming from pintxo bars, every moment was a discovery waiting to unfold.
And then, there was San Sebastian—a coastal gem beckoning with its azure waters and sun-kissed shores. With each step along its sandy beaches and each taste of its cuisine, I felt myself falling deeper in love with the magic of Spain.
Through it all, I navigated the highs and lows of this new chapter, finding strength in the beauty of new experiences. And as I delved deeper into the heart of Bilbao and San Sebastian, I discovered that the greatest adventures are often found in the spaces between familiarity and the unknown.

Picture of me in San Sebastian.

First time living in a shared flat

Moving into a shared flat was a whole new ball game for me. Suddenly, I found myself navigating the difficulties of communal living—learning to compromise, communicate, and coexist with newfound roommates. It was a crash course in independence, but one that I welcomed with open arms.
At the welcome week for exchange students, I dove headfirst into the social scene, eager to find connections and build friendships. Besides introductions and icebreaker activities, I found comfort in the company of fellow adventurers embarking on their own journeys in this foreign land.
But it wasn’t just about socializing. I was determined to immerse myself in the local culture and embrace new experiences. So, when the opportunity arose to join a roll hockey training session, I jumped at the chance. It was a chance to break a sweat, bond with locals, and indulge my competitive spirit.
As the weeks passed, I found myself slowly settling into the rhythm of life in Bilbao.  And through it all, I dedicated myself to practicing Spanish—whether it was chatting with locals or striking up conversations with my flatmates. But as the days turned into weeks, I found my confidence growing, my understanding deepening, and my appreciation for the Spanish language blossoming with each passing lesson.

Making new friends

Meeting new people can be both exhilarating and comforting, especially in a foreign land. As luck would have it, I crossed paths with three Danish girls who quickly became my partners in crime. From exploring the streets of Bilbao to indulging in the city’s culinary delights, our adventures together were nothing short of memorable.
But they weren’t the only ones who left a mark on my time in Spain. A friend from the buddy program took me under her wing, showing me the ins and outs of the city and helping me navigate the complexities of daily life.
And then there were the Americans—a lively group whose infectious energy and joy for life brought an extra spark to my days. Together, we embarked on a whirlwind trip to San Sebastian, where we soaked up the sun, and savored every moment of our coastal getaway.

A group of friends from America spending a weekend in San Sebastian.
In the end, it’s the people we meet along the way that truly make a journey unforgettable. And as I look back on my time in Bilbao, I’m filled with gratitude for the diverse array of individuals who crossed my path, and forever shaping my memories of Spain.


Let me take you on a journey through some of the unforgettable adventures I had during my time in Spain. First up, a road trip to San Sebastian, Santander, and Gijon with my boyfriend. It was a week of sun, good food, and soulful moments as we explored the stunning coastlines and charming towns together.
Next, a bus ride from Bilbao to Madrid with a friend from school. We whiled away the hours chatting, laughing, and soaking in the scenic vistas along the way. From Madrid, we hopped on another bus to Valencia, where we embraced the vibrant energy of the city and indulged in its rich culture.

A trip to Girona with the Swiss national roller hockey team added a thrilling twist to my Spanish adventure.
But the adventures didn’t stop there. A trip to Malaga with the Danish girls was a feast for the senses, with its sun-drenched beaches, bustling markets, and mouthwatering cuisine.
Back in Bilbao, I embarked on a series of day trips that revealed the hidden treasures of the region.
Looking back on these experiences, I’m filled with gratitude for the friendships, the memories made, and the countless moments of joy and discovery that enriched my time in Spain. Truly, it was a journey of a lifetime—one that I’ll carry with me forever.


Let me take you through a typical day in my life during my time in Spain. School was definitely the focal point of my weekdays. From early morning lectures to late-night study sessions, there was rarely a dull moment. But you know what? Despite the workload, I found myself thriving in this environment.
Surprisingly, the courses themselves weren’t as difficult as I had anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of challenges along the way, but with a bit of dedication and perseverance, I managed to stay on top of my studies.
One of the biggest highlights of my time in Spain was seeing my Spanish skills improve. Through immersion in the language both inside and outside the classroom, I found myself gaining confidence with each passing day.
Looking back, I’m grateful for the time I spent in Spain and the invaluable lessons I learned both inside and outside the classroom. It was a journey of self-discovery, growth, and academic achievement—one that I’ll always cherish.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on my time in Spain, I’m filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Despite the intense workload, I rose to the challenge and navigated the complexities of school with determination and resilience. While the courses may not have been as difficult as expected, the experience was invaluable in honing my skills and broadening my horizons.
As I bid farewell to Spain and embark on the next chapter of my journey, I carry with me the memories, the lessons, and the newfound confidence that will continue to shape my path forward. And while my time in Spain may have come to an end, the impact of this experience will stay with me for a lifetime.

Now it is your turn

As you plan your own exchange semester abroad, remember to embrace the spirit of adventure and open yourself up to new experiences. Savor every moment of your upcoming journey and allow it to leave a lasting impression on your soul.

Tips when planing your exchange semester

  1. Start Planning Early: Research exchange programs and universities well in advance to ensure you have enough time to meet application deadlines and requirements.
  2. Choose the Right Destination: Consider factors such as language, culture, academic offerings, and location when selecting your exchange destination. Think about what you hope to gain from the experience and choose a location that aligns with your interests and goals.
  3. Be Open-Minded: Embrace new experiences, cultures, and perspectives with an open mind. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and immerse yourself fully in the local culture.
  4. Manage Your Finances: Create a budget and plan your finances accordingly. Consider costs such as tuition, accommodation, travel, and daily expenses. Look into scholarships, grants, and financial aid options that may be available to help offset costs.
  5. Stay Organized: Keep track of important dates, deadlines, and paperwork related to your exchange program. Stay in regular communication with your home university, host university, and any relevant organizations to ensure a smooth transition.
  6. Stay Connected: Maintain communication with family and friends back home while also making an effort to build connections with fellow exchange students and locals. Join clubs, attend events, and participate in activities to meet new people and expand your network.
  7. Embrace the Culture: Take advantage of opportunities to explore the local culture, cuisine, and customs. Attend festivals, visit museums, and try new foods to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
  8. Make the Most of Your Academic Experience: Stay engaged in your studies and take advantage of the academic resources and opportunities available at your host university. Challenge yourself academically, participate in class discussions, and seek out extracurricular activities related to your field of study.

If you’re interested in hearing more about my exchange semester experience and tips for navigating life in a new country, feel free to reach out in the comments or send me a DM on Instagram. I’d love to share my insights and help you make the most of your own exchange adventure!

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? Hey there! Just a quick heads up: The information provided in this blog post is based on my own experiences and research. Every traveler’s situation is unique, so feel free to adapt these tips to suit your preferences and travel style. Here’s to smart and budget-friendly adventures!


Hey there! This is Corinne, your travel companion on a journey to discover hidden treasures and off-the-grid destinations! Having traveled through America, Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Africa, and various European countries, I understand the thrill of discovery on a budget. I'm here to share insider tips and tricks to help you plan unforgettable journeys without breaking the bank!

View all posts by Corinne →

2 thoughts on “A Semester Abroad: Balancing Learning and Living in a New Culture

  1. Hi Corinne
    Thank you for the insights. Now, I’m even more excited about my upcoming exchange semester.

    1. Hi Nathalie
      I’m happy that I was able to give you some insights. Enjoy this unique experience.

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