Why Studying in Madrid or Barcelona won’t give you an Authentic Spanish Experience

Don’t get me wrong. Madrid and Barcelona are both very cool cities, both of which would be great places to live. But if you’re looking to study abroad and truly get to know Spanish culture, then you might want to reconsider these cities.

If you were studying abroad in the United States, would you go to New York City for an authentic American experience?

I’m guessing your answer is likely a no. With that in mind, studying abroad in Madrid would be similar. The city is massive – the third largest in Western Europe after London and Paris. While you might have a great experience in Madrid, it’s likely going to be more urban and more international, less like the day-to-day life of most Spaniards.

If you wanted to learn more about British culture, would you study in Northern Ireland?

 Again, the answer is no. While it would certainly be an interesting experience, Northern Ireland is not representative of British culture like England is. Barcelona is exactly the same. Barcelona, and its larger state of Catalonia has its own unique culture apart from Spanish culture. This certainly makes for an interesting learning experience, but it’s not the best if you want to get to know Spain, particularly since Catalonia doesn’t even want to be part of Spain.

Are you looking to improve your Spanish-speaking skills?

I would advise against living in either of these cities if you really want to improve your Spanish speaking skills. Both of these cities are so large and touristy that too many people know English and English is far too present to get the immersion that you might need. Many people also speak Catalan in Barcelona. It’s certainly interesting, but not the best if you’re studying abroad to improve your Spanish skills.

Both Madrid and Barcelona have cultures of their own.

Like I said above, both Madrid and Barcelona are very cool cities. When choosing a study abroad location, you’ll want to keep my above points in mind. When choosing a location for Spanish culture and Spanish-speaking skills, I’d definitely choose a smaller city and one that offers homestays with a local family if possible. I personally went to Seville, Spain and thought it was perfect. Read more here.

Where did you study abroad in Spain? What do you wish that you had known before going? Please share in the comments below.


3 thoughts on “Why Studying in Madrid or Barcelona won’t give you an Authentic Spanish Experience

  1. I adored my time in Madrid and don’t think it should be discounted just because it’s a big city, and as such a great “home base” for excursions to smaller Spanish cities. There are some people who prefer hustle and bustle, and there are some people who prefer a rural quotidian experience. I work at a University and while most of those who study in Spain go to Barcelona, many of our students study in Salamanca. That program gets rave reviews when the students get back.


  2. On the topic of New York City and LA, I do not understand why these should be discounted as a part of the U.S experience. They are just as much a part of the U.S as the rural parts of our country. Our diversity is what defines us and to discount the larger cities would be naive. I think one of our biggest issues today is the people in the larger cities ignoring the issues of their rural counterparts and vice-versa; the rhetoric above is perpetuating that. We need to make a move in our society to become more inclusive. I do agree that we should push ourselves to experience both the hustle-bustle of the city and the slowed-down lifestyle of the countryside, but I do not agree that we should call one more true than the other.


  3. Is it possible to study in Complultense or Autonoma Universities in English without spanish certificate? I have been learning spanish for 3 years in school so I am able to communicate somehow but for sure not study in Spanish. Anybody?


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