One of the only places in the world where you can still hear mysterious Euskara spoken, where you can lay on beaches settled at the edge of rolling green hills and majestic forests on the Iberian Peninsula, and where you can play endless games of pelote, it’s fitting that Bilbao has experienced a growth in tourism in recent years. The 10th largest city in Spain and the largest in the Pais Vasco (Basque Country), Bilbao strikes the perfect balance between international metropolis and historic charming town. Set in the region that stakes its claim as home to the greatest food in the world, the local cuisine is just one of the many bonuses of seizing the opportunity to study abroad in Bilbao.
Study Abroad in Bilbao
Students seeking a unique Spanish experience will thrive in study abroad programs in Bilbao. Pais Vasco not only describes Bilbao’s regional location, but its historical and linguistic background in the context of Spain’s political history. Bilbao’s background provides an incredible variety of subjects worth studying.
Students interested in studying business in Bilbao will have the chance to learn from professors with real world experience in both finance and government, and be connected with their own real world experience in the city’s thriving financial center. Bilbao earned the first Nobel Prize for a city in sustainability and innovation, making it a world-class site for experiential learning and providing unique insight into the European Union’s political system.
Students of art history might already know it’s hard to think of Bilbao without imagining Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum, an architectural marvel filled with modern art. But that’s not its only artful gem; the city also houses the Museum of Fine Arts. Along with the architecture, art, and creative vibe, visiting Spain’s unparalleled sights while studying abroad in Bilbao will provide students with the opportunity to put the knowledge they gain in the classroom into context.
While many courses and subjects are offered in English, students who choose to study Spanish in Bilbao will have the opportunity to analyze noted writer Miguel de Unamuno’s works while literally sitting in his birthplace. Spanish conversation opportunities with local students are available regardless of your language level or course selection, so no matter if your Spanish revolves around food and drink or complex conjugations, there will be a Spanish speaking local out there that is ready to help you.
In general, Spanish professors are approachable, which students may learn quickly as the city is small enough to provide chances to run into university professors often. Study abroad programs in Bilbao vary greatly in length, from three weeks in the summer to five months in the fall, and many variations in between.
Life in Bilbao
Spanish siesta is a way of life. The city will shut down during early afternoon daily, and for most of Sunday. But, while that means students will have to avoid taking part in the biannual sales for a few hours, or wait a bit for some pintxos (tapas/small plates) or churros con chocolate, the city is alive well into the morning hours each night.
The parks and central waterway are always open for exploring, picnicking, resting, or kayaking throughout the entire week too. The easily accessible and maneuverable public transit system puts beautiful coastlines just minutes away from any student studying in Bilbao. Adventurous students can take surfing lessons, hike amongst trees in the painted forest, or climb the fairy-tale-like San Juan de Guatzelugatxe with ease.
Atletico Bilbao, the soccer team, experienced a major win recently, which makes it even more exciting that their newly renovated stadium has become a landmark stationed in the city center. Contrasting the city’s modern architectural attractions is the quaint Casco Viejo, or old neighborhood, which is definitely worth checking out. While it is accessible by metro, a walk along the “ria” allows one to see feel the continuation of tree-lined streets into fully cobblestone walkways marked with flowing water fountains and centuries-old buildings.
Pais Vasco is a global gastronomic center, with San Sebastian, home to the second highest amount of Michelin Star restaurants in the world. While fresh seafood is abundant, Bilbao also does Spanish classics like paella, tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette), blood sausage, and jamon iberico well too. Spanish culture is paired with Basque culture in a unique way in Bilbao. Cultural festivals surround religious holidays year-round, and the Running of the Bulls happens just a couple hours away each summer. Summers in Bilbao are filled with music festivals on the beach, during which Basque dance, traditional clothing, and music can be fully experienced.
Accommodations & Visas
Students who study abroad in Bilbao can usually choose between homestays, dorm living, or independent apartment housing. Certain considerations should be made for each option, taking into account the length and nature of each study abroad program in Bilbao. The city will be accessible for all students, even those placed in a homestay a short metro ride away from the city center. Students are often placed in specific neighborhoods, such as Getxo, that provide unique opportunities to learn and practice the Spanish language as well as experience home life in Bilbao. Bilbao’s diversity of cultures will ensure a host family match for students from various backgrounds, though the experience can vary greatly from homestay to homestay.
While dorms won’t provide the same type of Spanish experience as homestay, they do allow for a cultural experience of a different kind. Dorms provide some convenience and connection to academic life as well as student life and student nightlife. Depending on the specific study abroad program in Bilbao, or school, students may be placed with other international students or live closely with local students. Living in dorms will allow students to get to know different cultures beyond Spain’s, as they’ll be vis-à-vis with your peers from all over the world.
Students staying for short periods of time won’t need to worry about visas, but requirements vary depending on each student’s home country and program. Check out GoAbroad’s Spanish Embassy Directory for the latest updates and visa requirement information.
Benefits & Challenges
The Bilbao metro-area, in total, has a population of around a million, making it a manageable city for those who may not be used to urban life. Along with its smaller size and unique culture comes the chance to experience living away from global chain stores and restaurants. While it may be difficult to find an iced coffee, local cafes do provide ample opportunity to try churros con chocolate and other local treats. Language is not generally a barrier for English-speakers, and even so, full language immersion opportunities will foster genuine learning experiences.
Should a student long for a getaway, Bilbao’s location and modern airport make for fast and affordable travel across Spain and Europe. France is just a couple hours away by bus or train; cultural adventures abound for students studying in Bilbao!
Bilbao’s natural and architectural beauty along the Bay of Biscay will capture you instantly. The educational and cultural opportunities the city provides make it truly difficult to pass up a chance to spend even a few weeks studying abroad in Bilbao.
Do your research and explore the options, but in the end, the experience will be what you make it.