How Not to Starve in Spain (And Other Food Abroad Stories)

Keely Meyers is a student at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and is an intern in Barcelona this spring. Read about her adventures with food in Spain and how it has unexpectedly impacted her intern abroad experience!


One of the things I was most excited about while traveling abroad was the food. I couldn’t wait to try new things, cook traditional meals, and learn more about the Spanish culture through something I already loved. Food has played an integral part in my experience abroad. All of my experiences surrounding food – the good, the bad, and the ugly – have taught me more about myself and my host culture. 

Chocolate con churros from Cafe de l’Opera
Chocolate con churros from Cafe de l’Opera

Cooking and Eating in Spain

Learning to cook Catalan food has been one of the best parts of enjoying food in Spain. I took a Catalan cooking class as part of the cultural activities through CISabroad and learned how to make traditional foods such as calçots and romesco sauce, artichokes, pan con tomate, paella, crema catalana, and tortilla española. I also got to keep the recipes to take home and impress my family and friends with my new skills and broadened palate.

The culture around food here is much different than it is at home. For example, meal times in Spain are not what I am used to. Here, locals eat a large lunch around two o’clock in the afternoon and take their time, similar to how many Americans eat dinner. The dinners here, on the other hand, are very small and eaten late at night – usually around 10 or 11 o’clock! It took a while to get used to the different eating schedule, but embracing the different mealtimes has made me feel more immersed in the local culture.

Also different from the U.S. is the amount of time devoted to cooking and enjoying food. Spaniards take a lot of pride in preparing their food from the freshest ingredients and enjoying the eating experience with family and friends. There are various mercats around the city – markets where you can find the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafoods – where locals buy ingredients to cook with. Cooking and eating meals are also much longer processes than they are back home, often lasting multiple hours.

Fresh fruits from Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona

Fresh fruits from Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona

Trying New Foods

Trying new foods is something that I definitely wanted to do while abroad. One of my rules while traveling has been to never say no to something I was offered – no matter how weird or scary it seemed. Because of my self-enforced rule, I have enjoyed culinary “delights” such as blood sausage, cow intestine, octopus, squid, and anchovies. Even if I hated them, I knew it was important to try new things and embrace local flavors. I have also gone out to new restaurants or been invited over to eat meals with new friends and tried foods I never would have back home, including pho from a traditional restaurant in Paris, authentic Chinese food from a local restaurant in Barcelona, and home-cooked Argentinian asado. I have found some surprising new favorite foods and learned that things I was too scared to eat weren’t actually so bad! (Except anchovies, those were about as bad as they sound.)

Some of my favorite local foods that I have tried have been the tapas. I have tried ham croquetas, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and many more. I have also enjoyed cava, the Spanish version of champagne, and went on a cava tour with my site director to learn about the history and production process of this regional drink.

Another local eating experience I had here was taking part in a calçotada – a large feast centered around sweet onions called calçots. The process of eating calçots is both messy and fun, and is an important local tradition that I absolutely loved experiencing.

Tapas feast from my welcome lunch with CISabroad
Tapas feast from my welcome lunch with CISabroad

Grocery Shopping

Trying new foods has also come naturally because of the different selection in supermarkets in Barcelona. Brands and even types of food from home are not found here, which has forced me to push myself outside of my comfort zone, craft new recipes, and pick up local habits. When one of those habits includes picking up a fresh-baked baguette daily, I’m not one to complain!

Grocery shopping in Spain was definitely an experience the first time I went. For one thing, the grocery stores are all closed on Sundays and often close much earlier than American supermarkets on weeknights. As a result, my first Sunday in Barcelona also happened to be a very hungry day for me! When I did find an open grocery store the next day, it took a little getting used to. I vividly remember shopping with my roommate, who was searching for milk. Eventually, she had to ask a woman in the store where it was. The woman gave her a confused look and proceeded to point right next to the shelf where the two were standing, not understanding how we didn’t know to look for the milk on the shelf and not in the refrigerated section. Embarrassed, we thanked her and proceeded to the checkout. However, another thing we did not know about grocery shopping in Spain was that grocery bags were not free. We tried to save some money by carrying our groceries home in our arms, struggling and laughing the whole way home. We did not know at the time, but the bags were only 10 cents – definitely worth getting to avoid dropping your eggs on the city streets.

Food has been a huge part of my experience here in Barcelona and has been a way for me to challenge myself to try new things, learn about local customs and cuisine, and immerse myself in the daily life of a local. I have learned to be open to new things, try my hand at cooking once in a while (I’m not quite as terrible as I thought), and use food as a way to connect with people and cultures from around the world.


Want to learn more about how you can have an amazing experience in Spain? It’s easy with CISabroad! 

7 Travel Tips to Make Your Money Last While Living Abroad

While you certainly shouldn’t expect to save money while abroad, even if you’re going to a place with a lower cost of living, it is possible to live more affordably. When budgeting your living expenses abroad, you will want to weigh different activities differently.  Think about which activities are likely to leave a greater impression on you and stick with you well after the fact.

For example, it might be worth cooking in instead of going out to eat for an entire week so you can take a weekend trip out of town. In that case, your eating expenses can make room for your traveling expenses. Or, instead of treating yourself to fancy Italian shoes at a department store, you could buy a bunch of local clothing from a market. You are giving more weight to sentimentality than fashion in that case.

study abroad in Barcelona cooking class

Take a cooking class while abroad to learn how to use local ingredients to prepare tasty creations!

Also, keep in mind that you are probably most likely to travel the most at the beginning and end of your program. The beginning gives you your bearings and lets you visit neat places outside of your new home town. Once you’ve settled in, chances are you’ll enjoy getting to know your new location, meeting the locals, and focusing on your studies or internship, so you might be able to spend less on travel in the middle. Then, as your program is wrapping up, chances are you’ll either play host/hostess to friends or family, or you’ll want to make the most of being a quick bus ride or flight away from some amazing destinations. So, you’ll definitely want to save a good bit for the end to go out with a bang.

Regardless of how tight your budget is, you could always use more money to fund your fun. Here are some tips on how you can make your money last:

1. Cook for yourself. Buying your own groceries and cooking for yourself will save you loads of money! While it’s nice to go out to eat and experience the local flavors, don’t make it the exception rather than the norm for your daily food intake.

Study abroad in Italy on a budget

If you stick to a reasonable food budget, when you treat yourself you’ll enjoy it even more!

2. Eat at local places. When you do go out to eat,you’ll get more culture and better value from a locally-rooted restaurant than a big national or international chain. Also, some restaurants raise prices for tourists. Picking restaurants that do not have tourists eating at them will most likely be less expensive and probably have more interesting and tasty food.

3. Share and make food last for more than one meal. If you are eating out you can save money by ordering one entrée and a side salad and sharing it with a friend. You can also eat a bigger lunch which tends to be less expensive and a smaller dinner. And you can only eat half of your food and eat it for dinner or lunch the next day.

4. Use public transportation or walk. Taxi rides are not easy on the wallet! Choosing to take the bus or metro when it’s possible and safe will save you money. You see more of the places by walking and are more immersed in the culture by taking public transportation. Plus, there’s just something satisfying about properly navigating your own way around. And there’s no shame in asking when you’re not sure! Chances are you’ll get an answer and potentially a friend from the interaction.

Study abroad in Italy group meal

Be sure to check your bill for included service/gratuity, especially when with a large group!

5. Don’t over tip. Research the area where you will be living or traveling to in order to understand local customs. In many places a 10% tip is sufficient because waiters get a higher base pay rate. In some places, taxi drivers don’t expect any tip. However, you also need to observe local norms to determine new tipping situations you might not expect. One such example is tipping the person that bags your groceries. Even if it’s usually a minimal amount, if you see locals doing it, you should too.

6. Make a budget. As mentioned above, you might weigh different activities differently. You’ll find you can save on some essentials to be able to spend more liberally on the fun stuff. Account for your daily expenses and plan to save enough for weekend trips and other miscellaneous things.

7. Have or find reserves. You certainly don’t want to find yourself short on cash when studying or interning abroad, so you should also be sure to have a backup plan in the case funds start running low. That may mean you account for some reserve funds in your loan, borrow from family or friends, or maybe ask for “advance” birthday and holiday gifts. A few photos from your weekend adventure would make your financial supporters happy with their investment 😉

Finally, you can potentially ignore all the advice above if you plan in advance. CISabroad offers detailed budget sheets for each program, factoring in all the essentials and also leaving room for miscellaneous and personal expenses. You can also solicit funding from friends, family, co-workers, classmates, community organizations, etc. at www.FundMyTravel.com. Here you’ll be able to create a campaign with a goal amount and ask for contributions to support your future travels.

Do you have any budget advice for traveling abroad? Or, do you have any questions about how to best prepare financially for your time overseas? Leave a comment below!  

Why Studying Abroad Doesn't Mean Cancelling Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an important holiday for spending time with friends and family. Studying abroad doesn’t mean missing out- in fact, I had one of the best Thanksgiving dinners of my life while studying in Limerick, Ireland.

A bunch of us students (both Canadian and American) got together to cook a feast filled with both traditional and new flavors found nearby. Study abroad in Limerick Ireland Each student was from somewhere different, and each brought something different to the table. A lot of things had to be made from scratch or improvised for the meal, including turkey, which can be hard to find in international supermarkets at short notice. I suggest pre-ordering one from a supermarket or butcher shop. Flexibility and adaptability was key, and to cut costs, we made the dinner a potluck. Our Irish classmates who attended  really got into the tradition and brought their favorite homemade dishes.

Even though we were a few thousand miles away from home, it felt like Thanksgiving. We covered the room with festive fall decorations and dressed up in nice attire. We then sat down to a delicious and wonderfully unique meal together, surrounded by new friends. It was one Thanksgiving meals that I am most thankful for, and really made me feel fortunate to be able to have and share the experience.

This post is courtesy of guest blogger, Brittany Garand, CISabroad staffer and dog lover.  

What are some traditions unique to how you celebrateThanksgiving? Are you celebrating Thanksgiving abroad? Leave a comment below!