Bienvenidos a Santiago / or rather… Benvidos a Galicia !
Hello! So you have chosen Santiago de Compostela as your next destination, where you will spend the next semester or two. Galicia is a great place to be in, but it might take a period of time to get used to a new city, a new culture, a new language (or two!) and a new educational system.
There are four national languages in Spain. Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician. Moving to Santiago means getting immersed in a strong and specific cultural context, that is charming but might puzzle you in the first place. When I first came to the university, I did not quite feel welcome:
Gallegos are proud about their land, language, cultural heritage and traditions. Most of them feel Spanish before Gallegos, although there is a strong regional sense of belonging there. They are surrounded by an outstandingly rich nature & have excellent culinary traditions. However, you must know some Gallegos do push this pride to further extents: you can be in a class with 25 strangers and 2 locals, ask the professor if he can teach in Spanish instead of Gallego with the agreement of the 2 locals, and he might answer in Galician politely to go **** yourself. If you speak good Spanish or Portuguese, it will definitely be OK though, as Gallego is at the crossroads of both languages. It took me a week to adapt. If your Spanish is weaker, you might need more time, but it will still be OK. And honestly, as I will try to explain in this article, Santiago is GENUINELY worth the effort. I spent my best semester there, made friends of a lifetime, visited every corner in Spain and Portugal, and had A BLAST.
Tip: WHAT TO PACK?
A waterproof version of everything! It rains. A lot. It is something you will grow accustomed to, but make sure you are prepared. Pack your weelingtons and a good raincoat with a hood. Or, alternatively, be prepared to invest in waterproof shoes, an umbrella, and a “chubasquesro” (waterproof coat.)
Santiago is at the far north-west end of Spain. Very close to the “end of the world”, the most western part of Europe. You’ll very probably have the occasion to go there with the student associations. And you should, it’s beautiful. It’s funny to think if you were to swim through the Atlantic, you’d land in Miami.
How to get there
There are more and more flight connexions to Santiago, as the destination is getting trendier and trendier. You should take your tickets in advance, as they can get very expensive !
From the airport, a shuttle takes you to the main points of interest in the city for a couple of euros. Then you can do everything by feet, it’s a small city. And there is something beautiful to see at every corner.
Bus or train
It’s very easy to come from Porto. It’s 5 hours away by bus, and you’d not pay very much for your ticket. From Madrid for instance, you can get there by train.
Transport from the airport
By bus the only real option to get to Santiago is with Empresa Freire. One way tickets are 3 EUR and a return ticket is 5.10 EUR. The bus stops right outside the airport every half an hour.
There are a couple of companies you can book a taxi from. The cost will be around 20-25 EUR to take you from the airport to the city.
Transport from the train station
Line 6 will take you from near the train station to Plaza Galicia. From there you can take other lines to different places around the city. Here you can find out more about public transportation in Santiago.
Taxi is always an option of course.
While it is true that there are plenty of flats available for students, it is recommended to get your accommodation sorted as soon as possible. Knowing that you have a place to stay can reduce your stress levels once you are in Santiago trying to get all the administrative matters sorted.
You can choose to stay at the university accommodation. This tends to be more expensive, however, and you are required to pay for the entire semester upfront. It is also situated on the south campus, which does make for a lot of walking to and from the Philology faculty.
The other possibility is to rent a room in a shared flat or house. Shared housing usually costs €150 to €200 per month. You can check availability of rooms on websites such as Erasmusu, which is an Erasmus community site, and Xornal da USC which is the general notice board for the university.
Alternatively, you could get in touch with your fellow students for advice and landlord contact details. You can ask your student representative or local coordinators to help you contact students that were in Santiago in the previous semester.
Tip from Nora:
Definitely, don’t DON’T try and get a room near the northern university! It’s the dullest and ugliest part in the city and NOTHING HAPPENS THERE! In my opinion, Rua do San Roque is the highest you should accept to go. The city beats at the center and the south, otherwise your Erasmus is not going to be fun. As far as I experimented, the best places to get a flat are the historic center (easy to spot as it forms a circle) and around Praza de Galicia (I lived Rua Montero Rios and it was an amazing location !).
For sure, you’ll have most of your classes in the Northern USC buildings, but still, there is the bus, and it’s a 20’ walk from Prada do Obradoiro.
It’s quite easy to find a shared flat in Santiago, it’s cheap (around 300 euros) and you should try and live with locals, it’s so much more fun.
One aspect of the cultural life here in Santiago that might be hard to get used to is the Spanish time.
Grocery shops tend to open at 9:00am, but some other shops won’t be open till 10:00am.
Lunchtime is at 2:00pm. This means that usually from 2:00pm – 5:00pm shops will be closed. At 5:00pm they re-open and stay open until about 8:00pm. Keep this in mind when making plans. Your courses will most likely all be held during the afternoon (4:00pm-8:30pm), which usually prevents you from getting to shops for the afternoon time. Afternoon here refers to the time after lunch, but before dinner, which is taken at around 10:00pm.
MOBILE PHONE AND INTERNET PROVIDER
These are the 4 main providers with their own network:
Spain operates on a GSM network. If you have a European phone or one from many other countries, this means that your current phone will probably work in Spain. If you are coming from North America or parts of Asia you will probably have a CDMA phone, which will not work. If you have a GSM phone, you need to check whether your phone is unlocked – some phones are locked in to the network you already have – if it is unlocked you just need a Spanish SIM card.
Prices on new phones differ greatly depending on the retailer and the mobile operator. While each operator has its own retail outlets, prices tend to be better elsewhere. Large retailers like Carrefour offer relatively good deals. For Vodafone and Orange phones in particular, The Phone House chain is very competitive.
There are other low-cost chains like Lebara and Simyo, which entered the mobile phone market a few years ago. One thing to note with these si that if you order your SIM card online you will be required to pay using a debit or credit card issued in Spain.
Having explained the above, it is important to point out that one popular provider with students is Orange since they offer a pay as you go (pre-pago) option called Mundo. SIM Mundo is a very good alternative since it allows free Mundo to Mundo calls, which means that if many Crossways students opt for it you can talk to each other free of charge. Additionally it offers different data packages from which you can choose: 500MB (€6/month), 1GB (€9/month) and 2GB (€15/month). (Disclaimer: the prices quoted on this guide are subject to change.)
Over the last few years many low-cost chains like Happy Móvil, Lebara and Simyo have entered the mobile phone market to compete with the four main providers mentioned above. Furthermore many supermarkets offer mobile phone tariffs as e.g. Día Móvil, Eroski Móvil or Carrefour Móvil. Prices and services vary from company to company. Most providers offer tariffs including internet access.
There are a variety of banks to choose from here in Santiago. You can go for the Santander bank account, which is the one offered to students at the university. There is a branch in the Economics faculty, and it is in this Santander Bank where you go get your student ID once you have registered.
There are many, many shops for you to explore and choose from.
There are two big shopping centres As Cancelas and Area Central. Usually landlords provide you with basic things such as towels and bed sheets and pillows, but if you need anything house related, then you can head to Primark from As Cancelas, which is one of cheapest place to find these sorts of things.
The main supermarkets are:
Carrefour: north campus in As Cancelas and near Plaza Galicia
Gadis: scattered everywhere. There is one in front of philology faculty. This supermarket is one of the cheapest. Most no -brand products have a better price here than in Carrefour. Mercadona: South Campus, has different things, but it is far away from most things.
Día: there are a couple around the city. They do not really have a lot of variety, but a Día can help you out in a pinch. They do have a 7 EUR minimum when paying by card.
Froiz: Similar to Día and Gadis. You can find them in the new area of the city. Lidl: there is one near Mercadona.
Santiago is – as far as I understood from some discussions with Mundus fellows – the place where it’s the most difficult to design your courses plan. You have a lot of classes (about 25 hours a week in 1st semester when I studied there in 2012) and you can choose very few of them. So for instance I ended up with a class about literature in videogames, and even though I’m a curious and academic-enthusiast I really found this class stupid and horribly annoying but I had to be there anyways because they did check if you attended each and every hour… I have a lot of troubles coping with this manner of forcing grown up people into studying things they were not interested in – and trying to prevent them to “miss classes” like children… But you’ll have to get used to it too.
This being said, you can insist to take some classes you like among the optional ones. I had the right to follow a cinema class in the History faculty, because I harassed Anxo Abuin until he let me do so. The class was amazing.
Some professors are excellent, some less, but it’s the same everywhere. What you have to know about the structure of the semester is that the evaluations happen at the end of the term. Sometimes you have to pass an oral or written one on the spot. But mostly the teachers ask you to provide them with a 15 pages essay on a topic you will have chosen with them, related to their class. It’s quite flexible, but demanding too, and the ones who choose to write everything last minute do suffer.
One of the first things to do once you arrive in Santiago is to set up a meeting with Antonio. You need him to sign your arrival and matriculation forms. Once you have the matriculation form signed you can get the process started with the UXA (), which is the department that will grant you your student credentials. These credentials will grant you access to eduroam, the university’s wireless network; it will also allow you to open up a bank account, which in turn allows you to get Wi-Fi at home.
Once you finish your initial meeting with Antonio head to the UXA, which is the building south form the Philology Faculty. You can ask any student nearby and they should be able to point you in the right direction. At the UXA you will have to provide them with your passport and the forms Antonio signed. You will have to fill in some details on yet another form. Once you are done with this they will tell you to go home and wait for an email. Actual registration will take a while. As Erasmus Mundus Students our matriculation is done separately and it takes some time.
Student I.D. Card
Once you have matriculated you will receive an email with a pdf file attached that will have your details. Print this file and take it to the Santander Bank located in the Economics faculty. They will take your picture there, so be prepared. After that you just need to wait a few minutes and they will print your ID out.
You get 2 credits if you attend a seminar, workshop, conference, etc. on any topic that interests you.
It’s an easy and interesting way of getting credits.
Eduroam (USC Wi-Fi)
Here you can find a guide to help you connect to eduroam.
The instructions are only available in Galician. So to make things simple the best thing you could do is head to the library and ask for help. It is the quickest way to get access and people at the desk tend to be nice about it.
In order to take books out of the library you need to register there first. To do this you take the same paper you used for your student ID and present it to the reception desk. They will fill out the information and you will be allowed to log in to the internet library services, where you can reserve and request books from other libraries in different faculties.
The libraries are great. There are many books on many subjects, that one can borrow. There are scanners too, and most of the time students do exchange the PDFs of the numerous critical essays to read for the classes – homework is important too.
My absolute favourite library is the History one, you should really go and study there because it’s LOVELY. It’s full of old books, it smells after them, and even the light has something special in this place. However, it’s very often crowded, all the more before exams.
STUDENT LIFE & TRADITIONS
Just like me before studying in Santiago, you must fear this city is religious, old, and all in all fairly dull. 0/20. Epic judgemental failure.
As many bars as churches & convents
Half of the inhabitants are students or young people. The most amazing thing in Santiago is that there are as many bars as churches. And there are many churches, I swear. This creates the most astonishing yet charming paradox. Just like in many student cities, such as Salamanca, Barcelona or Madrid, young people drink cocktails on the terraces during whenever the weather allows it, and inhabit the bars whenever it doesn’t.
My favourite bar is definitely la Medusa (close to Plaza Cervantes) and Momo, that’s got an amazing patio, close to the History faculty. At the Medusa, Fran, the barman, makes the most stunning caipirinhas de fresa of the whole world. I’m not kidding, this is not an exercise, rush there and you’ll feel as lovely as in Brazil. Ultramarinos (going down from Praza Cervantes on in direction of Calle San Pedro) is cool too. Of course, there are a LOT of other bars, you will have good surprises in many places.
Be ready: ESN and Sharing Galicia, both student associations in Santiago, will transform your Erasmus into a giant disco where parties, travels, weekend in the forest, afterworks, dinners, brunches and crazy events I won’t talk about not to scare you – just kidding – will mix happily ever after.
Quelques photos de voyages
With them, I went to Porto & Braga, to Salamanca, to Alicante, to Pedrafita Do Cereibro, to Lugo, to Vigo and the Islas Cies (there you’ll have the impression to be in New Zealand)… I missed the trip to Bilbao, but I travelled to Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon with friends so that it was OK. The trips organized by both organizations are great, good value for money and you meet many amazing people. I don’t know if Pablo still works for Sharing Galicia, but he also used to take groups of 7 people in a mini bus through tours of the Galician nature and it was amazing.
Here are some photographs.
The parties are – this is not a pleonasm – rather festive. You can start at midnight in a bar, and by 11 o’clock the next morning you will have gone to 3 bars, 2 discos, 2 after works and a brunch, but you will remember only half of it. I’m not entirely kidding. I’ll leave you guess which part is true. Anyways, you’ll really have good times, 7 nights a week if you wish to do so.
In October (as far as I can remember), the city transforms into a giant cinema festival. There are two main events: one about arab movies, and the other about European films. There are a lot of cheap projections, you can buy several tickets at a time to have lower prices, and so you can see the best movies of the year, from Cannes, the Berlin or Toronto film festivals, etc. You can also grade the movies, and the whole events are amazing.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Everything in the old town is a place of interest. The cathedral’s square, Praza do Obradoiro, is of course very impressive. But there are many more churches, convents & architectural marvels to discover.
I would advise you to enter the Sta Clara Convent, to watch the cathedral from the Praza Das Praterias, to chill on the Praza Cervantes and around the history university or to go up Rua San Pedro, a charming part of the town.
Do not miss the view on the cathedral from Parque del Alhameda, nor from Parque de Bonaval. Here are the photographs, but of course it’s far better to experiment it.
And do go to Ciudad de la Cultura, a place of temporary exhibitions and a library worth it for its architecture.
Photo de ciudad de la cultura
Casa Manolo, on Praza Cervantes, serves great fish. Going down Praza Cervantes on your right, there was a small restaurant that serves pieces of bread with Spanish ham and melted cheeses you can choose. I hope it still exists, because it’s amazing. The bar “Marta” makes my favourite tortilla and is great in summer “para tomar” (to have a drink).
If you want real Galician food, fresh pulpo and queso de tetilla, you should go there :
Bodegon dos concheiros, rua dos Concheiros. It looks aweful but it’s delicious. My Galician friends took me there and it’s worth it.