Academic Year Abroad – Independent Study Abroad in Spain & Germany – How I Did It!

$5,500 for an academic year in Germany and $5,565 for an academic year in Spain. Two of the best times of my life! How did I do it?

Before I give you the cool details I have to note that:

(1) really wanted to study abroad and
(2) I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of each of my study abroad experiences

(3) I was more concerned with the benefit of study abroad – language FLUENCY and cultural competence, than I was with how many credits I might be awarded for my study abroad experiences

Year in Germany – My Study Abroad Goals

My goal in Germany was to bust my butt the entire time and learn and much German as I possibly could. I wanted to achieve fluency, I wanted to have an awesome vocabulary, I wanted to speak correctly. I also wanted to LIVE in Germany. I wanted to experience daily life in Germany, understand the Germans, understand how the Germans thought, and have general insight into German values, politics, and culture. And I wanted to have fun. 

Most important study abroad goal in Germany: communicative competence – fluency in German! 

Year in Spain – My Study Abroad Goals

My goal in Spain was delve further into Spanish culture. I had already spent a summer in Spain and had studied a fair amount of Spanish, so enhancing my fluency in Spanish was an important goal. However, rather than focus on the building blocks of the language (conversation, vocabulary, grammar, etc.), I chose a course that focused on Spanish history, literature, art history and related courses. Ah ! And I also wanted to have fun! 

Most important study abroad goal in Spain: in-depth knowledge of Spanish history, literature, thought, culture and contemporary issues. 

The Cheapest Study Abroad Alternativies I Could Find

Germany – a “no frills” German Language School

In Germany, I decided to take German classes at the cheapest German language school for foreigners that I could find. My only conditions were that it be in a German city that interested me, since that’s where I was going to spend the next 6 or so months of my life, and that the German teachers be good.

The German school I found in Germany was really a “no-frills” German school – no tennis courts, no ping-pong tables, not even a “proper” cafeteria (there was a small automatic coffee machine outside the classrooms and we all gathered there, in something of a more “intimate” environment). It was modest in all respects. But, as I later learned, they were expert at teaching the German language to foreigners. The best German teacher I ever had, I had at that school. I took a risk and, well….I hit the jackpot! 

Cost Info – Germany

Tuition: $3,276 for 33 weeks (just over 8 months)
Housing: $2,205 for 9 months (in a German student dorm also open to international students)

Spain – A Spanish Language School in Spain

In Spain I found that certain Spanish universities and in-country Spanish schools offered courses more focused on Spanish history, culture, etc. – which was exactly what I wanted, since I already had a high-intermediate level of Spanish. To do these courses, you needed to have a certain level of Spanish, which I had. So off I went!

Cost Info – Academic Year in Spain

Tuition: $2,989 for for 8 months
Housing: $2,576 for 9 months (in a student apartment with a shared kitchen) 
Other Cost Info

As with all study abroad programs, there are some common costs:

  • Health Insurance (check for affordable insurance via in-country language schools and foreign universities)
  • Visa Costs (no Visa generally needed for stays of 3 months or less (for U.S. nationals) at language schools – double check with the nearest consulate of the country where you want to study abroad)
  • Learning materials (in general, not nearly as expensive as college texts in the U.S.)
  • Cell phone (a cheap pre-paid cell phone costs around $35 in Europe. Incoming calls are free)
  • Food (in both instances I spent about $50 per week for food).
  • Spending money (varies, depending on who you are and what you do)
  • Airfare


Academic Year in Germany – Summary

In a thousand words or less, I had the best time of my life. I achieved all of my goals. My German improved dramatically over the academic year I spent studying abroad in Germany. I became a highly fluent speaker of German. To this day I still read books in German, watch German cinema, and continue to meet interesting Germans wherever in the world I may be (which, at the moment, happens to be Spain). I passed the German language exam required for entrance into a German university, got 2 jobs over the years specifically because of my German fluency, learned tons about Germans, Germany, and, interestingly, about America by way of comparison.


Academic Year in Spain – Summary

I cannot tell you how much fun I had in Spain – maybe that’s why I’m here now as I write. I had (fun x 10)² ! Let’s leave it at that. Why? Because having fun is great – but learning and acquiring skills that are going to up the quality of life and the future opportunities is much more important. In Spain my fluency shot up just as my German fluency shot up in Germany. I developed a much deeper appreciation of (and familiarization with) Spanish culture, literature, history, politics, and the Spanish way of thinking. It was both awesome and rewarding in ways that I cannot express in words…so I won’t even try. You’ll have to check it out for yourself!


What About Credits for Independent Study Abroad?

Remember, my priorities were fluency and cultural competency. To meet my goals I felt that I had to spend as much time in Germany and Spain as possible – and to do that I had to get the most time abroad out of the money I had available. (And I succeeded in a big way! Over the years I secured several attractive jobs because of my German and Spanish fluency.)

So, before spending an academic year in Germany and an academic year in Spain (one during college and one after) I spoke to advisors and my professors. 

In a nutshell, I obtained credits for some of my coursework and time abroad by taking CLEP exams and I was able to take placement exams and place out of higher level courses for which I had acquired and demonstrated knowledge.


My Advice Regarding Independent Study Abroad

Focus on the experience and the benefits of study abroad. Focus on acquiring foreign language skills. Focus on developing cultural awareness. If you focus on the benefit of your study abroad experience(s), you will have more options (and many more less-expensive options) at your disposal than if you focus solely on credits.

And don’t forget to look into all credit possibilities, such as: 
– CLEP Exams (College Level Examination Program)
– Other Standardized Tests
– Independent Learning Contracts (arranged before you leave to study abroad)
– Dante Exams

– DSST Exams