Experiencing Cultural Immersion in San Sebastián, Spain

San Sebastián, Spain is an ideal location to study Spanish language and psychology. That’s why when Zachary from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, decided to take his studies overseas, his advisor recommended he look into this popular Spain destination. As a psychology and Spanish major, San Sebastián allowed Zachary to fully immerse into the culture while taking classes towards his graduation. We caught up with Zachary to talk about his time abroad and how it impacted his future plans.

Why did you choose to study abroad in San Sebastian?

San Sebastián was recommended to me by an advisor in the Spanish department at UMass. He thought it would be the right choice for me because I could be culturally immersed while getting to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. After watching a couple of videos about the city, I knew that I had to go. 

What Basque and Spanish cultural events were you involved in during your time abroad? What has been your participation in these events?

There were quite a few. The most memorable event was la Tamborrada, a 24 hour festival in January that only happens in San Sebastián. Thousands of people pour into the streets in a celebration of the city’s history and culture. Large parades of people dressed as chefs and soldiers march through the city, playing the city’s anthems and really loud drums. It is an amazing all-night party that continues into the next day. We barely slept that night and had the time of our lives.

Why is getting involved in local events important to you?

Participating in local events is an amazing way to get culturally immersed. You can learn so much about the city that you are living in, and that makes the experience so much more special. Taking part in these events and traditions is what made the city feel like home.

What’s one stand-out experience from your time abroad?

After the program ended, I traveled on my own around Europe for three weeks before going home. I managed to travel through four countries and over a dozen cities. Being alone on a trip like that was unlike anything I had done before, so it was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone. With that being said, it was an absolutely incredible experience. I stayed in hostels, and met amazing people from all around the world. Some of these people began to feel like close friends, even though we had only spent a couple of days together. I learned so much about myself during that time, and I’ll never forget it.  

Has study abroad impacted your major, academics, or professional goals in any way? If so, how?

Definitely. I feel so much more fluent and confident in Spanish, which will be a really important skill in my social work career. I have also decided that I would like to go abroad again after I graduate to teach English for a year in a Spanish-speaking country. I would be thrilled to return to San Sebastián, but I’m keeping my options open at the moment

Anything else you’d like to say about your experience and why students should choose to study in San Sebastián?

Obviously, I’m a little biased because of my emotional connection to the city, but after all I’ve seen, I really do believe that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s an amazing combination of vibrant urban life and stunning natural beauty. It has amazing people, food and culture. The cultural immersion is very special in a place like this because it’s not nearly as touristy as Spain’s big cities like Madrid and Barcelona. After a little while, it really will feel like home, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is planning on studying abroad.

Wondering what San Sebastián is like today? Take a tour of the city, post COVID-19 with our Resident Director, Patricia.


To find your perfect study abroad destination, explore the USAC website.