This is the third part in a series of FAQs regarding Erasmus Mundus IMIM (International Master in Industrial Management) programme. In this part, I will cover the questions related to pre-departure phase. If you have decided to join IMIM, this information will be very useful for you. And if you haven’t already, please click here to read the first part, and click here to read the second part.
Q. When should I leave India? How many days ahead of the commencement should I reach Madrid?
A. This depends entirely on you. Even just a day before commencement is fine in theory. But it is better to arrive around a week before start of programme so that you get enough time to acclimate, meet with your classmates, and find accommodation (if you haven’t done that before leaving India) etc. If you are a working professional and thinking about resignation date, I would say working till August 31 is definitely possible. The only drawback is that it will be slightly difficult to complete formalities such as Apostille process along with job, and also shopping and packing will have to be well managed. But there are other Indian students before you who have successfully managed this so no need to worry if you need to work till end of August.
Q. Can you provide information about finding accommodation in Madrid?
A. There are two ways to find accommodation. Either via an agency or on your own. For the first, Aluni is a good option. UPM probably has already suggested you that. It is a bit more expensive than finding an apartment on your own, but unless you know someone in Madrid or you speak Spanish well, or are ready to arrive in Madrid without an accommodation and start searching upon arrival, it is not easy to find one on your own. So I would suggest you Aluni as a safe option. When I say safe, I would like to also point out that couple of people in my class did not have a good experience with this agency, but overall the impression has been positive.
Regarding which area is preferable to live, of course areas around centre are better but are also more expensive. Luckily Madrid has amazing public transport so it does not really matter where you stay as long as it is not too far from the university. The monthly transport pass was around 55€ in 2013. But just to be safe, I would suggest you to stick to say 3 km radius from university. Otherwise you have to wake up earlier to travel longer distance to get to university, it takes longer to get back home after any events/parties etc.
Note: Beware of frauds happening related to renting a place. DO NOT transfer money to some individual’s bank account unless you are absolutely sure about his or her authenticity. There have been a lot of cases of people pretending to have a room to rent and then vanishing with deposit money.
Q. How much should I expect to pay for a room in Madrid?
A. A private room in a shared apartment can be found for around 300€ a month, but normally close to 400€ including utilities and internet etc. A double room (room shared with one other person) will be (or rather should be) cheaper. To give you an example, I rented a room via Aluni, close to Cuatro Caminos metro station. The rent was 380€ a month, and utilities were around 40-50€ a month (variable, depending on actual usage). So in the end I was paying on average 425€ a month for my room, in a 3-bedroom apartment.
Q. Should I take a double room to reduce expenses?
A. It totally depends on you. If it is really cheaper than private room alternatives, then it sounds like a good idea. Also if you know the person you will be sharing your room with, then it is easy decision. But otherwise remember that different people have different habits and sometimes it may not be easy to get along, or you may not have enough privacy.
Q. Is it good idea to live with Indians or to live with people from different countries?
A. Depends on what you are looking to gain from this experience. I would say it is better to live with people from other countries. This way you get to learn about new cultures, and make friends from other countries. And your non-Indian flatmates will probably introduce you to their friends, who might be from multiple different countries. Compared to this if you stick to Indian friends and have already formed a nice group, you are now in your comfort zone and there will be less incentive to make friends from other nationalities.
Q. Can you suggest things to buy and carry from India?
A. You can buy literally everything in Madrid. So try not to carry too much stuff. The only things that are considerably expensive are shoes. So make sure you carry few pairs with you. Winter in Madrid is not that bad, and it rarely snows. So depending on your sensitivity to cold, carry winter clothes with you. Do not worry too much what to wear in second winter because by then you will know where to buy appropriate jacket from winter/summer sales in Europe.
Although it may seem that you are saving a lot by buying everything from India, keep in mind the cost of carrying all that stuff around for two years. Let me give you an example. In Madrid you can go from the airport to city centre for 5-7€ with metro. But this will not be possible if you are carrying two big bags, and a small hand luggage, and a laptop bag etc. So you will probably take a taxi. Now this taxi will cost you 30€. When you move to Milan, again you will have to pay 30€ to get to airport, pay extra 50-100€ for luggage along with your flight ticket, and take similar taxi in Milan. So just within the first year you will end up spending more than 100€ carrying this stuff around, and you still have to move at least one more time. Not to mention the time spent packing and unpacking it every time. Now to make it all worth, you should be carrying things that cost at least few hundred Euros. But if all you are carrying is Indian food, cooking utensils, and some such similar things that can be purchased in Europe within 100€, it does not make sense to go through all that trouble. So keep this in mind when you are shopping, and packing your bags in India.
Tip: In some apartments in Europe you will find gas stove, while in others there will be electric/induction stove. So if you are planning to carry utensils (such as a pressure cooker) from India, make sure you carry the ones that work on both type of stoves.
Q. Is there any discount for students on flight tickets?
A. As far as I remember, there was a student offer on Jet Airways and British Airways of one extra piece of luggage. So normally for European routes they offer one piece of 23 kg bag. But as a student you could carry another 23 kg bag. I chose Jet Airways because I got a cheaper ticket with them.
Note: You may have heard of your friends going to USA carrying 3 pieces of luggage as a student. But that is because (as far as I know) on USA routes it is normally allowed to carry two pieces of 23 kg. So the “student offer” of one extra piece of luggage is the same in both cases.
Tip: Avoid flights with two stops even if they are cheaper. It is just too much headache. Stick to one stop tickets and if you are able to get a direct flight, of course that will be perfect!
Q. So I can carry one extra piece of luggage till Madrid, but how does it work for moving to other cities every semester? Are there similar discounts for students in Europe?
A. As far as I know, there are no such discounts that are actually cheap. I remember a Brussels Airlines student offer of 199€ or something similar when I was searching for tickets from Madrid to Milan. But luckily in Europe there are so many low cost airlines that you do not have to worry about this if you plan your trips well. For traveling from Madrid to Milan, I would suggest easyjet because of their cheaper rates for luggage. If you book the ticket well in advance, you can travel within 100€ with even 3 pieces of luggage.
Tip: Buy the ticket to Milan couple of months in advance. You will be able to get the approximate semester end date from coordinators by that time. And then you can add luggage to your ticket till a day before flight so you do not have to invest the whole amount at once and have a lot of flexibility.
Q. Which bank is better for opening account in Spain: Santander or Barclays, or some other?
A. I have an account in Santander Bank. So I can give you first-hand experience regarding this. I am very satisfied with the service so far. The bank officials were always helpful, their helpline also was always helpful and had option of English, they have lot of ATMs in Madrid, and very good internet banking facilities. As a result I am still using the account even though I have already graduated and left Madrid long back. In fact their exchange rates for non-Euro currencies in Europe are so good that I was using the debit card for transactions during my trips to Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
I do not have any experience with Barclays except visiting their office in Madrid once to inquire about opening a bank account. That experience was as good as my visits to Santander office. So I am assuming the overall experience would be similar to Santander. Apart from these two I have no idea about other banks in Spain but you do not need to look further anyway.
Tip: In Milan, the International Student Office of Polimi may suggest you to open a bank account in Banca Popolare di Sondrio. But from my personal experience, I was not satisfied with the customer service and they had very few ATMs in the city and in Italy in general. So overall I would suggest to check other options.
Q. How did you carry money for initial expenses in Spain?
A. Due to scholarship I did not have to transfer much money so I am not the right person to ask this question. But for my first month’s expenses, I carried with me Axis bank’s EURO card. I transferred money in Rupees to Axis bank and received Euros in my card based on the exchange rate of day of transfer. Using card for transactions (swiping) was free but withdrawing cash had some charges, something around 2.5€ flat if I remember correctly. Overall I was quite satisfied with the service of Axis bank although I used it for only 1 month.
Q. Is it easy to manage life in Madrid without Spanish?
A. It is not very easy, but you can manage. Many people working in shops or restaurants will not speak English at all or will have very basic knowledge of English. So in such cases you will face problem in communication. But luckily most Spanish people are very nice and friendly so it is possible to manage with hand gestures and minimum talk. But I would encourage you to learn basic Spanish before/during the semester because that makes it easier to mix with locals and have better experience. Also later when you travel to different places in Europe, you can use your knowledge of Spanish to interact with new people you will meet from Spanish speaking countries.
Q. How does the first semester look like? How should I prepare for it?
A. First semester is relatively hectic due to a lot assignments and group work, some of which will start maybe even from day one. So be prepared to start working from first week itself. Of course you will still have time to attend parties and travel on weekends if you wish to do so, but you will have to manage your time well.
Tip: If you are looking for a part-time job, I would suggest not doing it for first couple of months since it takes time to adjust to new environment. And anyway it is not easy to find a part-time job in Spain unless you speak Spanish well.
Q. Any tips to cut down expenditure? And where can I buy Indian food?
A. The cheapest supermarkets in Madrid are: Mercadona, Dia, Lidl, and Ahorramás. Carrefour will be a bit more expensive. For mobile sim-card, Tuenti and Yoigo are supposed to be good cheap options. I was personally using Tuenti and was happy with their service and rates. Indian food can be found in Lavapies (near metro station), along with Indian restaurants.
Important Suggestion: If you want to work in Europe after finishing IMIM, I cannot stress enough how important knowing at least one European language is. So when you start your first semester (preferably even before that), pick one language that you think will lead you to the kind of job you wish to have, and start learning it seriously. So that by third semester you will be at least at B1, preferably B2/C1, level. And that will help you with search of internship, and subsequently with full-time job.