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Studying Abroad in the Basque Country Was the Best Decision I Ever Made

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Juan Pablo, a 22-year-old Mexican student shares his impressions of the Basque Country, where he studied at

If you aren’t familiar with the Basque Country, it’s a region of Spain in the north-east of the country bordering France. I moved here for university from Mexico to study business and have come to love this small strip of land and the many surprises it contains. After three years of living here, I’m still very grateful I got to discover it. Here’s why.

Euskara is the oddest language I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing

In addition to Spanish, the people of the Basque Country speak a puzzling language called Euskara. The dialect has a famously complicated syntax and grammar, and it has been spoken for more than two millenniums in the region.   Euskara is one of the few surviving dialects in Europe to predate the Indo-european family of languages, making it one of the oldest languages in Europe. Of course, it has over time borrowed a few words from Spanish here and there, such as aireportua, for instance, which means airport and sounds a lot like its Spanish cousin aeropuerto. But, on the whole, knowing English, German, Italian, Spanish or French won’t get you very far. Take the phrase eskerrik asko, for instance. You could be forgiven for not knowing what it means because it sounds absolutely nothing like gracias, grazie, merci, danke or thank you.

Bilbao and San Sebastian are stunning cities

I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to discover the two cities known locally as Bilbo and Donosti through my university ( has a campus in both cities.) It’s impossible to lay your eyes on Bilbao and San Sebastian and not find them magnificent.   Bilbao is staggeringly beautiful. It offers breathtaking landscapes just minutes from the city center, a world-renowned food scene and truly remarkable architecture. Bilbao’s , for instance, is one of the most iconic buildings in the region and an architectural gem. If you’re not familiar with it, it has got really sharp edges and a modernist shape (it looks a tiny bit like the Sydney Opera House.) Inside, you’ll find challenging modern art, incredible retrospectives and magnificent permanent exhibitions like Jenny Holzer's LED columns of text phrases in different languages.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the coastal city of San Sebastian and it’s become a bit of a second home to me because I have a few friends based there. I love its beaches and gorgeous hillsides overlooking the sea - not to mention the city’s cool bars and lunch spots. I was so glad to learn that San Sebastian won the European City of the Year award and the European Capital of Culture in 2016 because it totally deserved its moment in the limelight.

My university campus is near a

No matter where you look here, you will find gorgeous scenery, from forests to snow-capped mountaintops and a beautiful extending coastline with a great variety of beaches and cliffs. The cherry on top? San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, where the hit HBO television series Game of Thrones was shot. It’s a beautiful island and a bit of an adventure: you have to climb up 241 steps to get to the top, where you will find a beautiful hermitage.  

San Sebastian is the city with the most Michelin-rated restaurants per square meter

With almost 40 Michelin-rated restaurants, the Basque Country is one of the best destinations in the world for gastronomy, especially San Sebastian. Of course, while these restaurants are great spots to celebrate graduating (touch wood), I would suggest you try pintxos if you’re fortunate enough to visit, which are small snacks piled on top of a slice of bread. The affordable snacks are particularly great on nights out and best served with a drink and good company.

The Basque country is home to nearly 1,660 multinationals

While Spain suffered a financial downturn since the 2008 economic crisis, the Basque Country is one of the country’s few areas of prosperity. The Basque Country’s ability to thrive in the face of adversity is truly inspiring, and has even prompted the Harvard economics professor Michael Porter to describe the Basque Country as “one of the great economic success stories in the world”. Indeed, the region has achieved the highest productivity rate in Europe and is now responsible for 23.5 percent of Spain’s GDP.   I moved to the Basque Country with very little idea of what to expect. With hindsight, I now realize I couldn’t have anticipated the many, little ways it changed the way I think and feel about the world. So, if you are shopping around for a university abroad, I would suggest you throw the Basque Country into your shortlist of destinations because it’s full of treasures. 

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