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Spain Guide

Spain is a country full of contrasts, with a diverse countryside and a vibrant culture. The best way to learn about Spain is to visit the country and come to know her history and her culture, not only in the monuments and museums you will visit, but in the stories its people will tell you. Experience Spain’s own special passion in the ritual of bullfights, the energy of Flamenco dances and the powerful rhythmic sounds of the spoken language. Spain is this and much more... Learn about the different facets of Spanish culture by conversing with a local villager in a small fishing port or taking advantage of the cultural opportunities in a large metropolitan city. Participate in the artistic and intellectual life of a busy capital city. Or enjoy a relaxed style of life on the southern coast. Sunny beaches, vineyards, beautiful countryside and forested mountain ranges paint the background for an enjoyable learning experience.


Climate | Currency and Money | Eating in Spain - Dining Customs | Gastronomy | Festivals and Seasonal Events

Climate

Spain is famous for its number of sunny days per year. The country has four very different seasons. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Spain.

The weather varies a lot in Spain. Even though it is true that the sun shines often, temperatures vary quite a bit from season to season. It is better to be prepared with adequate clothing for the time period when you will take the course. The following are some suggestions for choosing the clothing to bring with you on the trip:

Summer. The sun is strong in all of Spain and it is very hot during the day. However, in Alcalá and Salamanca it is a dry heat, and the temperature in the shade is pleasant. Málaga has a humid but pleasant climate with occasional sea breezes to cool you off. Since it is near the sea, you can enjoy the beach in your free time. You will need light clothing such as T-shirts, shorts, skirts, light dresses, light-weight slacks, and a jacket for some cooler evenings. Temperatures range from 25-35ºC or 77-95ºF.

Autumn. In Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, the climate is variable. There are still sunny days but mixed with cloudy days, also with occasional rain. You will need a jacket, a raincoat, an umbrella, long sleeve shirts and some sweaters, but also some T-shirts when the sun is out. Temperatures range from 5-19ºC or 41-66ºF.

Málaga has a sunny climate with warm temperatures. There may be an occasional cloudy day, but most of the time it is sunny and it hardly ever rains. You can bring T-shirts, long and short sleeve, and one or two sweaters or a light jacket. Temperatures range from 15-19 ºC or 59-66ºF.

Winter. In Alcalá de Henares and in Salamanca, the winter season is cold and it sometimes snows. You will need thick sweaters and a warm coat. Temperatures range from 2-15ºC or 35-59ºF.

Málaga has a warm sunny climate. You will need Spring/Summer type clothing. Bring a jacket or sweater for when it cools down at night. Temperatures range from 12-15ºC or 54-59ºF.

Spring. In Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, the weather varies a lot. When it rains or if it is cloudy, it is relatively cold. But if the sun shines, it can also be warm. You will need Winter/Spring type clothing. Temperatures range from 10-21ºC or 50-70ºF.

Malaga is warm and sunny in Spring. You will need Spring/Summer type clothing. But don’t forget to bring a jacket or sweater for when it cools down at night. Temperatures are the same as in autumn.

Currency and Money

The monetary unit is the Euro. It is possible to cash traveler’s cheques at many banks. Credit cards are widely accepted in the majority of the tourist establishments and stores. Check your currencies exchange rate with the euro at www.oanda.com/convert/classic

If this is the first time that you will travel to Spain, please read carefully the following information about the cost of living and general prices. These indications will help you to plan in advance for the amount of money you may need for your stay.

We recommend that you bring some cash for the trip and the first few days, and an international credit card, to be able to withdraw money during your stay. You can also bring travelers’ checks to exchange money at the bank.

For example, you could bring about € 90,00 for use during the trip and the first few days you are in Spain. The amount of money you will need during your program will depend on the type of course, accommodations and meal plan you have chosen. If you have chosen a Summer course, which includes the price of cultural activities and excursions, and live in a host family with full board, you will need less money overall than someone who has chosen to live in a shared student apartment and has selected a course which does not include the cost of cultural activities. We recommend that you plan for about € 60,00 per week.

We’ve compiled a list of the cost of some items and services, so that you can compare them with prices in your country. (click here to see price list)

Eating in Spain - Dining Customs

Breakfast - el desayuno

This meal is often eaten in a bar or café at mid-morning and many people have little more than a coffee and a sweet roll or croissant for breakfast. Freshly squeezed orange juice is also popular and widely available and don’t be surprised when they serve it with a packet of sugar. In family homes breakfast consists of coffee, or chocolate milk or milk for children, accompanied by cookies, Magdalena, toast or rolls. Many students take advantage of the morning break to have a “second breakfast” in a nearby cafeteria, as lunch is served quite late in comparison to other countries. Possibly the most traditional Spanish breakfast is “churros” or “porras” with thick hot chocolate. Have these fried donut-like goodies freshly deep fried in the early morning. If you prefer a more substantial breakfast you can try a “pincho de tortilla”, a “Sandwich mixto” or a “mixto con huevo”

Lunch - la comida

Eaten between 13:30 and 16:00, it may be more appropriate to call this meal “dinner”, as it is the principal meal of the day for many Spaniards. Virtually all restaurants offer a lunch time “menu” which is usually a much better value than an a la carte selection and they can include excellent dishes. A “menu” is usually a three course meal, with 2 or 3 choices for each course. And generally includes bread and an inexpensive wine or other beverage.

The first course can be as light as a bowl of soup or a salad, or as hearty as a bowl of lentils with chorizo. The second course will probably be selection between fish and meat or poultry. Desert will often be a choice of fruit or some sort of pudding or cake. The wine included with the price of the meal will almost never be of the finer variety, and it is often mixed with 'casera' or 'gaseosa', a sweet, carbonated drink. Of course it is possible to pay more and get a better quality bottle. It is not uncommon to follow lunch by a siesta.

Evening Meal - la cena

Spaniards eat the evening meal quite late in comparison to other countries - anywhere from 9.00 to 11.00 is reasonable, particularly in the summer and on weekends. While some people have a full meal at dinner many have a only light meal, which might consist of a few tapas, or just a salad with soup or a sandwich or “bocadillo”.

Eat well, inexpensively

Spain has a lot to offer for those wishing to eat well without spending a lot of money. There are a few tips to follow. Try and eat 'typical' food. As mentioned before, it's best to have a more filling meal at lunch, choosing from the variety of small restaurants offering the lunch time 'menu'. Seafood is less expensive, and often fresher than in other European countries, in fact, Spain is the second biggest per capita seafood eating country, after Japan. Sit-down meals are usually more expensive at supper than at lunch. It may be more economical to eat tapas for dinner, which are usually accompanied by a glass of wine or a caña (glass of beer). Tapas also offer you a means of trying a large variety of Spanish foods and flavors, without spending a fortune. Just about any type of Spanish food comes in the form of tapas, and as such it's a very good way to go about trying the huge variety of Spanish dishes. Don't worry if you don't understand the menu, most tapas bars have the items on display at the bar so you can simply point at what looks appealing to you.

Gastronomy

Spanish cuisine is known and valued throughout the world for the quality and variety of products and the wide range of dishes. Differences in climate and lifestyle make for distinct types of foods and dishes in each region. Spanish dishes reinterpreted by chefs today make Spanish cuisine one of the most interesting among international cuisine. Of special note is the Arabian influence in use of fruits and vegetables, use of olive oils, and certain deserts of the southern region. Students should make sure they try the large variety of regional dishes; the Cocido Madrileño, the roast lamb and pork of Castilla y Leon, Valencian Paella and Andalusian Gazpacho are a must.

Cocido Madrileño

Without a doubt, the most typical dish in Madrid is "El Cocido". The meal comes in many varieties but is basically a wholesome stew, predominantly consisting of chick peas, cabbage, chorizo, blood sausage or pudding and vegetables, stewed in broth accompanied by chicken, beef or pork. Usually, a bowl of the broth with small fideos pasta is first eaten as a soup appetizer, followed by the chickpeas with the cabbage and the meats and chicken last.

Andalusian cuisine

This is the land of the grape and olive, olive oils are produced here and particular grapes with a distinct flavor make the genuine jerez (sherry) of the region. There is an exotic Arab influence to the cuisine, especially the desserts that use almonds, figs, and egg yolks, like the tocino de cielo, a toffee caramel-rich custard.
Tapas are a tradition in Andalusia, and frequently a dish of olives is served with your wine or beer.
With the discovery of America many new products arrived to Spain that were quickly incorporated into the Spanish and Andalusian cuisine. Tomatos and peppers are two of these ingredients which today are the base for many Andalusian dishes such as the well known gazpacho. Gazpacho is a classic cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, garlic, salt and extra virgin olive oil. There are endless other variations.
Andalusian cuisine includes a large variety of fish and sea food. Boquerones are anchovies, small silvery fish, and are delicious eaten fresh with lemon, or marinated in vinegar, or also floured and fried boquerones.

Paellas, Valencian in origin

Although Valencian in origin, paella is often thought of as the most typical Spanish dish and no visit to Spain is complete without tasting it. The origin of paella, as any popular dish of any region, is nothing more than the combination of elements readily available in those surroundings. In the area of Valencia there are rich fields with fresh vegetables, as well as chickens and rabbit as well as rice fields. Add to this the nearby coast with seafood and fish as well as the olive oil typical in this region, you have the sum of all the ingredients included in the typical paella. There are two types of paella which are the most popular. The first, paella valenciana, is a combination of rice, chicken, rabbit, tomato, green beans, and saffron. La paella de marisco is made with rice combined with seafoods such as sepia, calamar, mussles, shrimp, cigalas, langosta, and clams, with garlic, olive oil, tomato, sweet red peppers and saffron. Other rice-based dishes are simply called Arroz (rice) followed by the main ingredient such as chicken - Arroz con pollo - or flavored with squid ink - Arroz negro. Paella is cooked in a wide, flat pan called a paellera, and is usually prepared for two or more people.

Cantabria and Asturias

Apple cider many years ago became the preferred drink in this region. Drinking Sidra, a natural fermented cider, becomes almost a ritual. Small groups gather in chiges, the cider-making equivalent to a bodega, to share a glass. The escanciador, is the master in charge of the pouring, who must pour from the bottle held high above his head into a large glass held near his knees. Only enough for a good swallow is poured and the first person drinks this leaving just enough to swill over the rim of the glass to rinse it before handing it back to be refilled and passed on.
It is also a dairy area, because of the unique milk that comes from the cows that are fattened on the grassy areas of the Picos de Europa. There are famous desserts such as arroz con leche, a cream-rich milk rice pudding, Spain's best butter -mantequilla , and queso de Cabrales made with a mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk, creating a soft creamy cheese which is wrapped in chestnut leaves and stored in humid caves.

Fabada is the most important dish in Asturias.

Beans and sausage are popular in this area, and both are in the fabada, large dried white butter beans cooked with chorizo, tocino, bacon and morcilla.

If you prefer something lighter like fish, the rocky, coastline of Asturias is abundant with tuna, hake, shrimp and prawns. Caldereta is a hodgepodge of shellfish and fish, a soup-stew mixture of wonderful aromas, textures and flavors. Fabes con almejas is a delicious stew of beans with clams.

Castilla and León

The area of Old Castilla, up to Madrid, is countryside with massive castles, majestic cathedrals and ancient fortifications dating to Roman times. It is known as the zona de los asados, an area known for roast lamb and pork. Baby lambs and suckling pigs are split lengthwise and roasted in a big brick oven, and served with white potatoes, and crusty white bread. The best place is in Segovia, in the village of Sepúlveda, but is also well prepared in Salamanca.
There is also famous, the cheese from the North, the morcilla from León (blood sausage with onions), or from Burgos (blood sausage with rice), the Chorizo de Salamanca, good jamón serrano (cured ham).
The Hornazo is a round bread with cured ham, chorizo and salchichón baked inside, typically made around Easter time in Salamanca.
There is also a special cocido from this region, called cocido maragato, similar to Madrid, but served in a different way.

Galicia

Galicia, in Spain's northwest has a spectacular coastline that provides a secluded habitat for a variety of delectable crustaceans, fish and shellfish. The fan-shaped sea scallop, called vieira, or the pilgrim's shell, are sweet and plump; they may be eaten straight from the water with a squeeze of lemon, or baked on their shells in a splash of local Albariño wine, from the Rías Baixas, or with a coating of crumbs and spices. The fabulous percebes and oysters are prized too.
Pulpo a la gallega, is octopus, beaten and boiled to tenderize, sliced and dressed with oil and paprika. Served with cachelos, galician potatoes.
Lacon con grelos, cured pork shoulder -lacón- slow cooked with grelos -the bitter greens of young turnip plants.
Empanada gallega is a pastry pie. The pastry is a yeast-risen dough that wraps around layers of sliced meat, peppers and tomato.
Because of the hard cold winters, galician food is warm comfort food, served in the pot in such dishes as pote gallego, a chunky stew of chorizo and morcilla, root vegetable, white beans and tangy greens.
At the end of a meal, you move from wines to aguardiente, a potent grape liqueur that at times is flamed in a pottery bowl and called queimada or "witch's brew".

Festivals and Seasonal Events

January


January 1. New Years Day. Family celebration to welcome the new year. 
January 2: Fiesta de la reconquista en Granada. Festival to commemorate the reconquest of Granada. 
January 6: Epiphany or Three Kings Day is Spanish children's' Christmas. Kids leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts by the three wise men, or Three Kings. In towns throughout the country the Kings arrive by car or by camel in parades the night of January 5th. More...
January 17: San Antón. Madrileños bring their pets to this church to be blessed.

Festival de Teatro de Málaga. Theater festival which takes place in January and February every year in Malaga.

February

Carnaval. Although the most flamboyant parades take place in Tenerife, Cadiz or Sitges (Barcelona) almost all cities celebrate in costume and festivities in some way. More...

March

First week of March. Rally Internacional de Coches de Época. International antique car Rally. Sitges (Barcelona)

March 19: Las Fallas in Valencia.
Paper maché figures up to 30 feet tall are torched this night lighting up the sky of Valencia. The constructions of wood and paper usually represent political and social criticism. More...

April

Semana Santa. Spain’s most pious and spectacular fiesta. Easter religious processions through Spain, the most famous taking place in Seville, Valladolid, Toledo Murcia and Cuenca. More...

El Lunes de Aguas. In Salamanca the second Monday after Resurrection Sunday. A traditional festival which repeats the custom of the students at the University of Salamanca that, after Lent and Holy week, the possibility to return to enjoying good food in good company. It is customary to have a picnic and eat "hornazo" 

Festival of the Moors and the Christians in Alcoy (Alicante). This reenactment of the battle of 1275 in which the Catholic knights aided by St. George ousted the infidel invaders brings history alive.

April 23. Dïa del Libro. C  On the date of the death of writer  Miguel de Cervantes, Spain celebrate Books. Book shops are open all day long and offer discounts on books of all kinds. In Cataluña is is customary to give a book and a rose to close friends.  In Alcalá de Henares you can enjoy a book fair and the presentation of the Cervantes Award for Literature by the King of Spain. 

April 23 - May 4. Feria del libro antiguo y de ocasión. Antique book fair on  Paseo de Recoletos in Madrid

April 23.  Fiesta de la Comunidad de Castilla y León. They celebrate the battle of Villalar which occurred on April 23, 1521 during the reign of Carlos I. 

The April Fair (Sevilla) brings out the best of Andalusian hospitality. Horse parades and men and women in traditional Andalusian dress mixed with sevillanas and flamenco music make this quite a picturesque fiesta. More...

April 23 to May 1. Festival of Spanish Cinema in Málaga. One of the most important and recognized film festivals in Spain.  

 

May

May 1. Día de trabajo. Labor Day

May 2. Fiestas del Dos de mayo. Celebration of the Comunidad de Madrid.

The Jerez Horse Fair. Equestrian events and bullfighting, flamenco music and dance.

May 15: San Isidro: 2 weeks of bullfighting in honor of the patron saint of Madrid. Also concerts, cultural activities, and special museums. 

May 20. Romería del Rocío en Almonte (Huelva). The Romería is an Andalusian procession, on horseback or in horse drawn carriages, which leads to the Ermita de la Viergen del Rocío in Almonte, Huelva.

Cruces de Mayo. Contest of May Crosses: crosses of large dimensions made of flowers which adorn the streets, plazas, peñas and cultural institutions. The most important ones are in Cordoba and Granada, although they begin to appear in Malaga also. After the crosses, there is similar decoration in the Patios in Cordoba, also decorated with flowers and plants of exuberant colors which leads up to the Cordoba Fair. More...

Finales de mayo. Feria de Córdoba. An unforgettable fair in Cordoba with impressive night illumination and beautiful casetas.  More...

June

Beginning of June. Book Fair in Retiro Park, Madrid. 

Mid-June to Mid July: International Festival of Music and Dance in Granada brings symphony orchestras, opera companies, and ballet corps from around the world to perform on the grounds of the Alhambra.

Mid-June to Mid August: Classical Theater Festival uses the beautifully preserved 1st century BC Roman Theater in Mérida (Badajoz) to present Greek and Roman dramas in Spanish.

June 12o. San Juan de Sahagún. Patron Saint of Salamanca. 

June 13, San Antonio de la Florida (Madrid). Local festival in the Moncloa neighborhood of Madrid. 

June 18. Festival of the Patron Saints of Málaga. San Ciriaco and Santa Paula. Local fair activities. More...

June 24. La Noche de San Juan. In many places in Spain they still light large bonfires to celebrate the Simmer Solstice.  More...


June 25: Corpus Christi is celebrated with magnificent processions in Toledo and Sitges (Barcelona).

June 29: The wine war in Haro (La Rioja) wastes thousands of gallons of delicious Rioja wine. You can see people using the bota bag as a squirt gun instead of a canteen.

July

July 7. San Fermines (Pamplona). The running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona (Navarra). A week of nonstop wine, merrymaking and bravado. More...

The Sunday following July 16. Procesión Marítima de las Fiestas del Carmen. Málaga. Takes place in many locations along the coast, and in El Palo.  More...

July 25. Patrón de Santiago. Patron Saint of Spain.

 

August

Many Fiestas y Verbenas locales throughout the country, this month and into September. Concerts, fireworks, small fairgrounds and rides for kids, music and dance in many main plazas.
- Malaga: Ferias in Malaga around the 19th of August. Festive atmosphere with music, bull fights, open air concerts and foods. More...
- Alcalá de Henares: Fiestas de San Bartolomé around the 24th of August. Open air concerts, a temporary amusement park, street theater and fireworks. Special events held by each of the Peñas.


August 15. Día de la Asunción. National festival celebrated in many Spanish towns.

El Místeri of Elche (Alicante) is Europe’s oldest Christian mystery play.

Mid-August: Big Week parades, fireworks, sporting events, and cardboard-bull running in San Sebastián.

August 28: Tomato Battle turns the entire town of Buñol (Valencia) red. More...

September

First week of September: Motin de Aranjuez. Representation, with traditional dress of the period, of Matin de Aranjuz, a historic event during the War of Independence. 

September 8. Salamanca: The Ferias de Virgen de la Vega start on September 8th with activities for children, traditional dances, a temporary amusement park, theater, open air concerts and fireworks.

September 24: La Merced is celebrated in Barcelona with concerts, fireworks, and parades featuring Cabezudos (people wearing costumes with giant paper maché heads).

October

Week of October 9: Jornadas Culturales Cervantinas (Alcalá de Heanres) medieval marketplace and theater, music

October 12: Fiesta del Pilar (Zaragoza): Children of Zaragoza dress in regional costumes for parades and jota dance contests. More...

November

November 1. Todos los Santos. Spaniards visit cemeteries to remember lost loved ones. More...

December

December 6: día de la Constitución.

December 8: La Inmaculada concepción

December 28. Día de los Santos Inocentes. People usually play tricks on friends (similar to April Fools Day). In Malaga it coincides with Fiesta Mayor de Verdiales. Groups go around the city singing and playing music. The Verdial is supposedly the historic predecessor to flamenco.  

December 24 and 25. Fiestas Navideñas. Christmas celebration of Christmas eve and Christmas day. More...

December 31: Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve), people gather at Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, to eat 12 grapes, one on each stroke of midnight. More...


Facts About Spain

Full country name: Kingdom of Spain
Area: 504,784 sq km
Population: 40.5 million (growth rate 0.1%)
Capital city: Madrid (pop 3 million)
Regions: Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions.
People: Spaniards (though Catalans and Basques display a fierce independent spirit)
Languages: Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%
Time Zone: GMT/UTC plus 1 hour in winter, or two hours in summer (from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in September)
Religion: 90% Roman Catholic
Government: Parliamentary monarchy
Prime Minister: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
GDP: $720.8 billion
GDP per head: $18,000
Annual growth: 4%
Inflation: 2.9%
Major industries: textiles & apparel, food & beverages, metals, chemicals, shipbuilding, tourism
Major trading partners: EU (esp. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, UK, Benelux), US
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes
Flag description: three horizontal bands of red (top), yellow (double width), and red with the national coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow band; the coat of arms includes the royal seal framed by the Pillars of Hercules, which are the two promontories (Gibraltar and Ceuta) on either side of the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Spain, along with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Sweden and Portugal, forms part of the border-free travel zone subject to the Schengen Agreement. US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Israeli and Japanese citizens are among those who may enter Spain as tourists without a visa and stay up to 90 days. EU passport holders can come and go as they please.
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 51 million visitors

Environment

Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula, a vaguely square-shaped area at the far southwestern edge of Europe. Spain occupies some 80% of this peninsula and spreads over nearly 505,000 sq km, making it the biggest country in Western Europe after France. More than half of the country is made up of vast, elevated tablelands - the mesetas - and five major mountain ranges stretch across the country. In fact, with an average altitude of 650m, it's the highest European country after Switzerland. Landscapes range from the deserts of Andalucía to the green wetlands of Galicia; from the sun baked plains of Castilla-La Mancha to the rugged snowcapped Picos de Europa and Pyrenees. Highest Point: Pico de Teide (Tenerife), 3,719 m. The Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Morocco, is an autonomous community belonging to Spain.

When to Go

The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in the south). At these times you can rely on good weather, yet avoid the sometimes extreme heat - and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists. That said, there's decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year-round. Winter along the southern and southeastern Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height of summer you can retreat to the northwest, or to beaches or high mountains anywhere, if you need to get away from excessive heat. If you want to make sure you hit some parties, check the list of festivals.

Opening Hours

Shops: The opening hours for most shops throughout the country are from 9:30 h. to 14 h. and from 17 h. to 20 h., Monday to Saturday. From 14 h. to 17 h. shops are closed for the famous Spanish "siesta". On Saturdays many small shops (i.e. the majority of "Estancos") are only open to 14 h. Major shopping malls, department stores and supermarkets stay open without a break from 10 h. to 21 h. or in some cases until 22 h. Restaurants Restaurants start serving lunch from 13 h. to 16 h. and dinner from 20 h. to 23 h. In small restaurants and bars it is normally possible to get served a fixed number of menus at any time of the day. Banks Banks are open from 8.30 h. to 14.30 h. Monday to Friday, exempt from October to April where banks also are open Saturday from 9 to 13 h. Public Services The majority of public services (i.e. the city hall, health centers) are open from 9 h. to 14 h. Monday to Friday.
 

Spanish Culture
Don Quixote de la Mancha
Spanish Literature
Spanish Provinces and Cities
Spanish Festivals
Typically Spanish
Distinguished Spaniards
Spanish Cuisine
Salamanca Plaza Mayor
Practical Guide to...
Spanish Courses
Spain
Malaga
Costa Rica
Mexico
Student References

"Escuela Internacional allows you to experience an interesting and diverse world. In the classes you learn quickly in a nice atmosphere that explains Spanish culture, Spanish Student in Malaga the food, the pace of life, and the celebrations." View full text.


Canada, 16 years old, Student