Everyone says that studying abroad is an incredible experience, and they are absolutely correct. I’ve been in Spain for 5 days now and I am loving every minute in this country.
Nobody warns you about the first day, though.
The biggest surprise upon arrival was the lack of English-speakers. After exiting the airport, I had to describe the location of my home stay to a cab driver who spoke zero English (and had quite a temper when navigating traffic). After I’m dropped off on the street of my home stay, I look at my address with confusion, as the address format is very different from the U.S. I ask a neighborhood employee for help (at least I think he was…) and though he doesn’t know English, he shows me the way. My “Madre” is waiting outside, and I’m excited to meet the woman whose home I am living in for over 2 months. After a brief introduction, she explains that she, too, does not speak English.
While I admit that the first day was overwhelming, it’s incredible how quickly I’ve adapted. Though communication is limited, I feel very welcome at my home stay. My Madre is extremely sweet, a killer cook, and very patient with my Spanish. I’m lucky to have a roommate with strong Spanish skills that can help me understand my Madre. (Thanks Lisa!)
The impromptu speaking at my home stay was good practice for my daily classes at Universidad Nebrija. All levels of Spanish classes are taught completely in Spanish. If you have a question, you have to ask in Spanish. The professors frequently require students to converse with them in Spanish on the spot. It’s certainly a challenge, but I’m already noticing improvements in my speaking and listening skills.
So far, I am a huge fan of Spanish culture. First of all…Siestas. Are. Life. It feels awesome to come home from 4 hours of Spanish classes, eat a large lunch, and take an amazing nap. I was familiar with the concept of siestas beforehand, but I didn’t quite grasp how serious they were. People will actually close their shops for a few hours to go home and take an afternoon nap.
The metro is a blessing. It’s easy to understand and comfortable to use. The UF in Nebrija program provides students with an unlimited metro pass for the first month of stay, so I plan to travel on the metro as much as possible! The closest metro station to my home stay is Cuatro Caminos. It’s a few minutes away from our home and the surrounding area is full of different shops, markets, restaurants, and even fast food places (Burger King, KFC, and McDonald’s).
Yet, a few things here will still take a bit of getting used to. For one, Spaniards like to stare. A lot. It’s not in a positive or negative context, but it still feels very strange. Whether you’re walking down the street, eating at a restaurant, or riding the metro, people will look at you and hold their gaze as long as they wish.
Another difference is the familiarity amongst strangers. There is no “personal space” here. People will stand extremely close to you, sometimes even touching, and it is considered normal. If you are in someone’s way, they will gently move you aside and continue onward. I was in small a clothing store yesterday and had many women touch my shoulders and weave around me without hesitation. This is probably why pick-pocketing is so popular here.
Though the beginning was a bit of a shock, I am ecstatic to spend my summer here in Madrid. I am excited to experience the people, the food, the history, the nightlife, and the entire culture of Spain.