. So the first week here- lets just say its way different than expected. I’m falling in love with the energy of this city, but it has not been easy.
Like moving away anywhere, there is a ton of excitement prior to the trip, and once its finally there the realness of it all sets in. Going from “this is going to be awesome” to “why in the world did I think going to a foreign country alone for a month without people I knew, in a language I sort-of knew.” You settle in, along with the jet lag, and you realize “oh my goodness, I’m not just visiting, this is my current living situation.” Traveling for short times is extremely different, but what’s even more different is studying abroad. While on instagram, we post beautiful landscapes and pictures of the bar we went to on a school night, instagram doesn’t show the utter confusion, lonliness, and uncertainty that living in a foreign country brings. Don’t get me wrong, I fall in love with this city more each day as I explore and people watch, but also I realize the struggle of living abroad at 20 years old. Between culture shock, slight and fairly unavoidable homesickness, and pure exhaustion, once the tourist in you changes into the study abroad student, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Quite a bit has happened since my last post, so let me fill you guys in.
Sunday May 21:
Nearly reversing your sleep schedule does wonders to your body. And by wonders I mean everyone is cranky, hungry, and utterly confused. As I lay awake after my solid 3 hours of sleep, I got ready to go to the school and take my placement test for classes. My host mom, Manuela, set breakfast out which mostly consisted of bread that she bought without a crust (?!! What the heck, called sin corteleza) and Spanish cereal. Oh but the coffee, it changed me for the better (10/10 recommend for the caffeine addict). Manuela, Carson, and I set off for Estudio Sampere via metro and were, of course, the first people to arrive. Soon after, we took our placement test, which I was nodding off in. I was placed in advanced level 3. Then, we started our walk through the city. Starting at the school, we walked several miles to the royal palace and Sol. That’s where we branched off, and I went off with a group of people in serach of good eats. We ended up at a café in Sol, where we all ordered food and drinks before ending up at San Gines, the most famous place in Spain for chocolate and churros (and they were only 4 euros for an order!). After chatting, we all decided to go home, eat dinner with the families, and then go to the party that would be held in the middle of the city in the streets if Real Madrid won La Liga. This is where I ran into my issues of the trip, as me and my roommate gravitated towards different people, and she ended up with my keys. While I wondered around Lavapiés, lost, I eventually gave in to using the few megabites of data I have, and got home. Eventually we both got home and ate a dinner consisting of gazpacho, chicken (to die for!!), and bread. Fun fact I’ve leanred in Spain: the eat ham, ALL OF THE TIME. Chicken is a rare find. Ham on quesadillas, on pizzas, theres in fact a place called Museo de Jamón (MUSEUM OF HAM??!). If you think you like ham, come live in Spain.
The Real Madrid party was one of the coolest expierences on the trip. A group of us conviend around the Sevilla metro stop, and decided to have a few drinks at VIPS (which is like a TGI Friday, Steak and Shake type-thing here). We made our way down to the block party and were immersed into a sea of emotional (because they won) and drunk Madrileños. We talked with some locals, danced around, and listened to the pure joy they had for the love of fútbol. That sums up my first full day in Spain. Exhausting and wonderful. I went to sleep with a full heart.
Monday the 22nd
After another night of restless, jet lagged sleep, 9am came far to early. Carson and I ate our breakfast accompanied with some of the best coffee I’ve ever had (thanks Manuela!) and eventually we set off for the metro. On the way to school, we bought our permanent metro passes, which make life a million times easier in Madrid, as the metro is so wonderfully organized, and because we were students we only payed 24 euros for a month of unlimited rides. Fast-forward, the classes were great. Our teacher, sweet little Eva, along with a group of people who I quickly bonded with, played around and surprisingly even learned some Spanish. Now, once classes ended, this is where the trip took a turn I did not want or expect. It was difficult to be alone in the city without data. My roommate and I split up everyday, as we just naturally gravitated towards other people, but it was difficult when you were walking home alone in a foreign city. And while I made plans to go shop with some, I ended up at home. I eventually joined my roommate in El Parque Retiro, and we did some exploring, while we wound up at El Palacio Cristal. It was beautiful, and hot as we got lost and deeper into the gardens in the park. Later that night, we had tapas with our classmates at a bar restaurant near the school. It was really fun to finally be in a place and talk to people. This night started out quite fun for me, but quickly turned into a situation where I felt isolated, alone, and embarrassed. I will spare you the details of it all, but personally I wanted to experience Madrid with people by my side. I ended up every time anyone went anywhere, alone. And after a moment where I was personally called out, and felt the stress and exhaustion that moving to Spain brings, I decided something needed to change. I spent that night very somber, wondering who decided that study abroad was fun. I didn’t know anyone here, I only somewhat spoke Spanish, and now I couldn’t even seem to hang onto people I knew from the US. To be frankly honest, I wanted to leave. I wanted comfort, but I also hated the idea of missing out on Spain because I knew this month would be the best of my life, even though this day was one of the most lonely.
Tuesday the 23rd
Today is a much better day. One of the most vital things in study abroad is professors and advisors who want to make sure you are comfortable. As soon as my professor heard I was feeling otherwise, I was moved into a home with girls I already thought were going to be awesome. It was a bit stressful to pack my stuff and take a taxi all the way across Madrid, but luckily I had the support of my new roommates. This lesson taught me that there is no such things as too late for a new start. If you’re going to be living in a foreign country, the least you need is someone who cares how you are doing.
My new house was off the Menedez Pelayo metro stop, in the Retiro neighborhood. I had my own room right next to my friends, and although the lack of AC was noticeable (like most of Europe, the one thing I will never quite understand) I felt like this was going to be a much more positive experience. After doing some walking around Madrid and running errands (looking for a fan mostly), we returned home to our house Mom, Lucia (who is 24, barely older than me) cooking paella and teaching us the steps. It was a decent paella, but more than anything I was feeling far more content about being here in Madrid. A lot of people only tell you about the most amazing parts of study abroad: the travel, the food, the people, and the parties. However, there is a dark side that many people fact. There is loneliness, isolation, and exhaustion. I should’ve realized this, but my adrenaline was so high for this trip, I glazed over culture shock warnings like it was silly, and little did I know I would be heavily affected. I belive this blog is a place for honesty and I wouldn’t be disclosing a large part of my first week here if I didn’t share that I wanted to leave. I didn’t want to be stuck in a foreign country, with no data on my phone and people I didn’t know for a month, and I cried to my house mom about this. Partly because I slept only a few hours since I got to Spain at this point, but I felt like I just didn’t want this anymore. Thankfully, God was looking out for me because the people on this trip are the best people I could’ve asked for. Once I opened up to them about wanting to leave, they were so encouraging about Spain and reminded me why I was here. Having a support system of people who were mere strangers days before was one of the coolest things study abroad has done for me. Anyways, I ended Tuesday with a handful of friends and one of my roomates at a grand theater turned lounge bar, Platea. It was calming, and reassuring that I was no longer alone.
The classes we take here in Madrid are earlier than any class I’ve taken in Madrid, so not surprisingly I nodded off in class a few times. By the way, we have our first half of class from 9-10:30 with a break and then 11-12:30, and 3 times a week we have a culture class from 12:50-2:30 ( we take 1 of our classes for 2 weeks, and the second for the last 2 weeks). After we had culture class, we had a visit to the Museo de Sorolla. With a few minutes to spare between class and our excursion, my class took the metro on over to that side of Madrid, and got lunch at VIPS (first chicken fingers I could find in Madrid at this point, and I’m FEELING BLESSED). While we slighted dreaded the idea of going to the museum at this point, we powered through. It ended up being absolutely gorgeous. The Sorolla museum used to be the house of the painter, and once he died his wife donated his house to the government. It’s old Spanish architecture surrounded by gardens and painting inside made for an absolutely beautiful scene. After this, I took the metro all the way back home and took my pre-dinner siesta. Tonight was an emotional one. We were all exhausted, and over the lack of sleep. However, Green, my roommate was so loving and understanding she had me out of the house and were walked around Gran Via (think 5th ave in NYC) and then got chocolate and churros (which some older American man ended up paying for) at San Ginés. I was content as I went to sleep.
Today was the best day yet. We spent our morning in classes, along with our slightly dreadful culture class. After, my roommates and I went shopping at a Spanish clothing store, called Berksha. The funny thing I realized is that a lot of clothes in Spain have English on graphic tees, and half the time the English makes no sense, like a shirt saying “it is everything”, someone explain? I’ll try to remember to snap a pic of one of these. After we went to vips for some lunch, and I had a quesadilla with YOU GUESSED IT, JAMON or HAM.I seriously wonder how Spaniards don’t get sick of this stuff. Once we got home, we got ready. Finally, the majority of our study abroad group was going to go out together. We started our night off (well 6pm) at El Tigre, a bar with big drinks and excessive amounts of tapas all for 6 euros. I can for sure say that El Tigre’s giant mojitos have been a highlights of my eats/drinks here in Spain. We then all took a metro over to another area and went to ice bar. Unsure why I was surprised, but it was so cold, I stopped feeling my hands. Regardless of the slight hypothermia, having a fantastic night with a group of 30 of the coolest people in giant poncho jackets was so fun. While there was about 30 of us, there were 4 or 5 Madrileaños, and when we did “bodda-getta”, I’ve never seen Europeans so confused by Americans, especially as I tried to explain (all in Spanish!!) about the Auburn Alabama rivalry. Once we left Ice Bar, it became abundantly clear who was going to be able to take care of themselves. After walking through Madrid, a group of grils and I ended up at KFC. I know, I ate KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN WHILE I SPAIN?! But I have 0 regrets about it. Kayla and I took a taxi home from Sol, and one of my favorite accomplishments in speaking Spanish happened. I was able to have a full conversation with our driver about towns to visit, and other things, all in Spanish and I’ve never felt more confident in my Spanish speaking skills. This was a good day.
We began our day off in classes yet again. I enjoy my classes, as I’m learning more Spanish (in my current conversational grammar class), and besides the fact we play a good bit of games. I’ve bonded with a group of people in my class, as we are usually just laughing the entire time, which at least keeps me awake. After class, we decided to take the metro over the Retiro, and ate lunch and had drinks in the park along the water. It was so gorgeous, and my pizza and wine made it a real good Friday. After this, we walked over the the Museo del Prado, the largest and most famous museum in Spain. They have over 20,000 paintings, and 2,000 on display, with artists such as Goya and Velazquez. It wasn’t much smaller than my expierence at the Lourve, but our tour guide showed us the highlights. In my last Spanish class at auburn, we studied the Prado, so it boriught Spanish culture into reality to see these paintings in person. After this museum, we took our metro home, showered off the sweat from the hot Spanish sun, and of course took a slight siesta before Lucia made us some yummy pasta. Kayla, Alex, Courtney, Maddie, and I then went over to a neighborhood of Spain called Malasaña, and had drinks in the basement of a lounge. It was fun, and relaxing. We ended our night early in preparation for a big day in Toldeo.
I’m usually a light sleeper, but I was sound asleep for a solid 30 minutes on our hour bus ride to the prior capital of Madrid, Toledo. Not pronounced TOE-LEED-O, but the Spanish TOE-LAY-DO. Makes sense? As we approached this small hill top town, we were in awe of the view. We spent our day walking through the city, touring the Cathedral, the Synagogue, and a Monastery. Toledo is known for its coexistence of religions which is honestly incredible. There is an abundance of Catholic, Jewish, and Arabic history in this town, and they all have figured a way to live peacefully (hint, hint America). The highlight of my day was the Cathedral. This was the most beautiful place I had seen so far on my trip. My friend Bobby, even payed for my to light a candle as I like to pray for my family in every cathedral I enter. This Cathedral is a place I’d tell anyone in Spain to see, as it was gigantic and breathtaking. During our free time, my and some friends (Kayla, Green, Sidney, and Tori) got paella and went shopping. My allergy to mussels has never been an issue until Spain as 9/10 paellas have mussels. Tori and I split chicken paella and it was AMAZING. 10/10 recommend. We spent the remainder of our time in Toledo looking in the shops, and the inner tourist in me purchased a hand fan with zero regrets, as it was 105 degrees. Once we got home, my roommate’s and I planned our trip to Dublin. We did the budget route and I cannot wait for this Irish adventure next weekend. As this stressful experience took a while, we then got ready for our night out at Kaptial. Something that’s extremely different here, is that its more common to go out after midnight. Kapital didn’t even open until midnight, and most people stayed until closing at 6 am. I was extremely exhausted and I stayed until almost 5 am. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. This club was 7 stories tall with different themes on each floor. Dancing to Despacito while drinking a mojito with people from the Plains will definitely be a memory I will cherish. I took my taxi home and began to sleep so peacefully.
Sleep. Ahhhhhh, something I wasn’t too familiar with here in Europe, but after a week of nonstop happenings we all began to hit a wall. Finally after getting out of bed around 4pm, me roommates and I got milkshakes and sandwiches at VIPS. Green and I then went over to Gran Via. All I wanted were some Nike shorts, as I had forgotten mine back in the states, but here in Europe that’s not a thing. Regardless of not making that purchase, I strolled the street of Gran Via up to Sol. We spotted a large crowd, and a giant stage. There was a sign that red “MANI FIESTA ACCIÓN” which is a play on the word, “manifestation” meaning protest. This was a protest party for the radical left-socialist group.While we only stayed for a few minutes, it was interesting to see some political action in Spain. Apparently Spain’s political state is just as much of a mess as we are. We took the train back to Menedez Pelayo and ended our day with Netflix and sleep yet again.
We were in class for far too long, learning about the neighborhoods of Madrid. I finally exchanged more currency as Spain was taking my money real fast. So far today, I’ve planned what I’m gonna do in Dublin, and my bucket list in Madrid. Oh how I love Madrid, but this sun and the walking is draining my energy.
This afternoon was lovely. We took a long siesta, and ate pasta for dinner. After that, we hopped on the metro to the other side of madrid to visit El Templo de Debod. I can say that without a doubt, it was one of the most gorgeous sunsets and views I’ve ever seen. Seeing a pink sky set beneath mountains and a skyline was breathtaking. After, we took a taxi on over to El Mercado de San Miguel. This place was a highlight. I got to sip on different Spanish wines, and try all sorts of food. I tried cheese plates, octopus (which i embarrassingly had to spit out), more paella, macaroons, truffles, other Spanish pastries and candies, and Spanish mini pizzas. It was so lovely. I got to taste all sorts of Spain and it was relatively cheap, as I only spent around 15 euros for all this food and a taxi. After, we walked around to La Plaza Mayor just to get a feel for it’s night energy. I saw the apartment Penelope Cruz owned (and gah dang it was lovely). To finish out the night, we went to 0KM point in El Puerta del Sol, where it stands as the geographical 0 point for all of Spain. Tonight was one of my favorite nights here. This also made me realize how this was speeding by. Also, side note, the weather today was cool and crisp and I am loving it. But tomorrow we go back to dry heat, but hey I’m still living in Spain.
I plan to post smaller posts about lessons I’ve learned here, but I wanted to update, well my family mostly. But if you’re wondering what a little over a week of studying abroad is looking like, here ya have it!