You would think that you are going to be perfectly prepared once you leave for exchange. However, with my extended internship, I found myself on the plane to Madrid before I even had time to realize that this semester, which I had been waiting for since I started IBCoM, just began. Slightly overwhelmed, I jumped into a cab at the airport, realizing that the driver barely spoke any English. So right away, I had to make use of my rusty Spanish skills; a lot earlier than I would have thought. While waiting for someone to let me into apartment for approximately half an hour, the housekeeper was telling me a lot of things in Spanish that I didn’t understand. I felt very unprepared, even though I studied Spanish in high school and had tried to refresh my skills before departure as well.
Going out for dinner became a new experience: the Spanish mentality of letting people wait for half an hour once in a while, many misunderstandings regarding food orders and organizational issues became part of my everyday life. I adjusted to the fast pace of life in Madrid, especially around the center, ‘Sol’ and ‘Gran Via’, which is a mix of Oxfordstreet and Broadway. Madrid started to become my home quite quickly when I finally found my way around in the supermarkets, discovered dinner places and cafes in ‘barrios’ with other exchange students and spent the last summer nights sitting outside on ‘plazas’ with many other people. The life in Madrid is truly vibrant and bubbly, as almost everything happens outside. One of my favorite places throughout the hot days became the public pool at ‘Lago’ and the massive, beautiful park called ‘Retiro’. I love getting coffee, tanning or practicing some Spanish, while watching the sunset at a view point with an ancient temple. It seems like every day is filled with fun activities so far.
With the first couple of weeks, the pace at the university picked up as well, but my Spanish teachers and peer students were very helpful and patient with me. I ended up taking all my courses in Spanish, because I really wanted to take the chance to improve my language proficiency. Soon enough, I noticed the lectures became a little easier to follow. At the same time, I started taking advantage of Madrid’s central location in Spain and planned lots of trips in the weekends. I went up north to Bilbao and San Sebastián, where the people and the culture are completely different from other parts of Spain, also because they speak a different language, called Basque. I visited Barcelona, Granada and even Lisbon and I still can’t decide which city I liked best.
People’s temper, liveliness and ease makes me feel like enjoying life is important and taking your time is okay. Socializing plays a huge role in this society and even as an exchange student, you start to adapt to this feeling. Very close to Madrid, many small cities like Toledo, Segovia and Zaragoza are amazing destinations for day trips on the weekends, where Spanish culture is truly authentic and less touristy. I can’t wait for everything else Madrid has to offer throughout the winter – even though I have to admit that it gets a lot colder here than I’d ever thought. So if you decide to come by, definitely bring you winter jacket as well. You’re going to love it anyway!
By Merle Ullrich