I exit Aula B-16 and say goodbye to my friends from class. The hallway is cold, as is typically the case during winter in the Complu. Sometimes, if we are lucky, the rooms are warm, but in general, I find myself bundled up, and colder sitting in class than I do walking from the bus. I go down the first set of steps quickly and take my time with the second set. Upon reaching the ground floor I turn left. With the cafeteria on my right, the long hallway leads towards the parking lot exit. It’s lunchtime here and the tables are packed with students eating or having a cerveza between classes. I walk the hallway and exit through the glass automatic doors that always open a split second later than they should. Stepping through the doors, I am hit with a cloud of cigarette smoke. Since smoking is not allowed in the building, there are always about 20 or 30 students sitting on the steps directly outside, enjoying their cigarettes. Already accustomed to it, I weave through them and turn right. Bus G waits directly in front of me but I opt for the faster 133 that runs on the highway. I walk down through the tunnel that runs under the street and wait comfortably in the sun. I scan my Abono, the monthly metro/bus card in Madrid, and lean against the window. It’s sunny and I squint as the brightness hits my eyes directly. Still wearing my winter coat from this morning, I’m rather uncomfortable. It’s too crowded on the bus to take the jacket off, and although I unzip it and remove my hat, I am almost sweating. I give up and focus on the surroundings. Within minutes, we pass the Palacio de la Moncloa, the “White House” for the Spanish government. It’s a nice, relatively simple, brick building that lacks the grandeur of Barack Obama’s current home. After a few minutes on the highway, we weave through a roundabout and pass the massive arc that guards Moncloa. The arc was constructed to represent Franco’s victories and is very controversial today. Madrid is scattered with small symbols, such as this, that represent a part of its history that many Spaniards would rather forget. The bus stops in Moncloa, a part of town which houses the Ejercito de Aire of Spain, as well as a metro stop and a bus Intercambiador. I stay on, and we pass La casa de las flores, the apartment where the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, lived in 1934. It is another small piece of history, although this one has nothing with draws attention and, save a small sign on its corner, you would never know a Nobel Prize winner had lived there. The bus continues onto Calle de la Princesa and I push the small red button for a stop. Getting off, even the city air is refreshing. I walk a block and turn right onto my street. Bars, restaurants and supermarkets dominate the blocks before my apartment. When the weather is warmer, the sidewalk is crowded by tables for a relaxing cup of café con leche, but today it is too chilly. The main door to my apartmnet is open and I take the steps up while I greet the portero with “Buenas tardes”. I leave my jacket and backpack in my room and make a snack for myself in the kitchen. Íñigo, one of my Spanish roommates enters for a glass of water. He’s studying psychology at a different university and we begin to chat about the job prospects in Spain and his interests in the field. We talk for about a half an hour until he says he’s ready for a nap. Finishing my snack, I clean my dishes. I sit down on my bed and reflect on our conversation. After three and half months I am starting to feel very comfortable with my Spanish. It’s difficult to notice improvements day by day but compared to the first day I met my roommates, I realize I’ve come a long way. It’s been interesting to see how far my friends have come as well. When we got here the majority of us struggled. At times we still do, but we don’t freeze up when anymore when our Spanish friends take off talking, and the blank looks of confusion are much less frequent now. Most importantly, I’ve greatly increased my repertoire of inappropriate Spanish phrases. Maybe I can’t “swear like a Spaniard” just yet, but I’m getting there.
As the break approaches, I realize how fast these first three and a half months have gone by. In about a month I’ll reach the halfway point of my year in Madrid. I love Madrid, and sometimes being here still amazes me. Things are different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. It’s been good so far, and I’m glad it’s not over.