I made it! Yep, I’m here in Spain (finally!). It seems like I haven’t had a moment to breathe these past few days. I arrived in Spain a couple days ago on Thursday, August 27th at 8am and you wouldn’t believe it, but even though I was traveling solo, just by chance I ran into the other Wippers (WIP is the program name) who were on the group flight in the line waiting for customs. Both the program coordinator and myself thought my flight arrived in a different terminal so it definitely was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. Of course we all just jumped right into things, introduced ourselves and basically formed this invisible bond knowing we are all on this journey together.
But wow, although it was 8am and most of us didn’t get much sleep on our flights whether it being due to the inability to get comfortable (me) or the distraction of your own personal interactive TV in front of you. Although shadowed by the excitement of finally arriving, we were all very tired. After we grabbed our luggages (me having a grand total of 4 including 1 large suitcase, a backpackers backpack, carry-on luggage, and a school backpack aka “personal item”) everyone was met outside the terminal exit by the WIP staff including Alejandro, Amy, Mamen, and Diana: the whole team of people helping us through this transition. Everyone hopped on a chartered shuttle bus (which is another reason I was so lucky to find the group flight because I didn’t have to pay for my own transportation to the dorm!) and it was about a 25 minute ride to our temporary home at Universitario Galdós which is a student housing residence at the Universidad Complutense.
After we arrived at Galdós we were given a large packet of information and handed in our passports to Mamen to make copies and our flight stubs to Amy so we can later apply for student residency in the country. Then, you guessed it, we finally had time to recover from some serious jet lag. I slept for about 6 hours and then we all had to meet in the common room for our first orientation and welcome to Madrid. Here we met and introduced ourselves to everyone in our program and learned little tidbits and helpful hints regarding the culture that maybe we were not aware of prior. For example, one thing I found a bit surprising (but not as much once I think about it) is that it is considered extremely rude to stretch in public or chew gum in class. Both of which I am guilty of. Also, it was cool to learn that Complutense is actually the top university in Spain along with one of the best in Europe. So studying here is not meant to be easy.
At the end of the meeting we also received phones! Maybe not as exciting as you think, but since I don’t have a smart phone (and therefore not able to simply put in a different sim card) I get to use an awesome red “retro” phone. Yes, it flips.
But I really like my phone. It prevents me from walking around the city with an iPhone becoming a big target for pick-pockets; as if I don’t stand out enough with my blonde hair. Overall the first meeting went really well and I can tell it’s going to be a fantastic year because everyone in the program is awesome. Diana also introduced us to the metro system here is Spain which is one of the best in Europe and we got our metro passes for the month.
At the end of the day, we call gathered in la cafetería and talked more about where we are from, our fears, hopes, etc. Although we are only staying at Galdós these first couple of weeks until we find more permanent housing, it’s great because all our meals are included in the stay. We even took a pic of our first meal together (*not everyone is pictured)
On Friday we all got up early and went on a walking tour with Diana through the Complutense and were shown where the program office is, classrooms, along with some of the specific buildings where we might be taking classes.
Here, we had our second 3 hour long orientation regarding housing. Ah yes, one of the most feared aspects of this program is that we are responsible for finding our own housing for the year. Although personally, I’m not too worried because there are plenty of resources available. For me, the most important thing is living with people I like who are also native speakers. Like Amy said in the orientation, becoming fluent in Spanish happens when you are forced to speak Spanish 24/7, and home is a big chunk of that time.
After orientation, we had lunch followed by ANOTHER 3 hour orientation regarding safety in Madrid. Since Madrid is such a big city that targets lots of tourists, theft is huge here. Bottom line, *be alert* at all times in public, don’t fall for distraction tactics, and don’t be afraid to speak out.
Nicole and I went out on Friday, walked around the city a bit and ended up at this little discotec/bar called “Don Free” located pretty close to Galdós.
We ran into some other program friends and had a really good night enjoying each other’s conversation (in Spanish, always). It was really funny to watch all the new students at the Complutense walk around because they seriously walked around in packs of 20. They arrive in large groups, they leave in large groups. Just an interesting observation we all had. Overall a warm a pleasant night.
Yesterday was Saturday it was devoted to getting to know the barrios;neighborhoods that I may potentially be living in. Nicole and I walked and walked and walked and walked around getting to know the neighborhoods, appreciating what each has to offer. At one point we stopped at a little café called Audrey and got something to drink. It was really cute and classy and had a great vibe.
After Audrey we ended up getting a little bit lost… and ran into a protest.
There were tons of police in the streets and people starting and a large group of people chanting. One thing to be aware of is that Spain is going through a huge economic crisis right now. Jobs have been cut, people are working longer for much much less, and the unemployment for youth is at 50%.. all making for hostile citizens. However, there was nothing hostile about this protest despite the chanting. By trying to avoid it and find our way back to Galdós, we ended up in the Latino barrio which was a bit sketchy to say the least. Eventually we DID make it back and just in time for dinner 🙂
Galdós is currently starting to have students move in and at dinner we met some kids who are studying here from St. Louis along with kids from other parts of Spain. Meeting people from all over the world is my favorite aspect of studying abroad. Everyone went back to Don Free last night, and like clockwork the large groups of Spanish students showed up around midnight since that’s when the nightlife really starts. Again, it was another great night filled with great conversation and great people.
Over the last few days, I’d say my initial transition to Spain has gone very smoothly. I’m surrounded by a great group of fellow Wippers/friends and an outstanding support system found in the WIP staff. There is so much I have to learn and I can’t wait to get started! And I actually won’t have to wait too much longer because our September intensive course already starts in 2 days. Between my intensive course, finding, housing, and exploring Madrid, this first month is going to take a lot out of me, and it’ll definitely be a balancing act.
But as always I’m up for the challenge because I can already tell that this experience is going to be extremely rewarding if not life-changing. By speaking Spanish all day long, I have already noticed an improvement and I can’t wait to see how my fluency will be after studying here. Like everything else, it’s a journey. A journey into another country, a journey into another way of life, and a journey into another state of mind.
3 days down, 10 months to go! Let the journey begin!!