Only four days into my year abroad and it feels like I’ve been here for weeks. The amount of adjusting I’ve done in the past half a week is surreal, even if it’s a superficial kind of adjusting, which it most likely is. For example, I feel comfortable in the dorm that we’re staying in (way too comfortable, actually… it’s basically a hotel), but I’ll move to an apartment in a couple weeks and have to re-adjust to a new place and new roommates.
The dorm is very modern and has a huge amount of storage space, orange bedspreads, air conditioning (thank god), and a sleek cafeteria that has been serving an interesting mix of American and Spanish food — chicken nuggets one night, gazpacho the next. Learning the area around the dorm has been weird because it’s so empty; we’re practically the only ones on campus since classes at the university here don’t start until mid-September.
Finding an apartment is simultaneously harder and easier than I thought it would be. The amount of resources we have in this program is astounding; Amy, the housing coordinator, knows everything there is to know about finding an apartment in Madrid: don’t trust landlords that refuse to sign verbal agreements that you put in writing and never pay a two-month security deposit (fianza). I’ve learned to ask what kind of heat the apartment uses, if there will be Spanish roommates, and if visitors are allowed.
Even armed with all this knowledge, the sheer number of ways to look for an apartment is overwhelming. There are websites, logs of previous apartments students have stayed in, suggestions for bulletin boards to look at, and the good ol’ fashioned phone call to see if a place has a vacancy. It’s hard to know where to start, but I’ve been narrowing down attractive places in student neighborhoods and will have to contact the landlords soon to ask questions and look around the apartment. Almost all Spanish apartments come fully furnished for incredibly cheap prices, and single rooms seem to be the norm. I found one apartment with a pool, garden area, and cleaning staff that comes every weekday for about $400 a month in rent. I assume it was also haunted by a child who had died there or something, because that’s ridiculously cheap.
Despite finding a solid ten or so apartments that I was interested in, actually securing a place to live is going to take a lot of work. The season of apartment hunting in Madrid is upon us, and good ones are getting taken before I can even get the guts to call the landlord. But I have a while until I start freaking out, and I know the staff of my program will be incredibly helpful in my search.
Apartment searching hasn’t been the only thing consuming my time, of course. Today I went to El Rastro with other people in my program, which is a massive flea market that happens every Sunday just a short metro ride away from campus. I bought two classic Spanish fans, which actually are very necessary in the 95 degree heat, and I also payed a poet on the street to write a poem about hands. After the market, we went to an incredible tapas place for lunch. Tapas, beer, and sangria have been a regular experience so far and I’m not sure how I could ever get sick of them. It’s all ham, cheese, bread, olive oil, and fish, which is amazing, but I should probably have a vegetable at some point. At least I’m walking around five miles every day, that counts for something.