My Study Abroad Story: A Reflection on Living in Madrid for One Semester
Studying abroad has always interested me. For years, I’ve wanted to get out there and explore everything that the world has to offer. My parents are not big travelers, so most of our family vacations involved road trips in the U.S. Although I loved the cross-country travels spent with my family, I wanted to experience unfamiliar cultures and visit foreign places.
This strong urge to travel became a border-line obsession as I reached my teen-aged years. I remember spending hours researching the destinations I hoped to one day visit, and planning future itineraries to trips were years away.
Moving forward several years, I started to attend college tours to see which would best suit me. When I toured my present-day college, I remember the guide discussing the large study abroad program that the school had to offer. They showed us a map filled with pin points of all the countries that students could go to. There were pins placed all over the world, from Thailand to England. I remember thinking, “If I go to this school, I will study abroad”.
Needless to say, I got accepted into this college and started my attendance in Fall of 2014. I immediately started to research all the different study abroad options, and jotted downs the ones that interested me the most. On my list, included Spain.
Jumping to another topic, I started studying Spanish my freshman year of college. I took two years of Spanish back in High school, but didn’t continue with it and forgot pretty much everything. When I took my first college Spanish course, I realized that I enjoyed studying the different words and conjugations. In fact, it was the only class that I’ve ever had fun studying for. I would grab a cup of coffee, sit out on the porch, and study for hours without feeling bored.
My interest in Spanish grew as I took more language courses. I realized that I was learning quickly, considering I didn’t know a lick of the language before entering these classes. I started to practice speaking with my mom, who is fluent in Spanish. After completing my final Spanish course, I knew that I wanted to continue learning the language.
When my study abroad application deadline grew nearer, I knew that I wanted to go to a place where Spanish is the mother language. Therefore, my options were Chile, Argentina, and Spain. For whatever reason, I was drawn to Spain the most. I liked the idea of being surrounded by the “original” Spanish. I also liked that I could easily travel to different countries around Europe. I ended up picking Madrid as my first choice because it was a big city centrally located in Spain. A few months later, I found out that I was accepted into the program!
Fast forward another year, and I was sitting in a plane, on my way to Spain. After a year of research and preparation, it still didn’t feel like a reality that I would be living in a different country for six months.
It all hit me after landing in the airport and taking a taxi to my hotel. I wouldn’t see my family and friends, pets, and my boyfriend for six whole months. I got to the hotel room, and immediately broke down and started sobbing. What did I get myself into?
I remember feeling completely lost at the start of this journey. I could barely understand anything that was being spoken to and around me. I lost confidence in my Spanish speaking ability; I thought I knew more Spanish than this!
Around two weeks into living in Spain, I started to become accustomed to my new life. I moved into my residence hall, started meeting other international students, and met up with other students from my university. I feel like I became used to Madrid life quickly, especially when classes started. I had to learn to take the city metro and train to get to class every day. I had to learn how to navigate the huge city without getting lost all the time. I had to practice saying different words and phrases to get by, and to even have conversations with the locals. It was quite an adjustment, but I adapted well in a short amount of time. Madrid just seemed like a great fit for me.
I spent a lot of time exploring the city, experiencing some of the most famous sites and eating at some of the best restaurants and cafes. I started to travel to other cities throughout Spain, from Catalonian cities to the Andalusian south. I realized how diverse of a country Spain is. Every region is unique, and has different food, architecture, landscapes, and even languages. It almost felt as if I was travelling to tiny countries instead of other Spanish cities. I also visited various countries in Europe, such as Switzerland, Portugal, and France. It amazed me that countries so close to one-another could be so different culturally. It really gave me a deeper cultural awareness of these European countries.
Amidst all the travelling and exploring, I put an emphasis on school. After all, I was studying abroad, not vacationing. One of the most difficult things for me to adapt to was the Spanish educative system, which is highly different than what I am used to in the U.S. Sure, at first it was great; we never had homework or quizzes! Just the occasional assignment or essay. However, final exams are worth at least 50% of the class grade. I.e., you fail the final, you fail the course. Therefore, it is important to study the material throughout the semester instead of cramming it all in right before the final. I learned that the hard way, and have had to study an immense amount of material in a short amount of time.
One of my favorite aspects about studying abroad has been the people that I’ve met along the way. I’ve met people from all over the world, from every continent (well, excluding Antarctica). My residence hall is filled with Spaniards and international students. We all became a little family, having dinners every night and talking about our latest adventures. One of my Spanish friends is going on a U.S. trip this summer, and is stopping in Baltimore to visit the Loyola students. I have also met a lot of great people during my travels. Last week I went to Granada, Spain, and met a guy from Australia and a girl from Japan, both doing a solo trip like me. We ended up hanging out for about three hours, talking about our lives at home and all our travelling experiences. It still amazes me that three strangers from different continents can connect on such a deep level due to one common interest: a love for travel.
My study abroad experience has impacted my life in so many incredible ways. I’ve learned to be independent and to rely on myself. I’ve solo traveled and met people from all over the world. I’ve improved my Spanish, and most importantly, I’ve grown. I now have a stronger concept of who I genuinely am, and what I want out of life. I have so much more confidence in myself, and know that I can virtually do anything if I am passionate and motivated to do so. I can connect with people from all walks of life, and now, I can connect with native Spanish speakers by having conversations in Spanish. Study abroad has been the best experience of my life, and I am thrilled, thankful, and blessed that I have had the opportunity to embark upon this crazy, wonderful journey.