Nearly a week into my exchange program, I’m still finding it hard to register that I’m living in a place like this. Being 4,176 miles from home is a lot to come to terms with, and somehow it’s even harder to believe when you have actually arrived. Nevertheless, being here is absolutely exhilarating. I don’t think that I speak only for myself when I say that I’ve been running on what I’ve come to understand as a study abroad high. I go to sleep each night knowing that tomorrow will be even better than the day before. It’s a feeling that I don’t ever want to lose, no matter where I am.
I wrote in my last blog post that I expected to be moving around at the speed of an airplane, but these past few days have gone by at the speed of a jet fighter. Here’s a little peak into what I was able to see and do (and eat!) during my first week in Spain.
The first adventure took place not in Madrid, but in Segovia, a city with a history that stretches back to antiquity. I know of no other place in which one can explore a Berber fort, a Gothic cathedral and a Roman aqueduct in the same day, and I was stricken by how well-preserved the city was. Our tour guide was a better actor than anybody that I had ever seen on stage, and while I can’t do justice to his personality via text, I hope that my pictures can do justice to the beauty of Segovia.
Of course, Madrid is not short on beauty itself. Anybody even remotely interested in architecture will find that they’ll never want to leave, and the city is full of gorgeous places to spend any part of a day. Parque Del Retiro, where our IES Abroad group had a picnic last Sunday, is one such example: it is a green oasis in a sprawling city, and I’ve not found a better place to forget my sense of time.
Another great part of the city is the public transportation, which can take you almost anywhere in the city in less than half an hour. Consequently, exploring neighborhoods has been a breeze, and I’ve already found a few gems. Some of my favorite destinations include a tapas spot near the city center called El Mercado de San Miguel, where a fellow foodie and I splurged on a Spanish delicacy called percebes, or barnacles. Cafelito in Lavapiés served one of the best cappucinos I’ve had, and there is no shortage of charm in either the café or the neighborhood. IES Abroad offers dozens of group excursions, and I look forward to taking advantage of these opportunities and otherwise exploring the city with friends.
There are two aspects of my week that will undoubtedly become regular parts of my blog: my classes and my homestay. First, I’m pleased to say that the classes have totally fulfilled my expectations so far. Oddly enough, it’s difficult not to look forward to a Spanish grammar and language class when you know that you’ll immediately be putting what you learn to use. In reality, Spanish is a very nuanced language, and I look forward to better understanding how Spanish diction and sentence structure reflect aspects of the culture. My second class, “Madrid: The City,” has been even better. As an avid reader of history, I feel super engaged in class, even with a teacher who speaks incredibly quickly. Two of the three meeting days each week take the form of a paseo in which we explore some part of the city. I’ve learned that every statue, fountain and building has a story, and I’ve been inspired to take more coursework in this area in the future.
I knew from the start that I would be selecting a homestay as my type of accommodation, given how much I enjoyed my homestay last summer. As is the case with my classes, the experience has been nothing short of remarkable. Mi Señora is intensely caring and open-minded, and she is the perfect person to laugh with. What is really special to me is how invested she is in her guest’s education. She constantly reminds me that she has no issue repeating a sentence a hundred times until I understand, and this little gesture has meant a lot to me. My host father, who travels frequently, is equally kind, and the moments that I’ve had to spend time with him have been enjoyable. I felt at home my first night in this city, and that is in no small part due to this wonderful family.
As you might imagine, living in Spain has required some adjustments. Eating my meals at 8:00, 14:00 and 22:00 is still proving to be a challenge – not to mention reading the 24-hour clock. As safe as this city is, it’s no college campus: you have to look out for thieves and scammers, and I’m fortunate to have been taught by my program leaders how to avoid these issues. The food, which is absolutely fantastic, is also almost too abundant – one comes to learn this in any homestay. And, of course, there is the characteristic bluntness of the Spanish – bluntness as in, “Your last haircut was bad, but this one is handsome!” – which has led to some awkward, some confusing, and some downright hilarious situations. Keeping these differences in mind, I’m approaching my education and living here with a sense of open-mindedness. At worst, experiencing a cultural difference is a temporary inconvenience or learning experience; at best, it’s the catalyst for an unforgettable story.
I’m excited for this next week, which will feature more bouncing around Madrid, a continuation of the classes that I love, and a three-day trip to Valencia with my IES Abroad group. Until then, hasta luego!
For the most up-to-date notes on my study abroad experience, follow me on Instagram @tarxander https://www.instagram.com/tarxander
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<div>I'm Xander—a photographer, amateur restauranteur, recreational runner and humanities major spending six weeks of <span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">my summer in Spain. Traveling notebook-in-hand and iPhone-in-backpack (or maybe the other way around), I'll be </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">showcasing the best of Madrid culture available to travelers and students on a budget. You can expect photographs of </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">and musings on Madrid architecture, history, literature, food, music and the great people I find along the way. Oh, and </span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">there will be coffee, too —don't forget the coffee!</span></div>