One of my personal study abroad goals is to practice living in the “now.” Whatever that means. Really what I want is to quit obsessing over my future job, my future classes, my future this, my future that, and fixate instead on what is going on right around me. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done, and lately I’ve found myself daydreaming about what is going on back home when I really should be fantasizing about is Spanish paella and Parque del Retiro. I knew it was time for an intervention, and this long weekend was the perfect time to do it. I packed the weekend with Madrileño activities—a trip to the Madrid Zoo and Aquarium, seats at a Real Madrid football game, and finally, exploring nightlife in Malasaña, a young, trendy neighborhood for alternative rockers and the like. Though I couldn’t get enough of the dolphins and flamingos, and even though watching Real Madrid beat Real Zamboza 4-0 was the quintessential Madrid moment of pride that I had been looking for, neither prompted an epiphany.
I instead found inspiration amongst kitschy eyeball lamp shades and old 70’s-style microwaves, accompanied by an eclectic mix of Rage Against the Machine, The Strokes, and Elvis. This may not seem very Spanish (granted, it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, really), but Tupperware is exactly the sort of bar that characterizes La Movida, the Spanish cultural movement that grew out of the post-Franco era. The social movement prompted freedom of expression particularly in the art scene, which of course bled into nightlife as well. I discovered the bar online, and after reading a consortium of positive reviews by Malasaña aficionados decided this was just the sort of risk I needed to take.
Following typical Spanish behavior, we rolled into the joint around 12:30, and found one of the last seats near the wall. Despite the cool atmosphere, I couldn’t help but think about how fun it would be to have friends from home there, enjoying the scene with me. My friend and I quickly launched into a conversation about how lucky we are to be so free, and reminisced on some of the good times we’ve had so far. I admitted that despite these memories, I still was stuck in the future, since Madrid is only a temporary home. “Get a manicure,” she responded. Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting. “Get a manicure,” she said, “because this is your home now. You may be going back to America in six weeks, but right now you live here and you need to act like it.” Actually, she was right. I haven’t done my nails here, or even gotten a haircut, because I’ve been acting like a temporary guest rather than a resident. If I truly want to experience the “now,” I have to stop planning ahead so much and start taking ownership of this city!
Despite how others may make it seem, studying abroad isn’t easy. Cultural acclimation doesn’t come naturally, and nobody should expect it to. The reward comes with the risks you take and the effort you make. These “epiphany” moments need to be sought out—in parks, stadiums, and cultural landmarks—before they will be found. And when they are– well, that’s where the personal journey comes into play. It may have taken me longer than anticipated, but a little more than halfway through my time in Spain, I finally feel ready to call myself a Madrileño resident. Time to get a manicure.