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The start of classes and...a stomach virus

29 Jan 2016

I’ve made it through my first week of school!

At the end of last week, I had to make a few last minute changes to my schedule to make space for a new Spanish class. I originally had planned on taking a course called  “Chemical basis of engineering.”  When tasked with switching my schedule around, I had few options to choose from (that is, keeping my Fridays free of class!). I opted to switch into a class called “Numerical Methods of Biomedicine,” which, as it sounds, is a biomedical engineering class. 

On Monday, my day started out fine until I started my commute to UC3M. A little over a week before, I had learned that my abono transporte, or my transportation pass/metrocard, would not be arriving along with everyone else’s because of an issue with my passport scan. Frustrated about having to buy over a week’s worth of metro tickets while everyone else paid exactly €20 for 30 days of unlimited travel on any of Madrid’s transportation systems, I headed out to the metro station and swiped my new 10-pass to head down towards Leganés, where UC3M is located.

Upon arriving at Puerta del Sol, the last stop on my metro line before a transfer to get to Leganés Central, I was prompted to swipe my ticket again on the way out. A blinking red light stared back at me as I heard a typical “error” sound play from the machine. I called over one of the station guards to find out that what I thought was an all-zone 10-pass was, in fact, only valid for central Madrid. Luckily, my pleading and insistence that I had no idea of my error let me go without fines as long as I bought a single 3€ ticket for my way back.

My final commute time door-to-door clocked in at one hour and twenty minutes. That’s approximately one hour and ten minutes longer than my walk across Bowdoin’s campus to get to class (and that’s if I’m not biking!). It’s definitely going to take a lot of getting used to, but Madrid is a commuting city and it’s not abnormal for people to have a commute like that every day!

As soon as I got to UC3M, I knew it was time to get some food and find my classroom. I had booked a lot of extra time in for my commute just in case, so I headed over to the cafeteria for some lunch. Unlike American cafeterias, where you typically pick out and receive your food before paying for it, here you pick out your food on a little machine (no pictures included!), pay and receive your receipt, and then fight your way to the front of a small mob to hand your receipt over to one of the workers behind the counter. As soon as I got there, I saw empanadillas on the menu, and as the sometimes naïve American that I am, I ordered them and went over to the counter to wait for my food. Even though I handed the lady my ticket relatively quickly, I saw swarms of people go by before my food came out. Twenty minutes later, the woman brought out my plate of empanadillas and to my surprise, they were not meet or cheese filled, but filled with a somewhat creamy tomato sauce. They were definitely NOT what I had been expecting at all, according to my expectation of South American empanadas. They tasted almost like bar food and not anything like a lunch I would have wanted before class.

I headed along to class to find two other IES Abroad students also enrolled in the same section. As I sat through the first lecture, I questioned how I, a physics major from a liberal arts college, could possibly have all the prerequisites for such a specialized course. Even though the class was taught entirely in English, there were words I didn’t recognize, as certain things such as “anti-derivatives” in American English have completely different words in British English (what I’m assuming students from Spain learn). I was thoroughly stumped throughout class.

On Tuesday morning, I got up and felt slightly feverish. After checking my temperature, I took some Advil to keep a low fever at bay and continue on with my day. I felt so great with Advil in my system that I even went to workout at a nearby gym! Big mistake. By 7:00 PM, I had a serious case of the shivers and took my temperature again to see that I had the same low fever…. this time I already had Advil in my system.

Since then, I’ve been fighting a nasty little stomach virus. My host family has put me on what I will lovingly call house arrest and I haven’t left the apartment since Tuesday afternoon. I’m getting a little antsy in here for sure. Lucky enough for me, my illness has allowed me to deal with my first true difficulty in language and cultural differences. When I told my host family I had a stomach virus (virus del estómago) and started to explain that I only wanted to eat bananas, rice, and toast, I had a tough time getting across how serious I was with those requests.

As I sat down to eat breakfast and got myself a slice of toast after explaining what I planned on eating until I felt better, my host dad offered me water with lemon, yogurt, milk, and orange juice, even after I explained that I wasn’t having anything with dairy or citrus in it. I again explained that I’d only be eating bananas, rice, and toast, the only three components of the B.R.A.T. diet I’d be able to find without leaving the apartment. He then said that he’d have his wife make me some rice and grilled fish for lunch. I insisted that I could only have the rice, and after a while he gave in.

For now, I’ll just be resting up until I feel 100%. Apologies for the lack of photos from this week, but I really haven’t done much other than sleep. Next week, I hope to make it to ALL of my classes!

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