My first impression while arriving in Spain was that there was more graffiti than I thought there would be! My idea of Spain was that it was a clean and classy country (and it is). While those things are true, I did not expect to see sidewalks and buildings with graffiti on them. A thought that kept coming back to me was: “wow, this is different than I imagined it would be”. I felt homesick at first but anxious to explore the city and country. A situation that kept coming up was a thought on feeling inferior to other students as my Spanish needs work. In addition, I also came across various blank stares from locals when trying to find the correct word in Spanish. The first picture I took abroad was after I arrived at the airport. Coming from Chicago, I was used to a big and clean airport. But the Madrid airport fully surpassed my expectations as it was immaculately clean and tidy.
My favorite thing about my host location is that it is a completely new country; I have never traveled to Europe prior to this! This is important for me as I am always curious how places I have never been to operate; i.e., are the pictures online truly depicting what it is like to live in that place? For me, this is the reason why this trip is so special to me. The things I will miss the most while I am here are my family and my dogs.
The Spanish classes are harder than I anticipated, but I am happy to have “real-life examples and applications”. My classmates are all UA students that I have never seen or met before coming abroad. The education here is very formal, yet relaxed at the same time. It is hard to describe but the teachers are easy to work with, while also expecting students to be fully competent in the subjects to do the homework. One major difference is that my classes are in the same building as my room (just on the bottom floor). It is more interesting taking classes from a different world view because I am realizing how small we are in this big world. One adjustment I have had to make thus far is going to bed earlier than I would at UA.
The trips we have taken so far are mainly to visit museums and churches. I saw beautiful architecture at all locations. We primarily tour historical landmarks with the entire group of UA students (close to 60, I believe). I did not choose these locations as they have been chosen for all students by the director of the program.
I have met local college students in addition to the chefs at the school (because I am a vegetarian, I have special meals away from the rest of the group). Besides those, we are mainly in our own “bubble” as we are not allowed to leave the premises unless we are granted permission. The local students and chefs have all been very friendly and easy to speak with. They all live in the small town we are residing in (San Lorenzo), which is an hour outside of Madrid. They primarily go to school, work and help their family with common chores and duties. The only major difference between the American students and locals here are the way they dress. There is nothing noteworthy about the locals as they are as nice, and nicer, than I expected.
The language of the host country is Spanish and I do not come in contact with any language barriers as I chose Spain due to the fact that I am studying Spanish. Their accents are heavy and they often all talk with a lisp. The most common phrase they use is: “vale”, which means: “okay”.
As I am writing this, I hear birds outside my window as well as local students talking in Spanish and young children playing. Other than that, I hear car horns and dogs barking. I see a mountain in the distance as well as the other rooms the UA students are living in. Currently, I do not taste or smell anything as I am in my room and just came from lunch. I feel excited to see what else this country has to offer.
The steps I am taking to get ready to return home are buying gifts for my family and friends as well as organizing my suitcases for the airport. The only items I have collected thus far are additional clothes that I bought and small items for my family and friends. Although I am having fun in Spain, I am very anxious to arrive home as this is the longest time I have been away abroad. Additionally, I miss my dogs more than I thought was possible! My feelings have shifted from excitement (when arriving in Madrid) to anxiety about the flight home and fitting my additional purchases into the only suitcases I brought with me.