Landing in Madrid, the first thing I noticed was the immediate immersion into the Spanish language. Everything from the airport signs, to advertisements, to the people talking around me was disorienting. My initial feelings of “oh no what have I done” went away as soon as I found my group and we loaded on the bus to head to El Escorial. I went into this trip not knowing anyone on it, and before we even got off the first bus ride I had already made a handful of new friends.

The monastery that we studied in was very unique. It is in a little town called San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about a 40 minute car ride away from Madrid. The town itself was very small and had a nice homey feel. Walking around in the evening, there were little kids running around the plazas, and neighbors sitting out on the restaurant patios socializing. After a few days, some of the people working at different restaurants in town (the local ice cream shop especially) started recognizing our group. San Lorenzo de El Escorial quickly became our home away from home.

I loved the town but I also loved the classes I took while there. I took one class that explored the monastery that we stayed at, and another class that taught me about the history of Spain. Taking these classes in Spain made them much more interesting because I was learning about things that I could see. One day in my history class we learned about the impact of King Philip II and the Spanish Empire and the next day we got to visit his actual tomb (next to the tomb of many other spanish kings and queens) in the monastery across the street. It was such an incredible experience to be standing in the final resting place of so many critical people in Spain’s history.

Leaving this little town will be so difficult. The locals have truly welcomed us with open arms and have been so patient with us trying to learn their language. I will miss my hikes around the mountains here and my evening view of the sun setting behind the Madrid skyline in the distance.  I love feeling more “at home” here, but I’m trying not to let myself become desensitized to the beauty I’m surrounded by.