I spent the majority of 2023 as an expat, living in Madrid, Spain and Bangalore, India.
Both locations were thrilling, full of vivid experiences, meaningful friendships, and memories I will cherish for years to come.
Now, one month after returning stateside for the foreseeable future, I am reflecting on the remarkable year I’ve had, as well as the differences between these two international experiences.
Here are a few of those reflections:
Housing: Homestay vs. Residence Hall
During my time in Spain, I lived with a Spanish-speaking host family. Both parents were retired, and their twenty-something sons lived at home while attending university. We ate dinner together every night, talking in Spanish and watching the news, about which I often asked many questions. This time helped me develop a better understanding of “big-picture” Spain, with my host family sharing their personal experiences and the wider cultural context.
My housing arrangements were different in India. Instead of living with a local family, I lived by myself in an off-campus residence hall with 200 other students. We frequently ate meals together in the communal dining area, where I made some of my closest friends. Though I got less “big-picture” perspectives on India, my friends and I took more trips, where we created some of my favorite memories.
Transportation: Public Transit vs. Uber (Rickshaws)
My ability to get around the city had a major influence on my enjoyment of each location.
Madrid has an extraordinary public transit system, providing unlimited travel around the city for the absurdly low price of 8€/month. Each ride was also quick and pleasant, providing a great chance to read a book.
On the other hand, Bangalore’s infrastructure is much less developed. Rickshaws are the most common form of transportation, and they often get stuck in the city’s intense traffic. Add relentless honking and what should be a short trip becomes a loud, lengthy journey.
As a result of each city’s transportation, I traveled around Madrid much more than Bangalore.
Exchange Length: 5 Months vs. 3 Months
When planning my year abroad, I gave little thought to the length of each exchange. In hindsight, however, the amount of time I spent in each city was key to my enjoyment of that location.
The “culture-shock timeline” was similar in both countries; I reached the acceptance stage after approximately 10 weeks in the new country. This was perfect for my time in Spain, where I had 10 more weeks to enjoy my newfound footing. It was harder in India, where I left the country just two weeks after I felt comfortable.
If I were to study abroad again, I would be more purposeful about trip length, either dodging culture shock by staying for under 4 weeks or ensuring more time to enjoy overcoming it by staying over 16 weeks.
While it is tempting to compare my two study abroad experiences across every criterion imaginable, I’ve come to appreciate them as complimentary experiences.
Spain’s extremely relaxed attitude helped me enjoy India’s hustle-and-bustle.
India’s congestion and transit struggles added to my appreciation of Spanish infrastructure.
And living in Spain and India gave me new gratitude for American opportunity and ambition.