This past Spring (Spring 2014) I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain. Because of my Spanish literacy (or lack thereof), I was in the Level I Madrid program. While I did not have an internship, I did live in a Spanish household and all of my classes were in Spanish, or as they say, Español. Upon my arrival, I quickly realized that I had a large task ahead of me if I was going to not only survive my classes, but function in society at all. The first afternoon, a group of girls and I walked around the corner for lunch while we were still all staying at the Hotel Regina for orientation. After our meal I proudly waved down the waiter and asked for “el cheque.” My other friends gasped and pulled my hand down. The puzzled waiter walked over as my friends quickly apologized and asked for “la cuenta.” After that, I sat down with my Spanish books and class notes and studied my culo off.
Living in a society that speaks a different language than my native language and has a culture different than what I am used to was the hardest, best, most rewarding, and most frustrating part of my semester.
The culture shock took a little getting used to. Three days into the semester we were thrown into Spanish speaking households. My immediate interaction with my host mother was first, her embracing me into her arms like we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in quite some time, and then second, dragging me around the house giving me all the house rules and information… en español. Now I don’t want to say I didn’t understand any of it, but I didn’t understand any of it. Luckily, I was living with another Boston University student who was basically fluent and who then afterwards filled me in on all the important parts I missed. The second culture shock was the buzz around meals. Not only do Spaniards not eat dinner until around 10:00 at night but they also put a lot of importance on spending meals together and not leaving ANY food on your plate. Needless to say, I spent this semester eating a lot more than at school, a lot better than at school (my host mom brought in another woman to do our cooking and it was absolutely delicious), and a lot later than at school (except maybe Saturday night T Anthony’s).
Not being able to always understand what others were saying or project exactly what I wanted to say was extremely frustrating. It also led to some of my best stories. One night, my roommate abroad and I were attending a Spanish person’s party. One of the boys got up to open the door to let some air into the apartment. To start conversation, I asked the boy “estas caliente?” He began to laugh at me and I immediately started wondering what was on my face or in my teeth. He then explained to me that what I wanted to ask was “tienes calor?”, and that I had accidentally asked him if he was turned on. Little discrepancies like this (that make a huge difference) are some of the many things that I learned in Spain that I would not have learned otherwise from studying Spanish from a textbook or speaking it twice a week in a Spanish class and then walking out the door to my English speaking world.
If I had any tips for those of you planning to study in Madrid, I would say go for it and really immerse yourself in the Spanish culture and language. My semester abroad was my favorite semester so far; I met over fifty new people, I learned a language other than English (contrary to my stories I can actually converse in Spanish now pretty fluently), and I learned about a culture that I didn’t even know had so much to teach me. Most other students outside of the United States learn multiple languages and, until you do, you don’t realize that it is not only extremely rewarding but also truly opens up your world.
If you have any questions about studying abroad in Madrid or in general, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!