“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
Ahhh Madrid. How incredible it is to live in a completely new environment. Everything is different from Pennsylvania and Syracuse. The language, the food, the people, the public transportation, the city life…everything. And yet I feel at home 🙂
Let’s begin with my new family. My señora, Carmen aka the sweetest, most generous host mom in Madrid, found me the moment I stepped off the bus into the parking lot of the Real Madrid stadium. She approached me, asked me if I was who she thought I was, and immediately began giving me besitos (kisses) on both cheeks, as is the European custom. I grabbed my suitcases and we hopped in a taxi.
The streets were bare because Spaniards go on vacation for the month of August. We arrived at a quiet apartment complex surrounded by trees and shrubbery. We went up to our floor and Carmen showed me around the nice apartment. I picked out my room (my friend from Syracuse that is living with me and I are very lucky to have our own rooms, which are each the size of the single room most of our friends share with another person) and resisting the urge to take a nap, I unpacked my belongings. It was actually therapeutic to finally get my clothes out of the suitcase I had been living out of for two weeks.
I stood in the kitchen talking to Carmen in Spanish because she doesn’t know any English, while she made turkey filet, salad, and green beans, called judias verdes, for dinner. One of my assumptions about Spanish cuisine was confirmed: olive oil is considered gold. This was the first of many greattt meals to come.
Although I’ve taken Spanish for seven years, the language barrier is unavoidable. I busted out the Spanish English dictionary at one point to tell Carmen I like mustard and I hate pickles. There are so many words that we don’t use in Spanish class that are necessary for everyday life such as napkin, la sirvieta, and pitcher, la jarra. I could immediately sense how much my Spanish vocabulary will grow in the next four months.
The next morning Carmen accompanied me to school for orientation and showed me the metro route I now use everyday. At orientation, we toured the building, which is small compared to Syracuse academic buildings, but it’s pretty and has air conditioning (quite the rarity here in Europe).
The entrance to El Instituto Internacional.
We also bought our Spanish cell phones, so we can finally communicate with each other! All of the phones were identical, so I decided to give mine a personal touch…
After orientation, a few of us studied outside of a cafe for our Eurovision final the following day. Yes, we actually learned things during that amazing two weeks of traveling and had to take a final essay test. It was a 4:40 pm when we started finishing up and I knew my roommate, Shannon, would be arriving from her seminar at the Real Madrid stadium at 5 pm. I had told my señora I would be studying and might not be able to make it to pick up Shannon, but I decided it would be fun to surprise them. Two of my friends accompanied me to the nearest metro station where I could take a train right to Santiago Bernabeu. I asked a Spanish woman when we were waiting for the train if I was going in the right direction. She said she was going to that stop as well and took me under her wing until we got there. It made feel good knowing I could communicate my problems and understand the solution in Spanish.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to the stadium at 5:05 pm only a few people were left waiting for their host families and none of them were Shannon. The bus had arrived twenty minutes early, so apparently I never stood a chance. Oh well, it gave me a story to tell and a chance to become better acquainted with the metro.
The rest of the week I spent getting accustomed to the city and going to my new classes. I am taking Global Perspectives on the Media (my only class in English, which combines my love for Broadcast Journalism with my interest in International Relations), Madrid Live (my hardest class of the semester, but we go to see theater/dance shows every other week), Spanish Society and Pop Culture (will definitely better my understanding of Spanish life, plus the professor is hilarious), and Business Spanish (lots of vocabulary, but should be pretty easy).
Using the metro to get to class has taken some getting used to considering I can walk across Syracuse’s campus in fifteen minutes. I sometimes walk home from class when I don’t have much to do because it takes 45 minutes. Once the school year starts heating up though, I’m not sure how much that’ll actually happen. It is a pretty walk though…
The Italian Embassy
A nice garden
One day during our first week when Shannon and I returned home from classes together, we were having problems getting the key to work with the apartment building’s main door. After a few unsuccessful tries, a man saw us struggling and asked (in Spanish of course) if we needed help. Having been warned in travel books about men in uniforms offering assistance, I was wary, and he could tell. The man showed us his “guardía civil” badge and asked for our host mom’s name. He couldn’t find her on the list of the people in that particular building. He asked for our ID’s and all the while kept telling us not to be nervous because he could tell we still were. We eventually figured out we were at the wrong building; ours was the next one over. We told Carmen what happened and found out that the man who helped us actually has a prestigious position in Spanish law enforcement.
We met our part of our extended family one night over a delicious dinner of paella and fish in salsa verde. Carmen has two sons and a daughter, all three of which live in Madrid. Families traditionally live close together here in Spain. Carmen’s daughter, also named Carmen, came over with her Italian husband and three sons, Pablo, 21, Alex, 18, and Alberto, 16. The three boys are all studying English in school, so Shannon and I would speak to them in Spanish and they would respond to us in English because we each wanted to practice each other’s native tongue. It will be fun getting to know them throughout the semester and branching out from my American friends from school.